I’m Nosica, I am 23 years -old and I am from Belgium. I am a volunteer with European Solidarity Corp (ESC) and joined the youth organisation Boys’ and Girls’ club of Wales (BGC) on September 1st and (hopefully) I can stay here until July next year.
I have always dreamed of living abroad but I had never dared to do it until now. This year I had the opportunity to start an internship in an international organisation in Belgium. This organisation was taking part in ESC, which is how I first heard about it. I wanted to participate in a project related to communication and marketing since I have a Masters degree in that field and this was important because I wanted this project to be an asset for my future career. But most of all, I knew this project was the experience of a lifetime.
The Covid situation has already had an big impact on my life and work here, even though I’ve only been with BGC for a month and a half. Firstly, before applying for the project, the Covid situation made me realise that if I wanted to travel, I had to do it now while I could. This also meant that, when I arrived in Wales, I had to quarantine for two weeks. It was difficult but I was used to being careful and staying home in Belgium, so at least it wasn’t a new experience for me.
Once quarantine was over, we were finally able to explore! I walked around the city, and headed to Bute and Roath Park, and also headed further and visited into Cardiff Bay. I find it really peaceful here, and yet it’s also full of life too!
In the last month, new restrictions have come into place, which means our interactions are now limited with people outside our household and we cannot leave Cardiff to visit other cities. However, these restrictions have not stopped me from meeting others, mwho are mostly French, which I find comforting, as we speak the same language.
These restrictions also mean that I am currently working for BCG at home. I was worried about this at first, because I thought this might be difficult to meet people and make friends if I was working from home. Eventually, it didn’t stop me from getting to know new people. Social media is really useful during pandemic and there are a few Facebook groups for people living in Cardiff! I know this volunteering project is quite different than usually due to the pandemic but I still think it’s a great experience to live.
No Free SpeechThe democratic processes are under attack all around the world. This is not just arbitrary arrests and violence against those who express their opinions or defend the right to free speech. The emergence of digital media platforms has been heralded as a boost for democracy, activism and widening access to information. It has also seemingly distributed power to users and those not directly in the political system who can engage directly with mass audiences. However, the rise of algorithms and clickbait content has polarized public debate, disinformation and misinformation. The public trust in both traditional and social media alike is eroding.
There is also a rise in the use (abuse) of legislation to crackdown on legitimate and peaceful expression, such at the National Security Law passed by China on Hong Kong in July 2020. Those who protest the curtailment of their democratic rights are arrested. In Hong Kong protestors holding blank pieces of paper in silence were arrested. In Thailand a ban on gatherings of more than 4 persons in Bangkok was announced 15th October 2020 in attempt to silence protest calling for political reform and democratic rule.
In Tanzania, with elections due on 28th October 2020, attacks also come through cancelling the licences of human rights organisations, preventing them from becoming election observers, revoking the licences of news outlets and arresting at least 17 opposition politicians and critics. News outlets are not allowed to report on Covid-19 which the Tanzanian President says does not exist in the country. The Cybercrimes Act 2015 is used to prosecute individuals for online posts and internet-based publications as well as to charge excessive fees for licences to publish blogs on the internet.
“It’s no coincidence that the Tanzanian government has increased its repression of the opposition, activists’ groups, and the media so close to the elections,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of upholding the right to free expression at this critical time, authorities have instead adopted measures that raise concerns about the elections being free and fair.”
Most Gulf States have enacted or updated their cybercrime laws as part of their efforts to address the increasing threat of cybercrime. However, most of these laws actually neglect to deal with the real issue and focus on limiting freedom of expression. Several human rights defenders and activists, as well as other social media users, have been prosecuted under these laws, deported or jailed for online comments, for blogging or for posting pictures .
Governments not only restrict information but they use misinformation often via social media to mislead citizens. There is “unembarrassed profligacy of lies” in the USA Presidential election campaign. Those in power have attempted to sabotage the postal vote system and made public statements to undermine trust in the voting system. Also the foreign government blatant interference in elections through social media manipulation and illegal access to personal data (a tactic also used by internal political parties) is becoming the norm.
No Parliamentary Scrutiny
In Hong Kong the new National Security law established the Committee for Safeguarding National Security which has no democratic or legal scrutiny. This means the public cannot use legal procedures as a check against abuse of power and breaches of Hong Kong’s legal obligations, including human rights obligations under international and domestic law. This is just one high profile case. Open Democracy reported the alarming statistic that 2 billion people had shut or limited parliaments.
