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Meet the teacher pedalling knowledge to students amid pandemic |

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When the coronavirus pandemic closed Guatemala’s schools in mid-March, teacher Gerardo Ixcoy invested his savings in a second-hand adult tricycle.

Every day, the 27-year-old pedals through the cornfields of Santa Cruz del Quiche to give individual instruction to his sixth-grade students.

The classroom-on-a-trike idea was born when Ixcoy quickly realised there were challenges to remote learning in this farming community in Guatemala’s western highlands.

“I tried to get the kids their worksheets, sending instructions via WhatsApp, but they didn’t respond,” said Ixcoy, who tries to visit each of his students twice a week.

“The parents told me that they didn’t have money to buy data packages [for their phones] and others couldn’t help their children understand the instructions.”

The mobile classroom is fully equipped with plastic sheets to protect against virus transmission, a whiteboard and a small solar panel that powers an audio player he uses for some lessons.

Illiteracy in the area is about 42 percent, and only about 13 percent of homes have internet.

“The cellphones they have at home are very basic,” said Ixcoy, affectionately known in the area as Lalito 10. “They can’t download apps like Zoom that would allow you to give a virtual class.”

For the children, the classes break up the monotony of weeks in quarantine. Eleven-year-old Oscar Rojas waited anxiously in the doorway of his home in a black button-down shirt tucked into navy blue trousers. He lined up his notebooks and pencils and slipped on a face mask.

The pandemic has really altered the boy’s routine, “because now I’m not receiving normal classes,” he said. “Teacher Lalito only comes for a little while to teach me, but I learn a lot.”

In the afternoon, Ixcoy pedals home to beat the curfew. He and his wife Yessika and their 3-year-old son Dylan walk to a small plot of land they rented to grow corn as another source of income. They also planted a vegetable garden beside their home.

The families he serves often struggle to stave off hunger.

“One day the mother of a student told me they didn’t have food,” Ixcoy said. “When class ended, and I began to ride away on my tricycle she calls me and, with a look of gratitude, says, ‘Teacher, they gave me some food, I want to share half with you.'”

“I arrived home crying,” he recalled.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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‘Chad is not a monarchy’, rebels warn interim president 

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Gen Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno

Gen Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno

The son of the late President Idriss Deby Itno of Chad has been named interim president of the central African nation by a transitional military council.

Wednesday’s announcement comes a day after 37-year-old Gen Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno was named head of the 18-month council as the army announced the death of his 68-year-old father from injuries sustained while visiting troops on the front line.

A rebel force known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad, known by its French acronym FACT, has advanced from the north in recent days toward the capital, N’Djamena. The group had been based in neighbouring Libya. The rebel group released a statement Tuesday vowing to take the capital and depose the younger Deby.   
 
“Chad is not a monarchy,” the statement read. “There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country.”
 
A day before his death, the elder Deby was declared the winner of Chad’s April 11 election with 79 per cent of the vote, giving him a sixth term in office. Most opposition groups had boycotted the poll, citing arrests and a government ban on opposition rallies.  

Deby had ruled Chad since coming to power in a December 1990 coup, making him one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. Opponents called him an autocrat and criticized his management of Chadian oil revenue. In 2008, a different rebel force reached N’Djamena and came close to toppling Deby before French and Chadian army forces drove them out of the city.
 
In the West, however, Deby was seen as an important ally in the fight against Islamist extremist groups in West Africa and the Sahel, like Nigeria-based Boko Haram.
 
The Libya-based FACT had attacked a border post on the day of the election and then moved hundreds of kilometres toward the capital. On Monday, the Chadian army said it had inflicted a heavy loss on the rebels, killing more than 300 of them.



Source – observer.ug

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COVID vaccine scarcity and fake doses hamper efforts in Americas | Latin America News

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Amid a limited supply of vaccines, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise across the Americas, PAHO officials said.

Amid a scramble to secure enough coronavirus vaccines in the Americas, there are reports of fake doses proliferating on the black market in several countries in the region, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

“We have received some information from Mexico, Argentina and Brazil that some doses have been offered through social media, illegal markets offering vaccines that probably are falsified,” Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of PAHO said during a weekly news conference.

“They are not real vaccines or maybe they are stolen doses from a health facility that no one can assure that they were properly stored,” Barbosa said.

A woman receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, during a vaccination day campaign in Duque de Caxias near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pfizer had identified counterfeit vaccines in Mexico and in Poland. According to the report, 80 people in Mexico had been jabbed with fake doses in a clinic, after paying $1,000 per dose.

According to the report, the people who received the fake vaccines were not adversely affected. Citing authorities, the report said in Poland the fake vaccines were seized before they were administered.

During Wednesday’s news conference, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said the organisation was also concerned about vaccine hesitancy. She said “insidious rumours and conspiracy theories” were “inspiring fear and costing lives”.

She said PAHO was working with tech companies to tackle misinformation that has quickly proliferated on the internet and on social media sites.

“Because unreliable information spreads quickly, PAHO is collaborating with tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook to address fake news and ensure the public can easily find accurate information,” she said.

The reports of fake vaccines and vaccine hesitancy in the Americas came amid a scarce supply of vaccines in the region, and a rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Brazil has so far vaccinated 11.6 percent of its population and Mexico has vaccinated 8.7 percent. Other nations in the region are lagging behind [Ricardo Moraes/Reuters]

“Latin America is the region that currently has the greatest need for vaccines,” Etienne said, “this region should be prioritised for distribution of vaccines.”

“No one will be safe until we are all safe.”

Nearly half of the world’s coronavirus deaths during the weekend were in the Americas, Etienne said, adding that nearly every country in Central America is reporting a rise in infections. Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, she said were the worst hit.

“Over the weekend, the world reached a tragic milestone – more than three million have lost their lives to COVID, and nearly half of these deaths happened right here in the Americas,” Etienne said.

Chile is seeing a plateau in cases, while Brazil is reporting a drop. But despite the drop, Etienne said, cases in Brazil “remain alarmingly high.” Argentina ranked third regionally in the weekly number of new cases. Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Uruguay were also seeing a worsening. And Mexico, after weeks of decline in new cases, is seeing a slight increase.

Regionally, the United States and Chile have made the most progress in their vaccination campaigns – both have vaccinated about 40 percent of their population – according to Our World in Data.

Uruguay has inoculated more than 30 percent of its population while Brazil has so far vaccinated 11.6 percent and Mexico has vaccinated about 8.7 percent. Other nations in the region are lagging behind.

During the news briefing, officials said most of the region’s countries are relying on the global COVAX mechanism, which aims to equitably distribute vaccines to developing nations.

Etienne said more than 4.2 million vaccine doses have so far been supplied to 29 countries in the Americas through COVAX, and more doses are on the way.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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US commission: Put India, Russia on religious freedom blacklist | Human Rights News

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An independent United States’ commission has called for India, Russia, Vietnam and Syria to be added to a State Department blacklist on religious freedom.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent government panel that gives recommendations to presidential administrations and Congress, said the four countries should be designated as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) on the State Department list, which currently includes Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

In particular, the recommendation of India as a CPC, the second year the commission has done so, has in the past been controversial.

The report said the “religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory”, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government “promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom”.

It pointed to allegations of police complicity in violence against Muslims during deadly riots last year in New Delhi and continued concerns about a citizenship law championed by Modi that critics have said defines Muslims as non-Indian.

New Dehli did not immediately respond to the newest annual report, but last year dismissed the recommendation as “biased” and a “new level of misrepresentation”.

The report also said Sudan, Bahrain and Central African Republic no longer met the “high threshold” to be recommended for the State Department’s special watch list (SWL). All three countries had been recommended for that list in the previous annual report.

Biden administration recommendations

In further recommendations to the Biden administration, the commission called for a review of policies for blacklisted countries that currently have waivers in place to protect them from US penalties for abuses of religious liberties.

It called on the administration to review the waivers for Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan “and make appropriate policy changes to demonstrate meaningful consequences and encourage positive change commission”.

Commissioners also called on the Biden administration to raise its cap on refugee admissions. The administration has said it will announce a new cap by May 15, after facing blowback for plans to keep the administration of President Donald Trump’s historically low quota.

The Biden administration, the commission said, should also officially label the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar as “genocide” and lift the cap on refugee admissions.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Anurima Bhargava, a civil rights lawyer and vice chair of the commission, said they were urging “the administration to definitively and publicly conclude that the atrocities committed, and that are ongoing against the Rohingya people by the Burmese military constitute genocide, and acting accordingly, as a State Department recently determined regarding China’s genocide of Uighur and other Turkic Muslims.”

In China, the report said, religious freedom had again “deteriorated” in 2020, as the government targeted “religions perceived to have foreign connections, such as Christianity, Islam, and Tibetan Buddhism”. The commission cited reports the persecuted groups were subject to surveillance, detention, torture, and rape.

Commissioner, Johnnie Moore, a Trump appointee to the panel, said “the Democratically-appointed and Republican-appointed commissioners on this commission speak with one voice on the threats of the of the Communist Party in China.”

“This is the more than the consensus view, this has become the passion of this commission,” he said.

Coronavirus pandemic

The report released Wednesday also noted the effect of the coronavirus pandemic, with Chairwoman Gayle Conelly Manchin saying the pandemic had an overall net negative effect on freedom of religion.

While some restrictions on religious gatherings were in line with public health concerns, there were also instances “where minorities were targeted in a much stricter fashion and their activities restricted much more harshly than other religions”.

“There were countries that literally blamed the COVID-19 virus on a particular religion, that they were responsible for the spread of … the virus across their country,” she said.

The report specifically cited Dalits in India blamed for spreading the coronavirus, suggestions in Iran that the coronavirus was a Jewish conspiracy, Protestant Christians accused of spreading the virus in Russia, and a Saudi lockdown on the majority Shia province of Qatif.

Meanwhile, the commissioners praised some blacklisted countries, including Eritrea, for releasing religious prisoners during the pandemic.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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