Monday, November 24, 2008

Eduwatch, Myself and Project-Jos Campaign

by Enitan Doherty-Mason

Eduwatch is an education nonprofit organization headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland U.S.A. that is committed to ensuring the meaningful education of Nigerian children in order to promote peaceful co-existence, global understanding and a world citizenry that is both responsible and productive. Eduwatch is non-sectarian.

Myself:It is not often in life that we truly find our calling. We find our careers. We find the love(s) of our lives. But few people are privileged to find their calling. To find anything twice in life is truly amazing and to be found by that which one loves is even greater. I count myself among the lucky ones. I found my calling as an educator earlier in life. I served in various capacities with all my being and found myself usually unable to leave work until the final "t" was crossed and the final "i" was dotted. There was no compensation for the extra time put in but I worked as hard as I did because I loved what I did.

Major aspects of my life have changed in ways I could never have imagined, but all of my experiences now lead me to believe that my calling has found me. My calling has found me by coaxing me along, pushing me along, dragging me along and kicking me along until my passion burned for the educational needs of Nigerian children. The world did not change I changed.

Why Nigeria? All the world's children need education. Yes. Nigeria. Nigeria is my first home as the United States is my second home. I have been prepared for the life I live by each country in different, sometimes conflicting ways. Growing up Nigerian provided me a strong educational foundation and cultural insight into the Nigerian educational sector and America has given me the technical skills with which to analyze, dissect and seek improvement as need be. My background has provided me invaluable insight that allows me to empathize with both a Nigerian and an American audience without being blinded by the seductions of either world. What once appeared to be my greatest challenges have become my call to action.

I have to admit that I wasn't always thrilled about where my name was being called because Nigeria, my home country, is a country full of challenges and paradoxes... and people; people who are frequently exasperating because they need an opportunity to understand other ways of looking at the world in order to improve their lives. Life had and still has a way of placing me where I need to be even though I'm not always in agreement while change is taking place. I am coming to understand that as long as I do my part, things will work themselves out. The universe has a way of creating balance although we may be blind to it. It is only through action that we can change the world and make it a better place to live.

The Project-Jos Campaign
Eduwatch is running a fund raising campaign through the end of the month of December 2008 for the purpose of supporting needy children with disabilities at Open Doors Special Education Center in Jos, Nigeria. The goal is $4,000 by Christmas and we still have a long way to go.
The Special Education Center/Unit in Open Doors Special Education Center provides services to children and young people with special needs. These students are not able to benefit from a regular school because they have a handicapping condition such as mental retardation, autism or other developmental disability.

This Thanksgiving season I am filled with gratitude that more of us are able to give back to my homeland with help from friends. While we understand that these are challenging times globally, we know that our children who are the gatekeepers of the future of our nation cannot be ignored or set aside until we are ready. The time is now for you to do your part. Cooperation makes things happen!

Donation options:

~Checks (Make check out to Eduwatch specify Open Doors)
Mail to:
8817 Swallow Court
Gaithersburg, MD 20879
U.S.A. (Visa, Master Card, Discover, American Express)

~Western Union or Money Gram or U.S. Post Office Money Order
Name of Recipient: Enitan Mason for Eduwatch
Address: 8817 Swallow Ct.
Gaithersburg, MD 20879

~U.S. Post Office Money Order

~Amazon Honor System (Visa, Master Card, Discover)

Nigeria Note: Contributions in Naira to the Eduwatch Project - Jos for Open Doors may either be made directly to the school's bank account in Nigeria at any Zenith Bank branch through December 31st 2008 or to the Eduwatch account at any Stanbic IBTC Bank branch.

Nigeria Note: All contributions/donations after December 31st 2008 must be made to the Eduwatch Account to ensure accurate accounting.

~Zenith Bank any branch in Nigeria
(If check, Make check out to Open Doors Special Education Center)
Name of account: Open Doors for Special Learners
Bank: Zenith Bank, Jos
Account number: 6013302132

~Stanbic IBTC Bank Formally IBTC Chartered Bank PLC any branch in Nigeria
(If check, Make check out to Eduwatch)
Name of Account : Eduwatch
Bank:Stanbic IBTC, Allen Avenue branch, Ikeja
Account number:7200016875

Note: Naira donors, please let us know how much you contribute as we analyze information received from the respective banks so we can tally all donations into the total funds raised for this specific Jos project.

