Category Archives: Human Rights

Homophobic terror attack ahead of wedding


TO MANY PEOPLE, 11th September is a date rife with memories of terror, violence and fire; 24 year old Solange Ramires and 26 year old Sabriny Benites never expected, however, those feelings would become so personal.

The two were to be wed in a local Gaucho Traditions Center (CTG) in Santana do Livramento on the 13th, along with 27 other couples. However, at four a.m on the 11th, the so eagerly expected marriage was threatened when the CTG was set ablaze by molotov cocktails, in what has been called a terror attack.

The attack was not random: a month earlier, when news of the wedding first came out on the small Rio Grande do Sul city, both the local judge – Carine Labres – and the head of the CTG – city representative Gilberto “Xepa” Gisler –  received death threats over the “immorality”.

Following this were, sadly fulfilled,  threats of arson. According to Gisler, an anonymous caller said “there was no way” the wedding was to happen – even if they had to “beat the crap out of this so called ‘Xepa’, get rid of the judge and set the CTG on fire”.

To the police, the fire was a deliberate attack. To Brazil’s Human Rights minister, Ideli Salvatti, this arson is another reason why the country urgently needs to criminalize homophobia.

According to eyewitness reports, after Gisler left the center early on the 11th, four men left a nearby bar in a white car, and lobbed in what the police believes were molotov cocktails.The attack started two localized fires, one of them in the main hall which was completely destroyed.

While locals started rebuilding the center on the following day, in preparation for the ceremony, the collective wedding had to be moved to the local courthouse. It happened without further incidents.

However, the whole affair caused a great deal of debate in social media and the Rio Grande do Sul press. Many – including Zero Hora columnist David Coimbra – took the position that the true offenders were the judge and the two women; according to that mindset, they were “offending tradition” and “provoking hostility” to the point that “defenders of such traditions felt more comfortable torching the CTG than seeing it hosting a gay wedding”.

Others claimed minorities should “know their place” – which according to online comments, doesn’t include CTGs, churches, courthouses, stadiums or the state of Rio Grande do Sul – and that the judge should be “relieved of duty” for supporting gay rights. On the 12th, Judge Labres requested a fake Facebook profile of herself be taken down – the online profile was being used to malign and defame her.

About the intimidation, she was succinct: “we won’t be shut down, the rights of minorities are guaranteed”.

Others were supportive of the wedding – including many in the same newspaper, Zero Hora. Adriana Franciosi, another ZH writer, noted that –  in the ‘name of tradition’ –  black people were forbidden to enter many CTGs until 1988. By claiming that marrying two women in the CTG “attacks tradition”, she claims,  Coimbra is at the same time defending social conservatism.

“If we followed David’s logic”, she said in a open Facebook status “women would still be confined to the kitchen and the household. After all, why work and be independent? As puts David, why cause trouble?”.

Written by Pedro Leal
Photo Credit: Rodrigo_Soldon

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The shadow of Lampedusa: Counting the cost of a European tragedy


As a stretch of land across the Mediterranean Sea, Italy is continuously facing the arrival of unseaworthy boats carrying migrants – men, women and children trying to leave behind war and poverty to reach Europe.

Most of those on board would have the right to asylum, but for many the journey ends when they’re barely within sight of Italy: news of migrants dying on their way to Europe are a sad routine. And the EU is in no rush to do anything to help solve what it apparently thinks of as only Italy’s problem.

On October 3rd last year, 366 migrants drowned off the coast of Lampedusa, an island half-way between Sicily and the North African coast. The international outcry that followed prompted Italy to launch a massive search-and-rescue effort called Operation Mare Nostrum. A number of men, ships and helicopters were used to track down traffickers, to escort any intercepted boat of migrants to the nearest safe port and to provide quick medical assistance to whoever may need it.

So far this year, Operation Mare Nostrum has rescued 50,000 migrants – not without a price. The operation’s cost, at first estimated to be around €1.5m a month, quickly soared to €9.5m each month. In a year, this adds up to €114m, quite a strain for a country that was hit so hard by the recession.

While migrants attempt to reach Italy first due to its position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy isn’t usually their final destination: it was estimated that two thirds of migrants who arrive in Italy leave for other countries. It’s Europe that they risk their lives to reach. It would seem logical to assume, then, the issue of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea is a European issue that should be tackled by a coordinated action, with funds coming from all countries in the EU.

