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Posts Tagged ‘water’

Wai Water?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Pere Wihongi and the Just Focus team

In Aotearoa New Zealand it feels like there is water everywhere. It fills our lakes, courses down our rivers and streams, falls from the sky, and the sparkling Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea surrounds our islands.

sharplin-fallsMaybe it is exactly because we live in a country that has so much water that it is hard for us to fathom how fortunate we are. We take it for granted that water will always flow when we turn on a tap, or flush the toilet. But it is not like this for everyone, and when we look at the global picture we start to understand how precious water really is.

Water for LIFE

Water is a key component in determining the quality of our lives. We drink it, bathe in it, cook and clean with it, nourish our plants and crops, and feed our pets and livestock. Water is life.

There is always the same amount of water moving through the planet within the water cycle, it just goes round and round and round. We drink the same water that our great-great-great-grandparents drank! Only now, we have a problem. We have the same amount of water, but there are more and more people who need it.

The UN states that the basic requirement per person each day is 20 to 50 liters of water. New Zealanders are big water consumers; on average we use 663 litres a day. Compare this to an average of 5 litres used by Cambodians.

But it’s not just about how much water we need, but what sort of water we need.  It needs to be free from pollution and other contaminants for us to be healthy. Globally, water quality is declining due to our growing population and pollution from urbanisation, industry and agriculture. Right now 1.1 billion people do not have access to enough safe water and a third of the world’s people live without adequate sanitation (sewage, waste disposal etc).

In Pakistan, for example, almost 40 percent of the population receives water that runs through dirty pipelines, which can pollute the water. Research conducted by the Pakistan Medical Research Council shows that a large number of people with diseases in Pakistan suffer specific health problems because of the consumption of polluted water.

According to the World Health Organisation, 80 percent of sickness and disease in developing countries is a result of unsafe water and lack of sanitation.  Children especially are affected. Two million people die every year as a result of diarrhoea, and most of them are children under the age of five.

What is being done? worldwaterdaylogo

On March 22 the international community will mark World Water Day. This important day focuses our attention on the water issues and problems facing communities around the world. Each year there is a different theme and this year the focus is water quality, because in order for people and the planet to flourish we need clean, safe water.

What about the environment?

When people don’t have access to enough clean, safe water then it can severely affect their health. The impact on ecosystems without clean water supplies, or any water at all, is also huge. But how is this possible on a planet where the same amount of water is always circulating and renewing itself? What’s going wrong?

Between the impact of agriculture on our water ways, industry consuming and polluting water in its mass production of the machinery, transport and consumer items, and the impact of growing cities on our water supplies, you can take your pick of the environmental issues affecting our water.

The dead zones

Large areas of oxygen-low, life-destroying water, called dead zones, are appearing around the world. One of the world’s largest dead zones, off the coast of the United States, exists because of farms.

Fertilizers used in farming drain into the country’s streams and waterways. With 40 percent of US water systems flowing into the Mississippi River, this means that during the spring and summer months the ‘Mighty Mississippi’ carries, then dumps, equally mighty amounts of fertiliser straight into the sea in the Gulf of Mexico.

And fertiliser does in water exactly what it does on land – it prompts growth. A huge abundance of algae is the result. The problem is, when the algae dies, sinking to the ocean floor, the bacteria that makes it rot also consumes oxygen. What is left is an oxygen-deprived, sea floor wasteland. Any life there either leaves or dies, affecting a huge ecosystem and the livelihoods of thousands of people in the fishing industry.

water-dropBringing it back to little old Aotearoa New Zealand…

So what does water mean to people here in Aotearoa NZ?
“Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au”
“I am the river, and the river is me”

Māori people use whakatauki, or proverbs, inherited from our ancestors as inspiration and guidance to help us to understand the world as they saw it. This whakatauki tells us that we should treat nature as we would like to be treated ourselves. Given water has been around for millions of years, this means it definitely deserves our respect!

Tangata Whenua (tangata – people, whenua – land) is the term commonly used to describe the Māori people of Aotearoa. Our whakapapa connections to Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and Ranginui (Sky Father) imply that we are not just people of the land, but that we were born of the land.  Our connection to the land allows us guardianship or Kaitiakitanga over it, as was agreed to in the second article of the Treaty of Waitangi. This means that the world view of Māori in regards to the whenua and wai (water) is that of respect, identity and preservation for future generations.

