Thursday, 18 October 2012

All is fair in love and war (and skin creams)

This is definitely one for debate.

And probably does not count as news for most.

The above photo is just a sample from some lesser known brands; Nivea, L'Oreal, Clarins etc do it too.

It is said that in SE Asia (and also in other areas of the globe), that it is desirable to have fairer skin as darker skin implies that you are poor as you must work in the fields, out in the sun, in order to live.

The selection of skin-whitening products in Malaysian stores in unbelievable! Use of the stronger ones is basically akin to bleaching your skin.

I know that in England we have a lot of tanning products available. Although, somehow it seems to be a different scenario if you are adding something in order to enhance existing features, as opposed to using chemicals to take away something (colour) that you were born with? Particularly if it is attached to status connotations, or at least supposedly was originally.

There are some health concerns with skin whitening processes in the longer term, but equally tanning products use chemicals and tanning on sun beds is increasingly linked to skin damage and even increased risk of cancer. But one can tan naturally too.

Which is worse- tanning lighter skin or whitening darker skin?

Or is that a false dichotomy? Are both simply products of advances in our ability to change what exists naturally? If both processes are a demonstration of societal and technological development then perhaps both are very good things? Perhaps the wider debate is around how far we will go in order to enhance our own beauty. And how far cosmetics companies will go to make money. Hmm...

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The UN High Commission for Refugees in Malaysia

I am going to let a few nice photos tell most of the story here…

Zomi refugees in KL
In Malaysia, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, there is a high number of refugees coming mostly from Myanmar. They call themselves Zomi, are usually of Christian faith and are therefore a minority group in the largely Buddhist country of Myanmar. As a consequence, they are often abused, unable to find work in Myanmar and are generally undermined in their everyday lives.

Kuala Lumpur is actually a stepping stone for them as most of them are destined for the United States. The process they must go through in order to be accepted into America can take up to about five years, during which time they remain in KL.
English class
A crucial element of their settling into America is the ability to speak English. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) provides volunteers to teach these refugees many subjects including English.

My uncle Patrick, a KL resident, is a regular volunteer and I was lucky enough to assist in one of his classes this week. The children were aged 12-16 years and were incredibly bright. I am grateful for their enthusiastic welcome: upon our entering the room they all stood up and said “Good Afternoon Teacher Patrick and Rosie!”

Team Patrick and Rosie helped them through spelling tests, learning new vocabulary, playing word games and holding a conversation. One topic of conversation we had to avoid was their journey from Myanmar. Otherwise, the more talking that went on, the better!
My overall impression was that they were very friendly, keen to learn and very respectful to educators.
They insisted on fetching me a chair and a glass of water, offered to carry my bag and kindly walked us to the car after the class, holding an umbrella over us during an electric storm. I really enjoyed the two hour class and it was a pleasure to meet such delightful students.
A smoother journey
Some come across to KL in whole family groups and some are orphans who come across alone.

Regrettably, many landlords in KL take advantage of Zomi refugees, squeezing many families into small flats and charging much higher rents. Although it can take years, the permit to America can sometimes be given quite quickly; Patrick receives updates on which children have moved on already and which are new to the class on a weekly basis. Some are also unfortunately taken out of the programme to help provide for their families.

Their lives are not yet ideal, but hopefully this programme helps their journey to a better life be that little bit smoother.

Friday, 12 October 2012

No plastic bags in KLCC

The Malaysian supermarket Cold Storage has a no plastic bag day every Saturday, with a charge of about 4p per plastic bag used for those who forget. That's one way of (very gently) encouraging consumers to behave in a slightly more environmentally-friendly way. I guess the next step would be to have no plastic bag day every day!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Batu Cave Conservation

The Dark Cave at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur is so called because...OK I am not going to treat you like children. But it is amazing to stand in the middle with all head torches turned off and not be able to see your fingers in front of your face!

It is home to the "rarest spider in the world"- a species of trapdoor spider that is endemic only to Batu. They actually have a trapdoor in their home to surprise prey, but also an emergency back door to escape their own prey. They are blind but keep an extended string between each leg so that if a creature comes near, they can feel the vibrations- if it is a small vibration, they will pop out and grab the animal in less than one second. If it feels like it is a pretty big creature (like the long-legged centipede), then the trapdoor spider can escape quickly out of the back!

Most of the animals are blind and have long legs and antennae so that they can feel their way around.

The cave is also home to a rare cave snake and tiny flat worms. If you cut the latter in half, it will form two new flat worms, if you cut it into eight, there will be eight new flat worms. So these clever worms are important for medical stem cell research.

Of course there are also a lot of fruit eating and insect eating bats, which make guano, which in turn provides nutrients for a whole host of small creatures.

The cave has a marketing and communications dilemma- they do little marketing themselves (other than the website and facebook page) as too many visitors are likely to damage the equilibrium of the cave. However, there is a balance to be had as they need the income from tours to fund the vital conservation work (a bat detector can cost 10,000RM)...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Who knew pixies were eco too?

So yesterday I arrived for the first part of my adventure- 10 days in and around Kuala Lumpur.

The first thing I heard on the taxi radio when travelling from the airport was:

"Hi Malaysia, it's Pixie Lott here! Climate change is something that affects us all and we can all do our bit by making simple changes such as switching off lights. Keep up the good work Malaysia!"

Last time I was in Malaysia I discovered that kareoke was very popular and at the time (2.5 years ago), Lady Gaga was a big hit. Perhaps Pixie Lott is the next most popular thing to hit this Asian country and celebrity endorsement is favoured by the government to promote energy efficiency?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chucks away!

What is my role in life? That is a bit dramatic. What I mean is: what will my next job be?

Having finished my wonderful internship with Corporate Citizenship at the end of September, I spent a week in Devon and quite liked the job I had there for that short time: it was regular hours, the commute was incredibly short, I was always appreciated- the only downside was that it was unpaid.

What was my job last week at home in Devon?

I was Head of Chickens.

As Head of Chickens, I learnt a lot about living more sustainably. As I woke up, I let them out. They were normally found huddled up together to keep warm.

I checked for eggs- which make a lovely orangey colour when scrambled...

They came running when it was time for their feed, always grateful to see me.

I had to be careful about where to place the grain so that the one of the three who has a bad leg could get a look-in as well (I call her 'hop-along'- a slightly mean name for one of your colleagues, but luckily she does not understand - you may be able to see her as the white dot in the background).

At the end of the day the reminder on my phone said 'chucks away!' which was probably the most important part of the job. If the chickens were not shut back in their home properly, there may not be any chickens left by morning. We never encountered such issues under my term of office.

Ahh the simple life.

Unfortunately there's nowhere I can really go from Head of Chickens, unless I wanted to open a chicken farm, which I don't think I do. So for now I will keep looking for the next job... this time a bit further afield... in Sydney.

Let's keep it brief

Corporate Citizenship Briefing is pretty good and is also handy because brief summaries on the key international sustainable business news stories are delivered to your inbox every lunch time. This means you can keep up to date whilst not taking away from your core working activities. You also get a monthly breifing including guest written analysis pieces by sustainability leaders, and more!

The world of global social and environmental activity is moving so fast. With frequent regulatory changes, NGO vs corporate campaigns, governance scandals, to name but a few, it is nice for someone to hand the news to you on a (clear and simple) plate! I wrote the briefing myself May-Sept 2012 so I know it is worth a gander...

Oh and did I mention it is free to subscribe? :)