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Monday, January 25, 2010

Need of Haitian orphans almost incalculable: Jolie

Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie who has promoted humanitarian causes throughout the world feels the needs of Haitian orphans devastated by a quake are “almost incalculable“. File Photo: AP

Hollywood actor Angelina Jolie, who has promoted humanitarian causes throughout the world feels the needs of Haitian orphans devastated by a quake are “almost incalculable“.

The 34-year-old beauty, a UN Goodwill Ambassador said before the Caribbean nation’s cataclysm, SOS Villages had been raising more than 300 orphaned or abandoned children and cared for 4000-plus poverty-stricken kids and families in Haiti, US magazine reported.

“That was before the earthquake, now the needs for orphaned children are almost incalculable,” Jolie said in a statement.

The ‘Original Sin’ star insists the organisation has been working nonstop in Haiti to find shelter, food, medicine, trauma counselling and more for children and families.

“As a long time supporter of SOS, I have visited many of these unique villages personally. I can vouch for their commitment and care for the children. As the Haiti situation unfolds, and we all focus in on ways to help these desperate children -- I ask you to please learn more about and consider supporting SOS Children’s Villages,” Jolie added.

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Group: Cambodia should shut drug detention centers

By MARGIE MASON AP Medical Writer

An international human rights group called on the Cambodian government Monday to shut down its drug detention centers alleging abuses such as torture and rape, as well as the lockup of children and the mentally ill.

In a 93-page report, New York-based Human Rights Watch detailed examples of detainees being beaten with electric wire, raped by drug center staff, shocked with electric batons and coerced into giving blood. Some Cambodian families paid to send their relatives to the locked-down centers, where detainees undergo military-style drills to sweat out the drugs in their systems to "cure" their addiction, the report said.

According to government data, more than 2,300 people were detained in Cambodia's 11 drug detention centers in 2008, a 40 percent increase from a year earlier.

"The bottom line really is that these centers operate outside any judicial oversight and outside of any monitoring," said Joe Amon, director of Human Rights Watch's health and human rights division in the Thai capital, Bangkok. "We're sending a message that these centers need to be shut down."

Cambodian Brig. Gen. Roth Srieng, commander of the military police in Banteay Meanchy province, denied torture at his center but said some detainees were forced to stand in the sun or "walk like monkeys" as punishment for attempting to escape.

Cambodian officials from the National Authority for Combatting Drugs, Interior Ministry, National Police and Social Welfare Ministry declined to comment.

Amon said the centers that operate in several Asian countries do nothing to help detainees overcome drug addictions and the relapse rate upon release remains high.

About one-fourth of those detained at Cambodia's centers in 2008 were 18 years or younger, with 5 percent classified as "street children," according to government data.

These children - some as young as 10 - along with prostitutes, beggars, the homeless and the mentally ill, are often rounded up and taken to drug centers, the Human Rights Watch report said. Most detainees were not told why they were being held or given access to a lawyer, it said.

The report also said police demanded money or sex for release in some cases, and told some detainees they could leave early or would not be beaten if they donated blood.

The report relied on interviews from February to July 2009 with 74 informants, most of whom were drug addicts who had been through treatment in government centers.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture was made aware of the allegations in 2008 and has addressed them in a report to Cambodia's government that will be published soon, said Claudia de la Fuente, an official with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

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Travel by Bamboo Trains in Cambodia – True Ingenuity!

By Stacey Irwin

Transportation plays a key role in the advancement of societies. Sumerians invented the wheel in 3500 BC to aid in the movement of heavy stone as they built their temples; Romans built a vast network of roads across their Empire so soldiers could march and conquer more efficiently; Egyptians built ships to access more markets for trade and later on, canals were constructed to give more passage. In the 1800s, America’s own Industrial Revolution was spurred on by expanded transportation including the Cumberland Road (now part of Interstate 40), the creation of the Steamboat, the opening of the Erie Canal and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

In Cambodia, a country destroyed by years of civil war and the Khmer Rouge reign, transportation is a struggle. The French colonists created an intricate system of railroad lines to connect the plantations with their lucrative coffee and bananas to marketplaces. But these lines and trains fell to waste after the Khmer Rouge banned the “ordinary” people from using them. Now trains run infrequently in between the villages and the trips are long as break-downs and derailments are common. The Cambodian Government promise an upgrade to the system but little has been done. So, Cambodian villagers long ago took matters into their own hands and built the Bamboo Train.

Their choice of materials is an unusual combination of the strong and abundant bamboo that surrounds them and parts from abandoned military tanks. Described as a “bamboo slab on wheels,” these trains sprung up in the late 70s where they were controlled by a series of levers and hand-cast controls. They have since upgraded to wooden footbrakes and small motors that poured into the country, courtesy of the United Nations relief effort in the 1980s.

Simplicity is key for this train system. They use the existing railroad tracks and spurs to travel. When they meet another bamboo train on the tracks, whoever has the least passengers merely lifts their train off the track to let the other one by. They keep a sharp ear out for the infrequent freight trains that come through and when they reach their destination, they simply pick the train up and turn it around to head back.