The water of our ancestors continues to nourish us, so how can we repay?

Global Action

Bringing the Dead Zone back to life
How do you bring a zone of 7700 square kilometres, (an area just bigger than the entire Northland Region), back from the dead? The environmental version of the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, has been running a project to restore and preserve the Gulf of Mexico for 22 years. And it might just be working: 2009’s dead zone was half the size of the decade’s average. That’s a great start.

Last year, a group of scientists and environmental groups also petitioned President Barack Obama. They want him to fully implement a gulf action plan that could reduce fertiliser runoff and restore the wetlands that filter the harmful fertilisers, before they contaminate the river and Gulf. So the dead zone might not be a lost case after all.

The Orangi Pilot Project
The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) was started in the 1980s in the squatter area of Orangi, in Karachi, Pakistan. It was home to over 1 million people. Started by one man, Akhtar Hameed Khan, the OPP utilised the energy and innovative spirit of local residents to solve their own water and sanitation problems.

At the beginning the project focused on creating sewage and storm water systems, using local materials and labour. Almost 30 years later the project has grown to support the establishment of schools, health clinics, women’s work centres and a credit organisation to finance enterprise projects.

water-wellWhat can YOU do?!

•    Celebrate World Water Day at your school, church or at home.

•    Think about your own water use. There is more you can do than just turning off the tap while you brush your teeth! For heaps of ideas on ways to save water check out

•    Support an international campaign or organisation like Water Aid or The Oxfam Water for Survival Programme.

Learn more

The Story of Bottled Water

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Do you really want to be buying your water in a bottle? Here’s what Annie Leonard found about the water bottling process.

Check out the Story of Stuff project for other stories - such as:

The Story of Stuff

The Story of Cap and Trade

You Can Save the Planet

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

by Jacquie Wines and Sarah Horne

This book introduces and explains massive global problems that need to be addressed now. It’s packed full of useful things you can do to make your homes, schools, and neighbourhoods more environmentally friendly. Including:planet_photo1

  • How to save water around your house.
  • How to persuade your local supermarket to reduce the number of plastic bags used.
  • Ways to organise your household recycling that really work.
  • How to spread the word on saving the planet.

You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

What’s up with coke? Part two

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Environmental Destruction in India

Water BottleCoca Cola has bottling plants the world over, allowing the company to take advantage of very low labour and production costs in certain countries, as well as decreasing the bill for the shipping of its products to its customers. One might think this makes the company more environmentally friendly, through reducing emissions caused by the transportation of goods around the world. However there are some who would tell you differently, very differently. These are the people who live on the doorsteps of the Coca Cola bottling plants all over India.

It is an often bemoaned fact that it is in fact cheaper to buy a bottle of sugar filled Coca Cola in New Zealand than it is to buy a bottle of water. Luckily, however, we have the option of turning on the tap and filling our glasses with potable water for very little money. In many Asian and African countries the severe shortage of available, clean, safe drinking water is a huge problem for inhabitants. India is one such country. The Indian village of Plachimada obtain all their drinking water from wells which tap into groundwater around the village. The locals began to notice that they were not the only ones tapping into the groundwater in the area. Coca Cola were also using the ground water, in much vaster quantities than the inhabitants of the area, in the production of their soft drinks.

Fetching WaterVillagers all over India have found themselves in a similar situation, with Coca Cola bottling plants helping themselves to precious life-giving ground water and causing their wells to drop by, in some cases, up to fifty feet (about 15 metres). Lax environmental regulations in the country did nothing to prevent this from occurring. Villagers have been forced to travel large distances in search of adequate drinking water, while the water once readily available to them is now only available in the form of a caffeinated, sugary carbonated drink, bought in planet-polluting plastic bottles.

To add salt to the wound, it has been found that aside from removing drinkable water from these communities, Coca Cola has also been pumping waste water indiscriminately back into the communities, litres and litres of contaminated water flow into the fields and rivers of India, polluting not only the soils, but the small amount of groundwater that remains for the villagers. Areas where this water has been discharged have been signposted by the authorities as water unfit for human consumption, while farmers were sold the solid waste of the Coca Cola factories to use as fertiliser. Tests of the waste found two dangerous substances (cadmium and lead) in the “fertiliser” which mean that in effect it is toxic waste.

