Sunday, 26 March 2017 00:00 Published in Nation
SYDNEY — A Filipino fisherman has been rescued in Papua New Guinea after drifting at sea for 56 days, but his uncle died during the ordeal, a report said yesterday.
The men left General Santos City in January but hit bad weather and were swept out to sea, the PNG Post Courier reported after a fishing boat spotted Roland Omongos, 21, on March 9.
The newspaper, citing local police, said the pair had no food and the survivor’s uncle died. It said Omongos kept his body for as long as possible but was forced to throw it overboard when it started to decompose.
He survived on two five-liter containers of water and was found weak and distressed by the Bermadethe Marie which was journeying from Wewak to Rabaul, a town on the Papua New Guinean island of New Britain.
Omongos has been examined by doctors and is being held on the boat in Rabaul while arrangements are made for his return home, the Post Courier added, giving no further details.
Sunday, 26 March 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary
SANAA — Roua Ahmed’s classes ended abruptly when her school in Yemen was bombed, but she still clings to her dream of getting an education.
She is one of hundreds of thousands of young Yemenis forced out of school since fighting escalated with a Saudi-led intervention against Shiite Huthi rebels two years ago.
The war has since killed around 7,700 people, including nearly 1,550 children, and shut down hundreds of schools.
After hers was bombed, Roua sought out classes at a mosque in her home city of Taez. But as clashes escalated, her family saw little choice but to flee.
Braving sniper fire, they walked 10 kilometers (six miles) before finding a taxi to the capital.
“I tried to register myself at a school here, but my application was rejected because the classes are overcrowded,” Roua said.
“My education has stopped because of the war. I don’t know what I did wrong — I didn’t do anything.”
The slender 12-year-old, who loves painting and dreams of becoming a teacher, is one of 3.5 million Yemeni children out of school, according to the United Nations children’s agency Unicef.
The fighting has halted the education of nearly two million children on top of the 1.6 million already out of school before the conflict, it said.
“If Yemen’s current generation misses out on school, the long-term consequences will be another generation that is likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence,” it warned in a November report.
As a result, “an entire generation of children risk losing out on their future,” said Shabia Mantoo, Yemen spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Direct attacks on schools
Huthi rebels seized control of Yemen’s capital in September 2014 and went on to expand their clout across the country.
As they closed in on Aden-based President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, forcing him into exile, the Arab coalition launched a military operation in his defence on March 26, 2015.
Unicef has since counted 212 direct attacks on schools, including air strikes that killed pupils.
The fighting has put 1,640 Yemeni schools out of service, with 1,470 destroyed or damaged and others converted into refugee shelters or barracks for fighters, it said.
Meanwhile, in a country on the brink of famine, necessity has forced many children to beg or seek informal jobs to support their families.
Some end up joining armed groups — the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights says nearly 1,500 children have been recruited as fighters, mostly by the Huthis.
Ahmed Salem has lived in a camp for displaced people in Marib, east of Sanaa, since fleeing the nearby town of Sarwah. Instead of going to school, the 16-year-old spends his days trying to provide for his siblings.
“I left my education the day the fighting started in our area,” he said. “Now, I go out every morning to try to get food for my family. I go to organizations again and again to try to get aid.”
Although schools do operate in some areas, their work is hampered by overcrowding and frequent staff strikes over unpaid salaries. Many parents cannot afford stationery for their children.
People also fear air raids. One strike attributed to the Saudi-led coalition hit a school in northern Yemen in August, killing 10 children.
“The students are traumatised,” said Abdullah al-Ezzi, a teacher at Al-Hussein school in Sanaa. “They get scared when warplanes fly over their neighborhoods. They are scared of air strikes.”
Those who drop out of school are easy prey for extremists, who have taken advantage of the conflict in Yemen to strengthen their hold on parts of the south and east.
“In the best case, (dropouts) go to unregulated, religious study centres or training courses at mosques, thinking they offer an alternative to a formal education,” said Ibrahim Nagi, a teacher in Taez.
But many fear that such places are used by jihadists to radicalize and recruit young people.
Meanwhile, Roua Ahmed continues to dream of going back to school.
“Memories of my teachers and my classmates bring me to tears,” she said. “I want my calm life back.” AFP
Sunday, 26 March 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary
WARSAW — The director of Warsaw zoo and his wife always carried cyanide during World War II. Danger was ever-present, hiding nearly 300 Jews and resistance fighters on zoo grounds, but they were ready to take their secret to the grave.
