OZY.com: The Shadow Society that Controls Female Bodies in Liberia

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, AUG 07 2017

The nation of Liberia has an intricate court system — comparable to that of the United States — but when 16-year-old Zaye Doe and a friend used offensive language during a disagreement last March, both had to answer to another institution: the country’s omnipresent Sande society.

The two teenagers appeared before Power Daywoe — a local female cleric and tribal leader known as a Zoe — who acted as judge, jury and enforcer. Daywoe found both girls guilty and then personally administered the sentence: forced female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM).

For Doe, however, the punishment turned into a death sentence. Days after the makeshift trial in the bush, she died en route to the hospital due to complications arising from the circumcision. Three weeks later, according to a program officer with the NGO Women Solidarity Incorporated, Daywoe performed the rite of passage on 25 additional girls.

In many parts of Liberia, the Sande reigns supreme as a female initiation society primarily responsible for the preparation of girls from the Mende ethnic group for adulthood. It’s also an arbiter of established social norms, and the one rite of passage the Sande will not let go of is female circumcision.

“[FGM] keeps [girls] married young,” says Grace Uwizeye, the Kenya-based program officer of the End FGM campaign organized by the international NGO Equality Now. “It cuts off their education [and] keeps them in one place in their lives. When you look at the causes of this negative cycle, you realize that because of FGM, so many other issues are affecting girls.”

Last summer, with the encouragement of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s parliament debated legislation that would criminalize domestic violence and supposedly ban FGM. But the Zoe who promote and perform FGM hold so much sway that in roughly two-thirds of Liberia, their blessing is critical for political or social influence and as a result, had the FGM provision excised from the bill. Despite its passage last fall, it raised a furor among women’s rights campaigners worldwide.

According to Uwizeye, the proposed ban would have done little to protect Liberian girls. Circumcisionwould have been available to females 18 and older. For girls younger than 18, the legislation would have left the decision to parents or guardians. “It was a loss, but the bill wasn’t comprehensive,” Uwizeye tells OZY. “If you read it, it wasn’t banning FGM. [It] would have still been carried out on the girls who ‘consented.’ Right now, we’re at small steps.”

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Currently, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund and other women’s groups are canvassing villages and towns surrounding Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, to convince the Zoe that FGM not only violates international humanitarian laws, but it also impairs women medically and psychologically. According to the World Health Organization, the consequences of FGM include severe pain, especially if nerve ending are severed, excessive bleeding, shock, genital tissue swelling, fistulas and chronic urinary or genital infections.

Equality Now and other groups are proposing new legislation, which would make FGM available only to girls age 18 and older. But it’s an election year, and few Liberians will go on the record as supporting the contentious issue. Sirleaf, 78, the country’s first female president and winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on women’s rights, will step down after 11 years, leaving Vice President Joseph Boakai pitted against former footballers, businessmen and ex-rebel leaders for the highest office in the land.

Protesters during the U.N. Population Fund’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, February 6, 2016

Protesters during the U.N. Population Fund’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, February 6, 2016

Several women’s groups have rallied behind Boakai, who is considered a progressive for serving under a woman president. But not even Sirleaf herself could surmount the entrenched power of the Sande society on many women’s issues, including FGM. “As a mother and a woman leader, the record is clear on my response to the issues of women and children, particularly in support of their economic participation, their participation in governance and their protection from violence,” Sirleaf said in an address to Parliament in January 2016 before introducing the domestic violence bill that included the FGM clause.

It’s not known exactly when or why the Sande came into existence — or, for that matter, how or why female circumcision became a right of passage. But a group called the National Council of Chiefs and Elders, formed by Sirleaf in 2012 to “to preserve, protect and foster positive Liberian traditions, cultural heritage and traditional institutions,” believes that circumcision is not solely a young woman’s choice but also the decision of chiefs and elders, parents and even the traditional cutters. As for alternatives proposed by medical and human rights groups, it can take six months or more of meetings before a community agrees to abandon FGM in favor of “nicks,” piercings or baths of milk and honey.

For now, Liberia remains deadlocked over the issue. Zaye Doe’s parents have filed a lawsuit against Power Daywoe and three associates for her death, although the family is under pressure from Zoe leaders to settle the grievance within the society. Meanwhile, local journalists such as Mae Azango, a reporter with the newspaper FrontPage Africa, have been forced into hiding for exposing the practices of the secret societies.