The communities of India have thus been hit threefold by the damage Coca Cola has inflicted to their environment through the bottling plants dotted throughout its provinces. The country relies heavily on its agriculture and the devastating mixture of water shortages and polluted soils is having huge repercussions for many of the nation’s poor. However the Indian people are not only being hurt indirectly by the company through the destruction of their farming land, tests of bottled Coca Cola in India have found that the drink contains inordinately high levels of harmful pesticides such as DDT. We all know that Coca Cola isn’t good for us, but the little bit of sugar and caffeine found in the Coca Cola which we drink in New Zealand pales in comparison to the toxic cocktail of chemicals drunk in India. The long-term effects of these chemicals on the human body is as yet unknown, but the cumulative effect of the poisoning of the land along with the poisoning of the body leaves a very undesirable outlook for many of the people of India. And in a country of over one billion souls, that is a lot of unhappy futures.

Coke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottlesCoke bottles

What can you do?
Still wanting to enjoy the Coke side of life? If not there are several groups of protestors who have set up websites which you can check out:

And of course there is the option of making the decision not to drink Coca Cola on moral grounds. If everyone does it the company will have to sit up and listen, or face a fate even worse than that they have inflicted on their workers in India and around the world.


Sweet as sin

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

By Nicole Mathewson

PebblesMmmm. A sugar rush. You can’t beat it eh? But how much sugar do we consume? A lot more than just what we add to our tea or cereal. What about all those fizzy drinks, lollies and cakes? And it doesn’t end there - sugar is a staple ingredient in most processed foods including savoury ready-made meals. Globally, sugar consumption increases by about 2% per year, and is currently around 150 million tons!

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?
With so much sugar, you’d be forgiven for not being able to imagine a life without it. But did you know humans evolved without ever using it? The only kinds of sugar we need to remain healthy are lactose (found in milk) and fructose (fruits, vegetables and anything naturally nutritious). The kind of sugar we’ve come to know and love, though, is sucrose (aka sugar, refined from sugar cane or beet).

Sucrose was gradually introduced to our taste buds over time. It began innocently enough in the 1700s with a teaspoon or two in tea, but by the end of the century consumption had more than trebled. It has continued to increase worldwide ever since.

We have become so used to sugar that many people forget sucrose is just “empty calories” — it has no nutritional value. Medical problems associated with over-consumption of sucrose include obesity, increased chronic fatigue, anxiety, irritability and possibly serious mental conditions. [1] Scary huh? And this isn’t just happening in rich countries — it is also occurring in the developing world, and faster than ever.

“The consumption of sugar still goes up despite all the fanatical attacks from health cranks,” smugly says Sir Saxon Tate, boss of British sugar giant, Tate and Lyle.

A less than sweet industry
Sugar Cane HarvestingAs well as being terrible for our bodies, and almost addictive, sugar also widens the gap between the world’s rich and poor.

From the beginning, the sugar industry has not been nearly as sweet as the product. Sugar production was a big part of the slave trade, funded the expansion of European empires and put much of the original capital into capitalism.

Inequality is still rife today. For example, British Sugar’s majority shareholders, the Weston Family, receive NZ$76,700 a day from their shares, while Bekele, a typical sugar cane cutter in Ethiopia, earns less than NZ$3 a day. [2]

The power of the sugar giants
In the 1970s some companies in the sugar industry, and some which heavily used sugar in their products (e.g. soft drinks manufacturers) banded together and established various foundations’ and institutes’ which used their influence to undermine or silence any reports linking sugar with health problems. [3]

“The sugar industry has learned from the tricks of the tobacco industry,” says Professor Philip James, chairman of a national dietary guidelines committee in the UK. “Confuse the public. Produce experts who disagree. Try to dilute the message.” In the same way that oil companies deny climate change sugar companies try to persuade us that their product is not damaging.

