Sunday, May 31, 2009

Seasonal crop industry workers boost Pacific economies

Seasonal workers at the Satara kiwifruit packhouse in Te Puke.
On right: Group leader Sepuloni Saipaia and Satara pastoral care
manager Tim Crossman.

By Lucy Mullinger: Pacific Media Centre

An export harvesting and packaging industry employing seasonal Pacific Islanders has emerged as a critical money-spinner for small island economies, with the scheme earning more than $10 million a year for Tonga alone.

A government analyst, Anne Masoe, who has been involved with the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme since 2006, says it is important for Pacific remittances.

Masoe, a Department of Labour analyst, says the work policy began on April 1, 2007, and was launched under the labour market strategy.

The policy helps Pacific Islanders find work planting, maintaining, harvesting and packing crops in the horticulture and viticulture industries.

RSE enables New Zealand employers to recruit labourers aged 18 to 52 from Pacific Islands Forum member nations, including the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

According to the Mr Apple website, the company which is the largest RSE’s schemes largest employer says it is the “largest grower, packer and exporter of apples”.

It focuses on producing “quality export apples for valuable customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, USA and the Middle East”.

At a meeting held in mid-May, Mr Apple’s labour manager, Alistair Jamieson, briefed visiting Prime Minister Dr Feleti Sevele in Hastings on the Tongan contingent’s contribution to the company’s business.

Jamieson says the Dr Sevele was very happy with the policy and caught up with his workers.

Jamieson also met up with the Samoan Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi , recently who was equally pleased with the initiative.

“Both the Tongan and Samoan governments are very keen to have the programme's remittance back to the islands” says Jamieson.

Great benefit
Mr Apple's labour coordinator, Karen Morrish, said the meeting went exceptionally well and all members of the Mr Apple team (senior management, orchard staff and RSE workers) found the meeting to be of great benefit to both the RSE and the company.

Mr Apple employs the Tongan RSE workers through TongaWorks which supports workers and their employers.

According to TongaWorks brand manager Sefita Hao'uli, the “RSE is a necessity for Mr Apple's business to be successful because of higher productivity and a more reliable work force”.

Hao'uli says: “RSE is extremely important to Tonga and Pacific countries who have been asking for access to the NZ Labour market”.

It is worth over 10 million dollars to Tonga each year and involves quite a large number of Tonga's small population.

Before employing RSE staff, “the harvest was always difficult and there were no guarantees that they would be able to get the fruit picked on time,” says Hao'uli.

According to Hao'uli, for the year ending April 09 New Zealand employed just over 5000 RSE workers. More than 2400 were from Vanuatu, Tonga 1200, Samoa 1100 and the remainder from Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Morrish says “we started with 26 workers and have grown with the scheme to having employed 833 this season.” With 1700 people on the seasonal work force this year that means half of the employees were from the RSE.

Peak needs
Morrish says “our RSE workers provide the seasonal peak requirements at our times of thinning and picking”.

According to Masoe, residents from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu can work up to six months, whereas Kiribati and Tuvalu citizens can work up to nine months in New Zealand.

Jamieson says he likes to employ these workers because the company values the Pacific Islanders’ work ethic.

“They have great integrity” and “we obviously try to give them as much work as possible”. “The fact that they are here, keen to work and reliable is an amazing benefit to us”.

Mr Apple has already been recruiting RSE staff for two years. RSE status is initially granted for two years with additional years if the employer keeps to the regulations imposed by the Department of Labour.

Mr Apple is now on to its third year due to the fact that it has to keep up with the RSE rules and regulations which include ensuring they pay for half of the workers travel costs to and from New Zealand, a guarantee of pay for at least 240 hours of work and an average of 30 hours a week.

RSE accredited companies are also expected to provide suitable accommodation, translation, transportation, and the chance for RSE staff to maintain their religious and recreational activities. When it comes to pay and employment law, the same rules for New Zealand workers apply.

According to Hao'uli, most RSE labourers are on the minimum pay (an hour) when they first begin working, however the minimum pay rates don't always apply on contract.

“It's not about how long one works, it’s how hard,” he says.

Costs rise
One problem, however, is that local employers in Tonga have found the cost of labour has gone up because "quality" labourers now have other better paying options”, says Hao’uli.

There is also the problem of workers being re-located outside their own countries and away from their families.

“The social impact both at home and abroad are often overlooked,” says Hao'uli.

However, the Department of Labour and RSE organisers are aware of the problems, DOL’s Masoe says there are always improvements to any policy - “we are two years down the road and still fine tuning the scheme”.

The Department of Labour has been provided with some funding through the Government Agency Fund “to provide technical assistance for Pacific states to improve RSE for the next two years”, says Masoe.

“We're at the infancy and both host and source country governments are keen to address these as they arise,” says Hao'uli.

Pre-departure training, orientation and worker support while on the job go to some extent to monitor and address these issues as it is in everyone's interest to work together.

Countries such as Tonga have a whole division devoted to RSE and a full time team of trainers to do all of the necessary training before departure. It can take up to three days for some of the new recruits.

Former RSE workers and group leaders are also brought in to help with training to ensure new workers are ready before they arrive in the country.

Lucy Mullinger is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. Pictured above: Sefita Hao'uli (Photo: Del Abcede).

Mr Apple
Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme

Demand for Pasifika interpreters hard to match

By Sylvia Giles: Pacific Media Centre

Wanted: More interpreters – especially Pasifika - for the Manukau SuperClinic, which is catering for a district more culturally diverse than any other in New Zealand.

Interpreters used by the clinic - essential for the safety of patients and medical staff - include Afghan, Arabic, Cantonese and Vietnamese.

However, the free service is still having difficulty finding qualified interpreters for core Pacific languages, such as Tongan.

The Counties Maukau District Health Board (CMDHB) has more than double the Pacific population of any other district health board.

Pacific peoples make up 21 percent of the board’s population, compared to 6 percent nationally. The district also has a growth rate of 3.2 percent, double the national average of 1.6 per cent.

Carol Cameron, Interpreting Services team leader, is charged with the task of co-coordinating the extensive interpreting service, which also provides interpreters for Middlemore Hospital, courts and police in the area.

“For the safety of the doctors and the nurses, as well as patients, they should be using the recognised source, which is the Interpreting Services,” she says.

“We need to make sure the interpreters who are out there, doing the job, are trained and that we have regular updates with them, regular meetings and that everyone is aware of their responsibilities.

“The risk of using a family member or friend is that they may not understand the situation. They might interpret the wrong diagnosis, or may interpret wrongly,” she says.

“But also there is concern that if there is bad news, or something like that, they may not tell the patient the correct information. That emotion comes into it.”

Trained role
This explains the Counties Manukau policy that any interpreting must be done through their own interpreting services - by trained interpreters.

“We cannot hire anyone without having done the certificate in liaison interpreting,” says Cameron.

While there may be no shortage of Tongan speakers in the area, the lack of speakers with the necessary qualification hinder the ability to provide the service.

“Tongan people seem to be reluctant to do the course,” she says.

At present, they have one point five Tongan interpreter permanently on staff – between all the services they cover – as well as a small pool of casual interpreters.

