I love squirrels 🙂 Once I was in London and I gave one of them a small M&M and all of a sudden my parents found a line of them following me around the park.
Gahaha, I just have to do this one!
Corniest of all corn in the world:
Q: Why is this an Asian squirrel?
A: Because it eats rice!
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Pardon me for the silly riddle. I captured this pic when I first moved back to Singapore and was working from a park then, as I badly need connection to nature more than WiFi. That was after years of living in villages, and I was suffocating in the concrete jungle even though my parents had filled the entire 18th floor with greens to make me more at home.
So. Here I was sitting in a real jungle, getting all distracted taking pics of spiders (small, innocent ones, unlike those of Australia’s. heh heh), ants – the red juicy-assed ones, feathery looking animals that move on their own (and were definitely not feathers), and this squirrel hopped into the…
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Imagine if you will, walking down the streets of London in the year 1800. At the height, if its industrial age the city’s buildings have all turned into an unseemly grey hue from the factories nearby. You look up at the sky and see thick fog engulfing the city in a tight blanket for as far as the eye could see.
Yet, you are happily willing to accept the pollution, for after all England was ushered into the age of steam engines and the accompanying material wealth due to its zealous pursuit of industrialization. England had suffered miserably in the 1700s from high unemployment, and the new steam factories offered an excellent chance to turn things around.
Or did it?
Imagine also, after a nice meal in one of London’s restaurants, you decide to take a walk around in the city. After all, the streets which were broken down in the last century have just been paved over, allowing carts and people to start driving and walking safely. Its 8 PM and your legs take you to a small weaving workshop, where you see tens of 12 years old children file out into the streets. The children are going home for the day, only to sleep a meager amount of hours so they can wake up the next day at the crack of dawn to toil away their soft skin into callused hands.
While the industrial revolution taking Europe by a storm was hailed as the primary engine of economic abundance, factories often had an ugly underbelly that revealed the need for national and international laws to regulate their operations. Namely working condition and child labor.
Many children were sent there from workhouses or orphanages to work long hours in hot, dusty and dangerous conditions, where their tiny bodies would be utilized to crawl through narrow spaces between fast-moving machinery. It was not uncommon for children to have a 12-hour working day, and accidents happened frequently.
By 1810, about 2 million school-age children were working 50- to 70-hour weeks. Most came from poor families. Poverty stricken families unable to provide for their children would sometimes turn them over to a mill or factory owner, where they would earn a meager salary for endless hours of painstaking and often dangerous labor.
Are you outraged? Trust me you are not alone…
Britain was the first to pass laws regulating child labor. From 1802 to 1878, a series of laws gradually came to the scene with the aim of shortening working hours, improving working conditions, and raising the age at which children could work. Other European countries adopted similar laws.
However, a law is often only the first step towards changing cultural attitudes. In often cases, culture might actually take more time to catch up with a legal framework, than the other way around. In the case of child labor, we must always bear in mind that in the 1800s, when such laws first started emerging, the global scene probably considered child labor as means out of poverty and degradation for many families, who could not otherwise feed their children. As the example of Britain shows, this attitude was shared by both developed and developing countries alike.
Moreover, we need to pay close attention to the reasons behind the regulatory framework, and to look deeper into a more comprehensive picture of beneficial child employment. The law was clearly motivated by protecting children in dangerous circumstances, as well as protecting children from dropping out of school at an early age.
However, what happens then to the kids who help their parents on their farms, or in their stores? What becomes of high school youth who are willing to work as to make some extra money during school vacations? For me personally, I am a massive fan of apprenticeship systems that helped youth get on-the-job training and learn valuable skills that are often neglected by the education system.
The answer to all of that, was a compromise. Without completely eliminating all forms of child employment, the member nations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations ratified three key documents that shape the global understanding of child labor, namely the ILO minimum Age Convention No, 138 of 1973, ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor of 1999, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990.
The ILO website summarizes the child labor international regulatory framework in the following table:
The minimum age at which children can start work.
Possible exceptions for developing countries
Any work which is likely to jeopardize children’s physical, mental or moral heath, safety or morals should not be done by anyone under the age of 18.
(16 under strict conditions)
(16 under strict conditions)
Basic Minimum Age
The minimum age for work should not be below the age for finishing compulsory schooling, and in any case not less than 15.
Children between the ages of 13 and 15 years old may do light work, as long as it does not threaten their health and safety, or hinder their education or vocational orientation and training.
13 – 15
12 – 14
There are two interesting things to note in that table. First, the possible exceptions for developing countries column. The UN is made up of sovereign states who cannot be coerced into ratifying documents they believe is not in the best interest of serving their respective cultural norms and practices. Second, the definition of light work above clearly stated as work that does not interfere with school enrollment. As such, it would allow youth to pursue vocational and apprenticeship training programs after school hours, babysitting to make money, or merely help their parents in their stores.
At the end of the day, while child labor is still a widespread problem that affects millions of children and families across the globe, it is essential before we start criticizing every form of child employment out there, to understand the legal framework against which the system operates. After we have that clear picture in our minds, only then can we debate the merits and downsides of the existing system.