And in New Zealand we can see the influence of these companies. Plans to remove full-sugar drinks from secondary schools have been criticised because the agreement between the Government and two of the biggest beverage companies won’t come into effect till 2009 and still allows diet drinks which can contain caffeine and artificial sweeteners which are hardly healthy. Green MP Sue Kedgley sees it as a public relations move. Children will still be exposed to “nutritionless, enamel-destroying soft drinks with addictive and controversial additives in them”, she said. [4]

Environmental concerns

Sugar plantations are harmful to the environment, being to blame for the loss of huge areas of fertile land (which could be used for growing food for local people, rather crops for export) and reducing water levels. After sixty years of sugar production in Pakistan there has been a 90 percent reduction of freshwater available. Pesticide spraying is also a problem, with twenty five million cases of serious chemical poisoning each year.[5]

It’s not all bad though. You’ve heard of Fair Trade chocolate and coffee, but you might not know you can get fairly-traded sugar too from Paraguay, available from Trade Aid stores. And it’s organic too, so no nasty pesticides were used. The most obvious way to escape from being caught in the sugar trap is to simply eat more fresh fruit and vegetables! You’ll gradually regain control over your appetite and eventually realise you don’t really need sugar at all — but if you must, try to make it fairly traded. Sweet!

Brown SugarBrown Sugar

Did you know?
A can (330ml) of regular soft drink contains up to 10 teaspoons of sugar.

  • We are the 11th biggest soft-drink consumers in the world.
  • Worldwide, about a billion people are chronically overweight and, on the flip side, a billion are chronically hungry.
  • Ethanol is a sugar-based fuel produced by fermenting cane juice. It is clean burning and can be used to fuel vehicles on its own, or mixed with petrol or diesel. Brazil has saved hundreds of millions of dollars by using ethanol rather than importing fuel, and other countries could do the same.
  • Mauritius in the Indian Ocean generates nearly half its electricity from bagasse (the crushed stalks of the sugar cane plant, after cane juice has been extracted for sugar production), and other countries, including Pacific islands such as Fiji could potentially do the same.

Learn more:
Read the New Internationalist magazine on The Sugar Trap

Take Action:

  • Join Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign
  • Be aware of what you’re eating and where it came from.
  • Encourage others to take notice too.
  • Write to your local supermarket to ask them to stock Fair Trade sugar.




A version of this article was originally published in JET magazine.

Vegetarianism…make the move!

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Kayt Bronnimann

supermarket shelf of meatWhen you think of issues of global justice, vegetarianism is not one that immediately comes to mind. Many would think that choosing to become a vegetarian is less important than other issues that we should be campaigning for.

It may seem that vegetarianism is an individual choice has little effect in the wider scheme of things. However, the benefits of a vegetarian diet are widespread and effect more than just animals.

Vegetarianism’s links to global issues/why be a vegetarian:

  • compassion to animals/ animal rights
  • refusing to buy into another system of exploitation
  • a diet based on meat is no longer required
  • health benefits
  • compassion to our fellow human beings are great
  • environmental
  • hunger problems

Meat and the Environment/Pollution…
burger close upSince the industrial age the world has seen a rapid destruction of the environment around us, including increased pollution and global warming Much of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in order to make way for cattle ranches where cows are fattened up and slaughtered to become tomorrow night’s dinner. McDonalds in particular, along with all its other injustices, is guilty of this crime. (See the McSpotlight website for more info)

Unlike the indigenous Indians of the Amazon who use traditional deforestation techniques, including slash and burn, that allow the forest to renew itself after a time, the techniques that McDonalds some cattle ranchers employ ensures that nothing will be growing in that spot once they’re done. Eventually they exhaust the land and have to move on destroying more and more rainforest in their wake. The Amazon is responsible for a large part of the world’s oxygen yet we carnivores seem hell-bent on getting our products no matter what the cost may be.

It’s not only the big multi-nationals that are guilty of contributing to environmental pollution. Farmers are part of the problem too. For years, in New Zealand farming practices were unregulated, allowing the effluent from their activities to be dumped anywhere, most often in our waterways. Although there are much stricter laws concerning this now, with farmers being expected to build settling ponds, the damage has already been done. New Zealand used to be a place where people could swim and drink from most rivers or lakes around the country without fear of contamination, but this is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Many of the world’s plant and animal species are now extinct; hunted to death in a senseless display of man’s bloodlust. And it’s still happening at an ever-increasing rate.

