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Society

Songs of the Wasteland  is an epic musical work –creation of Vancouver-based musician and teacher, Renia Perel–anda presentation of the Vancouver Academy of Music (VAM), falling on the eve of the UN Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 26.   A chamber ensemble of VAM faculty and leading Vancouver musicians will perform the piece to share a true story of survival and pay tribute to the millions killed and lost during the genocide.

The story of Perel is one of  relenting hope and courage. Born in Poland in 1929, Perel and her older sister Henia started their journey in Southern  Poland in 1941, it was the last time they saw their mother at the train station and  eventually arrived in Canada in 1948 from Germany. The sisters were  the only survivors in their family — both parents and young brother were killed, as well as other relatives.

The Nazi genocide included the mass murder of 6 million Jews and an additional 5 million non-Jews.

‘My music is my way of sharing my painful memories with the world. I hope that by sharing these memories with you, together we will find a way to heal the wounds of yesterday and bring hope for a better tomorrow,’  Perel has said about her work. Perel’s opus made its debut at the Chan Centre in 2010. Four years later, she approached noted cellist and VAM’s executive director, Joseph Elworthy to bring the piece to the stage again. Vancouver-native Elworthy was already familiar with the piece and some of the cast, and had harboured the desire to perform it live. ‘Then by sheer coincidence Renia Perel approached me and said she had a long-standing record of working with community and arts groups throughout Vancouver, (…) and it became clear that the point of collaboration was definitely Songs of the Wasteland — a very important piece of music,’ Elworthy said over the phone. After a meticulous  preparation, Elworthy explains things fell into place scheduling the concert –just before the UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan 28). Elworthy, who played the cello for the  Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for 12 years, will also play in this performance. The chamber work includes seven musicians: VAM faculty members Elworthy (cello), Robyn Driedger-Klassen (soprano), and the concertmaster at the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, Mark Ferris (Music Direction and violin), and  Mark Fenster (baritone), Francois Houle (clarinet), Lani Krantz (harp), and Kozue Matsumoto (koto). Songs of the Wasteland is a song cycle divided into two sections. The first From Tragedy to Triumph, ‘In terms of thematic direction is about remembrance and pain for those who lost their lives in concentration camps’. Elworthy explained. ‘Musically is somber in mood and character.’ It opens with Psalm 23: Verse 4 ‘Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me”. The piece draws on  elements of musical and linguistic     fragments of pre-WWII European Jewish culture. Towards the second part  ‘Survival’, a metamorphosis takes places, turning into a more personal theme, entitled ‘Songs of Life’. ‘We got from talking about the Holocaust –which is a universal subject to something that is incredibly  personal –that is Renia’s account of her love for her late husband’. The koto, a Japanese traditional stringed instrument, is also present in the second part. It symbolizes the gratitude to the Japanese Consul Chiune Shuguhara, who helped to rescue  thousands of Jewish people during WWII.   Boris III, Bulgarian Tsar, who  prevented the deportation and killing of  48,000 Bulgarian Jews, is also honoured. The piece concludes with ‘Jerusalem’ that represents salvation and hope and ‘a desire for peace.’ The soprano and baritone sing mostly separately –the baritone plays the role of the cantor in a synagogue, infusing  religious overtones. Meanwhile,  the soprano’s songs are more secular in nature — they are about ‘the emotional reality of the Holocaust and, then later on , the experiences of (Perel’s)  love for her husband Morris (Perel)’. Elworthy points out that this piece is not only important for its profound and historical content, but as well serves the VAM’s to attain its mandate — to promote ‘the importance of music in form of the examined life and the enrichment of life’ amongst its 1,400 students. ‘We believe that productions such as Songs of the Wasteland will bring credibility to our belief that our own personal lives can be transformed through music.’ Setup On the other hand,  Elworthy describes  the staging as  minimalist and austere. A large screen will accompany the cast with scrolling names of Holocaust victims, part of the Vancouver Holocaust Memorial. Along with the vocalists, six teenaged candle bearers –three girls and three boys — will stand on the wings on the stage symbolizing next generation’s hope, leadership and power. In addition to the night show on January 26 (Koerner Recital Hall at the VAM,  7:30 pm)  the VAM will offer a performance earlier same  day for high school students. For more information visit: http://www.vancouveracademyofmusic.com  
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Business, Society
The 7dayringproject is a brand new local initiative dedicated to promoting girls’ education, founded and run by two third-year UBC students in the Sauder School of Business, Taylor Davis and Peony Au. The inspiration for the project came from Davis’ trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after her first year where she helped host business workshops for local entrepreneurs with UBC’s Arc Initiative. It was here that she met Salem Kassahun. Kassahun owns Salem’s Designs, creating and selling beautiful handcrafted Ethiopian jewellery, textiles, and gifts in Addis. What inspired Davis and Au to work with her is that in addition to being a strong businesswoman, Kassahun also seeks to benefit her community with every business decision she makes. From empowering her employees through training and fair wages to sponsoring the schooling and education of children in the community, she does her part to fight Addis’ overwhelming poverty and leave the world in a better place. Noticing the “7 day ring” in Kassahun’s shop one day, Davis learned it represents the seven days of the week and serves as a reminder that we have two choices every day: to make the most of it or let it pass us by. After buying a ring for herself, Davis says she “fell in love with the personal reminder to seize everyday.”