Ineke Crezee, course coordinator for Translation and Interpreting Studies at AUT University, has found an increased demand for trained interpreters since the course’s inception in 1990.

However, the ability to produce interpreters still rests with the speakers that enter the course.

“We do not always get applicants representing particular languages applying to do the course and if we do, we sometimes find that their command of the English language is not such that they would be able to successfully train to be interpreters,” she says.

Crezee says the high demand for Pasifika language interpreters continues to hold strong, and she has noticed an increased number of Pasifika students coming to do the course.

Samoan legal terms
“This year we have a group of three Samoan students undertaking a legal interpreting paper, which is great because it enables them to discuss the correct Samoan translation of particular legal terms with their language peers.

“Two years ago we had three Tongan students in our liaison interpreting course. However, some of these were taking the paper as part of BA studies and went into alternative employment upon graduating,” she says.

“We get the whole range in terms of age, gender and ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds, ranging from young second generation speakers of Chinese – whose English may be much better than their Chinese, since they did not complete secondary and tertiary education in a Chinese speaking country – to mothers wanting to train for casual work, to older community leaders with excellent skills in both English and their own languages.

Andrew Gordon, ear, nose and throat specialist at the Manukau clinic, estimates that for a clinic of around 10 to 12 patients he will have one or more that needs an interpreter.

“They are indispensable. Otherwise you just become a veterinary practice, to be blunt,” he says.

“And there are certain types of problems where the medical history is everything, like dizziness or tinnitus which is relatively subjective, unlike examining a lesion,” he says.

Nicky Hopping, surgical booker for the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at Manukau SuperClinic, will book interpreters at the same time as surgeries, and has encountered the lack of Tongan translators in particular.

Cancelled surgery
In her role, the worse case scenario is a cancelled surgery. But the cultural nuances involved with the job on the whole are subtler, making the job of a qualified interpreter all the more crucial.

“Sometimes the family doesn’t want an interpreter. Culturally, they just don’t like an interpreter being in the room” says Ms Hopping.

“Or sometimes, with some cultures, a man will feel protective of his wife and will not tell her the whole story.”

Carol Cameron agrees: “The entire service relies on identifying the need for an interpreter. Unless it is recognised either by the GP, or the person booking the appointment that an interpreter is required, someone may well come in, and struggling with English. They might get half way through the appointment and the doctor might think, ‘This is not going anywhere, I actually need an interpreter.’”

These last minute requests, Ms Cameron points out, are the hardest to fill.

“It is better for us to book an interpreter, and have the patient turn up and say ‘I am OK, I don’t need that,’ rather than us allowing a consultation to happen and maybe the patient walking out and not understanding a word that the doctor said.

“And they need to be qualified so that they understand issues of confidentiality. For the purposes of clinical safety, and medico-legal issues, they are absolutely needed,” she said.

In her experience, most patients felt confident to ask for an interpreter.
“I think the general public will say if they need an interpreter,” she says.

“It is better to do that than for the patient to walk away not really understanding. And if we can’t provide an interpreter, a follow-up appointment needs to be made.”

For any patient, who might already be feeling vulnerable or fearful, being put into the situation of not understanding the doctor would be frightening.

“It is not until you visit a country yourself that you know it’s really hard making yourself known,” she says.

“So, I also too think that we, working in Counties Manukau, need to be aware and if we feel that someone doesn’t understand it is better to check. And if not, ask the patient if they would like an interpreter.”

Sylvia Giles is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. Pictured: Manukau Superclinic.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Dairy project aims to boost post-war cooperation in Sri Lanka

By Megan Anderson: Pacific Media Centre

In the wake of three decades of devastating civil war in Sri Lanka, aid workers are struggling to help rebuild the communities shattered by the conflict.

International organisations and governments - including United Nations agencies, Red Cross, Oxfam and NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully - called for a ceasefire before the final end to the war – in a bid to save civilians caught in the crossfire, with no access to humanitarian aid and a lack of clean water.

After 26 years of fighting - coupled with the tragedy of the 2004 tsunami - NGOs now hope peace will give Sri Lankans a chance to rebuild their country.

New Zealand Red Cross communications advisor Kelly Mitchell says: “Obviously there are still civilians who need assistance, and there is a role for ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and partner organisations to assist.”

TEAR Fund executive director Stephen Tollestrup is travelling to Sri Lanka to oversee a cooperative dairy initiative, begun two years ago.

He will monitor and evaluate the programme, which he says is already a success.
The dairy project aims to bring both Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups together in an enterprise towards peace and sustainable economic growth.

The venture focuses upon providing proper chilling facilities and transportation for the milk produced, water ponds, as well as strengthening five farmer-managed societies through consolidation, microcredit schemes and a focus upon local ownership and solidarity among farmers.

The initiative was implemented in conjunction with World Concern, an NGO, in response to the disastrous effects of the tsunami and the conflict in the region.

The 2004 December tsunami left 443,000 Sri Lankans displaced, killing approximately 31,000 people and crippling the economy.

‘Wrecked lives’
“Lives were wrecked,” says Tollestrup.

In May last year the Sri Lankan Government issued a call for New Zealand aid to help with its dairy industry, which is struggling from the effects of the war and the tsunami.

Fonterra already is the third milk-collecting giant in the country, holding more than 53 percent of the total dairy market.

Tollestrup, however, says the problem is not so much a lack of food, but an inability for people to afford it.

A World Concern report from 2005 said the people who were displaced and resettled after the tsunami were now in need of proper food security, with many suffering from high food prices.

Tollestrup says inadequate refrigeration facilities for storage and transport, combined with a lack of water and solidarity among farmers, has meant milk farmers are relying on local middlemen to distribute their goods – which has meant also some hefty fees.

“There’s a need for good prices for milk,” he says.

“It’s quite a fraught situation up there.”

Tense situation
The tense situation in Sri Lanka has also made it dangerous for aid workers hoping to assist in restoring stability to the region.

Mitchell says, “We have to work closely with the government so our workers can get there.”

“A lot of negotiation does go on behind the scenes.”

The Red Cross also has security teams, which Mitchell says are “constantly monitoring the situation”.

However, aid workers have still suffered at the hands of the war.

In 2006, 17 French aid workers from Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) were shot dead in a massacre widely condemned in the eastern town of Muttur, with accusations coming from both sides - the then warring Sri Lankan government and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sixteen of the 17 victims were Tamils.

At the beginning of this month, a third staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was reported killed in the conflict zone.

Many other killings of aid workers have gone unreported, notes Tollestrup.

He says war also makes things difficult for aid workers, “simply because of the security which makes movement hard.

“People get isolated, which is very dangerous for everybody.”

Displaced families
At present, aid organisations are working to assist those displaced by the war; but this is proving difficult.

A press release from Oxfam called upon the Sri Lankan government to assist aid organisations in dealing with the people in these camps.

While Oxfam is implementing programmes to provide first aid, clean water and sanitation to those displaced from the conflict area, these efforts are struggling against the sheer numbers of people housed in the camps.

