People are trying to “catch ’em all” in the midst of the Pokemon Go phenomenon – meanwhile in Syria, people are trying not to get ‘caught’ and killed. Khaled Akil is a freelance artists born in Aleppo and is the creator of the project entitled, “Pokemon Go in Syria- Part 1”. This project has gone viral and gave people the opportunity to take a moment, reflect, and think about the war in Syria. Here at The ViewPoint News , we wanted to get to know the man behind this project a little more. Khaled Akil explains to us his project and a glimpse of his future art work.
Q: Can you tell the readers of The ViewPoint News a little about yourself?
A: I was born in Aleppo city, and studied law in Lebanon and now I work as freelance artist.
Q: I’m sure this topic hits close to home, since you are from Aleppo…how did you feel while working on this project?
A: I think about my country all the time, me and all Syrians we live in an infinite nostalgia with the passion of showing the world the consequences of war, I feel my duty is to show this so people think twice before taking part of any war.
Q: This artwork / project is different from your other work. What did it mean for you to create this project ? Why did you specifically use Pokemon Go as the theme?
A: I’m bad writer, for me art is a way to express what I feel and think, this project is different from what I usually do because it is a quick statement on what is taking place in Syria, meanwhile I’m working on an art project, it’s been a year preparing for it and hopefully soon I’ll be able to present it.
Q: By creating this project, what message were you trying to send people? And did you have specific target audience in mind?
A: this project was a spotlight on what is happening in my city, is not to blame people for not paying attention for Syria neither a political project.
Q: What reaction did you think your project would invoke?
A: I wasn’t expecting any reaction, I only had hope that people throughout this project will be able to recognize that somewhere on this planet life is different, and maybe while you’re looking for a Pokemon to hunt, there another person looking for somebody to kill.
Q: You chose specific pictures for your project…is there a meaning behind each one? If so can you please explain ?
A: The meaning of all picture is the destruction and the bad consequences of all wars.
Q: Has this project been exhibited so far?
A: Not yet
Q: What does art mean to you ?
A: I never practiced law, art for me as a way to live and survive, I chose to do what I love and that’s how we as human beings survive in this ultra fast world.
Q: Do you think that in a time of war, art holds some sort of importance? Do you think there is a relationship one can link between Politics and Art?
A: Art is a way to document war in an indirect way, powerful artworks stands forever, tells the story all the time.
Q: So far you have created “Pokemon Go in Syria – Part 1” can people expect a part 2?
A: I chose to leave it open for part 2, not necessarily I will make it soon, now I’m working on different project, it’s also a statement which I think it is very important to talk about, it’ll be online very soon.
Q: What future projects do you have in mind?
A: In 2014 I worked before on a project named A Woman Between, it was about the Yazidi women who were taken as sex slaves by ISIS in Iraq, and since nothing has changed, I decided to make a new project showing these women as brides, for a year I worked with young talented fashion designer Rakan Shams Aldeen on getting these dresses done, I put the concept and symbols and he got the outfits done, now I’m aiming to find a museum or art gallery to fund this project, first to use this dress in my works and then to make an installations out of the dress.
Have you ever wondered whose side you’d have been on during The American Civil War? Wonder no more. After the recent protests in Dallas, due to the shooting of the two innocent men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Now is your chance to raise your voice and express who you want to stand by. The oppressed or the oppressor. Often times people try to challenge the movement “Black Lives Matter” by stating that “All lives matter”. I use the word “challenge” lightly because… is it really a challenge or is it ignorance and racism? Let’s take this example: Becky is learning how to ride her bike and falls off her bike. She breaks her arm and her mom rushes her to the hospital. The doctor takes a look at her arm and tells her, “Becky, I won’t treat your arm…because all bones matter.” Now do you get it? If you say that “All lives matter” you are on the side of the oppressor because you are dismissing a current issue at hand. Although, I would like to add, police brutality isn’t recent. It is merely, amongst one of the issues that African Americans face on a daily basis. The “Black Lives Matter” movement wasn’t created over recent frustration ….it’s an accumulation of frustration throughout the past few years. On the “Black Lives Matter” website “Black Lives Matter” is as:
“When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.
How Black poverty and genocide is state violence.
How 500,000 Black people in the US are undocumented immigrants and relegated to the shadows.
How 2.8 million Black people are locked in cages in this country is state violence.
How Black girls are used as negotiating chips during times of conflict and war.
How Black queer and trans folks bear a unique burden from a hetero-patriarchal society that disposes of us like garbage and simultaneously fetishizes us and profits off of us, and that is state violence.
How Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by white supremacy, and that is state violence.
