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Posts Tagged ‘war’

Photo: AP
Before the Australian men’s soccer team’s first World Cup appearance in 1974 (pictured above), the team competed in war-torn Saigon.

Young, ambitious Australians, playing for their country for free in 1967, didn’t know any better when they accepted an invitation to a soccer tournament — in Saigon. I heard this story on WBUR radio’s Only a Game. It is beyond amazing.

James Parkinson reported, ” ‘It was one of these stories that you heard at a bar with colleagues and ex-players, and you thought, “Is this really true? Could this really be a thing? Surely this didn’t actually happen,” ‘ sports journalist Davidde Corran says. ‘Except that it really did actually happen. It really was the way that they told it.’

“It was November 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, when an international football tournament was held in Saigon. Eight nations would compete: New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, then South Vietnam and Australia. …

” ‘We were the pawns in the game to win over the South Vietnamese people, so it was a PR exercise,’ says Ray Baartz, a former Australian national team player, from 1967 to 1974. …

“There was little time for the players to think about the potential dangers of sending civilians into a war zone.

” ‘I think it was about a matter of weeks. We’re on the plane off to Vietnam. We didn’t have too many discussions about it,’ says Stan Ackerley, who represented Australia from 1965 to 1969. ‘These days, you would think twice about going.’ …

” ‘Well, the first, biggest shock we got was the amount of armed people we saw — soldiers, sentry points all over the place,”‘ Stan says.

“Bombers here, and fighter planes here, there and everywhere,” Ray says. “You thought, ‘Hello, we are in the middle of a war zone,’ you know? And we got through the airport, and then into the bus to take us to the hotel and had a police escort all the way.” …

” ‘They went to this briefing at the embassy, and one of the things they were told was, “Be careful of people riding on bikes because it might be someone who’s a threat, and they could mistake you for an American or a soldier and attack you and shoot you,” ‘ Davidde says. ‘[These] players, in this completely new surrounding, walk out of the Australian Embassy, and what do they see? Just a city filled with people riding around on bikes.’ …

“The players discovered the proprietor of their hotel had stolen their food vouchers, leaving them with nothing but substitute ham. And Stan received an electric shock, thanks to exposed wires in his room. Even the training pitch was questionable.

” ‘The training field was a real quagmire at the best of times, so you couldn’t train there all the time because of the conditions and that,’ Ray says. ‘It was really a cow paddock. You know, quite often we’d train on the roof of the hotel, just to keep the body moving a little bit. We weren’t allowed to train on the main stadium.’

” ‘There would have been this surreal sight during this short period of the Vietnam War, where footballs were just falling off the top of this building, this hotel, every day during training,’ Davidde says. …

“The tournament began with a group stage. Australia was drawn into Group A alongside New Zealand, Singapore and hosts South Vietnam.

” ‘The army was going around the stadium with mine detectors and so forth, and then you think, “Oh, hello,” ‘ Ray says. …

” ‘You gotta bear in mind that these players — a lot of these players were playing for the national team unpaid,’ Davidde says. ‘You’re taking annual leave to go and play for the national team — you’re sacrificing to play for the national team.’ …

“The Australian team’s PR mission had, in some ways, managed to work. The Vietnamese people had just seen their own team eliminated in the other semifinal. They also loathed the South Korean soldiers. So they began cheering for the Australians. …

” ‘To be part of the first tournament that we ever won was fantastic,’ Ray says. ‘You know, we were all so thrilled and so proud to be a part of it.’

“The magnitude of Australia’s performance in the Friendship Tournament cannot be overstated. Not only did they perform on the pitch, but they did it in remarkable circumstances, and all for the honor of representing their country.

” ‘To play for your country, you have to sacrifice a lot,’ Stan says. ‘So we sacrificed a lot, you know?’ ”

Wow. More at Only a Game, here.

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Radio Lifeline for Syria


Photo: Amandas Ong
An Alwan radio producer in the station’s recording studio. The broadcast lifeline to Syria is located in an apartment complex in Turkey.

Where people struggle to carry on their lives in the midst of war, radio can provide comfort and hope. This is a story about Syrians in exile who broadcast news and normalcy to people back home.

Amandas Ong writes at Slate, “I push my way out of the metro station in southwestern Istanbul where Sami — not his real name — and I have agreed to meet. …

” ‘It’s not far from here,’ he says, directing me down an overhead bridge through a number of serpentine streets. …

“The hive of activity inside forms the Istanbul operations of Radio Alwan, (Alwan means ‘colors’ in Arabic) an independent Syrian news station broadcasting into that devastated country every day. Alwan provides much-needed news updates to information-starved Syrians and also runs popular entertainment programs and controversial discussions. …

“Three bedrooms have been converted into a meeting room, a recording studio, and an office. … Most of the staff had no prior training in radio journalism before joining Alwan. Sami describes himself as having ‘come from a regular, boring HR job in Dubai.’ …

“ ‘The point of Alwan,’ he had told me in a prior conversation over FaceTime, ‘is not just to report the news. Radio is also a form of activism, and through our programs, we try to do our part by encouraging people to engage with civic organizations within Syria, and to inform them on what’s really happening both around the country and outside of it.’ …