As if.

As Italy spends €9.5m a month to keep Operation Mare Nostrum running, Europe contributes around €9m – a year. That’s not a typo: the EU “contributes” to the search-and-rescue effort to save as many migrants as possible in the Mediterranean Sea with less than a twelfth of the operation’s cost. This has led Italian officials to complain that the EU is “not helping enough”. A polite way of saying that the EU is not helping, at all.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was more direct, going as far as saying that Italy will leave the EU if its members don’t help with the costs of Operation Mare Nostrum. His demands for Mare Nostrum to be taken over by the EU and incorporated into Frontex – EU’s border patrol body – in order to share the cost, however, fell on deaf ears. Apparently, that of migrants risking their lives at sea while trying to reach Europe is Italy’s problem alone.

The arguments so far made to defend this decision defy logic. Several countries, such as Germany, argue that Italy should face the problem on its own because they deal with far more asylum-seekers than Italy does. While that is true, it seems hardly pertinent to the problem at hand: the fact remains that no other European country has to run a humanitarian naval operation in any way comparable to Operation Mare Nostrum.

Taking absolutely no part in the rescue effort doesn’t keep the EU from wailing whenever another tragedy involving migrants at sea makes it to the news. A regular occurrence, because even Operation Mare Nostrum is not enough to save everyone. On June 30th, 30 migrants suffocated in a boat as they were forcibly kept below the deck of the fishing boat on which they were trying to reach the Italian coast. On July 2nd, 70 migrants were lost at sea in yet another incident. By the time this goes online, more stories like these will probably make it to the headlines. The EU will wail about it, no doubt – before proceeding to do absolutely nothing. Italy’s problem. We already have so many asylum-seekers to deal with, people. Buzz off.

The most appalling aspect of the issue is that a great part of the migrants who leave on boats for Europe do qualify for asylum – only that they have to risk their lives for what should be their right. And a right is not something you may only receive if lucky enough not to die at sea first, after having put your life in the hands of traffickers – thus fuelling the trade of human lives across the Mediterranean Sea.

Despite its prominence amongst the arguments thrown back and forth between Italy and the EU as Italy starts its presidency, it’s noteworthy how no one seems to be considering the idea of working together to create humanitarian corridors across the Mediterranean Sea. Not only would that give migrants a safe route, thus allowing asylum-seekers to apply for it without risking their lives – it would also deal a blow to the traffickers Operation Mare Nostrum is seeking to stop.

But then again, migrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea? That’s Italy’s problem alone.

By Alessandra Pacelli

Photo: UNESCO

Are Norway choosing Quantity over Quality?

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EVERY YEAR IS the same. Only this year it’s more intense. Teachers in Norway are unhappy about new reforms that could affect their work conditions. Increasing office hours, less independence, and higher requirements are some of the claims.

In December 2012, the Norwegian political parties wanted to expand the length of a teacher’s education to a five-year master programme. This happened only two years after a fresh reform had changed the situation for teachers. The argument for making it a five-year programme was that teachers would gain more subject competence and experience from research. In addition, more people would apply in general. Today, the discussion is once again preoccupying the minds of the party members, current teachers, and future teachers.

A change in office hours
First, the Norwegian communal sector organisation (KS) wanted to expand the working year for teachers to 45 weeks, which would mean 37.5 hours weekly throughout the year. Thereby turning the generous summer vacation into regular office hours. The independence of the teachers and schools would also decrease because of the increasing amount of control given to the local authorities. Unsurprisingly the teachers weren’t happy with this and the Norwegian union of education declared the number of days the teachers worked should be equal to the number of days their pupils were in school.

Compromise leading to a final vote
A peaceful demonstration in Skien coupled with several other frustrated reactions towards KS, forced the organisation to finally reverse some of their plans. KS and the Norwegian union of education, made a compromise. The new deal is that teachers must be at school for a minimum of 7.5 hours a day. These hours are meant to be used to do tasks teachers believe are beneficial to their students. The compromise is to be voted on by the teachers themselves later this month. The leader of The Union of Education — Ragnhild Lied — has already claimed that the result of the vote will be binding for its members. However, if a majority does not agree with the deal, it will almost certainly result in a strike. Wisely some might say another leader Terje Skyvulstad, has said that it is difficult to predict what will happen should there be a strike.