The celebrations, the fireworks, the parties , the patriotism, etc. Just a few things people do, on what is known on July 1st in Canada, as Canada Day. Why do you celebrate Canada Day? What does Canada Day mean to you? What IS Canada Day? These are some of the questions that one should sit and reflect upon July 1st, or quite frankly, everyday. 2017 will mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation on July 1st. As many people take this day to celebrate, many First Nations are reminded that this is a day where people are celebrating the colonization of their land. Their land is robbed of it’s resources, genocide of their people, and broken treaties; on their Native land. While many take this day to enjoy their BBQs in the great outdoors with their families on Canada Day, First Nations have lost a great amount of their ‘Great Outdoors’. Many were sick and died from starvation because of colonization. For example: Fort Pitt is where biological warfare took place. The British had items taken from a smallpox infirmary as gifts to Native American emissaries to have the disease spread to nearby tribes. This was allowed by the British Crown and as a result, 95 per cent of First Nations were wiped out. Another example: First Nations had a population of two million people in the late 15th century. Due to diseases, lost and stolen land , the population dropped to 10,000. And let’s not forget Christopher Columbus colonization of North America in 1492…or as some people call it, “Christopher Columbus’ discovery”. This in turn wiped out 14, 700, 000 Indigenous People . The lack of education which has caused youth to commit suicide, pollution, missing and murdered aboriginal women; currently add to the decreasing First Nations population.
In conclusion, as you look up in the sky this evening, and you enjoy your BBQ , drinks and fireworks…take a minute and reflect on what exactly you’re celebrating and why. Take a moment and be conscious of the land you are on, the things you take for granted that are being stripped away each day of the Indigenous people.
Interview with President and Founder of PCRF Steve Sosebee
At The Viewpoint News we had the opportunity to interview, President and CEO of PCRF (Palestine Children’s Relief Fund) Steve Sosebee. Some of you may have already heard of this reputable Organization, and for those of you who haven’t, now is your chance. In this interview you will have the opportunity to learn about the founder, what the organization stands for, projects they are working on, how you can get involved, etc.
Q: Thank you for participating in this interview with The Viewpoint News. Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself? A: I am from a small college town called Kent, Ohio. My father was a high school teacher and my mother a nurse. I have four sisters and worked my way through college and have a degree in International Relations. I was raised to work for and support the cause of justice and freedom, and went to Palestine in December of 1988 on a human right’s delegation of other students to see firsthand the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was a trip that changed my life.
Q: What made you want to visit Palestine?
A: I had studied the Middle East, history and politics, and when the first intifada erupted, it was a historical moment. I was active as a student in human rights and strongly believed in the Palestinian cause. I had a chance through the ADC’s “Eyewitness Israel” program to go and see firsthand what was happening during winter break of 1988, and it gave me the chance to see with my own eyes rather than reading in newspapers or hearing from biased professors what was going on.
Q: What inspired you to create PCRF? A: I was inspired by the courage and humanity of the children who I was meeting while working in Palestine as a journalist, many who were being injured and having their lives altered in a terribly inhumane and unjust manner, through the support of my tax money. I wanted to do something positive for them, out of love and solidarity, to show them that people outside care, that Americans do care, when they see the truth and understand what really is going on there.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about PCRF? A: It is a nonpolitical, nonreligious, nonprofit humanitarian medical relief organization with over 25 years experience in helping children get free medical care and other humanitarian aid, regardless of their sect, nationality, politics or religion. We arrange free care abroad for children who cannot be treated in their homeland, we sponsored volunteer missions of doctors and nurses from all over the world to treat patients for free in local hospitals, and we do humanitarian projects on the ground there to help alleviate the hardship of military occupation, siege, poverty and neglect on the lives of innocent children. We have six offices in the West Bank, three in Gaza, and one in Beirut and Jordan, where we help any child in need. We have a brave and hard working staff of 45 people all over the region, and hundreds of volunteers in over 38 chapters all over the world, and thousands of volunteer medical personnel who treat our kids. We are proud to be one the main grassroots charities in the Middle East saving the lives of children and have the support of people who want to do something positive for sick and needy children.
Q: Can you give us an example of the Occupation by Israel making it difficult for these children to receive help? A: The challenges we face are not only imposed by the military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but all over the region. Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip, for example, makes it very hard to get kids out for treatment of medicine and materials in, for their own “security” requirements. There are other challenges from the Jordanian government restricting Gaza people from entering the Kingdom, the PA in the West Bank and their relations in Gaza, the behavior of the regime in Gaza, and so on and so forth. We are working hard to be nonpolitical and do our job in an area where every aspect of life – the air, water, health care, movement, education, etc. – is controlled and implicated by politics. It’s a huge challenge for us.
Q: Are there certain illnesses/diseases that are more common in certain regions (Gaza vs. Refugee Camps, Palestine vs. Syria, etc.) and why? A: Of course in Syria and Gaza you see more trauma because of the conflicts going on there, while in the West Bank you may see a higher level of something needed that cannot be treated locally, say scoliosis or congenital heart disease. We are managing to provide hundreds of children a year in each area highly specialized operations.