Oxfam media coordinator Jason Garman says: “The situation is still tense and Oxfam’s focus is on delivery of urgently needed supplies to people affected by the conflict.”

For those without need of immediate, emergency relief, Tollestrup says it is important for aid to be “empowerment-based”, helping lift communities into sustainability and capacity.

He says the worst thing aid can do is “create dependence”.

“You want people to respond to that challenge themselves.”

Tollestrup says the establishment of such a programme in itself is not so difficult. He notes: “The difficulty really is about local peoples’ energy and willingness to develop and build something.”

TEAR Fund focuses upon working with people in the community in order to establish what they want to achieve.

“When they share their envisioned future we talk to them about it to help them make it reality”.

TEAR Fund particularly works with young widows, many of whom have husbands killed in the war. Tollestrup says 20 percent of the households in their target community are led by women.

Women the key
“Women are a key factor in reconciliation,” he says.

In the farming communities, TEAR Fund works with 30 percent of the members who are women, with two out of five office holders.

Part of the focus of the dairy project is also on a microcredit scheme, where loans are able to be issued to those who want them on behalf of the farmer-managed society, which are then paid back into the society itself with very little interest.

These loans are then passed on to other farmers.

Tollestrup says such schemes “have had great success – we use it all around the world.”

For all the grief caused by the war, Tollestrup thinks things can only get better for Sri Lanka’s economy.

“I think it will get better because I think the Sinhalese feel they have been misrepresented by the media and NGOs. I think they’re going to want to show reconstruction and goodwill.”

Mitchell, from NZ Red Cross, says: “We can’t predict the future. We would like to think the situation will improve.”

“Whatever the situation is, our aid workers do make the effort.”

Megan Anderson is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. Pictured: TEAR Fund's Stephen Tollestrup (Megan Anderson).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dissident journalist tells of media perils in Burma

By Vanita Prasad:
Pacific Media Centre

Risking your life is a given when reporting in and around Burma, says the Pacific Media Centre’s first Asian journalism fellow.

A moving seminar and film screening held by the centre at AUT University this week documented the perils of being a dissident Burmese journalist.

The seminar was delivered by Violet Cho, one of Burma’s “young heroes” – as she was described by an AUT academic in the audience - who spoke candidly about her life as an exiled reporter in the border territories of Thailand and Burma.

Cho, 25, an indigenous Karen, was born in Burma and has spent most of her life exiled in Thailand.

She learnt English in a refugee camp and worked for Irrawaddy magazine and an underground radio station.

She spoke of the secretive nature of journalism in a land where the media is suppressed and information must be smuggled to the outside world for fear of being thrown into jail or death.

“It’s hard to be an ethnic minority journalist in a conflict area because it’s secret and illegal,” said Cho.

She spoke of a trip she made back with a small group into Burma to document a mountain village on the border, a trip that should only take a few hours but because the travelled by foot it took days.

Cho described the intense fear of being caught at a checkpoint and shot for carrying a camera and film equipment.

“It was very dangerous, we couldn’t use torchlight, we walked quickly and we couldn’t stop.

'Too dangerous'
“It was even too dangerous to go to the toilet, so we had to just keep walking,” said Cho.

The film that followed Cho’s seminar echoed this plight.

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country, directed by Dan Østergaard, documented the struggles and achievements of the underground journalist network Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), whose reporters risked their lives to give a voice to the silenced people of Burma.

They ran a bare bones operation using only handicams hidden in backpacks and sending their data to Oslo, Norway, to be compiled.

Their footage of the 2007 peaceful demonstrations led by monks against the junta - and brutally crushed - was used by major news networks worldwide to inform people about the dire situation of the Burmese people.

The junta then targeted DVB to shut down the operation which had exposed their brutality.

This meant that like the uprising which brought so much hope to the people of Burma, the DVB had to disband for safety.

Three of the members of the DVB were captured and are currently serving life sentences.

After the screening a discussion was held about the current situation in Burma.

Senior lecturer Alice U, an expatriate Burmese academic inAUT's School of Languages, said education was fundamental to the progress and liberation of Burma.

'Rice bowl'
“Before the military seized control Burma was considered the ‘rice bowl’ of Asia.

“Education was high and Burmese English set the precedent for neighbouring Asian countries.”

Naing Ko Ko, a prominent Burmese spokesman and council director for the Union of Burma, said the military regime in Rangoon spends less than one per cent of its budget on health and education.

Ko Ko, who spent nine years in jail as a political prisoner learnt English from a dictionary that was smuggled into his cell.

He has since gone on to complete two Bachelor of Arts degrees with honours, and is currently working on a Masters in International Relations at the University of Auckland.

Alice U said: “People who are still in the country and people who get out of Burma and get educated and risk their lives to expose the atrocities of the junta - like Violet and Naing Ko Ko - are the heroes.”

Violet Cho arrived in Auckland two and a half months ago and is doing a Bachelor of Communication Studies (Honours) at the Pacific Media Centre.

As well as her studies, she files stories for the PMC website and for Irrawaddy.

Her fellowship is funded jointly by the Asia New Zealand Foundation and AUT’s School of Communication Studies.

Vanita Prasad is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student.

Karen journalist in critical force for change
Irrawaddy Magazine
Underground 'VJs' expose Burmese horror
Pacific Media Centre's Asian Journalism Fellowship

From Thai refugee camp to politics student in NZ

By Deirdre Robert: Pacific Media Centre

It has been eight years since Cicilia Dwe and her family left their United Nations refugee camp in Thailand and set foot on New Zealand soil.

The Burmese 18-year-old is now looking to the future with her eyes set on gaining a politics degree at the University of Auckland, beginning in July.

The road to a brighter future has led from a tumultuous past.

Her parents fled Burma in 1988 during the student-led protests for democratic change, in which 3000 people are believed to have killed.

Cicilia Dwe (pictured) says her parents feared the ruling military junta of Burma and felt it was not safe to stay.

“In Burma the government can take away anything you own. If they decide to develop an area they can just take away your land. You have no rights.”

Dwe has family in Burma she has never seen and may never get the chance to meet.

Even as New Zealand citizens, Dwe and her family are on the blacklist, meaning if they return to Burma they could be at risk.

Born in Thailand, Dwe’s move to life in a refugee camp was sudden.

One day her sister picked her up from school and they went straight to the UN refugee camp where they were joined by their mother, father, three sisters and one brother.

NZ home
The family spent two years at the camp before being offered a permanent home in New Zealand.
Dwe’s parents chose New Zealand because it provided better future prospects and opportunities for their children.

Culturally, life in New Zealand is very different says, Dwe.

If she were still in Thailand she would likely be married. In that country the focus is on “getting married, looking after your kids and being a housewife”.

She says in New Zealand there are a wider range of opportunities for education and career.

Being young proved an advantage to her integration into New Zealand society.

She was well received at primary school and had support from her fellow students from the start.

Family sponsors have also played a big role in the family’s settlement.

Local North Shore volunteer Catherine Geeves is one of the family’s main sponsors and was heavily involved in their integration.

She helped enrol the kids in school, found the family a local GP and negotiated with Housing New Zealand for a family home.

Rewarding role
Being a sponsor is “enormously rewarding”, she says.