Under cover of the pandemic some Governments, such as in Hungary, have grabbed excessive powers. Others have shut Parliaments and reduce the scrutinising activities of committees. Even before Covid-19, the UK Government has been increasingly using statutory instruments rather than the full parliamentary process to change the law. These have very little oversight, especially when the Government used the urgency procedure to give statutory instruments immediate effect. The bypassing of debate often leads to make mistakes. Before Exit Day, when the UK left the EU, 97 statutory instruments were laid in Parliament to fix mistakes of earlier legislation.
Civil society under serious attack in 153 out of 195 countries globally
It is not only in Tanzania that NGOs find themselves restricted by Governments. Across Europe there has been a move to reduce the participation of NGOs in the political process. Consultation with civic groups, in particular youth organisations, has been bypassed according to a Council of Europe Youth Forum Report. The curtailment of funding has also reduced the ability of community groups, NGOs and those representing minorities to engage in consultation and policy making. In some countries populist governments were able to introduce restrictions on many NGOs, apparently with the silent consent of society.
Around the world the space for civic and democratic action has been facing an unprecedented crackdown, commonly labelled the “shrinking space”, with civil society under serious attack in 153 out of 195 countries globally according to the EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights). It is in these countries where human rights and their defenders are most at risk. Whilst the right to assembly has been limited for public health reasons, in numerous countries this has been disproportionate, with restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press included.
Adding to the pre-existing challenges to democracy the coronavirus pandemic is being used as a pretext to limit democratic and civic space, as well as the respect for the rule of law and of international commitments. Whilst in emergency circumstances, international human rights law allows the limitation of certain human rights if the measures are necessary, proportionate, temporary in nature, and non-discriminatory, many restrictions have been excessive.
Winners and Losers: Some NGOs get squeezed but not others
Civic space is diverse and whilst some NGOs and community organisations face restrictions, others are expanding. Some parts of civil society get protected, and even subsidized, while others get smeared, harassed and stigmatized. Elite clubs and lobby groups with their land, money and connections can spread their message. There are also external forces at work in countries. “Elites take their cues, and get rewards, from foreign banks, extractive corporations, tax havens and accounting firms, donor agencies and others in the ‘international community.”
The labour rights movement, which has brought about hard won social protection in Europe and North America, has been boxed in by trade deals and development aid especially in Africa. Globally, austerity and corporate interests have slashed workers’ rights and those who champion them are suppressed. The social media, surveillance and anti-terrorism laws are adding to the wrecking of the spaces for an independent, authentic and democratic civic life.
Written by Gill Peace, our Operations Manager
Today marks the 75th years since the United Nations came into existence in October 24, 1945. So much has happened since its launch and likewise so much is happening right now with clear consequences in the future. Looking at the UN’s history, it seems it has attended a cyclical, never-ending loop of political ups and downs, social progress and regression, increasing climate thread caused by unlimited human activity… And so on and so forth while new generations come and go:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948), the signing of the Treaty of Rome that would later lead to the creation of the European Union (March 1957), the rise of gender equality movements in the 1960s, the arrival of the man to the moon (July 1969), the rise of global awareness in the 1970s, the independence of many African states in the 1970s, AIDS/HIV epidemic in the 1980s, the finalized Cold War in the 1990s, the Gulf War (August 1990), the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 1991), the Bosnian War (April 1992), the Rwandan genocide (April 1994), 9/11 (2001), the eruption of social media in the early 2000s, exacerbated deregulation market leading to the 2008 financial crisis, the Arab Spring (December 2010), the Syrian Civil War (March 2011), an intensive wave of terrorist attacks throughout Europe from 2015, the ongoing refugee crisis, the Brexit referendum (June 2016)…
And the most recent event being COVID-19, a worldwide pandemic that is deeply deteriorating world stability. This is though a westernized chronology that needs to be revised and decolonized, for it probably erases similarly relevant occurrences happening beyond the global north, hence subject to lack or very poor media coverage, academic analysis and layerization of the sort. To give you a quick idea, I was born April 1991. So one could argue I have seen the Fall of the Berlin Wall when the demolition came to an end in November ‘91 and the rise of social media from 2010 thereon, just to name two diametrically opposed worlds in a relatively close period of time.
But, are we really that different as society? The United Nations emerged as a pacifist attempt to solidify international commitment to a multilateral arena where states could discuss a more inclusive, advanced political ensemble. Nevertheless, it seems that power differential keeps playing an important role. Be it Transnational Corporations, surreptitious forces much displayed on massive communication channels like social media, or outraged countries who decide to drop off fundamental accords to the existence of humankind in the world, what’s at stake is our very ability to discern what’s true from what isn’t amidst a post-truth environment and morally questionable faits accompli.
In this uncertain times, how can we really be aware of the factual reality? To me, this feels like a self-explanatory question. Maybe the mere fastest answer is that we cannot. And therein lies the very importance of multilateral tools such as the United Nations emerging as a coalitional, binding giant to safeguard a more balanced, peaceful world. Nowadays, although at times it would seem so, we are not embedded into a dualistic international dynamic, but rather a polarized one where strengthening bonds is of the upmost necessity.