Free or forced teachers?
One professor at the University of Oslo, Thorgeir Kolshus, expressed to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten: ‘’If the teachers are forced to maintain certain office hours, the job will become less attractive. If you give teachers freedom, you will get quality’’. June 18th will be the day of the vote. The question is; will there be quality?

Problems are not just affecting those in Norway, recently in Ireland, Headmasters and University Presidents were ordered by the Government to reduce staff costs by 1%. This was despite a recent report claiming that Ireland was third in Europe for Adult Literacy and Numeracy tests. The chief executive of Irish Universities Ned Costello claimed “A commitment to roll back the recently announced staff cuts, and an injection of funding in the forthcoming Budget and estimates this autumn would be a good place to start.”

Five-year master programme
Similar to the situation in December 2012, once more the current government wants to try to expand the teacher education from a four-year bachelor to a five-year master programme. On the one hand, a masters programme can attract more disciplined students with better grades. The programme can also give higher self-confidence academically. On the other hand, a masters programme can also be risky for those students who are not as strong academically. This can result in a growing apostasy. For a masters programme to be attractive there need to be a rise in wages, fewer ‘’time thieves’’, and the teachers need to be given more trust, autonomy, and status.

By Hanna Skotheim

Pandeia has also offered up its own pan-european report on education cuts which can be read here.

What’s the future for Ireland after an 85% rise in racism?

Photo credit: Denis Hogan

WHEN IRELAND WENT through a period of increased immigration and prosperity in the mid 1990s, it appeared the future was bright for all those who entered the emerald isle. However since the economic downturn, things have grown darker.

Recent preliminary figures released by the Immigrant Council of Ireland show a disturbing 85% increase in reports of racist incidents in the republic for 2013. But how accurate are these figures and whats the reasons behind them? Are more people willing to speak out about abuse they have encountered and how have reporting systems changed?

Economic pressures

Speaking with Luke Bukha of the Anti Racism Network (ARN), he clearly sees a correlation between economic issues and immigration tension. Luke’s organisation, The ARN — a grass roots organisation of migrants — continues the good work carried out by the late Pat Guerin and others in the nineties through to the present day. Up until his death earlier this year, Pat Guerin worked closely with perhaps the most alienated community on the island, the Roma.

Luke explained why he thinks racist incidents are on the rise:

“I think it is happening because of the economic crises, there is no doubt that this has contributed a lot to it. Many people thought that this (recession) would only be for a short time but over the last four or five years many people have been very seriously affected”.

He continued, “If you look on a personal level people are losing their homes, homelessness has risen, the cuts in social welfare even for people with disabilities, lone parents and for pensioners all of this has created so much anger and that anger is going everywhere and in many cases it is people like us, the immigrants, whom are the easiest to be targeted”.

A new phenomenon?

The pattern of austerity measures causing anger and violence towards immigrants is one consistently repeated across Europe. However, racism is not necessarily a new problem in Ireland.

Una-Minh Cavanagh is an Irish woman who was adopted from Vietnam when she was six weeks old. Una is from Co Kerry and has lived in Dublin this past four years. She is a journalist and – unlike most – speaks fluent Irish. She spoke of her experiences growing up:

“It is so frustrating having to prove all the time that your Irish and that some people don’t accept that because you’re not white or you don’t look like a stereotypically Irish person that you pretty much don’t belong here or you’re not Irish and that’s something that I face a lot. I know so many people that are of Asian or African decent and they’re as Irish as anyone else but I feel like we have a certain block on that still and that some people are still unaccepting of that fact”.

An institutional problem?

Unfortunately, the problem of racism could be rooted more deeply in society. In 2011 Darren Scully, then Mayor of Naas in Co Kildare, said that he would no longer “represent Black Africans” . He resigned almost immediately, but after some soul searching and “reflection” he realised that he shouldn’t have said all Black Africans just “certain people from a certain part of Africa”. Scully was welcomed back into the Fine Gael party in November and the next local elections are this month.

