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Baghdad, Iraq — Haneen, who has spent most of her life in orphanages, says she used to stay weeks locked up in herself, aimlessly eating, watching TV and sleeping through each day.
Last week, the 13-year-old Iraqi girl was beaming with joy and excitement when the crowd at a Baghdad theater gave her and her friends a rousing round of applause.
“Now I’m happy. I sing, dance and joke with my friends from the orphanage,” she said. “I have changed. People are asking me: ‘What happened? Have you gone crazy?’”
What happened was a project set up by the Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq and aimed at introducing drama therapy in a country where almost everybody has suffered some kind of trauma.
The play at the Theater Forum, an edgy arts center that opened in a beautiful old building on the banks of the Tigris, was the culmination of a months-long program.
Six theater professionals were trained in Beirut by Catharsis, a drama therapy center led by director Zeina Daccache, known for her work with prisoners and migrant workers in Lebanon.
Bassem Altayeb was one of the trainees.
He took the lead in helping a small group of teenage girls from the Dar al-Zuhur orphanage in Baghdad put together a play that tackles the issues they face.
“Each one found some confidence and self-esteem, built their character... The script is about the girls saying: ‘We too have a right to live, to be protected and have dreams,’” he said.
On stage, one of the girls puts on a old white-haired man’s mask and, in a disturbing scene filled with doom, takes a young bride still clutching her doll to a nuptial room.
Lost childhood, early marriage, social inequalities: the play tackled a range of issues with a spontaneous mix of humor and gritty bluntness.
The young troupe also took a swipe at politicians and echoed the despair that is driving the country’s youth out of Iraq and onto Europe’s shores, drawing hearty laughter but also a few embarrassed chuckles from the crowd.
“I am proud of them today,” said a misty-eyed Iman Hassoon, the orphanage’s principal, after the show.
“I sometimes get men coming to the orphanage asking to adopt one of the girls,” she said, adding that she always refuses because she is afraid they will end up enslaved as maids or for prostitution.
“I hope they can use the energy they found with this play to protect themselves and carve a place of their own in society,” Hassoon said.
For decades, Iraqis have been battered in turn by dictatorship, economic sanctions, foreign and civil conflicts — sometimes several of those at the same time.
Violence continues to be omnipresent with car bomb blasts, images of massacres and beheadings sowing death and fear across the country, while the chaos has also allowed thieves, extortionists and traffickers to prosper.
The drama therapy project explores a way of “addressing people and their problems in an extremely damaged society such as Iraq, that has experienced so much trauma and violence,” said Tamara Chalabi, chair of the Ruya Foundation.
“Iraq is a society for men, not really for women... These girls are particularly vulnerable,” added Furat al-Jamil, an Iraqi-German artist who also works with Ruya.
“The first time Ruya Foundation visited the orphanage, the girls were very shy, they were hiding, all of them wore scarves. Now you see them... liberated from a lot of inhibitions,” Jamil said.
After the play, the girls themselves could hardly believe their own transformation.
Ruqayyeh, an elfish 13-year-old who played the child bride, burst into tears when the lights came back on and the audience stood up to clap.
“I had always dreamed of being an actress, of being on stage... But I used to be depressed and bored, nobody liked hanging out with me. Now everything’s changed and the girls love me.”

