World News

Boston-Area Egyptians Look Ahead With Resolve

By Jess Bidgood   |   Monday, February 14, 2011
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Feb. 14, 2011

Tom Arabia, an activist living in Roslindale, hugged a friend as Egyptians and supporters gathered at MIT to celebrate the departure of 30-year President Hosni Mubarak on Friday. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

BOSTON — This weekend began a new chapter for the people of Egypt. After President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 30 years in power on Friday morning, the people of Cairo celebrated – and then took to the streets to clean Tahrir Square, the main center of the 18 days of protests that forced him out. The Egyptian military scheduled elections for six months from now as some holdout protesters kept up demands of democracy and security. And Egyptians began to take in what it all means for their country.

Murad Alim photographed Fatma Elshobokshy, an Egyptian who works at Lesley University. He's creating a Facebook album for people in Egypt to see. (Jess Bidgood/ WGBH)

The thousands of Egyptians living in the Boston area joined their countrymen in processing the joy, challenges and questions left behind by the Egyptian revolution.

For some 100 or so Egyptians and supporters, that process began at MIT, where a forum originally planned to examine the ongoing protests there morphed into a party. Egyptians wore pins that proudly professed their nationality; adults hugged and children scampered at their ankles. People squeezed in to celebrate, mixing Arabic and English, laughter and tears.
Karim Elembabi, a 24-year-old with piercing green eyes who studies psychology at Bunker Hill Community College, was still stunned by the news of Mubarak’s departure. He said no one expected it to happen after Mubarak refused to step down in a speech he made Thursday.

“I woke up today, with my brother shouting, like, ‘Karim Karim Karim, he’s gone, he stepped down, come see the TV!’“ Elembabi said he turned on CNN, pulled up Al Jazeera on his computer, and tried to reach a friend in Cairo. “He Skyped me right away, like, ‘It’s happening, dude.’”
Elembabi left Egypt several years ago, never wanting to return because he didn’t think he could be free there. But over the past few weeks, he couldn’t stand being so far away from the protests. “Two, three weeks, I really can’t focus well. My mind, what’s going on in Egypt, what’s happened to my friends,” he recalled.
For Elembabi, part of celebrating the idea of a new Egypt was just getting used to it. “For me, what happened in Egypt is a changing point for me,” he said. “I’m not going to be the same. I’m asking for more rights, every small right.”

Over 100 people celebrated Mubarak's departure on Friday at MIT. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

Across the hall, near dozens of attendees eating falafal and foul sandwiches, Murad Alim was taking as many pictures as he could of people holding a poster that read ‘Thank you Egypt, you inspired the world.’

Those pictures are going straight to Facebook. “We wanted to send some message back to Egypt,” he said, to give something back after the weeks he and his friends here have spent reading the Tweets and Facebook status of Egyptians at home.
Wrapped in the Egyptian flag, Ahmed Ashour was actually preparing to get himself back to Egypt, too. He was only in Boston for a few days, looking at business schools. He said that when he left Egypt on this trip, he had no idea he’d be returning to a changed country. “I never thought it would turn out that (Mubarak) would leave today,” Ashour said.
Ashour’s joy steeled into a hard anticipation of the challenges he’ll face when he gets home. “We’ll start the new era, the difficult one to build a new Egypt.”

Becoming Human, Part 2

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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In "Birth of Humanity," the second part of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA investigates the first skeleton that really looks like us–"Turkana Boy"–an astonishingly complete specimen of Homo erectus found by the famous Leakey team in Kenya. These early humans are thought to have developed key innovations that helped them thrive, including hunting large prey, the use of fire, and extensive social bonds.

The program examines an intriguing theory that long-distance running–our ability to jog–was crucial for the survival of these early hominids. Not only did running help them escape from vicious predators roaming the grasslands, but it also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing down prey animals such as deer and antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Birth of Humanity" also probes how, why, and when humans' uniquely long period of childhood and parenting began.

The other programs in the series are Part 1: "First Steps," which looks at how, for millions of years, many species of small-brained human predecessors lived, and Part 3: "Last Human Standing," which examines why, of various human species that once shared the planet, only our kind remains.

Boston Volunteers Help Vietnamese with HIV

By Phillip Martin   |   Tuesday, July 10, 2012
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July 11, 2012

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — This summer, two Boston College professors are leading a group of students to volunteer at a clinic for HIV patients who are at the end of their lives in a society where the illness carries significant stigma.

A mile from my hotel, the taxi driver looks at the instructions again, does a U-turn and then speeds down the city's main avenue. A good 45 minutes later we are on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, which most people around here still refer to as Saigon. The driver does a zig and a zag past stores selling pots and portable stoves and through an intersection crowded with commuters on motorbikes. Then tucked away on a side street that meanders past several industrial sites we arrive at an HIV clinic run by the Catholic Church, where I’m met by a woman who calls herself Vee, who tells me the name of the facility, Tieng Vong, is pronounced "Tan Vaughn" and means “Hopeful Voice.”