These bamboo trains, or “Norries” as they are called by locals, provide a link between villages, a way to get produce and animals to the market, a way to get lumber to building sites and a means of income for many as rich tourists pay up to $2/day to ride them. In Cambodia, that can equal two months wages to most citizens. A local village has even turned into a “little Detroit” and builds up to 10 trains a month for sale and use. Not only are they building them, but they want to make them more beautiful to help encourage the tourists to ride them.

Necessity is the mother of invention and in a country that desperately needs (and wants) to rebuild itself, these bamboo trains are an ingenious solution.

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Justine Henin's path back to tennis

Associated Press Sports

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -Justine Henin's travels through Congo and Cambodia didn't begin as a spiritual journey but ultimately set her on the path back to tennis.

Now that she has returned, Henin says she recalls images of those travels daily: the African baby who took her hand and wouldn't let go, the Congolese girl who pleaded, "Take me back with you to Belgium," the children who delighted at seeing their faces in her digital camera.

At 27, Henin speaks of her life as having a before and an after.

Her "first career" was what came before May 2008, when the seven-time Grand Slam winner jolted the tennis world by retiring while ranked No. 1.

And there's her "second career," which is off to a stunning start.

Henin advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, her second tournament out of retirement. She mesmerized the crowds with her sublime one-handed backhand - which John McEnroe has ranked among the best shots in the game - her amazing speed and endless determination.

There is little doubt, that she has a renewed passion for the sport, which she started as a child prodigy but was slowly suffocating her.

"I had so much inside me that I couldn't express because there was my tennis, and it took everything. It took everything out of me. I didn't know myself enough anymore," Henin said in an interview Monday on the eve of her quarterfinal against Russia's Nadia Petrova.

"I'm so happy that I stopped playing tennis two years ago," Henin said. "For me, these two years were the richest years in my existence, because I think it marked my passage to adulthood."

Indeed, Henin has changed and matured. She was always introspective and spoke from her heart but was also guarded and tense. She once described herself as "the oldest 24-year-old on the planet."

"Now I feel like a young 27," said Henin, who now offers eloquent self-analysis and is much quicker to smile.

Seated in the player's lounge at Melbourne Park, Henin spoke passionately in her native French about her work abroad as a UNICEF ambassador and other projects at home that included a reality TV show called, "The 12 Labors of Justine Henin," in which she undertook a different challenge for each episode.

"What interested me was the aspect of the challenge," she said. "It was to do things, nobody thought I could do. I did comedy, I sang, I played football with star Belgian football players."

"It's a paradox. I'm very timid and very reserved, but I chose a career that puts me in the spotlight," she laughed. "So there must be a part of me that needs that. It's about finding equilibrium."

Henin spent a week in war-ravaged eastern Congo last January with UNICEF and a week in rural Cambodia in August for a vaccination campaign for mothers and babies.

In Congo, she showered with cold water and had to abide by a 10 p.m. curfew for security reasons.

Nobody knew her there, and she loved the anonymity.

She visited camps where child soldiers waited to find their families, she observed treatment of malnourished children and met victims of violent rape. She was startled to see the shattered lives of 28,000 people in a refugee camp where "the hygiene was catastrophic."

"One day I was in the car driving back to the hotel and I missed home very much. I felt like I was on another planet, and I sat there crying," Henin said. "It was the strongest thing I have ever lived, this encounter with misery and difficulty but also with dignity - because these people remained so dignified. The children were still smiling. The women were so courageous."

"I don't think I ever experienced anything more important, anything that marked me like that in the past," she added. "And it allowed me to get my feet back on the ground, to confront very difficult, very complicated things."

Henin lost her mother to cancer at the age of 12. She dedicated her first French Open title in 2003 to her mother, who had brought a 10-year-old Justine to Roland Garros to watch a tennis match in person for the first time.

She went on to win the French Open three more times, the U.S. Open twice and the Australian Open in 2004. But she endured injuries and, in 2007, the end of her five-year marriage. After years of being estranged from her father and siblings, she reunited with her family in 2008.

When Henin quit tennis, it was a clean break. She says she didn't pick up a racket for more than a year and didn't watch any tennis on TV for months.

Slowly, the spark returned. She realized she missed tennis and competing and that happiness could coexist with tennis.

She has said she was inspired by Roger Federer's triumph at last year's French Open. Like Henin, the Swiss star needed one more title to complete his Grand Slam collection. In Henin's case, it is Wimbledon.

"Of course, it would be a dream come true to win all the Grand Slams," said Henin, who has demonstrated new aggressiveness at the net that she says is what she needs to improve her game on grass. "But I'm just going step by step, it's still early."

She was also inspired by the comeback of fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who returned after two years off to get married and have a baby and won last year's U.S. Open.

Clijsters was upset in the third round in Melbourne by Petrova, who will now face Henin in the quarterfinals.

Petrova and many other players have applauded Henin's return, saying she and Clijsters have reinvigorated women's tennis.

"She was too young to retire," said Petrova. "She realized there is still a lot of unfinished business."

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