It sounds like a Hollywood movie, and now it is. But “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which opens in Polish cinemas this week before rolling out internationally, is based on actual events.
Inside the zookeeper’s villa, whose windowless cellar had a secret tunnel leading to the garden, Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina gave refuge to the mostly Jews smuggled out of the city’s ghetto.
“I remember squatting under this concrete shelf in the basement and keeping my hand over my sister’s mouth to muffle her cries because she was constantly crying, day and night,” said Moshe Tirosh, aged five at the time.
“When someone slammed the door upstairs, fear would pass through me, lest they find us,” the 80-year-old told AFP in a telephone interview.
The retired businessman and grandfather-of-seven, who has lived in Israel since 1957, still cannot believe what he lived through.
“I saw children’s dead bodies on the street. Terrible things... I remember wondering why everyone wants to kill us. I couldn’t understand it,” he said.
All but two of the zoo’s hidden guests survived the war and Nazi troops stationed on the bombed-out zoo grounds never unearthed the subterfuge.
“My parents figured that it’s always darkest under a lamppost,” the zoo couple’s daughter Teresa Zabinska said, citing a Polish saying according to which it is best to hide in plain sight.
“My father knew that it wouldn’t occur to the Germans that so many people could be hiding in a place like this with open windows and no curtains,” the 73-year-old told AFP.
Most hid in empty animal enclosures or the villa’s basement. Others were able to stay with the family upstairs by taking on fake identities as Antonina’s tailor or their son Ryszard’s tutor.
Between 1940 and 1944, nearly 300 people found refuge, some for just a few hours or days, but others remained months or even years.
“Around 30 people would stay here at once,” said Olga Zbonikowska, 38, who works for the Panda Foundation that takes care of the villa now.
The stakes were high. In occupied Poland, even offering Jews a glass of water was punishable by death.
‘Remember the feeling’
Whenever a Nazi soldier got too close for comfort, Antonina would warn everyone by playing an operetta on the piano.
The hidden guests would escape through the tunnel or hide in a wardrobe upstairs that opened on both sides like a magician’s trunk.
The couple also hid the Jews from their housekeeper out of fear she could give them away.
“The hardest was explaining away the increase in daily meals” to the housekeeper, Antonina wrote in her 1968 memoirs, saying the family fed the extra mouths by faking ravenous appetites.
“I can’t believe how much they eat! I’ve never seen anything like it!” she recalled the housekeeper muttering.
Tirosh had suffered two years in the ghetto, marked by hunger, typhus and near deportation to the Treblinka death camp.
To escape Warsaw’s Jewish quarter, his family paid off the guards and Tirosh and his sister were thrown over the wall in sacks while their parents climbed over.
On arriving at the zoo, Antonina’s empathy and reassuring calm told them they were in good hands.
“She was extraordinary. I was a small boy who was very afraid of everything. But when I saw her face, I calmed right down. I still remember that feeling,” Tirosh said.
Helping animals and people
Before the family moved on, Antonina tried to make them “look less Jewish” by bleaching their hair lighter.
“She locked herself in the bathroom with us and dyed our hair. She rubbed and rubbed and when we came out of the bathroom, Rysiek (nickname for the Zabinskis’ son) cried out, ‘Mum! What did you do? That’s squirrel color,’” Tirosh said, of the inadvertent reddish color.
The family became known as The Squirrels. Others also had animal nicknames, including The Starling, The Hamsters and The Pheasants.
“Theirs was a house where both animals and people always found help,” said Teresa, who was born at the zoo and had a raccoon-like coati from Mexico as a childhood playmate.
Aptly, her mother’s memoirs — to be republished this month — were entitled “People and Animals.”
They describe how Antonina pushed to raise funds to reopen the zoo after the war while Jan was in a Nazi German prisoner-of-war camp, having fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
‘Right thing to do’
American author Diane Ackerman relied heavily on the memoirs when writing her own 2007 nonfiction book “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which inspired the movie. Directed by Niki Caro, it stars Golden Globe winner Jessica Chastain.
The Zabinskis died in the early 1970s.
The villa is now a museum where visitors can make an appointment to see the life-saving secret tunnel and basement.
Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance centre later recognised the Zabinskis as Righteous Among the Nations, a title bestowed upon non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust.
“They believed it was the right thing to do,” Teresa said, of her parents’ wartime actions.
“My father always said that’s what a decent person should do.” AFP
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