Still, Uwizeye of Equality Now notes progress. “When we started … in 2012 and even mentioned the word FGM during a public debate with local medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, everyone walked out,” Uwizeye says. “Now there is at least an open discussion in society about the things happening in the bush. And that is powerful.”

OZY.com: Arab Women's Quiet Revolution -- on the Tennis Court

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, AUG 01 2017

Motivation in sports occasionally can come from unexpected places. Consider Ons Jabeur, 22, a Muslim tennis player from Tunisia. Ranked No. 103 by the Women’s Tennis Association, she improbably found herself up a set on No. 6 Dominika Cibulkova in the second round of this year’s French Open. As Jabeur waited for her Slovakian opponent to serve, the soundtrack playing in her head belonged to … Eminem. “It depends on where I am in the match,” Jabeur tells OZY. “Sometimes ‘Beautiful,’ sometimes ‘One Shot’ helps me through.”

The unlikely mental boost from the Detroit rapper helped Jabeur surge to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Cibulkova, her first against a top-10 player. As Jabeur hoisted the Tunisian flag for all to see at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris, the moment belonged to her country — and to Arab women around the world.

Jabeur is in the vanguard of a trailblazing quartet of Islamic players from the Middle East and North Africa who are popularizing tennis in a region where for centuries Muslim women have had to be content with playing indoor sports while sequestered from the world. Along with Jabeur, three other pros — Cagla Buyukakcay (WTA ranking, No. 158) and Ipek Soylu (No. 162), both from Turkey, and Fatma al-Nabhani (No. 473), from Oman — are trying to level the playing fields for women.

Tournaments in Qatar, Dubai, Morocco and elsewhere also have helped to increase the profile of tennis in Islamic states. Only the 26-year-old Buyukakcay, though, has come out on top in the region’s competitions, winning the Istanbul Cup in 2016. Increasingly, Islamic players are questioning why more women like them aren’t in the draws and are challenging tournament directors to start investing some of the purse money, which usually goes to foreign players, into junior programs for young women with dreams of pursuing professional tennis.

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia bears down at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia bears down at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.

Prize money for women tennis players totaled $120 million in 2014, with a mere 1 percent of players pocketing 51 percent of those purses. Yet Middle Eastern players, many of whom are not among the ultra-rich, press on even as the cost of competing on the professional circuit hits about $160,000 per year. “As Arab women, we need to know that nothing is beyond our reach,” says al-Nabhani, 26, who lives and trains at home in Muscat. “Whether it is running a 10K or winning a Grand Slam, it is important we know that we can aim and achieve the highest honors. Things are changing rapidly in the Arab world, and it is time for us to ride the wave and grab the opportunities.”

Al-Nabhani rose through the junior ranks by practicing with her brothers. The reverent yet headstrong Omani wears a custom-made Nike kit, a three-quarter-sleeve top and leggings beneath her skirt. On court, she’s often seen looking for a nod of approval from her mother and coach, Hadia Mohammed, who always wears a black hijab and an abaya. Off the court, she speaks candidly about her situation, which is similar to that of other Islamic players. “It was a huge challenge being the only [woman] in the fray and doing something that hasn’t ever been heard of before in the region,” al-Nabhani says. “But I followed my passion and looked up to my brothers, who were competing. If my brothers were not there, I don’t know where I would have been.”

As a pro, al-Nabhani has so far notched four singles titles and four doubles titles on the WTA tour, in addition to competing for Oman in the 2016 Rio Olympics. But she’s still gunning for a Grand Slam appearance. Her older brother, Khalid, attributes the delay in part to a dearth of Gulf money for player development. “One of the biggest challenges is getting [sports officials] who see player development as a burden to understand that having world-ranked local players is very important for making the game popular within the country,” the elder al-Nabhani says. “I believe if the resourcesare available, [Fatma] is capable of reaching the top 100.”

Oman’s Fatma al-Nabhani at the Dubai WTA Open in 2012

Oman’s Fatma al-Nabhani at the Dubai WTA Open in 2012

That lofty perch has been within reach of Buyukakcay and Soylu, 21, who were the first Turkish women to compete in the main draw of a Grand Slam. (Both declined to comment for this article.) At the moment, only three spots separate Jabeur from becoming the first Middle Eastern woman to crack the top 100 in a generation. She kicked off the year by reaching the third round of the Australian Open, followed by a third-round appearance in the French Open. During the Wimbledon qualifiers, she beat No. 17 Asia Muhammad of the U.S. to make the main draw, but bowed out in the opening round. The Tunisian is ready to wrap up the year’s Grand Slam circuit by making a “good impression at the U.S. Open,” practicing at home when “it’s very hot so I can get used to the weather in New York.”