PerhapsRoma+Athlone+4 the most high profile case of perceived institutional racism involved the removal by Gardai of two Roma children, from two different families, in the midlands and Dublin. In late October Gardai — acting on a tip off that a Roma family had a blond blue eyed child posted on Irish TV journalist Paul Connolly’s Facebook page — went to the home of the Roma family in Tallaght, Dublin and removed the child into custody. The distraught parents produced both a birth certificate and a passport but were not believed. They then had to provide DNA samples to prove that the child was indeed theirs. The child was returned to them when the DNA test proved positive.

Strong anti-racist sentiment

Shane O’ Curry is the director of the European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR) and co-author of a recent report entitled Reports of Racism in Ireland. It is the first quarterly report conducted by the group and covers the period July until September.

He discussed the role of the state in fostering racism:

“The state needs to look at itself there are a range of ways in which state institutions are institutionally racist, both in terms of their practices and ethnic make-up and the outcomes that people have when they come into contact with them.”

With all this in mind, it might not be all doom and gloom, as Shane claims:

“About 2/3’s of the reports were made not by the victims but by witnesses or bystanders so it shows that there is a very strong anti-racist sentiment there and there is a very committed constituency out there in the trade unions, on the ground in activist circles and ordinary decent citizens who find racism an affront to their decency.”

Words: David Fleming

Top photo: Denis Hogan

Spanish exile: future beyond the borders

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The future for the youth of Spain is one of the darkest in Europe. As youth emigration hits record levels Aida Pelaez explains the current difficulties that young Spaniards have to go through on a day to day basis.

“In the current situation I think it would be a mistake to return to Spain”

“The chances of emancipation are almost nil, so you make up your mind and hop on a plane”

“When you leave because there is no other choice you feel a little exiled”

These are direct quotes from young Spanish emigrants who have told their stories on camera for the future documentary “Spanish Exile”.  Rubén Hornillo is a young Spanish filmmaker and is living and working in Los Angeles. His documentary “Spanish Exile” will show the first-hand testimonies of young Spanish people who have seen themselves been forced to emigrate because of the economic crisis; showing the reality of a country that is seeing its qualified and educated youth leaving the country because of the lack of possibilities.

Spain faces one of the highest rates of emigration in the recent decades of its history, but rather than focusing on the number of migrations, different movements were born in the country to express their preoccupation and outrage about the situation and reasons for the exodus of young Spaniards. Juventud sin futuro (youth without future), La Marea Granate (the maroon tide), No nos vamos nos echan (We are not leaving, they kick us out); are the names of these movements.

Youth without future was born in 2011. Their slogan: “without a house, without a job, without fear” summarizes the demands of this organization whose purpose is to demonstrate the precarious situation of youth in the labour, educational and social fields.

“We are not leaving, they kick us out” is another a movement who denounces the precarious situation of Spanish youth, but it is focused on emigration; they defined Spain as “No country for young men”. This initiative criticises the forced exile of the precarious Spanish youth; their calls have gone beyond the Spanish borders by demonstrations that have taken place in different cities of the world such as Rome or London. The young Spaniards who live there as immigrants have shown their dissatisfaction with their own country that has failed to provide them a future.

The most recent platform  is “The Maroon Tide”, named by the color of the passport as a symbol of forced migration it is a transnational movement formed by emigrants from Spain who struggle from outside the Spanish borders against the causes that have led to the economic and social crisis which in turn caused them to migrate.

All these platforms seek the reasons for the Spanish youth exodus, but they are mostly trying to give a voice to all the young people who have seen the need to emigrate from Spain to look for work possibilities. But, on the other side of the table, the authorities of the country have not shown much concern about youth emigration. The government has not presented a clear answer for the increasing rates of emigration of skilled labour among the youth. The Spanish General Secretary of Immigration and Emigration, Marina del Corral, explained last November the reasons for the emigration of the younger part of Spanish society; she mentioned the economic crisis, but she also emphasised the adventurous spirit of young people as a reason for their migration.

The different movements concerned about forced migration, the stories of Spanish emigrants in foreign countries narrated in first person, show a different reality that contradicts the adventurous spirit expressed by the Government as a cause for migration. They point at the search for an sustainable present and future which their own country has not been able to provide them with; the crisis has made them exiles.

