Friday, February 25, 2011

The Price of “Stability"

The current fretting in the media over how the events in the Middle East will affect "prices at the pump" is remarkably obtuse. Or rather: it is extremely clever in keeping us obtuse, for it gets the relationship between these issues precisely wrong. It deliberately keeps the focus on our own comforts and inalienable "way of life", when, in fact, it is those very things that lie at root of the region's turmoil.

The tens thousands of people who are now streaming into the streets to take back their countries -- and in many instances paying with their lives -- are doing so because they could no longer tolerate a system we in the West called “stability.” This “stability” was not in fact a viable model for human societies but was instead a mutually reinforcing system of ostensibly secure energy underwritten by massive Pentagon expenditures and military bases, as well as international diplomacy guided by an extremely narrow and alienating conception of what constitutes Israel’s best interests.

In the name of this “stability" we have propped up and funded some of the worst dictators in the world, outfitted them with advanced weapons and allowed them to repress their peoples in corrupt political regimes we ourselves would never tolerate. This “stability” may have brought us cheap gas and a semblance of security for Israel, but both were the most tenuous of illusions.

For the millions of people suffering under our despots, however, our “stability” was all too real. With their hopes and aspirations crushed by stagnant and corrupt economies, with all hope of change shackled in prisons and torture chambers along with dissidents and enemies of this “stability”, is it any wonder that so many people in the Middle East viewed our cynical diplomacy with mistrust or outright antipathy?

Who could have thought this could go on forever? Most in the West were quite happy to believe it would, even though its bloody and medieval glory betrayed every vestige of our so-called Western values. Our chimerical comforts have been paid for in blood, but since this currency was in the form of peoples whose cultures we couldn't he bothered to understand, we were content to keep it running as long as we could afford to drive our cars to amply-stocked shelves at Wal-Mart.

But it was intolerable, this “stability.” It was immoral and unsustainable, made possible only by the soothing lies we told ourselves about our civilization and its motives, justifying our refusal to peer further at the ugly machinations that made it all possible.

Now, however, the curtain has torn. We stand, dumbfounded at our impotence, as people across the Arab world tear away the cruel edifice that we built. Still, we cling to the notion that it will subside, that we will somehow manage to return to “stability”, and that the “high prices at the pump” will be temporary.

It is a remarkable moment. More than the fall of Communism, which only fuelled our triumphalism, the upheaval in the Middle East will prove significant because it will force a reckoning in the West. We will need to face the reality that our “stability” was bought with tyranny, while our own freedoms were paper-thin, defined essentially in terms of our ability to shop, rather than any real ability to guide our own destinies.

Clearly, the people of the Middle East desire the same things we have always wanted for ourselves: a moderate, just and democratic society. If we are to hold true to our values and show them to be of any worth at all, we in the West should finally step out of the way and let them have it. If so, what may emerge from these events will hopefully be a new narrative, one that will replace the “clash of civilizations” with partnership.

By Michael Dudley

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oneonta Sister City Celebrates 10th Anniversary in India

The Ninash Foundation is a 501© (3) charity that has been promoting literacy among the underprivileged children by opening schools in India since 1996. In 2000, Oneonta (NY) Mayor Kim Muller in cooperation with the Ninash Foundation signed a declaration proclaiming Oneonta (USA) and Dundlod (India) as sister cities.

Marking the 10th year anniversary of the Oneonta-Dundlod sister cities project, Ashok Malhotra, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy and Linda Drake, Director of Center for Social Responsibility and Community at SUNY Oneonta, just returned from their exciting trip to India. Their group consisted of six Oneontans and two faculty members from Belmont University, Nashville. They visited the Ninash Foundation’s six Indo-International Schools in India: an elementary and a high school in each of the three remote villages of Dundlod (Rajasthan), Mahapura (Rajasthan) and Kuran (Gujarat), which were built with the help of the participants of the SUNY Oneonta “Learn and Serve” program.