Q: What sets PCRF apart from other organizations? A: I think being nonpolitical and nonreligious is one thing, and also that we are able to implement our work ourselves and not depend on other NGOs to do what we can do. Also, we are highly scrutinized by the US government and by auditing firms and groups who determine our level of accountability and transparency, and we are very proud to say that we have a perfect score of 100 from Charity Navigator for that, which I doubt many other charities in Palestine can say.
Q: What are some big projects that PCRF is working on now? A: The biggest, of course, is building the new pediatric cancer department in Gaza, for the thousands of children there who need specialized care but cannot get it locally. It’s an enormous challenge for us to do this project, but we are working hard to raise the funds to make it a reality, as we did in Beit Jala three years ago. We also are joining partners in Lebanon to fund the building of a dialysis department for refugees in Badawi area near Tripoli. We also are building a pediatric cardiac program in Ramallah Hospital, which will save lives, and a palliative care program for children with cancer in the West Bank.
Q:How can people in Canada make a difference or contribute? A: They can volunteer and start new PCRF chapters, or join our new chapter in Ontario. We would love to get kids there for medical care, send doctors from Canada to volunteer on missions, and of course to donate through our website, www.PCRF.net
Q: How can other NGOs or other charities learn from PCRF’s success? A: I think the main thing is to be very accountable to your community and donors, to be very transparent and to share as much information as possible with your donors and supporters, and give people a chance to be involved in helping. Treat people with respect and kindness, but run the organization as if it was a business, so that we stay efficient, transparent and accountable.
Q: How can other organizations work with or support PCRF? A: We welcome partnerships with other NGOs who want to do something good for the children in the Middle East. They just need to reach out to us and we are happy to hear from them, as long as they share our humanistic values.
Q: We don’t often see the true struggle of Palestinians due to the occupation, on mainstream media. There is typically censorship; the ongoing issues are not shown. As a Journalist, who has seen it all in person, how do you think that can be changed? A: I think social media has given people the ability to share stories and create content that can help break down the walls that exist around the Palestinian issue, and to let people know better what is going on and how to have an impact on the lives of people there.
Q: Would you like to add anything? A: I would just like to add how honoured I am to serve the people of Palestine and the children in the larger Middle East in a positive way, to heal their children and to show them love and solidarity for their struggle for justice, peace, and freedom. I think these are human values that anyone from any background or religion should embrace.
The opening night of the Toronto Aboriginal Festival was joined by the editor of “In This Together” Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, and contributors of the novel, Erika Luckert and Carleigh Baker. The panel also included Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Chief Stacey Laforme and Elder Garry Sault.
Elder Garry Sault began the evening with a prayer. Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail was the moderator for the panel. She began by asking the panel to discuss what’s important to them when discussing reconciliation and anti-racism. Stacey Laforme took the floor by stating the importance of the environment and the dangers of geoengineering. Stacey said that in order for citizens of this land to truly respect and understand the importance of the environment, part of the solution should begin during the citizenship ceremony. He proposed, “words about protecting the land where you will rest your feet when taking citizenship oath.” After Stacey spoke, Elder Garry educated the audience about the residential schools, nicknamed “Mush Hole” . He described it as a horror place where beatings took place, emotional abuse, etc. He said the Mush Hole didn’t teach children love. He told us about his brother who had joined the Navy and how he described the Navy as a “piece of cake compared to residential school”. Eder Garry was honest and real. He said, ” Society never treated us any better”…and that now is the time to “bring the truth out, to show what we suffered and the atrocities.”
In the novel “In This Together”, there are often enlightening moments that are explored and discovered by the contributors . These moments are described as “aha” moments. Danielle asks the panel what are some moments they would describe as “aha”. Erika Luckert described that her moment of “aha” is when she truly realized how important education is. She came across this moment when she read the document of “Treaty 6” and took in what the document actually encompassed. That’s when she realized that as a society we need to be educated more on these matters. The importance of learning these things and making sure its in the school curriculum. Following Erika Luckert, was Carleigh Baker. Her point was bringing awareness to the Peel River, the gas and mining exploitation that occurs in that area. Her “aha” moment can be found as well in the novel “In This Together” , pages 11-22. On the panel she discussed a section from her contribution in the novel. The moment where she was on the River travelling for this documentary being filmed. On day 16 (of 21) they started to lack food and the Vittrekwas fed her and the rest of the voyagers. That bonding moment with the Vittrekwas , was her “aha” moment. Stacey followed Carleigh by reiterating again the importance of the environment. Stacey said, “This isn’t just for us, this is for all of us” , and THAT is the “aha”.
Danielle Metcalfe- Chenail followed by asking the panel how they witness reconciliation in their daily life. Elder Garry began by discussing the importance of education. He said that the Aboriginal children are in dire state of needing an education. He realized that when he saw Aboriginal children struggling and some unable to read traditional passages. He said, “…all those young people , somebody failed them”. He stressed on the importance of education and concluded by saying “…give Aboriginals proper and decent education.” Following Elder Garry was Erika. She also reiterated the importance of education. To have hope in the future generation , children need to be educated from a young age on past matters, such as the residential schools, etc. Carleigh proceeded by making the audience aware that she writes book reviews for the Globe and Mail. However, she stressed on the importance of reading. She encourages people to read books , especially books written by Aboriginal authors to have a better understanding of the past, present and to have a better future (Carleigh encourages Canadians to share their reading picks on social media with the hashtag #IndigenousReads. Here is a list of books you can read.)Stacey proceeded with a heart felt message. He thought he was being negative by saying facts, raw and honest facts. He mentioned that the “restoration of friendliness , and a step towards justice” is important. He also mentioned that in order for there to be change, there are plenty of issues that need to be tackled and changed , “health, education, law, water, media , culture, language, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, etc.” He stressed that those are , “vast, vast issues”.
The next topic of discussion moderated by Danielle, was whether the panel had any hopes for healing. Elder Garry explained the prophecy given by Elder William of Algonquin. The prophecy was of the Tsunami. The reason Elder Garry mentioned this prophecy to explain that people must be taught to “respect the earth again”. Elder Garry said “people have no respect for earth, people have forgotten spirituality , they thought and think more about money”. He also followed by giving the corn analogy. He said, “Indian corn has red, brown, black on the cob, just like the difference races on earth. All these colours grow together on the cob, just like humanity should.” Erika reiterated that in order for their to be healing, education is important. Society needs to be educated on matters. She said, “knowledge should be engrained since children learn many things, especially in Elementary school. They should be educated on where we came from, hope that the future generation will know much more than what we knew and were taught growing up.” Carleigh also find that education plays a big role. She mentions that teachers should get help teaching such matters. She also mentioned, children are sensitive. Therefore, if they are educated from a young age about the past, (ie. the abuse in residential schools, etc.), they will carry that sensitivity with them and there is hope for the future, since the awareness will be present from a younger age. Stacey concluded the panel by sharing a poem her wrote about an Oak Tree. It was a touching poem that resonated with anyone sitting in the audience. The poem was basically a message from his childhood Oak Tree , reminiscing the good old days where children took care of it, how its been through rain and shine, and a reminder of the, “importance of the environment and looking after it”.
Often times when we hear the term “reconciliation” people may feel guilt, awkwardness, sadness, ignorance, pain etc. However, this was a panel of speakers that were educated in the matter and gave us their insight, their advice and created a welcoming and open dialogue. There is no such thing as a stupid question, and if you feel ignorant or not educated, it’s never too late to educate yourself, you friends and loved ones.
Paying Tribute to Muhammad Ali (January 17 1942-June 3 2016)
When most of us hear the name Muhammad Ali, the first image that crosses our mind is a Heavy Weight Champion. However, outside the boxing ring, Muhammad Ali was more than just a boxer. He was known for his wit, social justice, success, civil rights, and a voice for the voiceless. And that’s why today, at the ViewpointNews we would like to pay tribute and honour the man who spoke on behalf of many and inspired all.
Despite his influence, he was also seen as a controversial figure to others. One of the most popular moments in history for Muhammad Ali was when he stood up against the Vietnam war and refused conscription to the army. He said, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Ali, February, 17, 1966. However, Ali stood up against war and it was influenced by his conversion to Islam. After the attacks in Paris, he reminded the world how Islam is against terrorism. He said, “I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.” – Ali, 2015. Muhammad Ali was also very much against Zionism. According to the BDS South Africa and a news report , in 1948 Ali said,”the United States is the stronghold of Zionism and imperialism” at a press conference in Beirut. He was known for his humanitarian work abroad. In 1998, Ali presented local hospitals and clinics such as the clinic Juan Marquez in Havana, Cuba with boxes of medicine. Muhammad Ali was respected and honoured by many…even former President George W. Bush who presented Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9th 2005. That was just one of many deserving awards. He received the Liberty Medal on September 13, 2012 in Philadelphia. It is awarded to an individual who is courageous and strives to secure liberty for people wordlwide. And today, worldwide, Muhammad Ali is remembered by many. His family said through a spokesperson, according to the guardian , that the boxer died of septic shock after being in the hospital for several days with a severe respiratory illness.
And today we say farewell and rest in peace to the hero, to the legend, Muhammad Ali. May you continuously float like a butterfly, sting like a bee with the rest of the great legends in heaven.