In June, Jabeur, who also grew up in a tennis family and competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, was one of 12 players to receive a $50,000 grant from the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund, which aims to alleviate the competition costs of up-and-coming players and slot them in Grand Slam draws. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m winning matches,” Jabeur says. “It’s allowing me to relax a bit, have fun and play better.”

But not completely. Not until she channels Eminem all the way to a Grand Slam trophy. “Tunisia is a very small country, and when someone is doing well, you cannot just say you are playing for yourself,” she says. “We have a lot of successful women in Tunisia, and for me it’s an honor to be one of them and to encourage other women to believe in themselves.”

OZY.com: The Playwright Setting Fire to the Race Card

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, JUL 27 2017

The man at the tattoo booth looks clean-cut and friendly as he offers bystanders a selection of images to stamp on their skin. Once they step closer, however, and see that the temporary tattoos are symbols of white supremacy — the Iron Cross, SS Bolts — the attendees of 3/Fifths, a multimedia play in New York City, appear visibly unnerved.

An absorbing — and at times horrifying — interactive drama spanning three hours and several hundred square feet at the 3LD Art & Technology Center, 3/Fifthsfeatures a “noose-making” stand, a satirical “Selfies With Homies” photo booth and a video game called “Rough Ride,” in which players use controls to shake an animated van and watch as a Freddie Gray-like figure gets hurled around. Following the interactive piece, titled the “Atrocity Carnival,” audience members watch a stage production recounting the story of “SupremacyLand,” the white-power theme park they just unwittingly patronized.

The “Reasons to Be Lynched” booth at 3/Fifths

The “Reasons to Be Lynched” booth at 3/Fifths

In the back stands James Scruggs, surveying the mixed crowd drawn to his absurdist, incendiary social experiment. “Even in print reviews, white people … said they were uncomfortable. At first, I thought, Nice! As a Black man, I feel uncomfortable most of the time,” says Scruggs, 61, an easygoing man with a graying beard and a boyish enthusiasm for pushing boundaries. “But then I realized that anything that makes them feel uncomfortable has traditionally put a stop to the conversation, and racism is at a point where white people have to be able to talk without walking away.”

New Yorkers may be willing to engage on hot-button topics, but as Americans enter another summer in which the racial barometer ticks higher — starting with the acquittals in May and June of two police officers charged with killing Black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and St. Paul, Minnesota, and the armed takedown of Civil War monuments in the South — a show like 3/Fifths could inch these uneasy talks forward. Or it could further stoke the flames of discord.

A scene from “SupremacyLand,” the staged production portion of 3/Fifths

A scene from “SupremacyLand,” the staged production portion of 3/Fifths

And 3/Fifths — referring to the slavery and congressional representation clause in the U.S. Constitution — aggressively avoids any middle ground. From the point of entry, attendees tell a blind ticket-taker whether they want to participate in 3/Fifths as a Black or a white person — and their foreheads get marked with their chosen color. Then there’s the N word affixed to all the Black workers’ name tags. Finally, the stage play tells the story of a Black ex-convict who takes the only job he can find — at SupremacyLand.

Race holds center stage throughout, as white audience members confront the prejudice and cruelty of their ancestors while Blacks bear witness to the degradation of their people, from slavery to the present injustices of the prison industrial complex. The performance is an endurance test for the audience — and demands enormous fortitude of its actors, who spend hours simulating barbaric acts. “At the end of every night, we had to reclaim ourselves,” Scruggs says of the cast.

Scruggs grew up in blue-collar New Jersey and attended the School of Visual Arts film school in New York. After “sweeping floors at some major studios,” he eventually got hired as the technical director for Windows on the World, atop the former World Trade Center. On September 11, when 74 of his co-workers died in the terrorist attacks, he says he “decided to not be apologetic anymore and not be afraid to do my art.”

3/Fifths actors are made to dance in a sort of minstrel show.

3/Fifths actors are made to dance in a sort of minstrel show.

Disposable Men, his first major show (in 2005), juxtaposed images from horror movies with the mistreatment of Black men in America. It caught the attention of New York’s experimental scene, and he went on to create multimedia productions about Black coming-of-age, celebrity worship and sexual violence for such venues as Dixon Place and the Tribeca Arts Center.