The group visited the first Indo-International School in Dundlod, which started in 1996 with 50 underprivileged children, has now grown to 550 students. Combining the celebrations of the 15th Anniversary of the school and the10th Anniversary of the sister cities project, the children performed music, dances and plays to entertain the guests from India and the USA. The celebration was further augmented by the news that 10 students from the Dundlod Indo-International School had completed their studies and were going to the college of their choice.

The Ninash Foundation, through the generous donations of individuals and organizations globally and locally, provided funds to the Dundlod High School to construct two new class rooms and an office. To provide the children the richness of the Indian and Western cultural heritage, one of the class rooms will be named as the Jack Finestone Music Room and the other as Hari Chand Chopra Culture Room. These rooms will be used for classes to provide music, stories and other cultural enrichment programs.

One of the side highlights of the trip was the giving away of 50 dairy goats to the poorest of poor people of Dundlod by Linda. This “joy of giving” was made possible by the kind-heartedness of the children and teachers of the Riverside Elementary School, Oneonta, New York, who participated in the “Kiss the Goat Project” during December, 2010 to raise money for 27 goats. The remaining funds for 23 goats were generously donated by the members of the Oneonta colleges and local community. During the past 5 years, as part of the sister cities project, children and teachers from the Oneonta City Schools District and the members of the Oneonta community have donated 153 goats to provide dairy products to at least 600 members of the Dundlod community. An un-matched feat of compassion and generosity that is a part of the Oneonta-Dundlod sister cities project since 2000!

The group started the New Year’s Eve by celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Ninash’s building of the second Indo-International School in Kuran, Gujarat, an area which was completely devastated by an earthquake in 2001. The Ninash group was greeted by the members of the village government, local community, teachers and 280 students, who entertained by performing dances, music and short skits in four different languages. The entertainment provided by the Indian and Western musicians was followed by a delightful fire display.

On the New Year’s Day, the group inaugurated a mobile library funded by the Ninash Foundation. They also dedicated a garden with flowering bushes and a tree in memory of Dr. Douglas Shrader, SUNY Oneonta Distinguished Teaching Professor, who had selflessly given time to be a voice over for the Ninash’s video, which helped raise funds in half a dozen countries. Similar memorial gardens are planned in the other Indo-International schools during this year.

The Ninash group also visited the third Indo-International Culture School in Mahapura where they were greeted with leis and flowers by more than 270 enthusiastic children and teachers. Since the school is moving towards becoming a high school, it highlighted its accomplishments by showing its four newly built rooms to accommodate classes up to the 9th grade, new toilets and an eco-friendly garden. In addition, it displayed stained glass art done by the two newly hired art teachers in the John Koller and Mimi Forman Artisan Wing. As part of preserving the culture of India, children entertained the group by presenting poems, plays, dances and music on topics ranging from India’s linguistic diversity and global warming to education as a human right. The inside and outside of every classroom was decorated with paintings and art work, which was a joy to behold. Along with the Ninash group, a number of Indian and foreign guests were invited to enjoy the entertainment presented by the children.

Ninash’s six Indo-International schools are dedicated to educating more than 1100 underprivileged (female and minority) children of India. The schools have been making a genuine economic and cultural impact in the three villages where they are located. They have become the hubs of educational and social change; a model for the rest of rural India. All this exciting progress has been made possible by the generous donations of individuals and organizations from all over the world. To continue this access to education and a future to these forgotten children of humanity, we need to raise $60,000 each year to provide the salaries and other recurring expenses of the six schools.

The Ninash Foundation has laid down its goal for the year 2011 to raise $250,000 to set up a trust fund. Please join the Ninash team and be a partner in promoting literacy among the underprivileged. Your gift to education is like the giving tree, which will keep giving for the generations to come. For information on how to donate, please visit the Ninash Foundation website.

By Dr. Ashok Malhotra, Founder, The Ninash Foundation