International Student Workers

This post is an update on the international student workers situation (previous post here describes the discovery of abuses that have occurred): as before most of the 220 foreign students here have good employers and respond with smiles and assurance they are enjoying themselves when we stop to talk.

Actions taken by islanders who care: one sponsor did reassign students to a different location; I have spoken to another happily rehoused and in a different job on the island; and, systemically, the housing issue has been raised at Town Council and is on the Agenda soon for further action, a community group has formed coordinated by the BI Residents Association (BIRA), and various further actions are being carried out (creation of “bill of rights”, “needs for employer/employee orientation process”, “letters to sponsors and state department” …etc.).

So – to all who enjoy having the students and who employ them with grace and generosity, knowing that happy workers are in everyone’s best interests – you keep going – we are looking to see what works and works well. And to anyone not in that position, well, we are looking. Why not approach (BIRA or the new group, ISW Committee) and



for everyone!!

This may be a ‘tourist’ island, but it does not put profit before people, and most of us know that without the people there wouldn’t be any profit anyway if that happened to be your driving motivation.

PS – I am solely responsible for this post, so opinions and inaccuracies (if any) are down to me, not BIRA nor ISW.

Please help: Military Solutions = People’s Pain

Uh – oh – here we go again…

Regular readers will know that I occasionally do some editing work to help out a wonderful Pakistani organisation called Khwendo Kor (Sisters’ Home).  From a beginning in 1993, women from the North West Territories of Pakistan have worked in their villages to address the needs of women in one of the most challenging areas of the world. Education, health, micro-finance loans, rehabilitation, whatever, the numbers who have been helped to sustain better lives now run in to tens of thousands.

The setbacks have been dire, from earthquake to Taliban death threats, and deaths, and, since 2001, the effects of the “War on Terror”. Now, the Pakistan government has begun a long-awaited military campaign “in a Taliban-dominated part of Pakistan‘s borderlands, years after the US first demanded action”. [see reports of the offensive Guardian 15th June, and the consequent displacement of about half a million refugees, Guardian 16th June ]

Uh – oh – where KK works.

Afraisiab Khattak, a senator for the state of Bannu in this region has said:

“North Waziristan has been on the anvil for a very, very long time and the government should have been prepared for every eventuality… Unfortunately in our country we only think of military aspects of an operation and no one bothers with the humanitarian crisis.”

So below is a way in which some help can reach the Humanitarian Crisis: (copied from Friends of Khwendo Kor)


Dear Supporters,

We are asking for your help in meeting an urgent appeal from Khwendo Kor (KK). In brief the Pakistan Government has launched military operations in North Waziristan, a part of the Tribal Areas where KK works and from which, as it happens, Maryam Bibi, KK’s founder and Chief Executive, herself comes. The result is a flood of refugees, no one knows how many, but certainly in the hundreds of thousands. Their plight is dire, they are moving from the cool of the hills to the stifling heat of the plains, women are giving birth and children are dying of diarrhoea on the roads, public transport is effectively absent, and private transport is iniquitously expensive. The provincial government of Baluchistan has closed its borders to refugees thus adding to the problems faced by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to the Guardian ( the only camp that has been set up lacks food, water and electricity.

However, there is hope. KK is working with a volunteer group in Islamabad which is raising money for them to provide an immediate practical response. Maryam has been to Bannu, assessing the situation on the ground and developing KK’s plans. KK is also in active contact with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, UNICEF, and the disaster management Fund of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, and is preparing a proposal for the US government aid programme. They have also been contacted by an influential member of Amnesty International who is in the UK and have advised him to channel any funds through FROK.

The economy and competing demands make this a difficult time for any appeal. There are, however, reasons why we in FROK should respond as generously as we can and ask our friends and families to do the same:

  • This is a top priority for KK and a chance for us to show our solidarity with them in their dangerous and essential work
  • Money for KK will be put to good use and also increase its credibility and consequent ability to leverage larger funds, and influence others to provide a combined effective response
  • KK is already working in North Waziristan which is a particularly dangerous and strategically sensitive part of the Tribal Areas. Anything that they do now to help the IDPs in their hour of need can only help to consolidate their base there for the longer term
  • There is little international press coverage of this situation. We know about it and are in a position to give a little help. Surely it is up to us to do so.

To donate:

  1. Via the FROK Just Giving website – – please indicate that your donation is for the Waziristan Appeal and whether you wish it to be a Zakat donation*
  2. Via the FROK website, and follow donation instructions, again indicating that your donation is for the Waziristan Appeal and whether you wish it to be a Zakat donation
  3. By texting to 7070 ‘FROK10£[number of pounds from 1 to 10 as you choose]’
  4. By making out a CAF or other cheque to FROK and sending to Jonathan French, FROK Treasurer, 85, East Parade, Heworth, York, YO31 7YD. If donating by cheque, please tell Jonathan by letter or email ( if you are UK taxpayer (so that he can reclaim tax) and that you want the money to go to the Waziristan appeal. Please also tell him if you wish it to be a Zakat donation

To follow what is happening:

KK will be putting up pictures and news on their website – . We will also put a link to this on the FROK website – – and Facebook page by 4th July.


* Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) recognizes that every donor supports programs in their own way. Therefore, we provide a variety of ways to donate so you can choose the one that is most appropriate to you:



Beach days begin

My three granddaughters and friends at Scotch Beach yesterday. The sun is shining again today, the last day of school. I went swimming too – feel ancient when I see how the girls have grown-up  – where did the time go? Feel great when I am in the water… later … a lot of sleep!!

IMG_4937 IMG_4940 IMG_4939

Oh Gosh … I didn’t know that

Every so often I am reminded that like most people I go about in a sort of nearly-in-the-world way, that is, my life is filled with my own stuff. (Nice too, often enough) Then, something happens and there it is again … real … and it was there to be seen/known, but I just didn’t see it. I wasn’t paying attention.

On Wednesday evening I went to The Island Free Library to hear Raul Mickle tell us about the foreign workers on the island for the summer season. Like everyone, I knew there were lots of young people now here with non-english accents, riding bikes, carting the laundry baskets, on the desks/tills at re-opened outlets, etc. I lumped them in with the requests for summer housing, the folk on the library lawn using the free wifi, the summer people… all sorts of people. I knew the Rec room at the church was being used … I thought for more wifi access, social stuff, brownies and coffee, a bit of english as a foreign language … well it is … but what a lot more!!!

Now, I know:

The Department of State sponsors a J-i Visa program for foreign students The Summer Work Travel program provides foreign students with an opportunity to live and work in the United States during their summer vacation from college or university to experience and to be exposed to the people and way of life in the United States.

Throughout the United States – there are foreign students working, getting this experience. US way of life – all available…

The program works through “sponsors” that is companies who find the students and connect them with employers

sponsors! ?? New word definition here!
Each student pays at least $6000 to these commercial “sponsors” to get on the program

each student is vetted, their families and college/university records vetted before the visa is granted, each stage at some cost

the students have all kinds of skills, majoring in every subject you can think of

they are pre-assigned by the ‘sponsors’ to employers

There are at least 220 students on this island who have gone through this process to come here and do the menial work for minimum wage as they are assigned. These are top-of-the class young people, from all around the world.

MANY, maybe most, have a great employer and a great time, they even return.


who vets the sponsors or the employers??

The rules are strict. Students arrive here, off the boat, before they have worked a day:

pay for their housing… Block Island summer worker housing!!! … (for those readers not on BI, at its worst this can be a shared shack, room above a garage, no bathroom (you go at your work), no lock for your door, nowhere to cook or eat…)

might pay for a bicycle to get to work

might pay for T-shirts or other uniform for their work

might work only as assigned by the schedule given, that day or just before, or before the season gets started, sorry no work yet, but you still pay for all of the above..

Gosh – I didn’t know that

There are a few examples given: the student spotted paying for bananas at the store with a credit card (parents had sent it over as there was no money left at all and earnings were paying off the debts arrival had incurred); another in her first two weeks had been given so few hours that she had paychecks of about $90 and $100– but rent of $125 is taken out, uniform T-shirt cost $30 (what kind of profit was that?) – so effectively she is now “owned by the company store”; Some have been told – you can’t be paid until you have a social security number – not true – work done can be paid as soon as it is done; Some have even been threatened: your visa can be withdrawn, if you look for other work you can be sent home, etc.

Worst of all – there is a ‘hotline’ to the sponsors, and one to the State Department, so that complaint can be made – ha ha – those who have tried this have been patronised at best “Just take time to settle in/ try another few weeks/” or dismissed “The rules are quite clear”.

It is not, or not just, “A bad employer problem”. Not just one or two ‘bad apples’. There is a systemic fault here – which is desperately similar to all kinds of abuse cases wherever it occurs. Victims are doubly abused as those who should hear, do not want to listen.

Gosh – but I did know that – there is room for abuse everywhere and if you pay attention you will see it. So start looking.

Thanks to Socha and Raul who arranged the library talk. Now we are looking and communicating.  All the really really good BI employers and wonderful students will get their credit as well as their experiences to be valued.

And where there is abuse, we will be finding it. I think I am about to make some more friends too – off to socialize down at the rec center at the church – off to plan a campaign. Get out a fact sheet, etc. To employers and students, we can work together on this.

Block Island community strikes again!




Capitalism or Socialism?