I’m also met at the gate of the “Hopeful Voice” clinic by Boston College professors Thanh Tran and Rosanna DeMarco. They’re leading a group of BC undergraduates on an eye-opening medical mission to help dying HIV patients at the ends of their lives: learning, relating, struggling with it all and then returning to Boston to make a difference back home.

How the Boston team got involved

“I am an expert in the area. I have been working with black women who are living with HIV who are aging with the disease,” says DeMarco.

DeMarco, a professor of nursing, is far from the HIV clinics of Blue Hill Avenue and the African American and Hispanic women she counsels in Boston. But HIV cuts through boundaries and knows no borders. “I partnered with Dr. Tran and we got five other students interested. All of us came together to try to learn. And see how the health care system works for these patients and what it’s like for them.”

Six students, with plenty of choices for a carefree summer, choose Vietnam instead, a place where HIV carries with it a stigma and a personal and cultural challenge. Says DeMarco:

“Vietnam, although stable in a sense, the rising rates among women and men who have sex with men is very significant. Thus the stigma in the Vietnamese culture. When you are perceived as doing something wrong, like IV drugs or sex working or doing something related to the usual connotation of why people get HIV, then you become ostracized and how painful that is in this culture because there’s so much value on family and connection.”

The students' motivation and the scope of the problem

In the doorway of a one-story suntanned brick building, Pauline Tran of Worcester extends her hand. She is one of five Vietnamese-American students at BC who’ve returned — if you will — to a country they have never known.

“I’ve always had an attachment to my background, to my culture. I’ve always been interested in helping the vulnerable, especially for my family who came from something like this,” she says. Her family escaped to the U.S. after the war. She and the other Vietnamese American students were born in the U.S. They say they have also come to this HIV clinic as a way of giving back to the country of their heritage. And everyone on this trip has a role. For instance, Nguyet Chau, a native of Worcester, helped translate the documents the team uses for the HIV prevention program.

They can use all the help they can get. Vietnam has very limited human resources. In a country of nearly 89 million people, about 300,000 have been diagnosed with HIV. But there are only 1,300 health workers assigned to this population, and many of them are volunteers.

Still, stigma is probably the greatest obstacle to controlling the epidemic, says clinic director Co Vinh, speaking in Vietnamese. “About 13 years ago when we founded this clinic there was no treatment for HIV here in Vietnam and most people had no knowledge about the disease. So their own families discriminated against patients and many of them were thrown out in the streets. Some live in the park under the benches and in the bushes.”

The scene at the clinic

We take a tour of the clinic: There are eight beds, a needle cleaning machine, photos of Jesus and Saigon’s archbishop on the wall; clothing, food and medicine are piled in one corner, medical charts in another. Local volunteers bathe patients, hand out supplies, chart their progress or lack thereof and offer moral support. BC nursing student Mary Gerardo is the only non-Vietnamese student among the six from the U.S.

“I’m from Richmond, Virginia. I don’t travel very much," she says. "They contacted me and I said that would be a great opportunity. Professor DeMarco, after meeting her, I said, 'I can do this.'”

Most local volunteers here are congregants at the Catholic Church that sits on these grounds in Ho Chi Minh City. One is a former clinic patient with HIV who seems amazed by his own survival. “They gave me free medicine starting in 2004,” he says, and that has stabilized his medical condition.

IV drug use in Vietnam is on the rise, as is voluntary and forced prostitution, according to the United Nations. Vinh tells me about a patient who was sold by her own mother into sexual slavery across the border in Cambodia and ended up with HIV.

She says, “The young woman ended up in critical condition with tuberculosis and I met her in a local hospital. I got her address from the hospital and later I was looking for her but the address wasn’t clear. So one rainy afternoon I was looking for her and found her sitting on the streets; coughing on the streets by herself. And when I saw her like that I just could not stand it and I used my own money to rent her a small room.”

To listen and to learn

While most of the Boston College team are visitors to this faraway land, Professor Thanh Tran knows Vietnam well and struggles — perhaps more than we can ever know.

“I was born and raised up here until I finished high school and came to the U.S. at the end of the war," he says. "I’m always very hesitant to return to Vietnam because I belong to a different generation and a member of the Vietnamese community in the United States that’s extremely anti- this government. But I came here with Dr. DeMarco and a group of students to learn about the health care system; how these people find resources [to take care of patients] under very limited conditions.”

And the commitment to reducing HIV infections and the stigma of AIDS outweighs any ideological tug of war between Vietnamese Americans and Vietnam, between heritage and politics, says Professor Tran.