In its 75th anniversary, one could argue the United Nations to be that grandparent in the position to remind us through their wisdom how to not keep stumbling against the same stone, what it takes to build up on Human Rights (including literacy, little girls accessibility to resources, or accountability being taken by off-shore polluting Transnational Corporations), and the way in which cooperation may bring political stability where opportunism and short-sightedness used to be at ease. This is not to say the UN is a sanctum sanctorum or the perfect mechanism to rely on for the ultimate wellbeing of our contemporary democracies. Instead, we collectively hold the moral duty to constructively criticize its, at times temporary, ostracism.
For example, following on the COVID-19 global pandemic, the World Health Organization could have coordinated an early response that would at least have mitigated the pandemic’s impact. Or so could have done the World Tourism Organization, essential to my motherland, Spain, where the country’s 15% (!) of the GDP depends on tourism. The sector is suffering from irreversible tissue tearing, therefore elongating the already precarious labor market where thousands need to migrate to Northern Europe. At the same time, this perpetuates, once again, a power differential dynamic and an increasing socioeconomic gap between regions. That said, to what extend is this a collective responsibility as opposed to one from each and every state?
That is a difficult question that nonetheless comes to confirm the necessity to keep strengthening sociopolitical bonds to effectively avoid the process of dissolution causing polarization. So for all that, thank you to the United Nations to remind us what the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana crystallized in his eloquent aphorism: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Written by Santi, our long term ESC Volunteer
Greetings to all of you, my name is Michelle and I am a volunteering at Boys’ and Girls’ Club Wales (BGC) in Cardiff. It’s been almost two months since I moved here, with my fears and insecurities along for the ride.
Over the last few months, I asked myself, what should I do know? Am I doing something important with my life? Should I have chosen another bachelor’s degree instead? And then, to complicate these feelings even more, the world suddenly changed the pandemic was upon us and people were forced into a ‘lockdown’ and told to stay at home.
So I asked myself, how am I supposed to carry on with my life if the world seems to be on fire? The situation back in my home country of Spain was just impossible to handle, especially for young people as it started to affect my personal life. I remember that one day I was looking at stories about people who have volunteered or internships abroad and I asked myself why not? What do I have to lose?
And so that was the beginning of my Welsh adventure. I started applying for a few projects and got through to the interview stage but time after time, I was rejected. It made me feel even more lost as to what to do, and so I gave up. However, a few weeks passed and I told myself to keep trying otherwise I will never know what will happen and again asked myself, what do I have to lose?
“How am I supposed to carry on with my life if the world seems to be on fire?”
“How am I supposed to carry on with my life if the world seems to be on fire?”
I fortunately got through to the interview process for BGC and after days of waiting, I heard great news: I was successful! They had decided to give me the chance to be a part of their project. Before I knew it, I found myself packing all my belongings and had started a new and (rather unexpected) experience.
Spain has been hit hard by Covid, and so the British Government decided to put a 14 days quarantine in place for anyone who enters the country from abroad.
This meant I spent 24/7 with strangers, who I am sure will eventually become my friends during my time here. At the beginning, almost everything was completely new but with patience and energy, I found that you can work through the challenges you face when living with new people. We already have had some issues related to housework. It is, in my point of view, mainly because of cultural manners besides our personal habits but I believed that we have now managed it properly.
I must say that one of my biggest concerns was the frustration of being in a new country and having fewer possibilities to meet new people or visit other cities in the UK because of Covid. But the people who I work with have been go good, and they make me feel so comfortable. In spite of the Covid situation, I am pretty sure I will enjoy this opportunity and will have the chance to meet some awesome people who may jsut become important friends for life. As well as making new friends, I can be 100% sure that I will improve my English language skills, among other skills, thanks to my role at BGC Wales.
BGC is a non-profit organisation where I work as a volunteer in the communication department, which was similar to my previous job in Madrid. I haven’t worked at BCG for very long but I believe it is always great to work in a different environment from ones you are used to.
So, if you are thinking about doing a European Solidarity Corps (ESC) or any volunteering programme, my advice would definitely be: “Do it, because you really have nothing to lose, only a world to discover”
Today is bittersweet for so many. For some people in Spain, October 12 is a day to celebrate to dust off their military paraphernalia and march up and down wide avenues in Madrid while thousands of people flag national symbols and hum the anthem. All the political parties are expected to attend the event (including the Spanish Monarchy) and there is even some minutes of fame, as Andy Warhol would predict, for a goat in spearheading the march with a specific military unit, the Legionnaires.
