“Tax the rich, end the wars, and restore honest and effective government for all”, Jeffrey Sachs [Munk, 2013].

Tax is often considered a dirty word by enterprises. In fact, tax should be celebrated. The business case for tax is that revenue can be invested in public services and infrastructure – both of which are necessary for a healthy, well-educated workforce, to attract investment, and for growth.

A couple of months ago I spent some time in Uganda, working with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). A conversation with Jane Nalunga – who works for an NGO named SEATINI Uganda – made me realise that international tax policies are unfair towards developing countries, such as Uganda, where tax revenue is much needed. Especially in my own country of birth – The Netherlands – tax rules are allowing multinationals to get away with tax avoiding practices, on a big scale.

The Netherlands is a Tax Haven

Thousands of international firms are currently guilty of legal tax avoiding practices. In the Netherlands alone, there are more than 14.000 firms set up with the intention to avoid taxes in the country of operation. [OxfamNovib, 2016].

Developing countries tend to be the hardest hit by tax avoidance by multinational corporations, as developing countries tend to be more reliant on corporate tax than Read More →

This weeks meeting was at Centenary Park in a lounge with a thatched roof surrounded by a gardened area. Today, not only did the volunteers of the CAD committee share their kampala - 1 (1) copyplans for our Community Action Day for next Saturday, but there was also a vote for our Mid Programme Review. The options were to go to Queen Elisabeth Park or to visit the Murchison Falls, which are both stunning national parks with a wide variety of wildlife. Exciting!

After sitting down with all of the committees we had the pleasure to welcome Camille Marie-Regnault. Camille took part in an ICS – VSO programme in Kenya a couple of years ago, worked for the UN in Cambodia and then ended up back on the African continent to work with Invisible Children (IC).

Invisible Children is active in breaking up a rebel group named Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – responsible for Africa’s longest running armed conflict. After sharing the history of this long lasting conflict, I would like to show you how Invisible Children is contributing to ending it, and discuss what more could be done. To end this blog, as Camille has lived and worked in cross-cultural environments – including with the ICS programme – I would like to share a couple of her tips with (future) volunteers and travelers. Read More →

IMG_2071“Tax the rich, end the wars, and restore honest and effective government for all”, Jeffrey Sachs [Munk, 2013].

Every Monday Challenges Worldwide (CWW) arranges a team meeting for all the CWW volunteers in Uganda. This allows CWW to discuss common issues and difficulties, to highlight important aspects of the programme yet to come, to check whether the volunteers are on track with their deliverables, and to go through budgets and stipends. Furthermore, the meeting includes a session of Chartered Management Institute (CMI) training, and it gives opportunity to invite guest speakers.

This week Jane Nalunga from SEATINI-Uganda (the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute) joined the meeting to discuss with us the linkages between trade, investment agreements, policies, and local businesses.

Read More →

Today I marched (from Park Lane to Parliament Square) to show support for refugees. It was important to show support for positive change at this moment as Theresa May will be present at a meeting of the EU’s 28 member states, on the 14th of September, for emergency talks on Europe’s escalating refugee crisis. It is vital that she takes with her the conviction that the British people (that she represents) are open to helping refugees and that we can’t continue to allow thousands to die trying to reach the EU and their legal right to claim asylum.

The march attracted an estimation of 90.000 people and was greatly supported by Syria Solidarity Movement, the Refugee Council, Read More →

Today, thousands of our fellow human beings have been forced to leave their homes to escape violence. They leave behind education, jobs and most importantly, their family. When will they ever see them again? The European Commission recently estimated a number of almost 60 million displaced people around the world. As of World Refugee Day, they made a joint statement in which they announced:

“… Europe will not turn a blind eye. Nor can we when many of these displaced persons are seeking out safe haven on European shores. …”

CARE International – one of the world’s leading humanitarian and development organisations – is involved in Carehelping refugees in various parts of the world. For example, CARE has been part of helping appr. 58.000 refugees in northern Nigeria since August 2014. Their teams distribute food, household supplies and cash grants to vulnerable people. They provide water and organise transport. It is a positive thought that organisations like CARE go ahead and actually do something.

Refugees need help, not only should they be welcomed somewhere with open arms, they should be supported until they feel strong enough to stand on their own feet. It is for this reason that I decided to trot the IMG_0836streets of St Petersport [Guernsey] with a tray of homemade Dutch Arretjes cake.

Today – on World Refugee Day – The Guernsey locals have proven to be remarkably giving and I am grateful for their generosity. Guernsey provided CARE International with an extra £162,92 pounds [appr. €235 euro’s]. I hope that I was able to create awareness of the issues concerning refugees and to encourage people to keep CARE International in mind for future donations. CARE helps, so we should help CARE → donations they receive to their Life2Live campaign before the 6th July will be doubled by the UK government!

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Bill Bryson visited various projects of CARE in Kenya and wrote a few words on their behalf in his book “African Diary“. I  am not only recommending you to buy this book because it is an amusing read, but because the profit of this publication will go straight to CARE International. In Bill Bryson’s words:

“… in acquiring this slender volume you don’t actually buy a book. You make a generous donation to a worthy cause and get a free book in return, which isn’t quite the same thing.”

 

“If we can just let go and trust that things will work out the way they’re supposed to, without trying to control the outcome, then we can begin to enjoy the moment more fully. The joy of the freedom it brings becomes more pleasurable than the experience itself.”

One of Philip Larkin’s best-known poems “Church Going” first appeared in an anthology called New Lines (1955). In this poem, Larkin is standing in an empty church. His disappointment is expressed by him in a rather disrespectful way toward the Christian church. However, while he doesn’t believe in God or religion, he still keeps visiting the church. He can’t really picture a world in which church doesn’t exist. I have noticed that Larkin’s doubtfulness seems something that affects many people today.

A couple of weeks ago Saudi Arabian Raif Badawi suffered the first 50 of 1,000 lashes for the crime of starting a blogging site which called for open debate on the interpretations of the Islam. His unjust punishment has been reason for me to read bits and pieces of both religious scriptures and more skeptical literature. I have been feeling rather fortunate to have the right to read whatever I please on this topic. The basis of the more skeptical readings – which are slightly outdated but relevant – included the books of ‘The Four Horsemen” [Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennet and Harris] on “new-atheism”:

“The end of Faith”(2004), by Sam Harris
“Breaking the Spell”(2006), by Daniel C. Dennett
“The God Delusion”(2006), by Richard Dawkins
“God is not great”(2007), by Christopher Hitchens

Read More →

While working on my paper “The lives of others: An investigation into the lives and attitudes of Chinese migrant workers in Africa against the historical background of Sino-African cooperation.“, I became especially interested in China as a development partner of African countries. While China is helping to improve Africa’s infrastructure and creating new opportunities for African countries, the West seems more occupied trying to discover and expose Chinese errors. Is the West a better development partner?! I suggest we focus on the good things China accomplishes in Africa, and take those as an example.

Published in 2010

For a reading group session on ’emerging China’ – in the Guernsey Library –  I read Richard King’s two stories about China’s great leap forward.

When the great leap forward was launched in the late 1950s, China’s objective was to join military and industrial superpowers, however it resulted in a famine in which an estimated 40 million peasants were killed. The two stories in this book are short, and represent two contrasting experiences of two different people with different heroes. It gives a good representation of 1959 – the year in which villages became communal in preparation for the Great Leap Forward. Chinese mentality meant working together, and work hard in order to make the great leap forward possible. A mentality that can still be felt in China today. Furthermore, it shows the difficulties of the following years.

A couple of things that I would like to note after attending this reading group:
1) The readings on China in Western education are poorly chosen.
2) The media in the West does not necessarily show you a more truthful image of the world as the Chinese media.

ImitationGame2014Yesterday I watched “The Imitation Game”, in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing – the English mathematician who helps cracking the Enigma code during the Second World War. It is believed that his work shortened the war by two years and saved about 14 million lives. Apart from its focus on Turing’s work, this film shows the horror of being convicted for being homosexual. Alan Turing shows many similarities with the character Cumberbatch plays in Sherlock, and also reminded me of Russell Crowe’s character – John Nash – in “A beautiful mind”. Both highly intelligent, a bit odd and vulnerable. However Turing seems to own a higher doses of self-importance, which made me laugh.

What I found fascinating is the fact that the cracking of the Enigma code was held a secret for over 50 years! After watching this I will be adding “Enigma” –  a novel by Robert Harris – to my reading list.

Today, the 5th of February 2015, the news reports that there are new Enigma code documents discovered. They were stuffed into the wall cavities of Bletchley Park where the codebreakers were based during the war. How exciting is that!

The lives of others: An investigation into the lives and attitudes of Chinese migrant workers in Africa against the historical background of Sino-African cooperation.

As China’s expansion into Africa has been increasing enormously over recent years, Sino-African relations have become a prominent topic in the general media and for observers of both Africa’s and China’s international relations. It is surprising that relatively little has been written about Chinese migrants in Africa. While China claims their relationship with Africa to be mutually profitable, a high proportion of the available available literature presents Chinese presence on the continent in increasingly negative ways, this literature is mostly of Western authorship. It is timely to attempt to gain greater understanding of the experiences of Chinese migrants workers who come – in increasing numbers – with Chinese aid, trade, business and development projects to the African continent. This small scale study uses existing literature to explore Sino-African cooperation and migration to Africa, and obtained empirical evidence from conducting in-depth interviews with Chinese migrants in various African countries in order to gain understanding of their lives and attitudes. This paper demonstrates that through largely positive encounters and despite language barriers and cultural differences, Chinese migrants are playing a prominent role in Sino-African cooperation.

You are most welcome to read my research. Please note that in order to guarantee the anonymity of the respondents that were interviewed for this research,  I have made use of pseudonyms to replace their real names.

Click here to download “The Lives of Others”, by Sanne Schouwenburg (PDF file)

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The Mangalica is a Hungarian breed of pig that descended directly from wild boar populations around 1833. It is an unusual pig as it grows a hairy ‘fleece’, similar to that of a sheep. The only other pig breed noted for having a long coat is the now extinct “Lincolnshire Curly Coat” of England. The Mangalica was formerly bred as a lard pig (pig fat), and were therefore large and round. The demand for lard has dropped, and so today the pig is a rare breed that I thought was worth dedicating a blog post too. A new festival is written down on my list of things to do; the Mangalica festival in Hungary, which is celebrated every year between the 6th and 8th of february.

Labels such as “tried and tested on cooked animals” of the tasty Glasseye Creek Wild Meat Sauce, are often misinterpret. In this example it is used as a slogan, but in other cases labels are – even though they comply with the regulations – misleading and therefore many of us are encouraging the use of animal cruelty, often without being aware of it.

tumblr_mv80pgC2Lo1rn8sfso1_1280This post I am simply writing to encourage people to change their lifestyle a tiny bit in order to decrease animal cruelty. Ive noticed that more and more people around me are becoming vegetarians, which already helps decreasing enormously. For all the ones – like myself –  that have decided not to miss out on a roasted duck with cranberry sauce, and decided that meat and fish should be part of your diet, there are still various other ways to help decrease animal cruelty.

Apart from restricting your meat consumption to only/mostly “happy meat”, you could consider buying cosmetics that are not animal tested. I realized how many people have no idea what “Dermatologically Tested” actually means. Literally it means “tested on skin”, but it tells you nothing about how the tests are done, or on who’s or what’s skin it was tested on. Besides that it doesn’t even mean that they passed the test! Different companies have different definitions and therefore a ‘dermatologically tested’ claim on one product may mean something completely different to the same claim on another product. Read More →

e13-871An interesting piece of propaganda which quotes: “Fewer births, better births, to develop China vigorously”. This propaganda was distributed in the 1980s, when the one-child policy was enforced. In the country side more children were needed to help on the farm, this was partly the reason of the fact that this policy was more successful in the cities than in the countryside. Interestingly it were usually girls that were shown on the posters, to indicate that they are worth as much as boys. Sex-selective abortions however were still not uncommon. The consequences of this policy are huge, and will become a challenge in the near future as the dependency ratio is declining. Who will take care of the Chinese old-aged?