She is extremely proud of the way Cicilia and her older sister Elizabeth have managed to get themselves to university.

“I think they are an inspiration and show what you can achieve if you work hard.”

She says the whole family is a huge asset to the community.

While being a sponsor is a very involved task, Geeves says it is a “two-way street”.

When her mother died later that year, the entire Dwe family prepared food for the funeral.

“There is a huge willingness to muck in and help,” says Geeves.

Dwe echoes these sentiments.

“The sponsors are part of our family and we are part of their family.”

Now firmly a part of New Zealand, Dwe is herself looking at becoming a refugee sponsor.

Beyond that, and with her life experience as motivation and inspiration, she envisions herself working for the UN or the Human Rights Commission as a social worker.

Deirdre Robert is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at AUT University.

End Burma's system of impunity

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chinese community leaders split on Dalai Lama's planned visit to NZ

A news media report about a Chinese community bid to have New Zealand block a visa for the Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama has stirred controversy. Critics condemn what the see as a derogatory attack.

By Christopher Adams: Pacific Media Centre

Chinese community leaders are split over the planned visit by the Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama to visit New Zealand at the end of the year and some want the trip called off.

Several leaders are also annoyed with some media coverage, including a New Zealand Herald story last month that revealed the United Chinese Association of Auckland was planning to send a protest letter to the Government asking for the Dalai Lama to be refused a visa.

Steven Wong, president of the UCA, was quoted in the Herald story as saying: “The Dalai Lama is just a stirrer and everywhere he goes, he spreads lies and destroys relationships.”

Wong, who migrated from the Canton region of China to New Zealand in 1975, is disappointed with the story, and claims the reporter who wrote it, Lincoln Tan, misquoted him.

“I never said he [the Dalai Lama] spreads lies,” he says. “How can I say he is a liar? If I said that he could sue me.”

Tan maintains that Steven Wong made the statement, and believes he is now denying the comments because, in retrospect, he regrets them.

“He definitely said it,” says Tan.

But Wong, although he denies making the statement quoted by Tan, does believe the Dalai Lama’s visit will be detrimental to the bonds between the New Zealand and Chinese Governments.

According to a statement given by a National Party spokesman to the New Zealand Herald, a meeting between Prime Minister John Key and the Dalai Lama may take place during the religious leader’s visit to New Zealand in December.

Such a meeting would resume New Zealand’s official relations with the exiled Tibetan, after Helen Clark refused to meet him on previous visits.

Affect relationship
“If the Dalai Lama comes and meets John Key it will affect the relationship between New Zealand and China,” says Wong.

Wong warns that the same could happen in New Zealand as in France last December, when a meeting between French President Nicholas Sarkozy and the spiritual leader incensed the Chinese government.

The meeting resulted in Beijing scrapping an EU-China summit that France was set to host.

The business relationship that exists between New Zealand and China, especially the Free Trade Agreement signed in April 2008, is beneficial for both countries, says Wong.

But he adds that he is not concerned about the Dalai Lama’s visit because of his own business interests, as the potato chip factory he owns in East Tamaki is not currently exporting its products to China.

“Most Chinese migrants don’t want the Dalai Lama to come,” says Wong.

Thuten Kesang, chairman of the New Zealand Friends of Tibet organisation, is also unhappy with the Herald story, which Lincoln Tan also interviewed him for.

“My personal belief [about the story] is that Lincoln Tan should have reported more deeply,” says Kesang. “Lincoln should have backed up Steven Wong’s comments about his holiness [the Dalai Lama].

He says asking the government to not to issue a visa is fine, but being derogatory about the spiritual leader is not.

Kesang, who was born in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, says Steven Wong should have known better than to make the comments.

“He is living in a democracy – it’s not China,” he says.

Negative stance
Kesang believes it is the business interests of people involved with the United Chinese Association that has lead them to take a negative stance against the Dalai Lama.

“The United Chinese Association would be Chinese migrants from mainland China who are heavily involved in the import/export business. Therefore, they feel they need to be the mouthpiece of the Chinese government in order to get favours and good business relations with China.”

The Chinese Communist Party is currently placing a lot of emphasis on the Dalai Lama’s travel plans, says Kesang.

Kesang adds that the Chinese government had its first success recently when the South African government refused the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country and speak.

“I think countries shouldn’t get away with this,” says Kesang. “Trade is fine, but China doesn’t have the right to dictate what other countries do. No country should trade human rights for economics.”

However, Kesang is certain the New Zealand government will never refuse the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country.

“I am 100 percent sure the New Zealand government won’t refuse a Nobel Laureate a visa,” he says. “New Zealanders love their freedom too much to be dictated to.”

Kesang is pleased with the prospect of the Dalai Lama having a meeting with John Key during his visit.

Both of Kesang’s parents died as a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, he says.

“My father died in Chinese prison and my mother of starvation.”

Contrasting view
Jim He, secretary-general of the United Chinese Association, has a different stance to Wong over the Dalai Lama’s visit.

“In my opinion, the Dalai Lama can come, but his trip is just to emphasise his own views on the Tibet issue.”

But he adds that, as a group, the UCA doesn’t support the Tibetan religious leader.

“We think of China as one country and Tibet has been a part of China since hundreds of years ago.” he says. “The Dalai Lama just spreads propaganda.”

He, who is originally from Beijing and came to New Zealand in 1988, believes the Chinese occupation has been positive for Tibet.

“Look at the current economy,” says He. “The central government has injected billions of dollars into Tibet.”

Simon Harrison, secretary of the Dalai Lama Visit Trust, was disturbed by Wong’s comments reported in the Herald story.

“The comments that were made were outrageous, particularly about the Dalai Lama,” says Harrison.

“We have no problem recognising trade relations, but it [the Dalai Lama’s visit] is just the result of an invitation by the New Zealand people.”

Harrison adds that Chinese nationals are often keen to uphold the line their government takes on issues such as Tibet, especially when they find themselves living outside China.

Propaganda line
Referring to the commonly held Chinese belief that Tibet has always been a part of their country, he says: “The propaganda in that line is often false, historically. I would be happy to engage in discussions with these groups in order to clear up some of the historical confusions.”

Harrison hopes that a meeting will take place between the Dalai Lama and the Prime Minister during his New Zealand visit.

“It is very important that some kind of symbolic gesture is made,” he says.

The Dalia Lama is scheduled to speak at Auckland’s Vector Arena on December 6.

Christopher Adams is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. Credit: The photo of the Dalai Lama is from the Australian National University.

Chinese seek to ban Dalai Lama from NZ

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fiji media risks ending up like Chinese press, says academic

Chinese language media in New Zealand relies heavily on free content from mainland China's media and is “importing the propaganda line to Chinese-language discourse in New Zealand”.

By Steve Chae: Pacific Media Centre

Fiji’s media is at risk of becoming like the Chinese press with an authoritarian model under the censorship regime, says a New Zealand journalism academic.

“In the West, the media’s role is mainly seen as a watchdog. In Fiji, the traditionally western-style media is now under threat from a military regime that doesn’t want to accept independent news in a country that is very diverse ethnically and religion,” says Pacific Media Centre director associate professor David Robie.