Donations made after December 31st 2008 must be deposited into the Eduwatch account to be acknowledged by Eduwatch. Please contact Eduwatch and specify how funds need to be applied eg. Programs or Specific project.

You can learn more about Eduwatch and it's programs by visiting

The Open Doors web site can be found at


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Global Food Crisis: Causes, Impacts and Solutions

The current food crisis can be defined as a combination of decline in stocks of primary or staple food produce (essentially grains and cereals) and escalating prices of food products.

i. There exist four primary causes: reduced crop output in major producing areas like Australia, Canada and the US (due to climate change); increased use of crops for biofuel production rather than for food; high price of oil (fossil fuels) for mechanised farming which is largely dependent on the use (and their attendant high costs) of fertilisers, pesticides, farm machinery and transport; and trends in local/global population and economic growth especially with increased demand for food in rapidly developing economies like China and India, whose combined population constitutes about 36% of the world’s!

The impacts of the prevailing food crisis cover a wide spectrum. About 850 million in the world today are estimated to suffer from hunger of those, about 820 million live in developing countries. These people suffer acutely from rise in staple food prices with the most affected being women who are unable to feed their families.

Furthermore, conditions of already impoverished regions (with most people living below the poverty line) can only be exacerbated. The resulting food insecurity in these regions will as a matter of fact trigger civil unrests, social conflicts, eventual humanitarian crises and rising aid costs.

In addition, the larger corollary of this quandary might spell doom in the health sector. Increases in animal feed and food prices threaten livelihood and nutrition of young children. Controversially, it has already been reported that sex work is on the rise due to high food prices, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities for vulnerable women. High food prices have put pressure on HIV programmes. People living with HIV need more nutrition than healthy people but as prices continue to rise, people will start buying cheaper, less nutritious food and may begin to skip meals.

Unabated food crisis may hurt economic growth especially of not-too-robust economies of developing countries, the hard-hit being the susceptible poor. Soaring food and fuel prices will undoubtedly hamper economic growth. Moreover, increasing food prices and decreasing food stocks will undermine gains of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly by increasing poverty and putting the MDGs target out of reach.

ii. Preventing similar occurrence of the current food crisis both in the short and long terms will require immediate and proactive interventions.

In the short term, the key policy options will entail formation of a UN/World Bank task force to co-ordinate efforts to alleviate the crisis; releasing of reserves into the market (which may bring the price down significantly); increasing loans to farmers in developing regions and emergency monetary aid to badly affected areas; dropping mandatory targets aimed at increasing the ration of biofuels used in transport; and creation of food-exporting countries with the potential to develop a price-fixing cartel is expedient, although care must be taken so as not to capitalise on the crisis.

On a long term basis, domestic food production should be protected through trade agreements that seek to address imbalances in supply and demand, exclusion from access to land, unfair trade practices and distorted incentives and subsidies. Furthermore, the most unsustainable agricultural practices should be phased out.

Climate change (with its attendant problems) should be addressed continuously. Moreover, both developed and emerging economies (particularly the US, China and India), “must begin to see the possibility of evolving a new lifestyle, with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption; a lifestyle designed for permanence.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lessons from US Elections

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”Barack Hussein Obama, 2008

Despite the temptation, I tried with so much restraint not to comment or write about the campaigns and build-up to the 2008 US presidential elections. Not because I was cold-eyed or totally disinterested but my heart and head were poles apart regarding a particular issue and I never wanted to be despondent if I decided to follow with cacoethes. As a matter of fact, I tactfully avoided discussing this anytime it came up. The disquieting issue? I could not imagine the emergence of an African-American president! I hoped against all odds that this election would stay off what it is all about – racism – but alas it did not.

Howbeit, with keen interest I tacitly monitored (most times staying glued to the TV set in the middle of the night) how the pre-election razzle-dazzle played out from the gruelling campaign trails and travels to intriguing debates, blackmailing, name calling and even to a controversial transcontinental fund raising jamboree in Nigeria. I was paranoid to the extent that even when all kinds of polls suggested this election might be historic in producing the first black American president, I would still be (pleasantly) shocked at this realisation. I was pessimistically expecting the GOP and rednecks to come up with an upset.