Eager to revisit the themes in Disposable Men, Scruggs used funds from an Andrew Mellon Foundation MAP grant to research African-American history and the culture of slavery, lynching and post-Reconstruction America. The experience was wrenching. “I could sit through all of the horrible photos during the day, but show a commercial with a puppy on TV and I would cry for hours,” he says.

From those efforts 3/Fifths was born, a work that breaks new ground visually and conceptually, with immersive video, performance, music and radical interactivity. What’s more, according to Kevin Cunningham, executive artistic director of 3-Legged Dog, the company that produced 3/Fifths, it is innovative because it has a social conscience but doesn’t preach — “and there are very few artists who can pull that off.” Cunningham continues: “The idea that we are post-racial — that the harms have been addressed — is a lie. James created a situation in which people who came were able to strip that away, and realize this is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed.”

Audience members learn how to make a noose during the ”Atrocity Carnival.”

Audience members learn how to make a noose during the ”Atrocity Carnival.”

It was a sentiment I heard echoed by many who attended 3/Fifths over Memorial Day weekend. “It’s an authentic representation of the marginalization of Black people throughout our history,” a Black audience member told me, though she declined to give her name. “The Black experience is still up for interpretation, while other atrocities, such as the Holocaust, are given truisms.”

Now that 3/Fifths has completed its run in New York, Scruggs, Cunningham and company hope to take the show on the road this fall to Boston, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. For Scruggs, it would be a “dream come true” to extend the tour through the South next year; he’s currently applying for grants to make it happen.

Till then, he’s relying on audiences to push the dialogue about race forward, and he’s found voices in surprising places. “It’s the international reaction that has interested me the most,” he says. “I’ve had people from Brazil and Canada come up and say that it’s not their history, but they could completely relate … I guess 3/Fifths is universal in that every culture has someone to look down upon.”

OZY.com: Could This Former Soldier Help Stitch Together Peace After ISIS

Mark Clark with Prince Feisal Ibn Al-Hussein.

Mark Clark with Prince Feisal Ibn Al-Hussein.

static1.squarespace.jpg

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, JUL 12 2017

It was nearly sundown on a summer Thursday, and Mark Clark needed a run. Exiting the lobby of the U.N. Plaza Hotel, he started at a brisk pace amid swirling thoughts of U.N. agencies, plans for the international nongovernmental organization he oversees and his wife’s impending delivery of twins. He picked up speed and completed six miles before heading back — a brief respite before work demands and fatherhood would pin him down.

But Clark, 43, the seemingly unflappable former soldier and Edinburgh-trained lawyer who leads Generations for Peace (GFP), a global peace-building initiative founded by Jordan’s Prince Feisal Ibn Al-Hussein — King Abdullah II’s younger brother — didn’t show any signs of fatigue. In fact, he was still on message as we jogged along the East River. “We aim at an understanding that peace is a process, not a destination,” Clark said, drawing from speeches he’d made to the U.N. powers that be earlier that day.

Operating under a topsy-turvy world order when he was tapped to run GFP just before the Arab Spring in 2011, Clark already had a hefty mandate in convincing youth to give peace a chance. Jump to today’s global turmoil and it’s either Clark’s perfect storm, or a tempest that could knock him and GFP off their ballast. In May, amid suicide attacks from ISIS and other fundamentalist groups in London, Kabul and Iran, the Trump administration proposed scrapping U.S. grants to programs whose missions include “countering violent extremism” (CVE) — a key area of work for GFP — to redirect money to organizations that focus exclusively on Islamic extremism.

If Clark were to incorporate an “Islam” focus to amplify GFP’s CVE projects around the world, the organization stands to receive more American dollars. But if he stays true to his conviction that “Islam is not the common thread of terrorist attacks,” Clark and groups like GFP could see their U.S. donors move toward more radical, less effective organizations.

Speaking by phone a month before Trump’s announcement, Clark stressed that violent extremism springs from “a core dynamic: the dream of a life of significance through struggle and sacrifice in comradeship.” An April study, focused on GFP’s backyard in Jordan and run by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, backs Clark’s theory. It found that economic deprivation, substandard education and the presence of radical Islamist discourse contribute to the problem, “but the fundamental concern is that Jordan’s booming youth population has no emotive attachment to Jordanian identity and thus little stake in political order.”