Indian children labor to bring sparkle to make-up

Tuesday, 13 October 2015 00:00 Published in Commentary

Giridih — Her face caked in dirt and hair matted with sweat, eight-year-old Lalita Kumari hacks away at pieces of rock containing an elusive mineral that adds a dash of sparkle to lipstick and nail polish.
While taking a breather in the hollow of a shimmery sand hill, Lalita says she has not known any other way of life after toiling in the mines of India’s eastern Jharkhand state since she was aged four.
“I want to go to school but there is never enough at home for us to eat. So I have to come here and work,” said the pony-tailed youngster, her blistered hands hid behind her back after laying down her pickax.
Lalita is among hundreds of children who help their families make ends meet by spending their day collecting mica, their stomachs often hungry while the sun beats down on their heads.
Two decades ago the Jharkhand government shut down the mines over environmental concerns but tonnes of scrap left behind continue to lure impoverished villagers.
The mica adds glitter to powders, mascara and lipsticks of top global brands although a complex supply chain makes pinning down the exact origin almost impossible, say activists.
The families of the children who collect the mica often sell it to small traders who in turn sell it to big suppliers.
In 2009, German pharma giant Merck was accused of using mica mined by children and supplying it to brands such as L’Oreal and Revlon.
Merck has since implemented several measures to make sure that “all mica used for the manufacture of our pigments comes from child labor free sources,” the company said in a statement to AFP.
Activists however say remote areas make monitoring impossible and there is no way to guarantee the mica is child-labor free.
“I think for companies the situation has become a kind of passing the buck,” said Bhuvan Ribhu of Bachpan Bachao Andolan NGO whose founder Kailash Satyarthi won last year’s Nobel peace prize for his work combating child labor.
“It’s a collective responsibility of anyone who is procuring any mica from this region to come forward and ensure that all the children are in school,” Ribhu told AFP.
Major companies insist their suppliers follow good practices.
“Merck, our main supplier in India, only sources mica from legal gated mines and has submitted proof that its entire supply chain is secured,” a spokeswoman for L’Oreal said in an e-mail to AFP.
Repeated mails by AFP to Revlon, which is also supplied by Merck, went unanswered.
Although child labor below 18 is illegal with fines and jail terms for offenders, poor enforcement means rules remain on paper.
Children like Lalita often injure themselves with the pickaxes, while fine mica dust enter their eyes and chest, causing chronic health problems.
During the annual monsoon, they risk snake bites and being buried alive by collapsing slag piles.
“In a place where poverty is so entrenched it is difficult to convince parents to send kids to school,” said Ram Bachan Paswan, a district labor superintendent.
“Moreover these mines do not exist on paper so that makes our task very challenging.”
Father-of-four Shibu Yadav acknowledges that his children spend their days mining for mica to keep the family’s heads above water.
“This is the main source of livelihood for us,” he said, pointing at glittering silver and red mounds outside his ramshackle house.
“If it had not been for the mica, we would have starved to death,” said Yadav who says his family makes about 1,000 rupees ($17) a month from mica gathering.
Cosmetic giants such as Estee Lauder and Chanel have recently joined a scheme to help fund the education of children going back to schools, working alongside Satyarthi’s NGO.
Thirteen-year-old Seema Kumari says she can now fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.
But she is one of the lucky ones and other youngsters see no end in sight to their labors.
“We know mica is used in powder and lipstick,” said Pushpa Kumari, whose weathered features belie her 13 years.
“It makes women look prettier,” she said, balancing a tray full of mica on her head. “But look what it does to us.” 

Corsica — France’s lush and feisty Mediterranean “isle of beauty,” as it’s known, has another nickname, the “scented isle” for its dense fragrant shrubs.
Of late the moniker has taken on a tongue-in-cheek twist as the island faced a massive garbage problem.
The crisis jettisoned Corsica back into French news headlines thanks to overflowing landfills and malodorous garbage left by the hordes of tourists who flock to the Mediterranean jewel known for its vast sandy beaches, mountain vistas and rare animal and plant life.
Residents and tourists produce more than 300,000 tonnes of trash annually on Corsica, or the equivalent of more than 100,000 cars, and landfills are reaching full capacity.
Rampant construction on the island also contributes vast amounts of waste.
The rubbish problem got so bad that a union shut the landfills and halted rubbish collections before finally agreeing to return to work late last month — for the time being.
A burgeoning population contributes to the growing garbage piles, with around 4,000 new residents arriving each year — adding to the 310,000 inhabitants already on the island.
It is not uncommon to see garbage bags in coastal nature reserves, and piled up after mobile homes come through.
The crisis of overflowing bins is largely blamed on foreign holidaymakers.
During peak tourist season, the population increases by tenfold, and around 20 percent of those tourists are foreigners.
Several hikers have been fined for leaving trash on trails, particularly on the popular GR20 — which crosses Corsica diagonally north to south and is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful mountain trails — frequented by thousands of tourists every year, according to Michel Acquaviva, head of parks on the island.
Acquaviva said that some of the foreign tourists may feel “intoxicated by a smell of freedom” on the island and dispose of their waste without thinking of the consequences.
But that “smell of freedom” is quickly going off.
Some landfills, already saturated with rubbish from surrounding neighborhoods, are refusing to take waste from other regions. France’s Environment Minister Segolene Royal has called for action and urged for more regulation, calling the waste problem “particularly critical on Corsica.”
Only around 20 percent of Corsica’s waste is recycled, which is close to the national average but well below countries like Germany (47 percent) and Slovenia (55 percent), according to EU’s statistics agency Eurostat.
This is primarily because waste is not sorted — so people end up tossing everything into the same bin, and it ends up in the same place.
Some towns are taking the issue into their own hands.
The small village of Girolata, on the western coast of Corsica, recycles around 80 percent of its rubbish, thanks to an efficient sorting system.
The town’s program works so well that it attracts official delegations, inspired by its waste management model.






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