World Hunger
World hunger is something that can be helped in part by adopting a vegetarian diet. A large number of the world crops are grown to be fed to animals that end up on the dinner plate of many a rich Westerner. A huge percentage of agricultural land is used to grow feed for animals. And the developing world also provides much of our animal feed. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this is an illogical system. With the crisis of world hunger growing worse every year, it is not justifiable to continue taking away valuable land and food from developing countries so that we can enjoy a nice Sunday roast.

sausage bbqIn terms of energy and protein it is much more efficient to grow food directly for human consumption. And with obesity becoming a problem in Western countries it is obvious we are consuming far more than our energy needs require. Our meat consumption is directly affecting the lives of billions of people.

Meat and Oppression
In her book The Sexual Politics of Meat’ Carol J. Adams links meat consumption to an oppressive, patriarchal, war mongering society. If we can so easily kill animals for our own gratification and not link the slab of meat (or more aptly put, corpse) in front of us to a dead animal, how can we be expected to spare a thought for the millions who have been killed in senseless wars over the years?

Pacifism and vegetarianism have often gone hand in hand - with the belief that it is hypocritical to condemn war, and killing around the world, while buying in to the culture of meat eating. If one can justify killing animals, it is only a small step to justify taking human life. Killing, whether of a human or a cow, should never be justified. What right do we have to take another creature’s (human or otherwise) life so that we can continue with our existence?
cow in a field
Challenge the status quo

This constant need for expansion, growth, consumption of more, More, MORE!! that capitalism advocates is destroying our environment, extinguishing species, and keeping the poor in poverty so we can enjoy our comfortable lifestyle.

Obviously vegetarianism isn’t going to solve all the world’s problems, but it’s a step in the right direction. We need to combat the apathy that we all seem to have, realise our privileged position, and think how our actions may be affecting the rest of the world. And extending this consideration to animals can’t hurt. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s time we opened our eyes and start giving a damn about the world we inhabit.


The Vegetarian Society
The Vegan Society
The New Zealand Vegetarian Society


  • Become a vegetarian!
  • Join an animal rights group

Movies with a message

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Eva Lawrence, Just Focus Coordinator
people in cinema
People say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a movie must be worth a million then.

Films provide a way for us to get a view into someone else’s world — be it real or imagined. They can be creative, entertaining, tragic, action packed and informative.

Over the last few years there seem to have been a heap of brilliant documentaries as well as based on true life and fictional films that bring up some aspects of important issues like human rights corporations, war, fast food and all that jazz.

While we’re feeding our faces with popcorn, we can feed our minds with new ideas.
bowl of popcorn
TOP 5s
So I know what films I like, but I wanted to get an idea of what movies other young people love. So I put on my best investigative outfit and scoured the net and started a couple of threads on forums and got you possibly the best 5 docos and 5 films with a bit of social conscience.

Sometimes when I think of documentaries I think of those boring channel one wildlife shows my parents used to make me watch cos they’re educational’ — cringe - like I need to be educated on the mating rituals of tortoises! But there are some brilliant, heartbreaking and inspirin’ ones out there, with no tortoises in sight:

Top 5 docos

Darwin’s Nightmare— Set around Lake Victoria in central Africa, it shows the industry of fish for guns’ that exists. This doco is a clear and harsh illustration of globalisation. My mate ed has been raving about this for months! *

Bowling for Columbine - one of Michael Moores classics about the kids who shot up their school and how this violence is related to the culture of war in the USA

The Corporation “is excellent. Possibly slightly biased. All about the development of corporations, especially in America, and how they are designed to legally be a person” (Pippy) *

The Yes Men— This hilarious and scary insight into the World Trade Organisation and its followers shows what a bunch of activists can do with a lycra suit and a computer on a phallus. *

Supersize Me — look what happens when your average fit healthy American dude eats only McDonalds for a month. Watch his pounds pack on, his libido drop off and his doctors get more and more freaked out. It’s funny, it’s gross, it’s scary. *

Films about real issues, based on true stories or fictional, are often entertaining and also have a little bit more beef than your average romantic comedy

The Constant Gardener - This fictional film came to the screens last year. It’s about drug companies testing medicine on slum dwellers in Kenya. It’s a murder mystery that makes you think. “Constant Gardener is one of my favourite movies but I cried so much!” (suspense)