“The cultural complexities in Fiji are such that many in people in the country believe there should be nation-building media.”

While the majority of the population of 940,000 are indigenous Fijian (54 percent), there is a 37 percent Indo-Fijian minority and other races. The country’s dominant religion is Methodist, but among the Indo-Fijians, a majority is Hindu without about a third Muslim.

China has growing economic and political influence in Fiji since the December 2006 coup. Fiji imposed draconian censorship on April 10.

Ranjit Singh, former publisher of Fiji Daily Post and now chief reporter of the Indian Weekender in New Zealand, says: “Fiji never had democracy but the problem arises from pushing the Western concept of democracy”.

“It’s a first world solution to a third world country,” he says.

“That does not help to understand the complexities of the Fiji issue. The issue is not black and white. It’s got shades of grey.”

Dr Robie says the Fiji media is expected by many people to help solidify national identity.

“The Chinese media has parallels with Fiji in that their journalists are also trying to find a space within the authoritarian media,” he says.

“But the New Zealand media reacts with shock and horror at the lack of plurality of ideas in these media.”

Propaganda machines
A Press article reports how the Chinese government propaganda machines work in a two-pronged strategy aimed at Chinese people at home and also abroad.

Dr Anne-Marie Brady says Chinese people in New Zealand are affected by the Chinese propaganda focused on those living overseas.

An associate professor at the University of Canterbury’s School of Political and Social Sciences, Dr Brady gave a talk on the operations of Chinese propaganda to the US Security Commission in Washington last month.

She says the Chinese language media in New Zealand relies heavily on free content from the Chinese media and is important – “especially to new migrants to New Zealand”.

This is “importing the propaganda line to Chinese-language discourse in New Zealand”.

David Soh, publisher of the Mandarin Times, says 80 percent of his readers are native speakers who are born and raised in China.

He says new migrants to New Zealand feel a sense of belonging to China but accept they are citizens of a new country.

The paper makes subscriptions to Xinhua news agency in China but also fills its pages daily with translations of New Zealand news.

Soh says he is free to report on anything he likes and will respond with criticism on things that are happening in China.

Tibet divisive
Last year’s Tibet incident was sensitive and had “quite a divisive effect” within the Chinese community, whereas the Sichuan earthquake was emotional and reached a common feeling.

He says he does not promote things that are illegal in China such as the Falun Gong practitioners but accepts they are legal in New Zealand.

Asked about Fiji, Soh says it is “a different world where law and order is not good at the moment”.

Hewitt Wang, editor of, says the media he works for is a New Zealand media and presents the opinions of Chinese community in New Zealand.

“We accept all the opinions from worldwide media - not just the Chinese media,” he says.

Ethnic community media should be publishing all views, including the Chinese propaganda.

“Propaganda depends on how you define it. I like to think of it in a positive way,” says Wang.

Dr Robie says propaganda is “uncontested information which can be plain wrong, or disinformation calculated to achieve a manipulated mindset”.

“With competing media, the truth will emerge somewhere down the track. When government imposes news values, that single view becomes propaganda,” he says.

Language ability
Virginia Chong, vice-president of the New Zealand Chinese Association, says she does not read Chinese language media in New Zealand because she has lost the language ability having been born here.

Chong says international students can become influenced by the Chinese language media here.

“Every country puts out spin and everybody has their own impression on those things,” she says.

Dr Robie says Chinese language media in New Zealand has not yet made a transition from being a media “enclave from China to culturally based media in New Zealand”.

“It will evolve in the future when Chinese media will become a lot more integrated within New Zealand society,” he says.

He also says the New Zealand mainstream media make judgments of other media through “cultural lens” and this could also be a form of propaganda.

Singh says there is biased reporting of the Fiji issue in New Zealand in that only negative stories are played.

But within the community media in New Zealand, he says he would like to “put a positive spin on Fiji”, referring to the Indian Weekender which covers Indian diaspora news, including Fiji.

He says journalists in Fiji can be better educated on how to report for Fiji.

“The political situation now can be partially blamed on the Fiji media,” he says.

Behind the story
“As journalists we really need to see the story behind the issue and investigate these things,” says Singh.

Dr Robie says: “The harm caused to Fiji is already very great.”

He blames New Zealand foreign policies for its “short sightedness” since December 2006.

“The situation in the Pacific is now quite volatile,” he says.

“New Zealand has been like a big brother to Fiji as we pride ourselves as a being part of Pacific.

We now have to report these stories better with more depth and more comprehensively,” says Dr Robie.

Steve Chae is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University. Pictured: Pro-Chinese rally in Aotea Square, Auckland.

NZ expert tells of Chinese propaganda

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cooking Chinese dishes for dummies

By Kristina Koveshnikova: Pacific Media Centre

China Daily has held its very first cooking classes for foreigners.

Lessons in preparing traditional Chinese cuisine were offered at the Yosemite village in Shunyi district, Beijing.

Chinese people enjoy good food and take pride in their famous dishes. Over the centuries cooking has developed into a very sophisticated art, with several types of dishes from north to south and east to west.

Chinese cuisine has become widespread in many other parts of the world, from Canada and America to as far as New Zealand.

The art of Chinese cooking is not at all difficult and anyone can learn how to make traditional Chinese dishes.

Chefs from a local restaurant were invited by China Daily to teach foreigners how to make popular Chinese dishes like spring rolls, kunpo chicken and dumplings.

Dozens of people from over seven different countries came along. Some even brought the whole family to the event.

After each cooking demonstration, guests had the opportunity to prepare the dishes themselves, using the skills they had just learned.

The dumplings seemed to be the hardest dish to prepare among the three,coming out in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

But all the foreigners at the event agreed Chinese food is a lot easier to cook than it may appear.

So anyone can master it.

Happy cooking!

Pictured: Kristina (centre) takes a turn at Chinese cooking in Beijing (China Daily).

Kristina Koveshnikova is an AUT graduate journalist who is on a Pacific Media Centre internship with the China Daily sponsored by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Cooking Chinese dishes for dummies [video]

Amnesty to engage Pacific media in campaign against poverty

By Josephine Latu: Pacific Media Watch

Amnesty International is gearing up to launch a “demand dignity” campaign with a focus on human rights and poverty in the Pacific region.

The dignity campaign is a global project to promote social and economic human rights, focusing on poverty issues.

The role of the media in this campaign has been highlighted at a special seminar hosted by the School of Communications at AUT University, labelled “Putting human rights at the heart of Pacific journalism”.

Amnesty's deputy director in New Zealand, Rebecca Emery, said: “We find that the understanding of human rights among the media and the New Zealand general public is probably not as well understood as it should be."

The organisation is seeking to develop a “new media network” to bring more awareness about human rights issues in the region.

Emery added that Amnesty was expanding its focus from civil and political rights, to social and economic rights, and that development in the Pacific was seen “a rights issue”.

“We will be looking at the slums in the Pacific – first up, Fiji, then the Solomons and Vanuatu,” she said.

TVNZ’s Pacific affairs correspondent Barbara Dreaver also pointed to poverty as the “biggest issue in the Pacific”.