Education in Israel-Palestine: Breeding violence?

 

 

Al-Nakba 2012: Palestinians comemorate their departure from what is now Israeli territory. This Palestinian child holds the key to the house that once belonged to his family. It is common Palestinian practice to keep the keys to their lost houses, as a way to symbolize what they call "their right to return"

Al-Nakba 2012: Palestinians commemorate their departure from what is now Israeli territory. This Palestinian child holds the key to the house that once belonged to his family. It is common Palestinian practice to keep the keys to their lost houses, as a way to symbolize what they call “their right to return”

 

Violence is an ever-present factor in the lives of Palestinian Children, who are a common sight at Friday afternoon protests across the West Bank.  People are unable to shield their children from the occupation even if they try, argue Palestinian parents. But how can you explain a conflict as complicated as the one in Israel and Palestine to a school kid?

The complex history makes it difficult to find a starting point to the dispute which has been punctuated by wars and violent outbursts. As a result, this has created a confusing time line. Yet, education largely determines the children’s perception of the situation and has important implications for future developments in the conflict. Education has therefore been the subject of a number of research projects. The most recent of these, entitled ‘Victims of our own narratives? Portrayal of the ‘Other’ in Israeli and Palestinian Schoolbooks’, was presented last year.

Victims and perpetrators

It is perhaps easy to argue that, similar to other conflict zones, Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks dehumanise each other and present themselves as the victims. But this stereotype is only partially true, as argued by last year’s study, conducted by a team of researchers led by Yale professor of Psychiatry Bruce Wexler. If mentioned, such dehumanisation was solely portrayed in relation to a concern over the other’s actions – such as “the violent efforts of Palestinians and other Arabs to destroy Israeli targets through violence” (Wexler 2013). Dehumanisation for the sake of it rarely occurred in the school books that were analysed.

Aside from condemning actions by demonising the other, researchers found that textbooks on both sides show trends of victimising the self (i.e. the nation, the people) and subsequently portraying the other as perpetrator. Furthermore, schoolbooks on both sides present the other not as an enemy protecting what it sees as its own homeland, but rather as seeking the destruction or domination of the ‘self’ and even “call for individuals in their communities to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice of life for the collective good” (Wexler 2013).

These narratives do not portray a falsified history, it is argued, but their opposing narratives about similar events and periods of time are primarily caused by a selective focus. An emphasis on ‘the other’ as an evil force aimed at destroying ‘the self’ is consistently present in school books on both sides of the conflict.

Protecting the homeland

Interestingly, neither side recognises or includes reference to each other’s territory in their textbooks. Thus, in Israeli school books there is no indication of the border with the occupied territories and Palestinian ones do not portray Israel as a geographical area.

This is partly because the territory of the ‘other’ is never identified as such, Wexler argues that both Israelis and Palestinians grow up with a “patriotic attachment to the whole land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea”. This will make any two-state solution a hard pill to swallow for both parties. By portraying Israel and Palestine as the same region, children are taught that any peace negotiation that creates a potential border on the territory means giving away part of their homeland. This will have an effect not only on the current peace negotiations, but also on those yet to come.

Building bridges

Despite a number of similarities in teaching materials regarding ‘the other’, the researchers also found differences between Israeli and Palestinian textbooks. Most notable is the distinction that is made between Israeli ultra-Orthodox and state schools. The latter create a more nuanced image of Palestinians and are more self-critical, both compared to Israeli Ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian schools. Such nuances and self-criticism are crucial in providing children with a realistic image of the conflict surrounding them.

The need for a more balanced image of the conflict is voiced by the two girls in the video below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv00xjClbx0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

Although the situation could be worse, both Israeli and Palestinian school textbooks do not portray the other in a nuanced way. They miss an opportunity of bringing children from both sides closer together as well as fostering a mutual understanding of the other’s identity, wishes and hopes.

Schools could be the place to build bridges towards a better – more peaceful – future, but currently, they don’t.

By Lisanne Oldekamp

Photo by Lisanne Oldekamp (2012)

Nepal suffers school attacks in silence

Schoolyard

 “Before I had time to even stand from the desk, the door was thrown open and three men burst into my office. A gun was placed against my forehead.