This article is not to give an executive summary on the pre-election and election activities but after the dust has settled at the trail of electing the first man of colour to take over the wheel of affairs of the most powerful nation on earth, what are the salient lessons to be learnt?

President-elect Barack Hussein Obama would never have performed this feat without the rousing support of white Americans particularly the perceived rednecks and racists. Even if all African, Latin and Asian Americans had voted for Obama his win could have been too close to call. I think the real heroes of this election are the Caucasians – white men and women who are no longer blinded by the deceitful veils of racial prejudice. Particular mention must be made of the Clintons who despite having lost a most exalted seat to a black man still went ahead to campaign for him even till the tail end of the trail.

This election has come to prove the supremacy and efficacy of America’s kind of government – democracy. The people voted and their votes counted in electing a man of their choice. In addition, I never knew there was much gallantry and honour in defeat until I watched Senator John McCain (who I believe had superior arguments over certain Obama’s policies) gave his speech, congratulating President-elect Barack Obama while pledging his support and urging Republicans to lend same.

African leaders, Africa and Nigeria in particular must take a cue from this. The way we run our elections/democracies should lend credence to rather than disenfranchise our citizens from being part of the democratic process. This informs low turn-outs and lack of patriotism during most elections since citizens know the value of their votes does not go beyond the paper it is made of. Our politicians should also learn to take defeat with valour. This serves as an indicator of how matured they and the process are. As I watched the passion with which Americans campaigned, the superiority of arguments they allowed to prevail, the pains they endured on queues to vote for their choice candidates and the colour that graced the declaration of a president-elect, I could not but weep at the chance Nigeria lost to experience the same in the 1993 elections.

During the presidential debates, one could not but marvel at issues which served as the core of the candidates’ deliberations. From healthcare to education, foreign policy, energy, technology and the economy, these debates dwarfed and completely expressed how shallow our politics are on this side of the world. It is unimaginable and shameful that in the 21st century, most of our politicians still employ the tactics of construction of roads, provision of pipe-borne water, etc to crusade.

I felicitate with my fellow Africans – the Kenyans in being part of history. However, while they might have been part of producing the physical Obama sadly, no credit can be given to them in developing the phenomenal Obama, the whole world celebrates now. This is not meant to derogate Kenya and/or Kenyans but if Obama were to be born and brought up in Kenya with the past and prevailing conditions of governance, leadership and development would he have grown to be a Kenya president? This pitiful realisation plays on the stages of most African countries. Do our social, political and economic environments guarantee quality education, healthcare, equal rights and opportunities for our citizens similar to what obtain in the US? Food for thought.

Lastly, the actualisation of the first black US president realised in Barack Hussein Obama is not by accident. It reinforces the fact that change has a history, it is a process and most importantly, it is constant and has a future and destination – change is a journey!

In 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for disobeying a segregation law in Montgomery, Alabama, that required her to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. Her bold action helped to stimulate protests against inequality. The blacks of the community organized a boycott of the bus system and were led by Martin Luther King, Jr. King and other black leaders organized the 1963 March on Washington, a massive protest in Washington, D.C., for jobs and civil rights. On August 28, 1963, King delivered a stirring address to an audience of more than 200,000 civil rights supporters. His “I Have a Dream” speech expressed the hopes of the civil rights movement in oratory as moving as any in American history: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Barack Obama is a realisation of that dream! However, he took the bold step to run for a position that was hitherto considered a taboo and impossible for a man of colour to occupy. It must be accentuated that the Obama presidency is not an end to that dream but a pointer to the fact that one can achieve the seemingly unachievable – and even more!

The sitting of Rosa Parks, the march and inspiring speech of Martin L. King Jr. and the audacious run by Barack Obama tell us that change is possible in any circumstances. This goes to Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike who might have lost hope in Nigeria. We must be selfless and courageous enough to stimulate and/or contribute to a revolution we might not even live long enough to enjoy the benefits of.

This is the true spirit of the “Audacity of Hope”.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rescuing the Insatiable Custodian from Self-Destruction

Pretermitting Darwin’s theory, God gave the earth to man to subdue and dominate. From early Stone Age to the present era of dramatic structures man has incontestably and consistently demonstrated his superiority over his immediate environment and beyond. However, at what cost to himself and other cohabitants? Man considers himself as master over all: Other forms of life and inanimate entities only exist for his survival and consumption. On the other hand, it must be accentuated that this coexistence rests on a delicate balance. Mankind and its cohabitants need this mutual dependency for continued existence.