“There are districts in which the position of the rural population is that of a man standing permanently up to the neck in water, so that even a ripple is sufficient to drown him.”

photoWe have all come across it, if not in China, then in France; the squat-toilet. I have always considered this a primitive toilet, but usually don’t feel too bothered to use it. If you got to go, you got to go… I was quite surprised however to discover that many researchers, believe that using the squat-toilet is the most healthy way to poop. The squatting position is appaerently more natural and can help avoid colon disease, constipation, hemorrhoids, pelvic floor issues and similar ailments. Bill Gates is such a big fan, that he recently held a contest to re-design the modern toilet, but I doubt that he has a squat-toilet in that gigantic mansion of his. Read more about the benefits of squat-pooping here.

* The picture above was taken today, in our apartment on campus in China. We have two toilets; one Western and one squat-toilet.

Excerpt From: Harris, Sam (2004) “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.” (New York : W.W. Norton & Co.)

“What if all our knowledge about the world were suddenly to disappear?
Imagine that six billion of us wake up tomorrow morning in a state of utter ignorance and confusion. Our books and computers are still here, but we can’t make heads or tails of their contents. We have even forgotten how to drive our cars and brush our teeth.”

“What knowledge would we want to reclaim first?

Well, there’s that business about growing food and building shelter that we would want to get reacquainted with. We would want to relearn how to use and repair many of our machines. Learning to understand spoken and written language would also be a top priority, given that these skills are necessary for acquiring most others. When in this process of reclaiming our humanity will it be important to know that Jesus was born of a virgin? Or that he was resurrected?”

“How would we relearn these truths, if they are indeed true?

By reading the Bible? Our tour of the shelves will deliver similar pearls from antiquity- like the ‘fact’ that Isis, the goddess of fertility, sports an impressive pair of cow horns. Reading further, we will learn that Thor carries a hammer and that Marduk’s sacred animals are horses, dogs, and a dragon with a forked tongue. Whom shall we give top billing in our resurrected world? Yaweh or Shiva? And when will we want to relearn that premarital sex is a sin? Or that adulteresses should be stoned to death? Or that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception? And what will we think of those curious people who begin proclaiming that one of our books is distinct from all others in that it was actually written by the Creator of the universe?”
“The practice of organizing our lives around untestable propositions found in ancient literature-to say nothing of killing and dying for them-would be impossible to justify. What stops us from finding it impossible now?”.

道可道,非常道。A way that can be the Way, is not the usual way.
名可名,非常名。A name that can be a name, is an unusual name.

The lines above are the opening lines of the Dao De Jing (The Way of Power and Virtue Scripture, 道德经) that is the main religious text of Taoism. How to translate the words into English and what the words mean is obviously the mystery of Dao. The word Dao means Way. The Way of Life. The Meaning of one’s life. In usual Chinese usage, the word “dao” means path or road. Nowadays, the name Taoism is used as a general name for any kind of native Chinese religion or ancient belief. The term covers anything from Qigong or Tai Chi exercise, to ancestor worship, to belief in any of hundreds of gods or reputed immortal people, Read More →

The Arabian word ‘Islam’ articulated by the Qur’an, a book considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God (الله‎ Allāh). 800px-Al-Haram_mosque_-_Flickr_-_Al_Jazeera_English

Is the Islam easy to learn?
The Islam is actually quite simple and the beliefs are sort of logical. This in contrast to Christianity in which salvation is described in the Bible as by faith in Jesus, and few find it. Christianity has doctrines about God and salvation that seem very illogical and self-contradictory. When Muslims talk to people about Christianity, they point out that it is illogical to say that God was a man or that God died. “If God died, why wasn’t everything destroyed?”, or “How can God die?” they ask.

What are the main believes of Muslims?
The main beliefs are that Mohamed is believed to be a great prophet and the Koran is the Islamic scripture that Allah wants everyone to believe. The Five Pillars of Islam (foundation of Muslim life) are called Shahadah (belief), Salah (worship), Sawm (charitable giving), Zakat (fasting), and the Hajj (pelgrimage to Mecca). These rites are simple to understand. Along with this it is said that after death Allah will give judgement to each Muslim. If the good he did outweighs the bad he did, he will go to Read More →