She gave the example of Kiribati, where “prostitution [of young women] to foreign fisherman, sometimes encouraged by their families”, was a reality of the struggle for survival.

Dreaver also spoke about human rights in the Fiji and her own experiences.

‘Fearless reporting’
She added that “fearless” reporting was needed to bring attention to human rights abuses that communities may prefer to keep hidden.

However, she said journalists needed to report on solutions as well as the problem.

Pacific Cooperation Foundation programme coordinator David Vaeafe said that in a survey conducted at the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) conference in the Solomons in 2007, Pacific journalists identified three main human rights themes as priorities:

• governance, leadership and freedom of expression;

• environmental rights;

• and children’s rights.

He announced that the Pacific Cooperation Foundation was currently working with the New Zealand Human Rights Commission on a learning website for environmental rights reporting, due to launch in at the PINA conference in Vanuatu in mid-July.

The site will include online tutorials, training modules, documents about freedom of information laws, and Pacific country profiles.

“It will be a live working site that will be updated constantly,” he said.

“It’s accessible to everyone and people can go through the training modules at their own pace.”

The modules were written by four journalists from the Pacific and New Zealand, and covered print, radio, television and online reporting.

Picture: Fiji soldiers keeping the press at bay (Radio Fiji).

Josephine Latu is a masters student in the School of Communication Studies and also contributing editor of the Pacific Media Centre's Pacific Media Watch database.

Amnesty International NZ Pacific Media Watch on Pacific media and human rights

Labour MP vows to seek parliamentary support for Aung San Suu Kyi

By Violet Cho: Pacific Media Centre

Outspoken Labour MP Maryann Street has vowed to initiate a motion in New Zealand’s Parliament calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all Burmese political prisoners, saying it was a responsibility of parliamentarians to “add our voices” to the international clamour.

She spoke during a vigil last night organised in support of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on “trial” by the military regime after being accused of breaking state law.

About 40 people – including local politicians, activists and students – braved the rain and cold to attend the vigil.

Street, who is also chairperson of the NZ Parliamentarians’ Caucus on Burma, said: “It is our responsibility to add our voices to the clamour of international voices heard for Burma to move towards democracy”.

Dr Suu Kyi has been charged for breaching the terms of her 13 years of house arrest after an American Mormon John W. Yettaw swam across a lake and entered her house this month.

The trial started on Monday and is continuing. She is being held in Burma’s notorious Insein Prison in Yangon while the charges and evidence are being heard.

Many commentators believe this trial reveals that Burma’s military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), plans to justify the extension of her detention, which would have expired by the end of this month.

She could face five years’ imprisonment if she is found guilty.

“We are gathering to show our support for Aung San Suu Kyi and demand international action,” said Naing Koko, director of the National Council of the Union of Burma’s New Zealand office.

“Suu Kyi has been detained for more than 13 years and she must be freed.”

“The trial is all about keeping any voices of dissent silent in the run up to rigged elections next year.

'Exposing the lies'
“It exposes the lies the generals have been telling that elections next year will bring change. In fact, the election and constitution are all about keeping the generals in power.”

Joe Carolan, a representative of Socialist Aotearoa, gave a speech calling for New Zealand companies to stop all trade with Burma.

He also rejected the idea that international governments should play a key role in bringing change to Burma:

“Change is going to come to the region from the ordinary people, from the poor and from the student movement there, not from the likes of the British, the United States or the United Nations”.

On Wednesday, Dr Suu Kyi’s trial was briefly opened up for reporters and diplomats but generally it has been closed for the public.

Su Kyi has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years.

There was a schedule for her to be freed by the end of this month after serving six years’ house arrest that started in May 2003.

To justify her security, the military placed her under house arrest after her travel to northern Burma was ambushed by pro-government mobs.

Demonstrations have been taking place this week in more than 20 cities across the globe.

Pictures: Top: The Auckland vigil (Violet Cho); middle: Aung San Suu Kyi at a Yangon rally when out of house arrest; and above: local Burmese leader Naing Koko.

Violet Cho is the 2009 Asian Journalism Fellow with AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.

Burma junta bars media and diplomats from Aung San Kyi trial again

Tensions faced media, aid workers in Sri Lanka

The news media had had little access to civilians in the dying stages of Sri Lanka's civil war which ended this month. This made media dependent on sourcing details from aid organisations.

By Amanda Fisher: Pacific Media Centre

A natural tension existing between aid workers and journalists working in humanitarian crises was evident in the current conflict in Sri Lanka, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

ICRC head of public and media relations Florian Westphal told a conference on reporting war held at Massey University, Wellington, yesterday that tense conditions in Sri Lanka had made it extremely difficult for aid workers to fully cooperate with the media.

“That was a real dilemma for us because, on the one hand, there was a real interest for us in that being covered...[but] on the other hand, we had to be extremely careful that we didn’t say something that may compromise the little we could do,” he said.

“You’re constantly trying to strike the right balance.”

The media had had little access to civilians in Sri Lanka, which had made them dependent on sourcing details from aid organisations, Westphal said.

It was often the most newsworthy situations which were the hardest for aid workers to negotiate.

“Our main responsibility is to have access to the people we set out to help, and to what extent are we going to jeopardise that?”

Joint role
Media and humanitarians often held a similar function in areas of conflict for the outside world and, in that regard, were united in some of their aims, Westphal said.

“Both the media and aid organisations are probably the most prominent sources of what all of us learn about war and suffering.”

Often a member of the media or an aid organisation may be the only outsider present to report on what is happening in a particular situation, he said.

However, while the media and aid organisations might share an end goal of tackling injustices, their operational methods were routinely vastly different.

While there were similarities in the ultimate aim of being “agents for change”, media and aid organisations worked toward different targets within that context, Westphal said.

“We always have to bear in mind that aid organisations and media have different objectives.

“The media have quite a different job.”

Helping victims
The aims of aid agencies to help victims and have access to them often involved objectives at odds with the media, who sought to disseminate information to the public regardless of direct impact on immediate victims, he said.

“Our responsibility is to the people that are the victims of the events.

“Talking to journalists can jeopardise access, especially when you’re talking about something really sensitive, like access to prisoners on the understanding that we won’t speak with reporters.

“It’s not just through exposure and denunciation that we get things done in this world – in some situations it can actually get quite harmful.”

Speaking at the same conference, freelance foreign correspondent Jon Stephenson recognised the value of aid agencies, while criticising them for being, at times, unnecessarily taciturn.

“It’s very important for us as journalists to recognise the contribution aid groups make...but the ICRC isn’t faultless and should be subject to criticism.

“The ICRC could have done more in tipping off the media”, especially in relation to the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which details of human rights abuses were only just emerging, he said.

Useful tool
Westphal said the value of the media to humanitarian organisations should also be recognised. That value was wide-ranging, amounting to more than just a financial stimulus to generating aid.
The news media was a very good tool in placing issues in the public forum and motivating people, he said.

“It’s not just about funding but also about have to be seen to be doing something, and that happens through the media.

“We want to raise public awareness of the suffering.”