He makes the shape of a gun with his hand as he talks, and pushed his finger slowly to my head, not once breaking eye contact.

Close this school. Leave. Or we will destroy it. And we will kill you.”

But I refused. They were not going to take my school. I had built this school from nothing, the children need this school. Nepal needs these schools…

I was scared, of course I was scared. But I looked into his eyes and I knew he would not shoot me. We spoke. We spoke for almost three hours. In the end we came to an agreement.

They called the teachers, gathered the children, and took the books. All of the books and the lessons.”

The principal then walked me to the middle of the playground and described how they were forced to take the books and pile them high on the hard dirt in the middle of the playground, they were then doused in petrol and they were set alight.

“In silence we stood and watched the fire burn down to its end, all of our books destroyed. I wondered what next, what this all meant. But in the end, what could be done? What to do… Ke garne…”

 

WITH THE RELEASE of the Education under Attack report 2014 and the recent Boko Haram attacks on schools in Optimized-IMG_7781Nigeria, violence in education has never been more in focus. Yet as comprehensive as the report is, with thirty separate detailed country profiles and an accompanying list of forty others in which attacks occur frequently, the two hundred and sixty page report has only scratched the surface, with many more countries omitted entirely. This includes Nepal.

For as long as there has been organised education there has been violence against it, from the times of the Roman Empire and the burning of the great library at Alexandria through to the turbulent times of the present, where there has been conflict; schools and universities have become valid and accepted targets. Although now entirely a cliché, the phrase “knowledge is power”, is exercised and adopts a literal meaning. Education, or more accurately the ability to control it, becomes a dangerous weapon in times of unrest.

Optimized-IMG_6842During the largely unreported civil war in Nepal that raged between 1996 and 2006, over 15,000 people lost their lives and more than 100,000 were displaced due to the violence. Although the civil war has ended, the country is still rocked by political instability as it attempts to form a new government after becoming a republic in 2008. Politicians continue to disagree on the drafting of a new constitution for Nepal, as agreed with Maoist leaders as part of the peace agreement, and crippling levels of corruption in the country hamper all efforts towards progress with Transparency Internationals corruption perception index placing Nepal as the second most corrupt south Asian country after Afghanistan.

During the conflict schools were particularly vulnerable to attack as the westernised style of teaching and emphasis on use of the English language directly contradicted the Maoists insurgencies vision of what a communist Nepali republic should be. While the violence in education report documented instances of kidnaps, use of facilities to house soldiers, shootings, bombings and general intimidation towards staff members and pupils of schools, Nepal did not even feature as a footnote despite meeting all the aforementioned criteria.

During the tim eframe in which the report is concerned, the UN declared schools in Nepal to be “zones of peace” – a term of little significance to those that consider targeting schools a viable course of action. Undeterred, school buses were subjected to repeated arson attacks, with notable cases including factions of the Maoist affiliated student union hijacking several school buses in  Kathmandu and the eastern town of Dharan during the summer of 2012; and the most recent attempted bombing at a school in Kathmandu in November 2013 in the run up to the election.

There has been progress however, as instances of actual physical violence are in decline –  but the slack appears to have been taken up with increased use of bomb hoaxes, intimidation and fear mongering tactics.

Nepal has not forgotten the times of the civil war, and during the recent elections – the first of their kind – schools Optimized-IMG_1197remained closed for periods of up to seven weeks during the strikes. Incited by the Maoists in the run up to the election, closures were done in fear of violent reprisals, should “the jungle fighters” return.

The strikes could not have come at a worse time for schools: the end of school year exams were fast approaching and as a result there were fears that the children’s  academic performance would then suffer.

This is where the true victim of this style of attack reveals itself. If you look at the table of contents in the GCPEA Education under Attack Report you will find it is heavily weighted with countries in the developing world. Without a stable education platform, development in these countries is impossible. What these” freedom fighters” and “liberators” need to realise is that they are holding the nation and ultimately themselves back.

While it is excellent that the issue is gaining awareness throughout the media, and reports on the topic are published, the critical information isn’t getting through.  Violence in education is global, and far too many countries are slipping through the cracks: left to suffer in silence. As long as that continues, so will the circle of violence and stunted progress.

Words and Photographs by Robbie Somers