For so many of us today, clothing is something that we take for granted. With the panoply of fashion advertisements we find ourselves bombarded with on a daily basis, and the affordability of such garments for so many, we have come to regard the act of regularly updating our wardrobe as a necessity, rather than a luxury.
In his 2015 documentary film, The True Cost, director Andrew Morgan exposes the secrets of the fashion industry and the capitalist society in which we live. Featuring interviews with fashion designers, garment workers, economists, and environmentalists, Morgan implores his viewers to question how and where their clothes are produced, exposing the impact that the fast fashion industry is having on the lives of those manufacturing such garments, and the long-term environmental effects.
From genetically engineered cotton plants and the risks involved as a result of pesticide use, to the hazardous conditions within sweatshops themselves, The True Cost presents the reader with a variety of heart-wrenching personal tales from individuals involved in the production of their garments, dramatically juxtaposing harrowing scenes from hazardous garment factories with the extravagance and frivolity of the catwalk. This film hands the power back to the consumer, reminding its audience that they have the power to instigate change and overthrow this inhumane system, by simply choosing not to support this industry. The True Cost empowers the viewer, reminding them that the choices they make as consumers have the power the make a difference.
Photo courtesy of truecostmovie.com
Every Month, STAND brings you a quick fire Q&A from people who work in NGOs, with government or in community projects. This month we speak to Peter Schouten, who has been Spokesman for War Child since September 2014. Based in the Netherlands, War Child helps children affected by war in 14 countries all around the world.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do?
I’m the spokesman for War Child Holland, which means being accountable for all media and press relations. I do this through managing spokespersons, initiating and coordinating press conferences, press releases, briefings, trips and media events. Our objective is to position War Child as the expert when it comes to children affected by conflict, being able to influence key stakeholders and contribute to our mission: ‘No child should be part of war. Ever.’
What do you love most about your job?
Since I’m a real news addict I really love to work with and for media and to be up to date 24/7. It’s never a dull moment. I like the diversity in my daily work. It’s not only working from behind your desk but also travelling to the 14 countries in which War Child is active. During such field trips I bring journalists with me in order to show them how, why and what we do to help children affected by war.
What do you dislike most?
A thing that I can’t get used to is the stories I hear from the children who I visit in our program countries. It’s sometimes really heartbreaking to hear their experiences. At the same time it gives me that new energy boost to let their voices be heard in the (inter)national media in order to help them and their peers.
How did you get into this area?
I graduated in both International Relations and Journalism. After working for 5 years at the Dutch Prime Minister’s Office in The Hague I decided to join War Child in 2014. I came across the organisation in Uganda and I was really impressed by how my colleagues were dealing with the war children. From that moment on I started following War Child and once the function of spokesman became vacant, I applied immediately.
What advice would you give to students who want to work in this area?
If you would like to be a spokesman it might help you to have some experiences as a journalist as well. In that case you know best of both worlds which enables you to do your work as a spokesman better.
War Child helps children affected by war. It offers them a combination of psychosocial support, protection and education. War Child was founded in 1995 and is an internationally acknowledged expert on children affected by armed conflict. Last year approx. 300,000 children participated in its programmes.
For more information see warchild.org.
Twitter: @schoutenpeter / @warchildholland
Photo courtesy of Peter Schouten / War Child.
How do you measure success?
A big house? Nice clothes? A stable job and six figure income?
Ryan Nicodemus spent his twenties climbing the corporate ladder, spurred on by the false belief that he could find meaning in life through financial gain and the acquisition of material goods. Inspired by childhood friend Joshua Fields Milburn, Nicodemus came to recognise that such endeavours were ultimately leaving him feeling empty and dissatisfied.
In their 2016 documentary film, The Minimalists, Nicodemus and Milburn share with the public the secret behind their newfound happiness. The Minimalists is an intimate and personal film about their own journey, with a universal message: filling your life with material goods does not fill that void, does not lead to long-term satisfaction.
In this film, the viewer is invited to take a step back and assess how success is portrayed in the media. Most people do not truly value the materiality of the goods they consume, but rather continue to mindlessly consume goods because they believe in their symbolic meaning. Such goods are ultimately status symbols.
Photo by Kumiko SHIMIZU on Unsplash
Pierre Yimbog is President of DIT Students’ Union. He explains what he believes are the biggest challenges facing young people today and why we all need to be more tolerant.
This question is quite broad as I could list several challenges facing young people today. For example, the challenge of being able to make it through college without having a mental breakdown because you’re so under pressure with fees, work, affording accommodation, and balancing study and social life all in one. However, that’s a reality that can be overcome with the right support.
The real challenge in my opinion facing young people today is expressing your opinion.
We live in a very open and liberal society which celebrates the right to free speech. However, sometimes this can be a challenge for young people. It’s not simply being able to express your opinion but not being afraid to express an opinion because you may be shunned and despised depending on the issue.