Lord of War— This movie starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto and Ethan Hawke is a thriller about arms dealing, and the personal and political results of cashing in on violence. *

Hotel Rwanda - Ten years ago some of the worst crimes in the history of humanity took place in the country of Rwanda in Africa. This film is the true story of a hotel manager who sheltered more than a thousand Tutsi refugees during the attempted genocide by the Hutu militia. “If that movie wasn’t made I probably wouldn’t have ever even heard of what happened in Rwanda.” (Nicole) *

City of God — This film is pretty hardcore but damn good. It’s about kids in a housing project in Rio de Janeiro who struggle to survive and thrive while involved in crime and gang warfare. It shows how one guy works his way out of the slums through his photography. The actors were mostly street kids and many of them were dead within a year of the film. “To those who like the Constant Gardener - they should see City of God - same director - better film.” (Luke)

Motorcycle Diaries — This recent film is based on the motorcycle trip of the Cuban revolution’s poster boy Ernesto Che’ Guevara’s travels around South America with his mate. Experiencing poverty and volunteering in a leper colony changes his view of the world and moves him to make a difference. Plus, added bonus, it stars super-hot Mexican actor Gael Garcà­a Bernal!
empty cinema
Film Festival
Film Festivals have heaps of great films. The Human Rights Festival took place in May 2006 in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. A couple of the picks were:

Drowned Out — When a dam in India threatens to destroy people’s homes, the locals decide to stay and drown in protest. Author Arundhati Roy asks us some hard questions on the rights and wrongs of human sacrifice for the sake of industrialisation.

Ngatahi: Know the Links - This rapumentary from Upper Hutt Posse legend Dean Hapeta shows the links between Hip Hop and indigenous and other minority cultures around the world.


  • Get out one of the films above from the local video store or from the Global Education Centre library (the films marked * are available at the Global Education Centre. Email for info on how to borrow them - free anywhere in the country).
  • Make your own film. Got a burning desire to spread the word on something? Grab a camera and go to it!
  • Know a film that made you ponder? Share it with the rest of us at Just Focus! - Get in touch with and write a review for your fave film - or add it to the forum.


  • Check out what other great films are out there:

This article was originally published in Jet Magazine.

Beyond fair trade - brewing hope

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Grace Leung
hand holding green coffee beans
The Fair Trade movement has been growing significantly over the years and many more cafes and shops now sell fair trade coffee. However, a campus group at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, called “Brewing Hope” works to take a step beyond fair trade by creating relationships between consumers and the communities which grow and harvest their coffee. Brewing Hope buys coffee directly from the autonomous, Zapatista-affiliated coffee cooperative Yachil in Chiapas, Mexico. Taking Fair Trade a step further, Brewing Hope organizes exchanges programs. It brings coffee farmers and cooperative members from Chiapas to Ann Arbor to teach communities about their struggles for autonomy and freedom. Conversely, Brewing Hope brings delegates from Ann Arbor to Chiapas to learn about the stories behind their daily cup of joe.

In July 2005, I was one of 12-person delegation to visit San Cristobal de las Casas and nearby communities in Chiapas.

Our visit included meeting with local and international social and economic justice groups ranging from Chiapas Peace House (an organization that supports overseas volunteers) to CEDICI (a research and advocacy group that investigates into the Mexican military’s oppression of autonomous communities). We visited a vocational training school for indigenous youth so we could see how the next generation acquires skills to bring back to their communities, so that they may be autonomous and independent of government agencies.
4 mexican coffee farmers
We were also fortunate enough to stay the night in Chixilon with a community affiliated with Las Abejas, a non-violent group with similar principles to the Zapatistas. In accordance with the community’s needs, we brought with us medical supplies and other provisions to improve their water storage system. We also visited Acteal, a community who lost 45 members to an attack by paramilitaries, with the aid of the Mexican military, in 1997. It is highly likely that the attack was a response to the community’s quest for autonomy and independence from a corrupt government. We were all deeply inspired by the determination for true justice, and rebellious dignity of the people that we met at Acteal.