DeMarco agrees and says being here offers an invaluable lesson: “No matter what the care is, whatever level it is, whatever is here or isn’t here, when people come here — they come with their family members and they don’t feel any stigma, they feel respect. When they come here they don’t have people not listening to them. They have people listening to them.”

And that’s perhaps the most important lesson here. These professors and their students are not missionaries. They’re not here to tell Vietnamese clinicians, caregivers and patients what to do and how to do it, but instead they listen and learn, says DeMarco. “As professors we’re interested in helping students not understand research like they are reading it out of a book but understanding that it’s a relationship with people who have real experiences and in order to ask good questions and to figure out the answers to those questions you really have to get to know the problem, up close and personal.” 

And “up close and personal,” says DeMarco, is a step nearer to addressing the stigma of AIDS that keeps many from admitting a problem that is worldwide in scope — from Ho Chi Minh City to Boston.

'Trafficking' or Slavery?

By WGBH News & The Takeaway   |   Wednesday, June 20, 2012
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June 20, 2012
BOSTON — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 19 that currently there are "nearly 21 million people who have been sold for labor or the sex trade." And though the State Department's report is titled "Trafficking in Persons," Clinton changed the language, saying, "Labeling this for what it is, 'slavery,' has brought it to another dimension."
Is trafficking slavery?
"You find dozens of activists here in Vietnam and in Thailand, where I was just a couple days ago, who absolutely agree with that," said WGBH News' Phillip Martin, who is reporting on the issue in Southeast Asia. "They believe that what's happening is indeed slavery."
They believe the term "modern-day" slavery is inaccurate because "it's never stopped — it's simply that we are shocked by its existence."
Martin went to Southeast Asia because in the U.S., "many foreign victims are in fact of Thai origin," he said. A smaller number are from Vietnam and other countries in the region. Because Thailand is relatively prosperous, "you have large numbers of people who cross the borders" into that country, where they are then "dragooned into various occupations." He noted that being sold for labor is far more common than being sold into prostitution.
Trafficking, or slavery, means "treating a kid like a good, to be traded or to be sold," a French intelligence agent in the region told Martin.
As an example, take one 13-year-old victim, who now lives in a Thai-run shelter. "They asked me to go with them," he said through a translator. "They never tell me where they're from."
And while anti-slavery advocates haven't given up, the internet has made their work much harder, Martin said. "For the traffickers, it's more expedient — they're able to obfuscate or hide their acts a lot easier and they're able to carry out these transaction acts fairly easily … where money changes hands."
The reporting project is part of a fellowship from the International Center for Journalists. Martin's 2010 series on trafficking in New England won an Edward R. Murrow Award.
> > From NPR: A man forced to work on a Thai fishing boat makes a daring escape.

Martin talks with our partners at The Takeaway.

Lessons from the World's Poorest Neighborhoods

By Kara Miller   |   Friday, May 11, 2012
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Part 1: 

Part 2:

In this photo taken in February, Indian squatters sit on rented cots as they wake early in the morning at Park No. 2 near Jama Masjid in New Delhi, India. (AP)

What comes to mind with you think of Indian slums?

For many Americans, it’s the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.”

But for one scholar, India’s mega slums — places so big they could be cities by themselves — represent innovation. Innovation so remarkable that it may have lessons to teach the world.


Boston and the Great Potato Famine

By Jordan Weinstein   |   Tuesday, May 8, 2012
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March 9, 2012

boston irish potato famine memorial

The Boston Irish Famine Memorial commemorates the period that irretrievably shaped the character of Eastern Massachusetts. (Scott Carpenter/Flickr)
michael higgins and tom menino
The Irish president meets with Boston mayor Thomas Menino on May 4. (Isabel Leon, Mayor's Office)

BOSTON — Each year Ireland chooses one American city to help commemorate the Great Potato Famine. This year, Boston received that honor … and President Michael Higgins of Ireland visited the weekend of May 4 to observe the event. WGBH's Jordan Weinstein talked with Higgins during his Boston trip.
The famine led to the emigration of millions of Irish — many of whom came to the Bay State. In 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the city's population. "Boston is particularly important, of course, because such a very large wave of Irish came in different periods," Higgins said.

He noted that those different waves of emigration represented "different Irishnesses." The arrivals of 1848 were "poor Catholics that have nothing. They are in fact poor, ragged, they're carrying disease," Higgins said — and that caused some tensions.

About the Authors
Jess Bidgood Jess Bidgood
Jess Bidgood is's news editor and producer.
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

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Jordan Weinstein Jordan Weinstein
Jordan Weinstein is a news anchor for NPR's All Things Considered on WGBH, 89.7 FM in Boston.


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