Sustainable development ensures that the use of resources and the environment today does not restrict their use by future generations. Man has a responsibility to handover his planet to generations unborn in a manner in which they can also meet their needs and deliver same to succeeding generations. This is the custodian role man is expected to play in place of the roughneck, Hector position.

In recent times, usance of resources has become lopsided with worrying consumption patterns in industrialised regions vis-à-vis the underdeveloped regions hardly harnessing theirs while bearing the brunt of consumption consequences from developed regions. With globalisation, problems and emergencies are no longer localised. The upshots of famine in a sub-region in Africa, a civil war in any of the coalescing parts in the defunct Soviet Union, fortunes going bad on Wall Street or an insurgency in the Middle East now transcend borders. The UN is aware of this import and the G20 seems to be catching on.

Ecological footprint of a given population is "the total area of productive land and water required on a continuous basis to produce the resources consumed, and to assimilate the wastes produced, by that population, wherever on Earth the land (and water) is located." Ecological footprints and consumption patterns of citizens of industrialised countries particularly the US, raise alarms and serious concerns. According to Chad Holiday, “Given existing technology and products, for all 6 billion people on the planet to live the average American life, we would require the equivalent of 3 planet Earths to provide the required material and energy; and to dispose the resulting waste.”

The present greatest challenge is energy utilisation with particular reference to non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels. Rising energy demands (predominantly from the West and fast growing economies like India and China) in comparison with depleting non-renewable resources have made individuals, governments and corporate organisations to consider harnessing various sources of renewable energy. A most recent venture is into development of bio-fuels and bio-fuel technologies. In simple terms, it means extracting (fuel) energy (basically ethanol) from plant crops. This has resulted in a global food crisis as once again, we have failed to realise that when a problem is not solved systematically and holistically, it postpones or shifts consequences (possibly in greater magnitudes) to other spheres.

Farmers (who essentially are business men) prefer to sell crops as raw materials for bio-fuel production rather than food supplies. The resulting global food shortage is complicated by reduced crop output in major producing areas like Australia, Canada and the US (due to climate change); high price of oil (fossil fuels) for mechanised farming which is largely dependent on the use (and their attendant high costs) of fertilisers, pesticides, farm machinery and transport; and trends in local/global population and economic growth especially with increased demand for food in rapidly developing economies like China and India, whose combined population constitutes about 36% of the world’s!

In addition, more and more energy companies are outdoing one another in exploiting renewable energy sources in order to meet the world’s growing demand. They allege to spend huge sums of money in researching and developing technologies to exploit renewable energy resources. These include Gas to Liquid (GTL) fuel, wind energy, onshore exploration etc. Moreover, it is now “fashionable” for industries to portray themselves as environmentally friendly backed up with an ISO certification. To a large extent, this may be considered to be a propaganda and farce as it is known that most companies are more interested in public perception and their corporate image rather than sincerely doing business in a way that will not hurt the environment, ISO certified or not. Wrong public perception is bad for business. At the end, the motive is profit and not to stop “hurting” the environment. While it is important to invest in technologies that will help harness more resources, yet still priorities are not being set right.

Having an engineering background, I was always of the notion that technology will solve any human development problem until I was enlightened a couple of years ago during a program I ran at a UN school. In one of the modules, we were made to realise that building high-tech wastewater treatment plants (end-of-pipe solution) will not solve the problems of treating wastewater amid increasing volumes and complex qualities: Why should treatment plants be built to cope with more volumes and removing complex constituents from wastewater when these problems could be addressed at source?

Besides, it has been established that about only 10% of water treated to drinking water quality standards from our water treatment plants is actually used for the intended purpose – drinking! The remaining 90% is lost during distribution; used to flush our toilets; wash cars, clothes and dishes; for bathing, street washing, recreation, gardening and all other uses that do not require drinking water quality standards. As a result, we collect wastewater from various sources which generate too huge volumes and a complex nature for our wastewater treatment plants to cope with, hence we tend to build bigger and more complex plants. This realisation spurred me into a new thinking of social (re-)engineering.