One particular woman at Acteal, who had introduced us to the women’s handicraft cooperative, recounted the murder of her brother and father in the 1997 massacre. Speaking only her native tongue of Tzetzal at the time, the event provoked her to learn Spanish, make contacts in nearby cities and organize a women’s handicrafts cooperative to revive and bring economic independence to her community.

Despite the benefits of Fair Trade, many potentials remain to be fulfilled. Indeed, despite getting the certified fair trade price of US$1.26 per pound of unroasted coffee beans, the community that we visited must still walk up to 2 hours to the nearest source of marginally potable water in the dry season. Moreover, with the global price of coffee rising, Fair Trade prices are beginning to be less lucrative for farmers, many of whom are tempted to avoid the processes of fair trade and cooperative participation and selling to middlemen (locally called coyotes) instead. Although in the short term, this means less work for the farmers, it leads to the loss of their Fair Trade certification and leaves them vulnerable to the price fluctuations determined by the coyotes.

Because of the recovering prices of conventional coffee on the international market, the next few years will be testing for the Fair Trade communities to continue to comply with the Fair Trade regulations. Many communities also face labour shortages due to the migration of young people to urban areas in search of waged labour. These were some of the concerns that the community shared with us that consumers usually give limited thought

The delegation provided a valuable opportunity for a reciprocal interaction between consumers and coffee growers, the complexities of which go far beyond a cup of coffee. Visits like ours are a small but significant way of showing solidarity with people struggling for justice and freedom. Perhaps this is a future direction for the Fair Trade movement, one in which the consumer looks beyond the latte in their hands and indeed, all goods, creating a new global economy which brings consumers and producers together in the fight for justice and sustainability.


Read more about Brewing Hope

Find out which cafes near you use fair trade coffee

Learn more about Fair Trade from Trade Aid and the Fair Trade Assosciation of Australia and New Zealand

A global system gone mad

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

Cameron Walker

Globalisation’, free trade’, neo-liberalism’ (call it what you will - the economic policies supported by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank ) have been protested about and opposed by tens of millions of people around the globe. Why are so many people so angry? In the Western World, before 9/11, coverage of violent anti-globalisation protests’ often splattered the news in the mainstream media. 9/11, according to the mainstreammedia signalled the death of the movement. However, such feelings have not died and, in fact, in many developing nations they have become more intense.

The historical background of the World Bank and IMF
The World Bank and IMF were set up at the end of the Second World War to provide loans to help rebuild nations shattered by the conflict. In the 1970s and 1980s the two institutions had a change of policy. Nations who wanted loans or financial assistance would have to follow structural adjustment programs. In other words developing nations would have to make changes to their laws and economic policies as prescribed by the World Bank and IMF.

The effects of Structural Adjustment Programs
Often structural adjustment programmes make conditions even worse for the poorest citizens of developing nations, while the well off and multinational corporations reap the rewards. Typically, structural adjustment programs consist of slashing public education and healthcare spending, cutting welfare to the poor, opening markets to penetration by multinational corporations and privatising public assets, such as water utilities and railways.

An example of Structural Adjustment Programs’ negative impacts: Bolivia.
A classic example of structural adjustment occurred in 1999 in Bolivia, the poorest nation in South America. The city of Cochabamba was pressured to privatise its public water company by the World Bank. It was sold to Aguas del Tunari, part of International Water Limited, a British based company part owned by the American engineering giant Bechtel and the Spanish company Abengoa.

Within weeks of taking over the city’s public water company Bechtel hiked up rates by as much as 200%, far beyond what the city’s poor could afford to pay.’ (1)

Many poor families now paid higher water bills than those paid by residents of the wealthy suburbs of Washington DC, home to many World Bank officials.

To further compound the problems of the poor, the government banned collecting rain water without a permit. For many families it was a choice between spending money on food to eat, or having water to drink. This spurred a huge peoples’ movement to return water to public hands. After unprecedented street protests, in which police fired on the crowds killing a 17 year old boy and wounding scores of others, the city returned water to public ownership.

However, the story did not end there. Bechtel, citing unfair loss of profits, launched a US $25 million (New Zealand $35.4 million) lawsuit against Bolivia. Thankfully, after bearing the brunt of an international campaign, Bechtel dropped the lawsuit in December 2004. Unfortunately, the Spanish company Abengoa is still pursuing legal action against Bolivia, despite international calls for it to drop it.