The rationale behind this legal framework is an understanding of the undeniable fact that some kids, somewhere out there, need the skills that come from labor, and sometimes, do need the small amount of money that comes with it. After all, nothing could teach discipline and responsibility than helping your dad run the family business at a tender age, or helping your mom sow the fields that your family depends on for sustenance.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the “nasty” forms of child labor. They are children in the worst forms of child labor, defined as children working in slavery, prostitution, illicit activities, or work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children. Children in hazardous work are those involved in any activity or occupation that, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm their health, safety, or morals.
Most of us go through life feeling that we are missing out on something. Yet that “something” is often an undefinable, beyond our grasp feeling that there could be more to our days than our normal routines. We wake up, go to our 9-5 jobs, come home, pay the bills and rinse and repeat. We might have a few friends to hang out with, we could perhaps have the occasional fun activity to look forward to, but overall, we would not feel quenched.
This undefinable “something” would usually rear its shy head into our subconscious minds in the form of admiration for someone else’s life, be it real or fictional. It could happen when we see that amazing dancer on T.V who just baffled their audience with their floor routine. Or it happen when we see a scene in a movie where the heroine is a kick-ass, completely toned ninja whose offensive moves makes her seem all strong and powerful. We might watch an interview with a famous book novelist and wounder quietly to ourselves “just how lucky is that person!”
Our mind however, is hardwired for survival, where conformity and society have programmed us early on to believe that our 9-5 jobs, and our ability to save every last penny we possibly can, is the only sure method of paying our bills. We are programed to believe that the safety of a stable job is the only method we would not be considered losers in today’s hectic world.
In the middle of this hassle, we learn to forget our passions, to the point where we no longer recognize that soft envious voice in our heads as one that is prompting us to go forward and explore the fullness of life as we would really want to live it. We forget that we are made up of huge potential that we are wasting away by our incessant marathon towards the 104k pensions, where we hope will provide us with the funds to finally go on that dream cruise. Overall, we simply remain unquenched, always hungry for “more”.
Perhaps, we can just listen to that soft envious voice in our heads, to recognize it for what it really is, a calling to do more with our lives. And perhaps, we can then take concrete steps towards living the life WE want to live, by investing in making ourselves the best, damn versions we could ever hope to be, in our own eyes. Who knows, maybe after sometime we can find a way to turn our passion to profit.
In recent years the government’s plans to move informal settlements dwellers to government constructed projects has been hailed by many in the media as a respectable move that should have a positive impact on people’s lives. In reality all the move actually accomplishes is to make the city appear to be nicer by destroying some of the ugly red-brick buildings that are home to around 60% of the population of Cairo, but besides that it achieves very little else.
While many of these new home owners have filed a myriad of complaints against their new adobes, from high rent rates to difficulty in obtaining food and gas resources to issues with unit ownership, the government has yet to address the concerns of these new home owners, and chucks most of their complaints as unreasonable, and therefore fails to correct the problems perceived by the new settlers.
The key success factor in any development project has been regarded by many international development agencies as stakeholder participation, because after all, who can better describe their needs and assess the validity of intervention methods that the beneficiaries themselves. Despite this trend the government has yet to consider the demands of the residents of the newly established cities, and as such they leave a time bomb of concerns waiting to erupt at any moment.
The problem is that despite the government’s best intentions, such initiatives fails to address the root cause of the problem of informal settlements, which is chronic poverty. Moving people from informal settlements to the newly constructed government buildings is similar to taking a bird with tattered feathers and a broken wing and putting it in a gilded cage; its all show and no subsistence.
Therefore, it is unsurprising to find people complain of a 300 LE rent, which seems to any onlooker as a meager amount that is well below the actual maintenance cost of such residential units. However, when you compare the needed rent in proportion to monthly income (reported by some to be between 300 – 1000 LE) and the historic rent prices such residents are used to (which could vary between nothing for those who owned their apartments to around 20 LE), the amount in the eyes of the new resident’s borders on impossible.
Therefore, the only method that could assist in resolving this bottleneck in the project’s lifespan is the introduction of income generating schemes that would help the residents increase their income sources and therefore contribute more fully towards the maintenance of the project. An urban resettlement project that is devoid of such schemes will run the risk of failure as it simply becomes nothing but a beautiful shell devoid of the means to sustain itself.
Officials were often cited as saying that some of the resident’s concerns have already been met, for example, food stores have opened in the neighborhood with cheap prices, transportation has been made available, and schools do exist, with attempts to overcome any difficulties they might face in acquiring teachers. As for the rent issue, some have been deemed exempt such as widows and divorcee’s and people with disabilities, with NGO’s vowing to help others who are deemed unable to pay, a move while admirable, still fails to address the root cause of the problem and therefore will most likely prove unsustainable in the future.
Yet between official statements and resident’s reports there seem to exist two pictures that do not quite match. In Egypt, this a normal occurrence, but it leaves one wondering on how can we judge the truth when its seems so elusive, and how can one contribute positively to the discussion of the issue when all the facts are prone to multiple interpretations.