Westphal cited the example of nurse Florence Nightingale who found the motivation to act because of newspaper reports on the Crimean War.

Generating funds was an essential byproduct of media exposure, and something currently of particular importance, he said.

“The economic crisis is not just affecting the media, but is also affecting our sector in a major way.”

Latest estimates were anticipating a 25 percent decrease in aid organisation donations, he said.

Optimistic view
Despite any tensions, Westphal said he was optimistic about the relationship between aid organisations and the media.

“I’m pretty optimistic there’s a lot of good day-to-day cooperation going on.

“We have a good relationship, but there are a number of issues we need to work through.”

There were areas which both groups needed to improve on in order to meet the needs of an evolving world, he said.

“The agenda of the media and aid organisations tends to be quite fast-moving and fickle. When the next big event comes along, people quite quickly lose focus.

“The cases of forgotten conflict are not just the fault of journalists but also our fault too.”

“Another shared challenge is where and to what extent we really are a welcome presence in aid areas these days...If what we are trying to do is not accepted then we do not usually have the basis that allows us to go out to those areas and do our jobs.”

There was suspicion among some civilians that the media and aid organisations were agents of western colonialism, operating through a framework of western ideals, he said.

Westphal queried why conflicts such as those in the Congo were less favourably covered in the media than western-led conflicts such as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza.

“Our motives are necessarily being questioned.”

Other areas where the media and aid organisations needed to proceed cautiously included not presenting civilians as “passive recipients of aid” when reports quite clearly showed a substantial amount of support came from within the affected community, and in not over-simplifying conflicts into tales of good and evil when they were often much more complex, he said.

Camera footage
Westphal said the ICRC was committed to collaborating with the media and would continue to disseminate information and camera footage among journalists.

However, in pursuit of greater transparency and credibility, sources of footage and information should be declared by media outlets, he said.

“Audiences here expect us to be truthful and expect us to be credible.”

He also cautioned that aid agencies were not simply another supply of news gatherers.

“There is a tendency to rely on aid workers as being the next generation of news gatherers...just bear in mind that our objectives are not necessarily the same as yours. We do have our own agenda and I’m not going to apologise for that.

“We can help with news gathering but we are not news gatherers first.”

The media should avoid an over-reliance on aid organisations for information on what to report as decisions on the public line were often made at headquarters, and not on the field, where the dynamics were quite different, he said.

Conversely, he acknowledged aid agencies were too often directed by the media.

“It’s easy for us to critique the media but we need to be very, very self-critical because we as aid organisations have tended to adapt to the agenda set by the news media.

“We have also not been willing to take the risk to work on something that won’t get picked up on by the media.”

Pictured: Top: ICRC's Florian Westphal; above: freelance foreign correspondent Jon Stephenson. Photos: Michael Dickison and Matt Backhouse (Massey University student journalists).

Amanda Fisher is a student journalist in Massey University’s Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing.

Reporting Wars conference - Sydney, May 18
Reporting Wars conference - Wellington, May 22
Wellington conference programme

Sri Lanka declares end to war with Tamil Tigers

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Burma's armed conflict cripples food supplies

Villagers who have fled their homes in eastern Burma keep moving. Many areas are dangerous because of landmines, military checkpoints and patrols.

By Violet Cho: Pacific Media Centre

Burmese civilians and internally displaced people in eastern parts of Burma are suffering severe food shortages due to the ongoing armed conflict and an increase of state militarisation.

“The food shortage is a serious problem among internally displaced civilians and they now heavily rely on eating bamboo shoots and other food sources that they can collect in the jungle for their survival,” says Saw Steve, an executive member of Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP).

The Burmese civil society group, based on the Thai-Burma border, is working to assist communities effected by the crisis.

Burmese rights organisations are expressing deep concern for the civilians who are suffering direct consequences from the conflict between state military and ethnic resistance groups.

They also condemned the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the ruling military regime in Burma, which has intensified their military operations in ethnic minority areas.

Local rights groups claim the food crisis is a direct result of systematic militarisation and exploitation by the regime.

Saw Albert, a leading member of the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), has been working on a recently released report on the crisis.

“The food crisis has been gradually worsening since the beginning of the SPDC's Northern Offensive in late 2005” he says.

“With increased attacks on village communities and an intensified forced relocation campaign over the last three and a half years, food insecurity is at an all-time high.

“In military-controlled areas, villagers struggle to both meet the constant demands of the SPDC and their allied military groups and provide food for their families.”

No hiding places
Because of the ongoing conflict and repression in the area, it is very difficult and dangerous to meet affected villagers and provide relief.

Villagers who have fled their homes never have a permanent place to hide – they are constantly moving so local NGOs cannot know where to find them. Many areas are dangerous because of landmines, Burmese military checkpoints and patrols and active combat with insurgent armies.

Despite these risks, CIDKP field staff secretly distribute much needed supplied to small communities hiding in the forests.

If caught with supplies like food and medicine, field staff can be killed by Burmese troops, who use a strategy of cutting supplies to insurgent groups.

It is even more risky to carry equipment like cameras and recorders, as they are only used by activists documenting abuses. KHRG staff secretly collect testimonies from villagers in hiding and photograph abuses, which they use for their reports and advocacy.

One villager explained the extent of the food crisis to an anonymous KHRG field worker: “Only two villagers out of 10 have enough rice. They are borrowing from each other just to stay alive.”

Another villager from Nyaunglebin District, in northeastern Burma, explained that villagers do not have a proper time to do their own work for their survival.

“The SPDC army camp is located beside our village, so we always have to do loh ah pay [forced labour] for them. We do not have much time to do our own work. Now we are doing their work, such as cutting bamboo poles and delivering them to their [SPDC] camp.”

Villagers in displaced areas are sharing limited food supplies with each other just to stay alive. Because they are on the run, they cannot plant crops like rice, which is their staple food.
Instead they rely on collecting food from the forest.

Paddy plants
A villager who is displaced by the on-going military offensive said that “every time when the Burmese [SPDC] soldiers have arrived at our villager, we have had to flee. So, we haven’t had time to take care of our paddy plants in the fields. They [the fields] are covered with weed. If the SPDC did not disturb us, we would have enough food every year.”

Burmese populations in eastern parts of Burma can be categorised into two groups: those living in the SPDC controlled areas and those who hide in the jungle, refusing to live in forced relocation sites under military watch.

Due to the combination of military demands in the form of forced labour, arbitrary taxation, looting and ad hoc demands for food, money or other supplies, have placed a dangerous burden on villagers' livelihoods.

The practice of land confiscation, restriction of movement (villagers are not freely allowed to go to their farm or plantation areas) and forced relocation exacerbate poverty and dramatically increase food insecurity.

Meanwhile, in areas not under the military control, the SPDC troops are forcing villagers into relocation sites through their common practice of attacking villagers and destroying food stores, burning rice fields and livestock.

Villagers who managed to escape the military attacks are facing further threats of food insecurity their unstable living condition in hiding side in the forest, according to the KHRG report.

The report also documented the regime government’s shoot-on-sight policy, planting landmines and restrictions on villagers to trade with each other also created an extreme difficult for villagers to leave their hiding site in order to collect hidden food stores, to work in their former fields or purchase food supplies.