G8 Debt Relief - with strings attached

In June 2005, the nations of the G8 declared that the most highly indebted nations in the World will have their debts to the World Bank and IMF cleared. This sounds nice, but to qualify for debt relief poor nations must practice good governance’ meaning the nations must “boost private-sector development” and eliminate “impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign”. Quite simply this means that to qualify for debt relief, poor nations must continue to put in place Structural Adjustment Programmes (like those forced on Bolivia) which are fundamentally damaging to their nation’s citizens, but good for multinational corporations from the World’s richest nations in the G8.

Speak out against the injustice
As a young activist and writer in New Zealand, I believe it is important for young people to become informed and speak out against the grave injustices that are occurring as a result of the so called globalisation’ process. The New Zealand government is an enthusiastic supporter, at an international level, of the so called free market’ policies supported by the World Bank and IMF. As the citizens of Bolivia have demonstrated though, people power can overcome this madness!

1) Shultz Jim The Second Water War in Bolivia


The Democracy Center, The Democracy Center works globally to advance human rights through a unique combination of investigation and reporting, training citizens in the art of public advocacy, and organizing international citizen campaigns, it’s founder and Executive Director Jim Shultz lives in Cochabamba and was fundamental in breaking the story of the city’s water war to the outside World


Read some alternative news!
Zmag has many independent articles on Globalisation

Why are we living in a state of Global Injustice?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

Geoff Cooper

Ever get the feeling that the more you find out about your world, the less you wish you knew? Is it simply that the human race is incompetent at managing the planet and people? Or perhaps that our attempts at global euphoria have just gone badly astray?

Injustices have existed since the beginning of time, and this is often used to justify a certain level of it in our modern world. But just how much are we willing to accept?

  • 1.2 billion people live without access to safe drinking water while the 3 richest people in the world earn the equivalent of the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the 37 poorest countries
  • every 10 seconds someone in the world dies from HIV/AIDS
  • it is estimated that around 300,000 children around the world are exploited as child soldiers

The figures are endless, and after a while it is easy to become immune to their impact. But before we agree to put these down to inevitability, lets look at where we spend our resources that could overcome such problems:

  • the U.S spends $8bn/year on cosmetics
  • basic education for all children would cost $6bn/year
  • the cost of eradicating poverty is 1% of global income
  • Europeans spend $11bn/year on ice cream
  • while clean water and safe sewers for all would cost $9bn/year

With statistics such as these we can logically prove that these problems are very much a human construction. To believe that they are an inevitable part of society represents a lack of understanding of the ideology behind such phenomena.

The Ideological and Institutional Bases of Global Injustice
When we trace the causes of poverty, it is not uncommon to end up on the doorsteps of the institutions that make the rules of international trade - in particular the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It seems whenever leaders of these institutions meet, there are mass protests. Seattle, Washington, Prague, Geneva are just a few examples of the protests that have arisen over the past 20 years at such conferences. There is a common belief that these organisations are to blame for much of the poverty we see in developing countries It is one of the great ironies of world institutions that the World Bank actually claims to be alleviating mass poverty (check out what the World Bank claims it does.).

So what is it that these institutions are doing wrong? With the best academic scholars the world has to offer at their side it is hard to imagine that they are incompetent at their job. Rather, we must recognise what fundamental rationale exists behind the array of questionable decisions that they continue to put into global effect.

What these institutions honestly believe is that what is good for business and large corporations will be good for everybody… eventually. Extending this rationale, it becomes clear that when the rules of trade are written, they should be written in the interests of these corporations. If the conditions are good enough for these corporations, we will eventually all reap the benefits. If discrepancies exist between reality and what the Neoliberal institutions claim to be working towards (essentially a stable society), their excuse is simply that more time is needed for the copious benefits to be actually realised. But just how long must we wait before we can formally conclude that this system will never work in consideration of the world’s poor?


American Christian Organisation seeking justice for the world’s hungry people BREAD
Guide to Free Trade history, theory and ideology
Neoliberalism explained
The Impact of the WTO


Make Poverty History
Bono’s organisation (lead singer of U2)
NZ initiative by World Vision to get involved in