The guardian newspaper has an article titled “Capitalism is doomed if ethics vanish says Carney” (he is governor of The Bank of England so hopefully he is in a position to speak knowledgeably enough).
First sentence of the article:
Capitalism is at risk of destroying itself unless bankers realize they have an obligation to create a fairer society, the Bank of England governor has warned.
Just bankers?
Some of us think all of us have this obligation…
Destroying itself?
What about us/society – if an ideology comes to an end at its own hand is that a problem?

Read on… Third para
“We simply cannot take the capitalist system, which produces such plenty and so many solutions, for granted. Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital, but investment in social capital”

I don’t get it
Plenty for whom?
think slavery colonialism bonded servitude tied agricultural/mine/factory workers etc as well as many other known ways of producing plenty… or… is it not the bounty of the earth and people’s work with it that produces whatever is produced?

And … So many solutions? Forgive me for again thinking that it is people who find solutions to a variety of problems

Of course I find it better rather than worse if a person with influence like Carney thinks ethics should be inserted into banking. However I understand ethics as a way of thought [thought being a product of an emotionally integrated mind, sorry that I feel I need to add this as too many seem to still define thought as some sort of rationality logical only process divorced from the body-mind in which it is found]. So ethics grows as people do, among other things, immature, mature, and/or with thought compartmented or integrated and open to change.

The article continues referring to ideas like social capital. I felt it shows how someone cannot, [not 'will not', 'cannot'] think outside this box, the box of capitalist ideology.

Almost everything in it that is proposed as a ‘good’ could be proposed in equal measure by socialism or green politics, or whatever. Such things are not the province of capitalism, nor any other system.

However, my quarrel with capitalism is not that many of its champions can’t think outside its box, it is that it seems at its heart to function through exploitation. Some part of society somewhere is used or abused by some other. And, often, some part of irreplaceable earth is used or abused for short-term gain. Piece-meal we decide that the ‘kids in factories’ mode of production is reprehensible. What about the kids in homes where mother and father are factory fodder? Using others’ labour for the gain of some is not ethical. Using the planet without seeing that it too has reaction to our action is not wise.

If any system is to attempt to be ethical, it has to start with a recognition of connections, we are all connected, to each other (and to the earth and the universe). So we start with risk, not knowing, only with direction towards something that might sustain, rather than something that we know will exploit. [This is why I cannot vote 'conservative' or 'national']. We look after those who are dependent (permanently or briefly through young/old age or through infirmity) and we work with others, not in competition. Pick your own detail after this, the devil is indeed in there.

Socialism anyone? As far as I know it has never been tried. But, I do not mind if capitalism destroys itself.

Another way of saying that is that more people’s thought would open up to different possibility. Unlike Carney, each would find their own way to think outside their box.

I am glad I am not a politician.

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Leaving… again…

Those who follow my meanderings, know that I not only meander in writing, but travel the world in “love-miles”. I live in either of Edinburgh, Scotland or Block Island, USA and also manage fairly regular visits to New Zealand and China. In this peripatetic coming and going there is quite a lot of leaving those I love. A few years ago I wrote about it [poems on leaving and loss]. Tonight, again, my suitcase is packed. I realise I feel quite differently from just a few years ago.

On this visit to Edinburgh, I have caught up with friends, with a great deal of unexpected pleasure.  One of the best experiences was the evening Neill showed me the “Scottish Mystery Book Sculptures” in the National Library of Scotland. There are others elsewhere in Scotland, a mystery because the sculptor remains anonymous and has gifted these intricate evocative creations to book – lovers. It is utterly wonderful, and of course it is not just because they are worth seeing, it is because this art is a gift.

So, for this and other reasons, I find I feel very different about leaving. I am glad I am here now, I will be glad tomorrow. A second verse for the “nothing is as it seems” poem of 2009.

Leaving in May 2014

Nothing is as it seems
Love, loving
Inspired by your dreams
Hope and despair link
Crossing, weaving,
weaned from loss.
I choose.
An ever present theme.


A double life

For now, I am living a double life, most of the time I live in Block Island, USA, but I have just returned for a brief visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, which is where I have lived for longer than anywhere else. I first came here in 1990. What is it like to be in Edinburgh, in May 2014? You can search the web for “Edinburgh” and find lots of pictures, the castle, the monuments, tourist town. Or you can search my blog – an eclectic collection, one person’s life in Edinburgh at various times of the year just behind the scenes. Both these places are stunningly beautiful, people come to both to be on holiday, to renew, to be somehow enriched. And, in both places, there are others who live there, and do whatever it is that they do, live life entwined with but different from the surface scenery and culture.