Having said that, my knowledge of this historical moment stops here, for I am part of the other half who believes by now, in 2020, there should be already a reformulation of what this date entails. Due to global pandemic, the parade has been cancelled this year. To be truthful, I would bet that more people whined over the cancellation of the summer’s Gay Pride celebration; which exemplifies, on the one hand, the level of engagement to the military parade as opposed to other social events and, on the other, the economic impact along with international resonance of them compared.
Hispanic Day was originally marked in 1892 after Cristobal Columbus´s arrival to the Americas in October 12, 1492. From thereon, this date was incorporated into Spanish imaginary’s to allegedly represent societal unity. By the creation of the Spanish 1978 Constitution after over 40 years of dictatorship, it briefly merged with Spanish National Day, but the latter got prioritized in detriment of the primary feeling of Latinidad. It goes without saying, that the Iberian peninsula and Latin America share a strong sociocultural bonding that nonetheless has been troubled by centuries of colonialism and post-colonialism.
Latinidad is an umbrella term to identify those who share cultural values across continents, with the Spanish language being one of the most recognizable markers of this complex and diverse ethnic identity. Lately, the narrative has been troubled by the Black and Indigenous communities, for they too take part in this pan-identity, and yet they are ever hardly recognized within it. That per se is a debate that would need a whole new post…
Back to Hispanic Day , and some might say that October 12 is not precisely a joyous day to be celebrated, but rather a remembrance of how power differential and potential acculturation works. In the times of #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and an increasing awareness on social issues, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Argentina or the US would celebrate Día de la Raza, Día del encuentro entre dos mundos, Día del respeto a la diversidad cultural and Columbus Day respectively.
That said, notice that each country has tailored the celebration to different internal demands, which adds up controversy in the US for not having done so just yet. All in all, throughout Latin America this day centres Indigenous communities and ethnic diversity, whereas in Spain is mostly its national day. Coming from the linguistic field myself, I am aware that socio-ethnic collaboration is worked through cultural and linguistic organizations such as Instituto Cervantes and the Real Academia Española.
Although it has improved after decades of social progress, Spanish cultural and linguistic organizations are oftentimes said to be normative, which needs to be challenged in acknowledging the diversity of Hispanic, Latino or whatever identity you may be comfortable with. Personally speaking, and being conscious of the need to unpack colonization by certain structural narratives along with the privilege I carry within those, I believe the beauty of our pan-Latino identity resides in a certain chaotic conviviality where Spanish language and ethnicity are an intertwined cross-roads of multiple identities even contradictory at times.
As the great Gloria Anzaldúa once said: Soy mi lengua / I am my language (Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands: la frontera). And that is a beautiful statement that resonates with me, for it shows how polyhedral yet universal can get the sentiment of community.
In the current sociopolitical, economic and cultural climate, Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future is a particularly accurate heading coined by UNESCO to celebrate World Teacher’s Day. This is a much needed day to reflect upon the endurance of the learning process, how it shapes our multiple identities, and more specifically the role of teachers:
My memories growing up are happy ones, filled with laughter. I remember walking to school on my own while trying to learn how to whistle, maybe during 10 or 15 minutes, as I would feel the most independent child among my friends at school and beyond. Our primary school was named after Federico García Lorca, a Spanish poet belonging to the fruitful 1927 artistic wave among which we can count Salvador Dalí (painting, sculpture) and Luis Buñuel (cinema).
By the schools entrance, someone had graffitied the name ‘García Lorca’ on a wall, which always made me think there was a personal connection with the poet. Our teachers, among whom I recall Manuel, Carmina or Felix would teach us mathematics, Spanish language, and gymnastics.
They too encouraged us to read Lorca’s verses aloud, creating a sort of artistic dynamic that would feed itself over time. It’s been more than 20 years from , and I still picture Carmina calling me out for talking too much, or help us dive into poetry, literature and the art of writing.
The episode mentioned above is just a tiny bit of the educational process, but it exemplifies how the latter echoes throughout your personal journey. We all have that one teacher or professor with whom we relate. Maybe they taught us a specific subject we have not forgotten about and ended up making our own profession, or maybe they provided us with that empowering advice we carry along and have cherished to face challenging times. Maybe, they just join us in the process of learning and taught us how to relate respectfully…
Whatever the educational nature of our relation to them, teaching matters. Establishing solid, fruitful relations student to teacher and vice versa matters. Making the most out of the never-ending process of education matters. And ultimately, respecting teachers, professors and all those professionals involved in the learning process thanks to whom we have hopefully developed our critical thinking as well as creativity, empathy and curiosity matters.
As a teacher’s son myself, this is a wholehearted thank you to all the educators who help us find out who we are and what we want to become in life.