An initiative is born

In the spirit of social entrepreneurship, Davis and Au teamed up to bring the 7dayring to Canada. With their combined specializations in human resources, marketing, and accounting and their a mutual passion for “doing good” with business, the 7dayringproject was born! The process is simple: the project purchases Kassahun’s rings from Ethiopia, sells them in Canada, covers its distribution and operation costs, and donates the proceeds to the Girl Fund of Imagine1Day, an organization in Ethiopia dedicated to gender equity and girls’ education.

THE7DAYRINGPROJECT from Nano Clow on Vimeo.

With so many issues involving poverty that need addressing, I asked Davis and Au why they chose the cause of girls’ education to support. Davis took the lead, recalling Kassahun’s sponsorship of a young girl named Kiddist, a daughter of an employee. In their community, Kiddist had little opportunity to attend a strong educational program. Noticing her potential, Kassahun sponsored Kiddist’s schooling. Now, Kiddist is the top of her class, in the top four in Addis and is set to receive a full-ride university scholarship. “We want to create more success stories like Kiddist’s and to foster the next generation of female leaders, like Salem!” It’s very clear that Davis and Au have high hopes for the 7dayringproject and a passion to push the initiative as far as it will go. Davis explains, “the heart of the project really goes back to the fundamental purpose of the Arc Initiative – to use your skills and education to have a positive impact.”  Jumping in, Au says the initiative feeds her drive to empower people to find their potential. With Christmas just around the corner, the 7dayring is the perfect gift for the do-gooder in your life who’s passionate about making a difference in an ethical way. Because the project buys the rings straight from Ethiopia through Kassahun, it aids in injecting money back into the Ethiopian economy, allowing Kassahun to continue helping her community. The ring not only represents the importance of seizing every day, but each purchase also supports girls in Ethiopia to do the same thing by making education a reality for them. Click here to visit the 7dayringproject’s website, learn more about their story and business model, and purchase a ring or two!

Why initiatives like the 7dayringproject matter

In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a series of commitments that aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change. Two specific goals of the SDGs are the deliverance of quality education and gender equality. In development work, it’s well known that empowering women and girls is key to breaking the cyclical nature of poverty, and to empower is to educate. Due to harmful gender stereotypes, poverty, and early pregnancies and marriage, many girls and young women don’t complete their educations. According to UNESCO statistics, 31 of 57 million children not in primary school are girls while 493 million of the world’s illiterate population are women. Just how important is girls’ education and how much does it really contribute to fighting poverty? UN Women notes that improved education accounts for 50% of economic growth in OECD countries, a group of wealthy Western nations, in the last fifty years. Half of that growth statistic is a result of more women in higher education. For developing countries, ensuring girls are able to obtain and complete primary and secondary educations will be a difficult task, as they must also deal with other dimensions of poverty, such as health, to render education effective. In spite of this, the value of ensuring girls’ educations is no less important. In a PR statement, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova confidently states, “We know increasing the education of adolescent girls and young women carries impact across generations. We know education is the best cure against transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child. We know it is the best way to avert child marriage. We know if all women completed primary education, we could reduce by 70 per cent the number of women dying in childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa – saving over 100,000 lives every year.”  
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Politics, Society, Features, Featurable