I had not forgotten, but had not fully registered, here in Scotland 2014, is the year of The Independence Referendum. It has certainly registered now, it is in the mailbox, on the sides of the buses and the adverts, everywhere. In September, vote YES and Scotland will become a country, a nation, separate from the United Kingdom that will thereafter be England, Wales and Northern Ireland, no Scotland. Vote NO and The UK remains as it is, as the No campaign says: Better Together. So here there is a very local national politics, with profound implications, high on the agenda, not so visible elsewhere in the world. I thought I was a NO, because I believe we are One World, never mind One Nation, and I am only Scottish because this is where I am registered as a UK citizen, since 1990, but within a few days I am uncertain, swayed by the negativity of “better together” and the positive common sense of the YES. The independents are campaigning on a kind of “We can do it” caring socialism. Whatever socialism means to you, to me it means everyone matters and is respected for their capabilities or lack of capability. People work and pay tax and government spends. If that sounds crazy, think on. Government would not get elected to govern if they had not first said, not only where they would spend, but how they would enable the finances to do so. Above all they say that most of us do work and are adequately but not idiotically rewarded (at either the high or low end). Society knows there are those who cannot work, children, ill or elderly. These are cared for as dependents of us all, until they can become contributors, or become well, or because their contribution has already been made. Society cares because each person knows that childhood matters, misfortune strikes at random, and old age finds us all if we are still here. So the YES sounds more certain about its direction towards the sort of society I would like to live in. The NO sounds like no change anywhere, although the stay with UK are a cross-party grouping, they try to say it is all right the way it is, but anyone can see that it is not all right. The UK, including Edinburgh, has beggars on the streets and children being fed from food-banks even when their parents are working. How is that “all right”?

Now I do not know what to think about the referendum, though I am sure that I wish far more people, everywhere, thought in terms of socialism.

However, there is a more obvious difference in my double life. Edinburgh is an international city, rich in arts, science, culture, heritage and things to do. There are also a lot more people with whom to do things, whatever takes your fancy. All seem just a step away from the door (no boat journey required). On Saturday, I took this photo of the Meadows activity, where kids are out playing football – soccer to those from USA – and they do this every Saturday. I am not a football fan, but I can see that every child in Scotland lives and breathes teamwork from the day they can toddle, as they see and absorb this game whether they actually play it or not. The Riker soccer camp will try to teach Block Islanders “teamwork skills” this summer, trying to convince them that you can’t actually play football as an individual – unlike games such as American football or baseball or English cricket. However brilliant the individual player in “fitba” – it is played, won and lost, by the whole team. I speculate idly how much stuff like this has to do with Scottish people’s innate capacity to believe in “Society”, where everyone has a place, rather than believing the american dream, individual success, individual excellence?

Football (soccer) on the Meadows, on a Saturday morning

Football (soccer) on the Meadows, on a Saturday morning


I will find some more arts or science culture next week before I find myself getting ready to leave again. The weather is OK, but a bit cloudy, some great skies looking across the Forth in North Edinburgh on Sunday, and sunshades not really necessary at the Botanic Gardens Cafe on Monday. However, the Rhododendrons and azaleas are out there, so who needs to be sorry they have missed most of the cherry blossom?

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Step outside. Enjoy life in Edinburgh.


Not so Crazy

This morning, in utterly beautiful spring sunshine, and no wind, fifteen of us arrived at Coastguard Road for the Crazy as A Coot Birdwalk. [For interest, if you are on Block Island, all are welcome to come out with the Crazy Coots or any other group of Ocean View Foundation and the Block Island U3A.]

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron (Photo credit: Wikipedia

This is a greater number than usual, and we saw a greater number of species, 26, than we had done on any of the winter walks. Of those, I was impressed by the night heron who flew up off a pond to a tree perch and appeared to regard us all with considerable disdain. Needless to say to those who know me, I didn’t know it was a night heron, juvenile, until Kim told me, but knowing or not knowing its name does not make seeing it less interesting. I do however envy Kim’s knowledge, because she said Night Heron before we saw its great wings lift it to the tree. She heard its cry, and knew. How wonderful is that?

This picture is quite like the one we saw. Ours sat hunched in his tree without moving further.

On our way, we went inland from Coastguard Road as far as the Pelig Champlain House, built in 1820, one of the oldest homes on Block Island. It is also known as Uncle Weeden’s. So we took a group photo in the sunshine in front of the barn there. And so many different kinds of view, all within an hour’s walk before breakfast at Bethany’s Airport Diner.

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Spring must be here

Spring must be here. I want to get out and about, do not want to sit in writing blogs. These photos have been taken when out and about on the island in the last few weeks – different places, different kinds of days, different tides, different moods.

In a few days I will be returning to Scotland, just a short visit. I know when I am back on island in June I will be drowning in summer, the mad exciting full hot crowded glorious … inset own word here… time. For now, these will remind me of the peace and quiet beauty as the spring blew itself in.

This post is a response to Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring