I had the privilege of attending a private screening of Saving Face, the winner of Sunday night’s Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject), followed by a Q & A with one of the directors, Daniel Junge, and one of the documentary’s protagonists, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon whose work the film revolves around. On a quick side note, Dr. Jawad was the also the surgeon who operated on British model and acid victim Katie Piper who recently had her eye sight restored through stem cell therapy. In short, Saving Face is about Dr. Jawad’s journey back to his home land of Pakistan where he works to reconstruct the faces of women who have suffered acid attacks by their husbands, other males of close relation, and sometimes even other women. The reasons cited by attackers in many of the countries where acid violence is an issue are multifold- refusal by the women to accept unwanted marriage proposals, basic petty arguments in the house over minor issues, and even attempts to simply pursue education as a woman. The film interviews several survivors of these attacks, mostly women from rural areas, and focuses on two main characters, Zakia and Rukhsana, who are both victims. One of the sub-plots includes Zakia’s court case against her husband which she eventually wins through the application of a recently passed Pakistani bill that sentences between 14 years and life in prison, as well as a $14,000 fine for men who are perpetrators of acid attacks. Throughout the documentary, several women’s faces are shown, most of which are gruesomely deformed from the attacks and consistently elicited waves of shocked gasps from the audience. I whole-heartedly applaud Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (the other director) for giving these women a voice to the rest of the world, and to Dr. Jawad for using his plastic surgery skills for something other than breast implants (which he says he also does quite well in the documentary). The government of Pakistan, elated at the indirect receipt of an Oscar, has also declared that Ms. Chinoy will be presented with Pakistan’s highest civil award upon her return. Continue reading
This post is meant to be a general overview/partial book review on Bill Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden, as well as my own commentary on why Easterly’s message is important for the Western global health/development student today. I want to start by saying this is a very important book. Moreover, Bill Easterly, Professor of Economics at NYU, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, and previously a World Bank research economist for 16 years, is among the most capable and relevantly experienced people to write a book like this. And for anyone interested in global health, human rights, and development, this book is a must read. It is not without flaws, but the points it raises touch on the largest issue in this field today: foreign aid is highly inefficient, and has no demand to change. As Easterly laments, $2.3 trillion later, much more money has gone into wasted attempts than into successful solutions for issues like starvation, infectious diseases, economic poverty, education, equitable governance, and the rest of the long list of problems disproportionately affecting certain places on our planet.
I will review some of Easterly’s main points (there have already been many reviews written, such as this great one by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and another by our very own Nicholas Kristof), but more importantly, I want to discuss the parallel I see between the aid agencies that Easterly criticizes and Western college students today who work on short international internships/fellowships to deal with some of the aforementioned issues in other countries. Continue reading
As a writer, my duty is to those who read what I write. As a human rights/global health activist, my duty is to those whom I write about. Often times, it is difficult to balance the demands of these two factions, particularly because I am attempting to serve as a nexus that makes the latter important to the former, while ensuring that the former is sufficiently entertained. Because the readers and the subjects are divided by geography, culture, income level, and more, it is often a thin line between a successful exposition and one that offends or disengages one of the above sides.
Given that “human rights” issues are usually not as sexy or fun to read about as the latest Hollywood gossip or the outcome of a long-awaited sports match, many writers tend to focus on stories that catch the eye and then, once the bait is taken, capitalize on the 21st Century reader’s transient attention span by inserting quick, practical examples of how people are helping or how one can take action.
The most famous journalist in this regard is two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Nicholas Kristof, a NY Times writer and the subject of an interesting criticism published in The New Inquiry. The author of the captious piece, Elliott Prasse-Freeman, a former Harvard point guard (see photo), and currently a fellow at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights, presents as his main qualm Kristof’s habit of “introducing vexing questions about how various violences might have structural determinants…only to immediately silence those questions.” Continue reading