In Western countries, it has become commonplace or even trendy to consume so-called “superfoods” that developing countries produce and export. They sit on shelves in nearly every grocery store and their health benefits are well known to consumers. In particular, Western demand for grains such as quinoa and teff have exploded in recent years. But why? Superfoods are food products that are relatively high in nutrients. What drives Western demand for them? If you live in a developed country, it’s likely you’re well versed in, or at least conscious of the superfood conversation. They tend to be popular with vegans and vegetarians, lifestyle choices that have become more prevalent in Western culture, as superfoods are nutritious alternatives for meat products. As we become more preoccupied with making healthy food decisions, foods deemed “superfoods” are front and center. But there’s more to the equation than just demand – somebody has to meet those demands, and this responsibility falls upon the superfoods’ countries of origin.

Background on quinoa and teff and its impacts on countries of origin



Quinoa and teff are highly nutritious, gluten-free grains. Quinoa traditionally grows in Peru and Bolivia and is low fat, high in protein, and full of amino acids. Teff, which has 50% more protein, five times more fiber and 25 times more calcium than brown rice, hails from the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea. With these stats, it’s no wonder that health-conscious Westerners covet them – consuming foods with these nutrient levels likely impacts our own health in positive ways (which is why demand is so high), but the impacts of our consumption on producing countries is another story altogether. While consuming superfoods like quinoa and teff may have positive health effects for Westerners, we can’t say the same for the health of the countries that produce them. In fact, the “Columbusing” of superfoods, or the “discovery” of these crops in developing countries, tends to benefit global consumers more than producers.

Quinoa industry damaging Bolivian development

Increased global demand – how much people desire a good as a whole – for quinoa spurred Bolivia to export higher volumes of the grain. While this increases Bolivia’s revenue and incomes of local farmers, it also causes the domestic price of quinoa to soar. In other words, while individual living standards of farmers have improved, it has become more difficult for the general population to afford quinoa, a staple in their diets. In 2011, a kilogram of quinoa cost $4.85 USD in contrast to $1 for the same weight of rice. The problems don’t stop there. In attempting to meet global demand, Bolivia faces pressure to allocate more land for quinoa production. If it follows through, Bolivia will in effect transform its agricultural portfolio into a monocrop of only quinoa. Without diverse agricultural production, Bolivia will become subject to volatile food prices and limited food security. If the price of quinoa plummets, its agriculture industry won’t bring in revenue; if it only produces one crop, Bolivia risks pest or disease infestation that can wipe out its only source of food, potentially resulting in famine.



Ethiopia’s teff dilemma

In recent years, Westerners have lauded teff for its nutritional value, so much so that the Ethiopian government decided to lift its ban on teff export with tight controls in place. Previously, there was a complete ban on raw teff export, with only processed teff in the form of injera allowed to leave the country. While this prevented the re-entry of teff into the Ethiopian market at inflated prices, the government and manufacturers were involved in the economic process, leaving farmers with little of their deserved revenue. Lifting the ban means Ethiopia needs to control price fluctuations. It hopes to do so by licensing commercial farms to produce teff for export to avoid flooding the market and bringing teff prices down. According to CEO of Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency Khalid Bomba, licensed producers will supply exports first, and then extend to small-scale farmers who comprise most of Ethiopia’s working population. The Ethiopian government’s hopes to meet both domestic and global demand will be tricky business. If it wants to engage in export, Ethiopia should first satisfy its own population’s demand. This involves increasing production levels by introducing modern farming techniques. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of agricultural research on teff production, so Ethiopia must first figure out which modern farming techniques are best suited to teff. Another issue is other countries have successfully planted teff crops. In the United States, 25 states produce the superfood. Al Jazeera reports that because of such successful transplantation, Ethiopia is losing out on its staple crop. Perhaps the best way for Ethiopia to combat this loss is to capitalize on the fact that the quality and taste of foreign-produced teff can’t hold a flame to its own. If it manages to brand Ethiopian teff as a premium product, Ethiopia may be able to overtake its competitors.


Consequences of superfoods on health in developing countries


Let’s now consider the impact of Western demand for quinoa and teff on the health of Bolivian and Ethiopian populations. When goods become too expensive, consumers substitute their consumption of that good with cheaper alternatives. In Bolivia, people substitute less nutritious rice and noodles for quinoa. In Ethiopia, teff farmers are selling the bulk of their harvests instead of eating it to take advantage of high global prices. The consequence of these actions is rising malnutrition, especially in rural communities. In both Bolivia and Ethiopia, consuming more quinoa and teff can alleviate malnutrition, but this task competes with Western cravings.

