One of my first experiences at the forum today was watching a group of women from Tamil Nadu shout Amandla Awethu! and sing several variations of we shall overcome. It took me a minute to figure out that they were chanting Amandla until I saw a fellow African nod and smile at me while pointing to the women.
So its another day and I can’t quite figure out how my body is holding up. My task for the day: I promised Ziad Abbas (Co-director of the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheishe, Palestine) that I would join him at his session on child labor, child trafficking and children in conflict situations but was also scheduled to interview Vandana Shiva (Indian physicist and activist against biopiracy, the production of GMOs and its effects on poor people) during the same time slot.
Once I found out that their sessions were two rooms apart I thanked the heavens and discreetly tried to slip in and out of each tent. Ziad’s shared the floor with 2 European guys who were so disengaged that they would have put me to sleep had it not been for the group of Bhutanese children gesturing and smiling at me. Ziad didn’t speak until the last part of the session and when he did he managed to wake up the entire audience with his dynamism and passion.
“Since 1967 my family has never been around one table.They are scattered all over in Syria, Jordan and the West Bank.” He looked up at the children from Bhutan who are refugees and said I am like you, we share similar experiences. “I was arrested. jailed and tortured at age 13….I remember growing up and wanting to be like Rambo. I learned to thrown stones before I learned to read and write.” Ziad talked about a young boy Rifah who was part of Ibdaa’s football team and was recently killed while throwing stones at a tank just like Faris O. 14, whose image throwing a stone at an Israeli tank is famous and decorates walls all over the world. Faris died a week after the photographer took his picture. “Our children our being killed slowly….they control their education, life and environment. Some are even killed before they are born…40 Palestinian schools have been converted into Israeli military headquarters where people are being detained and tortured. So places that use to educate are now being used to arrest and torture.” In the midst of this conflict Ibdaa is educating, mobilizing, linking refugee youth to youth in Osaka Japan, to Palestinian refugee youth in Lebanon and other places, to people in the U.S. and Europe. They are organizing sports teams (recently establishing the first girls basketball team), connecting to children from Gaza and fostering the establishment of dozens of Youth Cultural Centers throughout Occupied Palestine. 2/3rds of Palestinians are refugees who have been stripped of their land, homes and history in many ways and Ibdaa is empowering youth to reclaim what has been lost. “We need a clearer strategy for the future and we have to work from the bottom up.”
After sitting down with Ziad for another interview, I was lucky enough to catch Dr. Shiva as she was moving on to her next session (I will share the full interview later). To my surprise I found her to be very approachable and funny as hell. She said that one of the weaknesses of the WSF is that it is becoming centralized….”Its starting to feel and look like the Soviet state” and we need to think about shifting that model maybe doing it every 5 years cause we all got work to do….
Sitting down to eat I then met a (middle class) family from Bangalore who were here for a session on children’s rights and helped me pick out the best food from the booths. We talked about things we had learned and seen so far, the work we do and our families…overall they liked the forum but thought that it was a shame that it wasn’t going beyond those walls and engaging other people even within Mumbai. As I said goodbye to move on to the next session we promised to stay in touch and I realized that I have had few longer/deeper interactions with folks from India who weren’t presenting or identified as activists.
the computers are about to shut off…so i’ll leave you with those thoughts