A villager interviewed by KHRG staff, complained that they felt like they were not treated as human beings. “The SPDC doesn’t see us as villagers. They identify us as their enemy. So when they see us, they shoot to kill us all.”

By documenting the food crisis, KHRG is providing recommendations for the international community on actions that can be taken to ease the current crisis and prevent future abuse and malnutrition in rural Burma.

The recommendations include increased support for cross-border aid and local civil society organisations, which can access affected populations and support the local food security protection measures that villagers in rural Burma have already developed.

Humanitarian aid
KHRG spokeswoman September Paw called for increased humanitarian aid to villagers in rural Burma: "Villagers in Karen State are faced with a serious food crisis as the direct result of military abuse.

She explained how Burmese villagers have been trying their best seeking various ways to address this food crisis, to maintain their livelihoods and to resist military abuse. “Despite these strategies, there is a great need for humanitarian aid to be scaled up to reach these people.”

However, She confirmed that, “the locally-driven protection measures developed by villagers themselves should first be taken into account in order to effectively address this crisis.”

Like civilians in eastern part of Burma are now suffering form food crisis, Burmese people in western part of Burma, Chin State has been plagued by a severe food shortages due to the reduction of local harvest and food production.

The crisis was started in 2006 when a new cycle of bamboo flowering that occurs about every 50 years in the region.

This bamboo flowers are eaten by rats and triggering the explosion of rats population, which destroyed the crop.

This has caused serious food shortages for Burmese villagers, as they are primarily dependent on subsistence farming through shifting cultivation.

Violet Cho is from Burma and is the Asian Journalism Fellow with the Pacific Media Centre. She is is studying on the Bachelor of Communication Studies (Honours) programme. The picture of displaced Burmese villagers is from the Karen Human Rights Group report.

Food crisis: The accumulative impact of abuse in rural Burma

'‘We have a little girl here, come down and work it out'

The year Ofa Donaldson was born, in 1972, there were 3600 adoptions in New Zealand. But rediscovering her Tongan cultural roots was an extra challenge.

By Sylvia Giles: Pacific Media Centre

Proud family photographs hang on the walls of the Donaldson’s Hamilton home - just like houses up and down New Zealand. Ofa Donaldson’s picture is somewhat conspicuous in the family line up, as the only brown face in an otherwise palagi family.

Being adopted may not make Ofa, 36, unique - in 1972 there were 3600 adoptions in New Zealand. It does not even make her unique in her own immediate family, where a younger brother is also adopted, the pair being followed by two biological children.

Yet Ofa’s Tongan lineage stares her in the face.

“It wasn’t like I looked in the mirror one day, and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Mum! I’m brown! What’s going on?’

“It was just a natural thing. I always knew I was an adopted kid. It was just like I was adopted, and Mum and Dad were Mum and Dad,” she says.

“It was really funny around teenage years. Mum would come down to school, and I’d yell out, ‘Mum!’ and my friends would be like, ‘Aye? Your mum is white!’ But for me it was always a fun thing.”

Strictly speaking, Ofa Donaldson’s surname is still Talatala, as her adoption was never made formal.

“Mum and Dad just got a call from social welfare saying we have a little girl here, and would they like to come down here and work it out?”

But Ofa still calls herself Tongan, especially in recent years.

“Going to Tonga and meeting actual family. I never thought it would be so important, but it was. And it was like, wow, this is actually where my family is from.”

Urban Polynesian
Unusual circumstances aside, she is a second generation, urban Polynesian, and like so many others finding her place in the Pacific. The urban Polynesian has grown in influence in New Zealand, particularly as it is growing at a faster rate than the overall population.

It is a trend apparent in New Zealand pop culture, visible across film, music, art and theatre; the latest telling hybrid is perhaps Othello Polynesia, which is just about to hit Wellington at the Downstage Theatre.

David Fane is just one of the figureheads of this movement. He is a host at Flava fm, is one of the brains behind Bro’town, and a mainstay of The Naked Samoans, and Outrageous Fortune.

Born in New Zealand, he sees a big difference between him and his parents’ identity.

“When my parents came out they joined the church straight away, to draw the community around them. My generation doesn’t feel the need to be a part of a specific island group.

“But that’s not a breakdown. There is no way we’d survive if we held on to those ways. You need to adapt.”

It’s a theme through his many projects, depicting “the Samoan I chose to be”. He makes a trip back to Samoa every three years also, initially joking it is important to him for the duty free.

“But no, and for the chance to catch up with family. But you become very mindful of the difference between being Samoan and being a Samoan New Zealander,” he says.

“You become half-bred of both.”

Pasifika heritage
Ofa Donaldson herself made two trips to Tonga in her thirties to discover her Pasifika heritage.
However after two weeks, she was so rattled by the whole experience she decided to come home early, to her “normal family, and flushing toilets and normal food”.

But her trip was to culminate in her meeting her biological father, almost by accident. In the network of Tongan families that is now woven across the Pacific, she bumped into the sister of a Tongan colleague from back home in Hamilton.

“She knew I was coming to Tonga, but I hadn’t told her when. And that’s how we met my Dad. Because she said, ‘Your Dad is here, he was been waiting 34 years to met you.’”

“It was really emotional. He cried. He could hardly speak any English. So it went me, translator and then him,” she says tracing out their positions on the kitchen table with an index finger, indicating the interloper placed between them.

“Until then I had only heard it from my mother. He explained how he got deported, how he wrote lots of letters to people he knew in New Zealand to try to find me.

“He wants you to know he hadn’t forgotten about you, the uncle explained. And he and my mother weren’t talking so she didn’t tell him where I was.”

But the voluntary pilgrimage still didn’t make the imprint of being forced to meet her birth mother as a 12-year-old child, an experience she describes as “bizarre”.

Her adoptive mother had been upset for the week leading up to it. Ofa Talatala, after all, was still a foster child.

Her Dad, on the other hand, she described as being “a typical English, middle class male: no emotion, just pat, pat, it will be ok”.

Cultural contrast
Which runs in stark cultural contrast with the next piece of Ofa’s storytelling: “When we left [her birth mother’s house], I remember her coming out of the house and standing under the tree, and just wailing,” she recalls.

“I was just like ‘get me out of here’. But it must have been so emotional on her part.

At the time I was like, ‘Oh, my god, how embarrassing, who does that? But for her it must have been grieving. And no shame in it for Tongans, I guess”.

So where does Ofa Donaldson take her cultural cues from in such situations, whether she be adult or child, in New Zealand or in Tonga?

“I really don’t know. It has been cool going back to Tonga, and seeing where I am from, but I think I am so heavily engrained in New Zealand culture.

“It’s not like I am going to drown myself in Tongan stuff now. Some people would, but I am happy to know that I am Tongan, and I’ve been there and met the people.
“I’m happy. Just putting the tapa up, I’m like, ‘that’s me!’”

Sylvia Giles is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student on the AUT Asia-Pacific Journalism course. She took the photograph of Ofa Donaldson at her home in Frankton.

Othello Polynesia