With satellite offices in Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Bosnia, GFP is headquartered in Amman, Jordan, a country hosting 1.4 million Syrian refugees that is also the third-largest contributor of foreign fighters to the conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq. To support its volunteers, GFP maintains a network of mentors providing advice and encouragement in the peace-building process. “Many other NGOs and organizations offer trainings, but do so little in follow-up that they come to be viewed as CV-building exercises to get a job or scholarship overseas,” Clark said. GFP, by contrast, builds long-term relationships with its volunteers and invests in their ongoing development.

Founded in 2007, Generations for Peace relies on a mentoring model to draw youth away from groups like ISIS, al-Qaida, Ansar al-Sharia and Hezbollah that appeal to their idealism while offering to pay them for “glamorous” jobs. GFP helps young people resist the lure of extremist indoctrination by giving them reasons to stay and make their communities more resilient and harmonious. It recruits volunteers from conflict areas and trains them in peace-building, fund-raising and community mobilization, then sends those volunteers into towns to teach teenagers about unity and collaboration through team sports or art projects. GFP then relies on those students to grow into teachers for future generations.

Clark, who was working in Iraq as an advisor to the National Olympic Committee, came to the nonprofit through a happenstance meeting with Prince Feisal, then president of the Jordan Olympic Committee. But it’s Clark’s background as a captain in the British Army that makes him a near-perfect fit for the job, according to Jean-Christophe Nothias, editor-in-chief of the Geneva-based Global Journal. Once Clark consolidated his key resources at GFP, Nothias says he conducted a “forced march” over a three-year period to scale up operations in the Middle East.

Generations for Peace volunteers in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Generations for Peace volunteers in Tripoli, Lebanon.

Still, there are major challenges — like Syria’s border camps, where some 80,000 refugees rely on dribs and drabs of international aid, or pay off guards so they can leave and stake a new claim with nothing but their sand-blasted U.N. tarps. Into this setting, on a Saturday in late October, three college-age GFP volunteers arrived at a community center in Mafraq, a storefront strip near Zaatari, to coach a group of Syrian and Jordanian teenage girls in the art of acceptance.

“When I first got here, I was hiding my nationality to gain friends,” said Haneen, a 16-year-old refugee from Homs, Syria. “My sister left the school because she hated it — she didn’t feel she fit in.” At this, Haneen turned to her Jordanian friend Fati, who said she came to the GFP sessions “just to see Haneen.”

Skeptics might question whether such an unlikely friendship will endure, but Clark is sold on exchanges such as these. Nothias agrees: “Asking youths rather than governments to bring about peace may sound a bit naive,” he says. “But when you face GFP’s army of young, articulate, peace-pushing volunteers, then you understand that something big is going on here.”

OZY.com Can He Help Keep the World in One Piece?

108702_gettyimages453829754.jpg

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, MAY 30 2017

In January 2014, Ken Payumo, head of the United Nations Peacekeeping compound in Bor, South Sudan, a city on the frontlines of an emerging civil war, sat in his cramped shipping container office. The previous week, thousands of people had filtered past the UN’s walls seeking safety, as government forces fought to retake the city from rebel militias. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army succeeded, and a key government official approached Payumo about surveying the camp — accompanied by 80 heavily armed soldiers looking to kill rebel sympathizers.

“As they approached, it was clear their intentions were not good,” Payumo recalls. “When I told them to lay down their weapons and their cameras and they tried to make their way past me, saying, ‘This is our country, our government; you can’t tell us where to go,’ I gave the command to close the compound.” He pauses, fidgeting with a blue peacekeeper’s helmet on a desk littered with situation reports and operation manuals from various missions. “The gates slamming shut was probably the loudest sound I’d ever heard … then the soldiers cocked their weapons at me.” Payumo can’t recall if the standoff “lasted hours or minutes,” but as soon as the military left, he called headquarters to request reinforcements at the Bor compound — and was evacuated for his own safety.

As the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) prepares to close its mission in Haiti — the first of three scheduled for 2017 — while facing a new, reformist UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, and questions surrounding the murder in May of two peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the reputation of the Blue Helmets is at stake. Lurid tales of sexual abuse, including a sex ring exploiting Haitian children, have surfaced, along with accusations of peacekeepers causing cholera outbreaks or standing idly by during attacks, according to an internal UN report.