Young people like all humans enjoy friendship and want to fit in. But if a topic comes up which others or your friends may have a differing opinion on, this could make you an outsider and leave you out of the group.
This was apparent during the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Although the majority of young people voted in favour of repeal, there was also a small proportion of young people who would have been afraid to speak up among their friends or campaign to keep the amendment. In that case they were the minority who couldn’t express themselves as seen by the toxic nature of the referendum.
Afraid to speak
I have seen this through my involvement in the Students’ Union. Most young people get an opportunity to express their views and challenge the status quo when they engage in student politics. However, if their opinion is outside the ‘norm’ they may feel they can’t speak out, due to fear of being ostracized. Their engagement should instead be welcomed.
I believe the best way to tackle this is for society as a whole to fully embrace the differing opinions of others. We should not judge or reject the opinions of others if we strongly believe in another way. The best way to form your opinion is not only with facts but being challenged by others. It is not about winning the argument but fully hearing both sides which may ultimately challenge your own views.
Young people are able to overcome any obstacle and bring about change in Ireland and internationally. If it is social change, then the opportunity to fully express your opinions ensures it is fully challenged so that it can bring about the right change. This is the real change that society needs.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
Ellen Butler looks at how communities near the Sahara desert are fighting desertification, with the Great Green Wall.
In 2007, an initiative called The Great Green Wall of the Sahel and the Sahara was launched by the African Union and the UN. The mammoth project proposed building a wall of trees across Africa – from Senegal to 7000km east in Djibouti. It was intended to block the advancing Sahara Desert from spreading into the Sahel, the area south of the desert, and causing land degradation.
However, over ten years only 15 percent of the wall has been built. The project has faced numerous obstacles and complications, though there have been some successes.
Dr. Chris Reij is a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and a specialist in sustainable land management. He told STAND News more about the project and what life is like for African farmers.
The Great Green Wall (GGW) has been described as a ridiculous idea that was destined to fail. Why is that?
Experience in the Sahel shows that planting trees is difficult. Survival rates of planted trees are often low, which means well below 50 percent and in some cases, just 10 or 20 per cent. Planting trees in areas with 400 mm rainfall or less is exceedingly difficult and certainly planting trees at the scale originally envisioned is technically impossible.
Also, the assumption that a belt of trees would stop the Sahara is flawed. Land degradation is caused by misuse of the land. If farmers in areas with more than 400 mm rainfall expand agriculture over lands which are not suitable for agriculture and destroy the vegetation by doing so, then land degradation/desertification will occur south of the planted belt.
Some argue that the initiative did, in fact, succeed. It has evolved into a metaphorical wall of a variety of practical land-use methods, adapted by local farmers themselves?
It is true that the GGW has moved into a better direction, but it is too early to declare success. It’s almost impossible to find any hard data anywhere about what has been achieved so far.
Unfortunately, we are still losing the fight against land degradation in the Sahel. Rates of deforestation continue to greatly exceed rates of reforestation. Niger is possibly an exception because smallholder farmers in the densely populated southern parts of Niger have increased on-farm tree densities on 5 million hectares (12.5 million acres), which makes it the largest positive environmental transformation in Africa and it happened in the second poorest country in the world.
What are conditions like for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa? Is the reforestation and regeneration of land having a positive impact on local communities and economies?
Life in the Sahel is harsh for most people. The dry season lasts about seven to eight months. Temperatures and rainfall have already become more extreme. This year, rains in Niger, for instance, are abundant and it leads to floods in Northern Niger, which is usually the driest area. Farmers have difficulties planning their activities because rainfall has become even more unpredictable. Many farm households face food shortages and a large percentage of children under five years are malnourished.
This macro-level gloom does hide very positive development at the local level. The positive impact generated by investments in restoring degraded land can be best illustrated by one case: The village of Ranawa in Burkina Faso was in a very difficult situation around 1985. All wells dried up at the end of the rainy season and drought led to crop failure. Between 1975 and 1985, 25 percent of the villagers left to settle elsewhere. In 1984/85, a project began to invest in simple soil, and water conservation techniques, which quickly led to a recharge in groundwater and soon all wells in the village had water during the entire year. The soil and water conservation techniques also helped restore the productive capacity of the land. Since 1985, not a single family has left the village.
What does the future look like for countries in the Sahel?
The future of most Sahel countries looks quite bleak. The population will double in the next 20 years. Countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger experience acts of terrorism. Young people lack economic perspectives, and many want to leave for Europe.
However, there are also positive developments. 40 years ago, there were barely any academically trained people in Sahel countries, but nowadays one can find specialists in every discipline. Communication was difficult, but now almost every family has access to a mobile phone. Infant mortality has dropped, and access to education has improved. 40 years ago, we did not know what to do with land degradation, but now we know what to do and how to do it.
It is vital to improve food security and livelihoods in the Sahel and create economic perspectives for the young people. Anyone visiting a big city in the Sahel will be impressed by all the shops.
Above image courtesy of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.