“A law student named Ahmad al-Qadour started Radio Alwan in 2014 in the northern Syrian city of Idlib. … They decided to relocate Alwan’s central office to Istanbul after a series of threats from Islamic radical groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which had been part of the Syrian wing of al-Qaida before splitting from the group in 2016. …

“A typical day at Alwan begins at 6 a.m. in the Istanbul office, where the team of about 15 staff members assembles for a variety of Syrian and international news segments, followed by talk shows and short radio skits, some educational, others comedic. …

“Sami is especially proud of Oh, Grandma, a program presented by a woman from Idlib who is identified by her initial, N. She has a day job as a teacher, but in her role at Alwan, she visits the houses of women in the city and interviews them about their lives, their daily struggles, and discusses salient issues with them, such as the legal age for marriage for Syrian women. …

“Maram, a 24-year-old in a slouchy sweater and jeans, comes to talk to me. She graduated from a media school in Damascus and decided to come to Turkey to seek better job opportunities, before stumbling upon an open position at Alwan. …

“I ask her what she likes most about Alwan, and she doesn’t hesitate: ‘I learn a lot every single day, but most of all, it’s taught me so much about how to deal with uncertainty.’ …

“Sami [has] a philosophical approach to the objective of radio itself.

“ ‘We have a program called Acute Angle,’ he says, ‘that encourages people to accept the idea that there is no such thing as true fact. In each segment, we talk about different personalities like Michael Jackson, Ataturk, and even Walt Disney, and how these people have been represented both positively and negatively. I want our listeners to know that there are no taboos, and also no perspective on any one issue or narrative that should be taken for granted.’ …

“[It’s staff member] Dima who has perhaps the most poetic vision of her work at Alwan. ‘What I’ve learned is that the people who listen to us aren’t just suffering day in and out. They want to live, love, dance, laugh. Sometimes we draw courage from them, other times they are comforted by us, hundreds of miles away,’ she says. ‘That’s the beauty of radio: It has soul.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times.
Ali Shehadeh, a plant conservationist from Syria who fled the war in his country, at work in Terbol, Lebanon.

The harm that wars do seems endless. Every aspect of life is affected. And yet, against all odds, good people rise up to save or try to reconstruct what might be lost. In this post, everyday heroes protect a seed bank from the war in Syria.

Somini Sengupta has the story at the New York Times. “Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat.

“He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

“Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.

“But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather, and war.

“The center, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. …

“By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya.

“Trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were stolen and killed for food. … And the center’s most vital project — a seed bank containing 155,000 varieties of the region’s main crops, a sort of agricultural archive of the Fertile Crescent — faced extinction.

“But researchers there had a backup copy. Beginning in 2008, long before the war, the center had begun to send seed samples — ‘accessions’ as they are called — to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ‘doomsday vault,’ burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle. It was standard procedure, in case anything happened.

“War happened. In 2015, as Aleppo disintegrated, center scientists borrowed some of the seeds they had stored in Svalbard and began building anew. This time, they spread out, setting up one seed bank in Morocco and another just across Syria’s border with Lebanon in this vast valley of cypress and grapes known as the Bekaa. …

“Mr. Shehadeh … is obsessed with the wild relatives of the seeds that most farmers plant today. He eschews genetically modified seeds. He wants instead to tap the riches of those wild ancestors, which are often hardy and better adapted to harsh climates. ‘They’re the good stock,’ he said.

“He hunts for the genetic traits that he says will be most useful in the future: resistance to pests or blistering winds, or the ability to endure in intensely hot summers. He tries to select for those traits and breeds them into the next generation of seeds — in the very soil and air where they have always been grown.”

The experts believe that the seeds from plants that thrive in this arid part of the world will be needed for feeding the planet as it warms.

Read the whole article here.

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Maria Di Mento writes in The Chronicle of Philanthropy about a new fund to help military families.

“Three affluent families are forming a fund with the purpose of raising $30 million to support programs that serve military veterans, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America announced [in July].

“The families have donated more than $1 million and plan to seek contributions especially from other wealthy people, including those without personal connections to any service members.

“Philip Green, president of PDG Consulting, a health-care consultancy,  and his wife, Elizabeth Cobbs, chief of geriatrics at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C., joined with their friends Glenn and Laurie Garland and with the Jim Stimmel family to create the fund, Mr. Green said in an interview with The Chronicle.

“The money raised for the new Veterans Support Fund will be funneled to five nonprofits that help returning service members and their families.” Read more.

I think it’s interesting that the donors are reaching out to those who have not been personally touched by the wars to solicit funds. On a blog at work we were just discussing the fact that so many men and women were risking their lives, their families’ stability, and their mental health for the last ten years while so many of the rest of us were mostly untouched.

Hats off to these philanthropists! It’s one thing to see the unequal contributions of Americans. It’s another to do something about it.

Photograph: Sarah Conard/Reuters/File
Sgt. Audrey Johnsey (left) greets Sfc. Joshua Herbig (right), who she served with in Afghanistan, during the Welcome Home Heroes Parade in St. Louis in January.

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