During a fieldwork I carried out on a university campus water treatment/distribution system, it was found out that almost 50% of water treated and supplied for consumption was lost during distribution. Howbeit, the management complained of shortage of water supply complicated by an increasing population, worn-out plant equipment and inadequate funding, with a present annual expenditure of about 15 million naira (130,000 USD). The supervisor was made to realise that the first step in solving this problem was not sourcing for more money or high-tech plants. Since managers tend to grasp issues better from financial perspectives, he was told that with half of the treated water lost during distribution, it only means that 50% of annual expenditure (i.e. approximately 7.5 million naira) is money wasted, not including the man-hours and other resources invested. He was shocked!

Plugging the holes in the distribution system first (which will be at little or no cost) will deliver increased supplies to consumers and ensure more value for money. Plant expansion and high-tech facilities may come thereafter. As simple as this solution is, it is obviously not played out in our consumption pattern trends and the present approach in solving our global energy problems. Albert Einstein succinctly puts it: “If mankind is to survive, we shall require a substantially new manner of thinking.”

Two main issues are to be addressed: Production and consumption. While investments in high-tech researches are necessary, the first step in solving our energy problems is not an end-of-pipe but at-source issue. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Technology is not always the first step but a social re-orientation. After identification/awareness, the political/societal will to change should precede the technological will. This is the most difficult part – more complicated than developing new technologies. It is hard to change people’s mentality. More than half of the barriers to this new thinking will come from human motivation and attitudes backed up with arguments explaining why change is not possible. These mental locks usually kill innovation as witnessed in the Sally Fox’s cotton story.

Efficiency in production is usually thought to improve with an increased production. This is not appropriate in the light of increase in decline of resources. New thinking suggests: By using the same amount of raw materials and reducing wastes in production processes, more products can be realised. In addition, in order to buoy efficiency, only the type and quantity of material that is needed for production should be used. Moreover, our consumption patterns should be addressed through appropriate demand management.

William and Mary Cunningham and Barbara Saigo in their book Environmental Science: A Global Concern, suggest a number of demand management self-applications. These include putting off lights when not needed, using energy-saving equipment and hibernating or switching off computers when they are not in use. Others are brushing teeth using a glass of water rather than letting the tap run, shopping at a nearby location instead of far away and using coffee makers with a thermos can in place of one that needs heating. In supermarkets, operation of open cold shelves should be stopped. We should endeavour to travel the shortest possible routes to our destinations and take commercial transport rather than our personal cars. Garbage should not be disposed indiscriminately. “Waste” materials should be reused or recycled before considering the option of disposal. Waste is only a raw material in a wrong place and time. Lessons could be applied from the self-sustaining, zero-waste industrial park/brewery in Namibia which is operated on the proven principles of “Industrial Ecology”. As an example, “grey” water from bathrooms, kitchens, etc can be collected for gardening purposes.

Purchase less: Don’t buy or keep what you don’t use frequently. Ask yourself whether you really need more stuff. Avoid buying things you don’t need or won’t use. Use items as long as possible (and don’t replace them just because a new product becomes available). Use the library instead of purchasing books you read. Make gifts from materials already on hand, or give non-material gift. Reduce excess packaging: Carry reusable bags when shopping and refuse bags for small purchases. Buy items in bulk or with minimal packaging; avoid single-serving foods. Choose packaging that can be recycled or reused. Avoid disposable items: Use cloth napkins, handkerchiefs and towels. Bring a washable cup to meetings; use washable plates and utensils rather than single-use items. Buy pens, razors, flashlights and cameras with replaceable parts.

These self-applications may seem too insignificant to make any difference. However, it has been proven on many occasions how little, “inconsequential”, inexpensive, ordinary things have tipped society away from crises and degeneration towards sustenance, actualisation and rejuvenation. Technology can thereafter step in. Developing regions may consider these to be inapplicable since at the moment they hardly get enough to consume much less saving. However, this is the more reason why they should be conservative. Lessons should be learnt from the experiences of the industrialised countries. Moreover, if the global environmental/energy situation goes sorrier the less developed regions will be worse off. Howbeit, the G20 should play a more responsible big brother role.

In conclusion, man should see himself as a custodian of the earth, its resources and other cohabitants. He has a moral obligation to keep this planet sustainable while meeting his needs vis-à-vis ensuring the existence of a delicate ecosystem balance on which his very existence depends. Otherwise in his quest to meet his insatiable needs, not only will he send other forms of life into extinction but he will also self-destruct!