Payumo, 48, chief of the Peacekeeping Operations Support Section, will not only play a hand in drawing down operations in Haiti, Liberia and the Ivory Coast, but he’ll also continue to help oversee the safety of the 86,000 UN peacekeeping troops and 20,000 civilian personnel deployed worldwide. In addition, the former New York police officer and Justice Department attorney will likely be called to assist the United Nations in rethinking its peacekeeping agenda, as Guterres considers an overhaul amid criticism and threatened U.S. funding cuts.

American taxpayers are responsible for about 28 percent of the UN DPKO budget — or $2.2 billion of the $7.87 billion department. The new U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, wants more than across-the-board prioritizing, however; she has demanded a mission-by-mission review of peacekeeping.

WITHOUT US, WHO TELLS THE WORLD WHAT IS GOING ON?

KEN PAYUMO, UN PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS SUPPORT SECTION CHIEF

For Payumo, the cuts will mean doing more with even less. Based in New York, he oversees security assistance, particularly crisis support management, to all UN peacekeeping missions. The UN currently has 16 operations deployed on four continents, which, Payumo estimates, is the highest number of substantial missions in the organization’s history. When any of them encounters trouble, Payumo gets the call, fielding upward of 7,500 emails per day. “[The things] that come into my inbox or [the people who] call at 2 a.m., at times they can be daunting and include major crises involving whole countries, such as South Sudan [or] the hostage-taking of UN personnel,” he says. A career that demands travel to the furthest reaches of the world and a mind capable of imagining every possible emergency scenario would exhaust many, but for Payumo, it’s “addictive.”

The son of an Iranian doctor and a Filipino nurse, Payumo arrived at the UN 17 years ago and was immediately dispatched to East Timor — one of the bloodiest peacekeeping sites at the time — to provide guidance after the colony declared independence from Indonesia. Once on the ground, he helped pick up the pieces after militias had moved village to village, burning houses to the ground, killing more than 20,000 and forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands of East Timorese.

After his stint in East Asia, the UN sent the battle-tested Payumo to South Sudan to become head of office for the oil-rich Unity State before settling Jonglei State, a region hit with some of the heaviest fighting and casualties since South Sudan became a country in 2011. “Bor’s duty station was characterized as a red state — the most hazardous and dangerous condition in peacekeeping,” says Alfred Zulu, a human rights officer stationed in South Sudan. “Yet, at any time, Ken would readily join human rights investigations in the field, something that was highly unusual for someone at his level.”

Recent research supports Payumo’s insistence that the UN DPKO does indeed help and is an important mechanism for maintaining harmony in the countries that request it. According to a study published in Peace Operations Review, the presence of a UN peacekeeping mission can reduce the risk of relapse into conflict by 75 to 85 percent. But the same study found that, despite a number of reforms, the resulting structure is no longer fit to fulfill the functions needed. Instead, the organization has become hobbled by new problems, such as fragmentation that undermines coherent action on peace-building and peacekeeping, competition between the political affairs and peacekeeping departments, and delays in mission startup.

But Payumo remains steadfast. “I can’t picture a world without the UN. All the locations where we work are bad. And without us, who tells the world what is going on?” His commitment is to a UN facing its worst crisis since 1946, with more than 20 million people threatened with starvation due to warfare in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, and five million Syrians fleeing their country’s protracted civil war. Payumo, who is married to a fellow UN worker, recently returned from Syria and described the circumstances as “surreal.”

Still, he’s quick to bring up East Timor to illustrate the UN’s capacity to rebuild countries. “We had to pick up the pieces and start a new country literally from ashes,” Payumo says. That was when he decided to remain with the organization.

Colleagues like Alfred Zulu say Payumo represents the new UN leader — a person with both diplomatic and “field experience” heading to the executive office. For his part, Payumo can’t predict the next 24 hours, let alone the next several years. “I could have never known that when I started in the UN I would go from legal adviser to security coordination for all peacekeeping,” he says.

Nor does he have a crystal ball to foresee what lies ahead: “I can’t say if the world is getting safer, but I can definitely say that the world is more complex in its issues, threats and solutions.”

  • Adrian Brune, OZY Author

OZY.com: The United Nations Therapy Dog -- Because sometimes a little fuzzy love helps world peace

By Adrian Brune

THE DAILY DOSE, APRIL 3, 2017

It’s just after noon at the United Nations Staff Counsellor’s Office, and Chloe, the resident therapy dog, has already earned her keep — as well as that office catnap, er, pup-nap.

Since Chloe’s arrival that morning, some 10 U.N. staffers have received a quick nuzzle or kiss from the 5-year-old English bulldog, who wags her bottom half with abandon as she waddles over to greet new arrivals. While it might be a stretch to say that Chloe is more popular than the new secretary-general António Guterres, since her introduction to the U.N. in early February, she has been booked solid, visiting more than 300 employees around the Secretariat campus, during open office hours or just saying hello to stragglers who swing by hoping for a bit of C-time.

Chloe’s presence at the U.N. isn’t frivolous, argues Dawn Straiton, chief of the U.N. Staff Counsellor’s Office and a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Straiton is Chloe’s owner and handler, and handles almost all of the associated costs. According to a 2013 report commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on its mental health and psychosocial support, 19 percent of international aid workers described clinically significant post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. The same report indicated that 46 percent of repatriated international staff — which describes many staffers at the U.N. headquarters — suffered from moderate or high levels of PTSD symptoms, which can persist for years after field postings in high-stress environments.

“A therapist is good, but sometimes, especially when I’m busy with work, I want to clear out my head, but not by talking it out,” says Christiaan Lampinen, an editorial assistant with the U.N. Department of Public Information whose office is on the list for a Chloe visit.

A 2014 study, “Are Therapy Dogs Like Xanax?”, published in the journal Anthrozoös, asked participants to write about traumatic situations. Those who did so in the presence of a therapy dog exhibited less distress than those in a room without one. Those with a dog present also showed significant decreases in depressive symptoms after the task. For delegates from far-flung countries who often work without family, friends or pets nearby while juggling starvation prevention in Yemen and engaging nuclear North Korea, Chloe is a welcome respite.

105469_IMG_0018.JPG

Animals have been used in health care as far back as 1792 — in the late 1800s, Florence Nightingale wrote about using small animals in the treatment of isolated patients. Disaster Stress Relief Dog teams have responded to the aftermath of tornadoes in Oklahoma, the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and even at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The field of animal-assisted therapy has become increasingly normal in therapeutic care over the past decades. “Thirty years ago, you would seldom hear of an animal program at a nursing home, and now you seldom hear of a nursing home without one,” says Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University and a pioneering researcher who helped establish the field of anthrozoology. It’s the same, he says, for child therapists.

But Beck and other therapists caution that animals’ primary purpose, especially in counseling sessions, is almost always used to “set the mood” for other interventions. The animal itself isn’t therapy, Beck says — rather, the animal functions as an aide to help the patient reach a calm state.

In the face of the Trump presidential administration, with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley charged with representing Donald Trump’s interests at the U.N. Security Council and other pressing meetings, Chloe could offer some calm to an international Secretariat staff who aren’t all on board with the changes — like a possible 40 percent cut in voluntary funding for key U.N. agencies, including UNICEF and the World Food Program. Add that to the normal melee of working in one of the world’s foremost governmental bodies, not to mention the scandals over the oil-for-food program and alleged sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

Ah, but Chloe is blissfully unaware of such global chaos! From an early age, Chloe was “playful and gentle” says Straiton, who adopted Chloe at the age of 3 months and regularly brought the dog to visit her father, a dementia patient at a veterans’ nursing home. Encouraged by patients and doctors, Straiton took Chloe to train as an official therapy dog — the course ensured she was ready to be petted, to meet other dogs and play nicely and to cozy up properly to kids, among other skills. A good therapy dog must be cheery, friendly and able to get along with all sorts of people — in other words, they need to outshine even most diplomats.

For the most part, the buttoned-up, well-attired staffers rushing among their offices and the conference rooms of the Le Corbusier–designed Secretariat Building are fans of Chloe. In an August 2016 survey, 85 percent of respondents said they were “neutral to strongly” supportive of animal-assisted therapy at their U.N. work location. Those who interacted with Chloe reported positive reactions such as increased happiness, decreased pain and reduced anxiety or depression. These effects lasted from a few minutes to a few hours. But as with all U.N. employees, Chloe’s contract is subject to renewal — in her case at the end of July.

And there are some critics. The U.N. should “take into account the larger dysfunction of the organization that actually makes the staff insecure and promotes [an] unhealthy working environment,” argues a political officer with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, who cannot speak to the press on official matters.

Others would like more. How about some cats, for good measure?