What can we do?


This paints a fairly bleak picture of guilt. Evidently, Western eating habits are directly related to economic conditions and poverty levels in developing countries. How can we reconcile our health-conscious love for quinoa, teff and other superfoods with the adverse affects it creates for countries that produce them? One way is to practice ethical consumerism. Movements like Fairtrade aim to ensure local farmers receive fair payment for their work; purchasing Fairtrade products means more of your money goes to the producer rather than distributors or manufacturers. But this only solves half of the equation – how can we ensure that our consumption of superfoods doesn’t come with the price of malnourished communities who can’t afford the same product? This is a question of social and economic policy. We have seen how Ethiopia is taking measures to ensure domestic prices (the current price for teff in the economy) of teff don’t skyrocket. To see lower domestic quinoa prices, Bolivia may restrict exports or increase production (both of which will bolster domestic supply and push down price) or introduce some kind of policy that balances its exports with domestic concerns. It’s unlikely that Western demands for superfoods will cease or even plateau any time soon. Indeed, such demand can produce incentives for more people or countries to become involved in superfood industries and drive more efficient production. Taking this into consideration, the key lies in how, rather than what, we consume, and the ways in which we can all improve our consumer behaviour.

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Society
This has been the year of transgender education – with Caitlyn Jenner opening up the conversation, “transgender” isn’t a taboo or unheard of topic any longer. In previous years various people in media had tried to bring the subject to life including Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Chaz Bono just to name a few. Even though discussion has increased, there are still some common myths many people still believe about what it means to be transgender. Below we try to debunk some of these commonly believed myths.

Myth #1: People who identify as transgender have a hormonal imbalance

Skeptics throughout the years have argued that people can’t truly be transgender – it must be unbalanced hormones! Scientist took on the task to study the link between possible hormonal imbalances and transgender identity. Earlier this year a study involving 101 transgender individuals between the ages of 12 and 14, showed their sex hormone levels were consistent with their assigned gender at birth. “We’ve now put to rest the residual belief that transgender experience is a result of a hormone imbalance … it’s not,” said Johanna Olson in a statement, medical director at the Center for Transyouth Health at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Researchers in 1995 studied a region of the brain called the stria terminalis – a part of the brain known for sex and anxiety responses – MTF (male to female) transgender individuals had an average female-sized one while FTMs (female to male) had a region average to a male. Individuals who had undergone hormonal reversal for a variety of medical reasons after starting hormone therapy, retained the size that corresponded to their gender identity. No link was found between these findings and sexual orientation.

Myth #2: Medical intervention doesn’t necessarily lead to psychological improvement

Over 25 studies looking at cross-hormonal therapy, puberty suppressing therapy and sex re-assignment surgery have all found to have positive psychological impacts on transgender patients. Individuals who receive treatment are not only mentally better off than those who don’t, but they aren’t significantly any different in day-to-day functioning compared to the general population.

Myth #3: All transgender people want to transition

Not all people who identify as transgender want to start hormone therapy or have sex re-assignment surgery. Some transgender people will choose to go through hormone therapy but not have any surgeries, while others will have certain surgeries and choose to not take hormones. Every individual’s definition of transitioning is different and each person has a different experience regarding their body and transitioning.
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Society
A new video has surface online explaining “juvenoia” – the belief that during each generation children were better off in the previous one. The video was uploaded by the popular YouTube channel Vsauce, a brand created by YouTube personality Michael Stevens. In the video Steven explains Sociologist David Finkelhorn was the first to coin the term “juvenoia,” – meaning an “exaggerated fear” about what influences children nowadays. A fear according to Finkelhorn, exists in every generation. This can be seen in an article published by the Sunday Magazine in 1871 regarding the dying out of letter writing, “we fire off a multitude of rapid and short notes, instead of sitting down to have a good talk over a real sheet of paper.” Can we say the same for smart phones today? Stevens explains a series of examples through different generations all which can be seen on the website xkxd.com. Watch the video and decide for yourself. Is technology and other factors of our time negatively affecting kids these days?  
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