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Archive for April 10th, 2015

The story of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria?

On 18 January 2014, barely five miles from the centre of Damascus – with President Bashar al‑Assad’s office complex visible in the distance – a small crowd of desperate people emerged from a seemingly uninhabited wasteland of bomb-shattered buildings.

News had spread throughout Yarmouk, a district of the capital that is home to Syria’s largest community of Palestinians, that the government and rebel groups had agreed to allow a delivery of food, briefly opening a crack in a year-long siege that had starved the area’s civilians and caused dozens of deaths.

Families had sent their strongest members to collect the newly arrived supplies, and the hungry throng filled the entire width of a street, throwing up dust in the morning light.

The relief workers making the delivery recalled one woman, gaunt with malnutrition, who fell down and was too weak to rise. She died on the spot. The scenes were such that some of these experienced aid workers needed trauma counselling when they returned to headquarters in Damascus.

There was only enough food for a few hundred families.

Thousands of disappointed people staggered home empty-handed. But officials from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), established to aid Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East, hoped that the delivery had set a precedent.

They had not publicised it in advance – there was concern that excessive attention would anger the Syrian government – and were reluctant to invite journalists to observe a mission that might have been aborted for security reasons. Four days earlier, an attempted delivery had been abandoned after a mortar exploded very close to the convoy.

After the successful delivery on 18 January, UNRWA officials decided discretion was no longer the best policy.

On 31 January, a convoy delivering food to Yarmouk was accompanied by a local photographer, who took a picture of the vast crowd surging through a street lined with the ruins of destroyed buildings.

This image quickly became an emblem of the Syrian conflict.

To draw attention to the plight of the besieged civilians UNRWA launched a social media campaign (#LetUsThrough) in which millions clicked on a petition to put the image on two of the world’s highest-profile billboards. In Times Square, New York and the Shibuya district of Tokyo people stood in front of giant screens taking selfies, which were then beamed back to Yarmouk as a show of solidarity.

This was how Yarmouk entered the world’s consciousness: a refugee camp designed as a safe haven for the Palestinian diaspora that had become the worst place on earth.

No electricity for months. No piped water. (Reminds me of Lebanon?). No access for food.

Worse still, no chance for people to leave or return, except for a handful of emergency medical cases or the few who had the means to pay people-smugglers to get them through the multiple checkpoints.

Some called it Syria’s Gaza, but its plight was even worse, because the siege was more comprehensive; Yarmouk was a prison from which there was no escape.

But notoriety can be short-lived.

When Gaza came under Israeli bombardment in July 2014 and the world’s media rushed to report the carnage, Yarmouk slipped back into obscurity.  (Coordinated events?)

The opening in the siege that UNRWA had negotiated in January 2014 applied only fitfully throughout the year: food deliveries were only possible on 131 days, and often less than half the amount required got through.

Since 6 December, the siege has once again become impassable.

UNRWA reports that it has not been able to deliver any food at all for the past 12 weeks. “We are getting new reports of people dying of malnutrition and of women dying in childbirth, but nothing can be confirmed,” said Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s spokesperson. Unlike in Gaza, where UNRWA has several offices, the organisation cannot enter Yarmouk at all.

Hafez al-Assad

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Late Hafez al-Assad (died of cancer in 2000). Photograph: Enric Marti/AP

As Syria’s civil war enters its fourth year, other towns and villages are suffering long sieges, usually by Assad’s forces but sometimes, as in the case of Nubul and Zahra, two Shia villages north-west of Aleppo, by anti-Assad rebels.

Still, Yarmouk stands out, partly because of the large number of trapped civilians – estimated to be around 18,000 – but also because of its political significance.  (Yarmouk hosted 170,000 people before the civil war)

Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for three decades before power passed to his son on his death in 2000, cast his country as the cornerstone of the Arab “axis of resistance” against Israel.

This required that he be seen as the supreme defender of Palestinian rights; a leader who would ensure that Palestinian refugees in Syria lived better than those anywhere else in the Middle East.

For Yarmouk to come under the control of anti-Assad rebels, and then be bombarded by government forces – to become a spectacle of suffering far worse than Gaza – marked an indelible stain on the mantle that Bashar al-Assad inherited from his father.

Before the Syrian civil war began, Yarmouk was home to 150,000 Palestinians. Though people still refer to it as a “camp”, tents were replaced with solid housing soon after its founding in 1957.

In time it became just another district of Damascus. As well as being home to Syria’s largest community of Palestinian refugees, it also housed some 650,000 Syrians.

Nidal Bitari, a co-founder of the Palestinian Association for Human Rights in Syria, fled the country at the end of 2011 after being tipped off that he was wanted by the Assad regime’s security services.

But, like most of the Palestinians in Yarmouk, he wanted to stay neutral when the uprising began. As Bitari wrote in a detailed account of Yarmouk’s recent political history published in 2013, Palestinians in Syria lived under better conditions than in any other Arab state:

“By law they enjoy almost all the rights and benefits of Syrian nationals except citizenship and the right to vote. They have full access to Syrian schools and universities on the same basis as citizens … And because their numbers are tiny compared to the general Syrian population (less than 2%), the refugees were never perceived as a threat, and the degree of integration between Palestinians and Syrians – through work, education, and intermarriage – has no parallel in the Arab world.”

(As the civil war raged, the Palestinians paying allegiance to Hamas and Fateh allied to the Syrian extremistIslamist  forces of Al Nusra)

When I first visited Yarmouk in March 2003, it was a hotbed of anger towards the American invasion of Iraq, which had just began.

While other Arab countries muted criticism of US policy or quietly supported George W Bush and Tony Blair, the Syrian state media was full of denunciations. Scores of young Palestinian men from the camp had crossed into Iraq to fight the Americans, often disappearing without telling their own families.

I came across a wake in one narrow back street. It was the third day of mourning for a young man named Issam. He had telephoned home for the first time as he was about to cross into Iraq.

In a bus from Damascus with other volunteers from half a dozen Arab countries, the young Palestinian told his father that he and two cousins were going off to war.

Six days of silence followed, as his family watched TV footage from Iraq even more intently than before. Then one of the cousins phoned: Issam had never even reached Baghdad.

Less than five hours after calling his parents,he died in a hail of fire from a US helicopter. Thirteen other unarmed men in the three buses were killed. The cousin escaped with minor wounds.

When Syrians began to rise up in protest against the government of Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, the situation threatened to unsettle the relatively stable position of Palestinians within the country.

Palestinian groups were closely monitored by the Syrian security services and they were expected to remain uninvolved in the nation’s politics.

According to Bitari, the trigger for Yarmouk’s entrapment in the intensifying conflict came from the Syrian government rather than the opposition.

In May 2011, during the preparations for Nakba Day, which commemorates the expulsion of Palestinian refugees during the creation of Israel in 1948, representatives of the Assad regime began to promote the idea of a demonstration at the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

Bitari and his friends were wary, suspecting that the regime wanted to divert attention from the internal uprising. He described their decision to form a “youth coalition of Palestinians” in Yarmouk to coordinate decisions pertaining to the camp, which included representatives from each of the Palestinian political factions inside.

The group’s first meeting concerned the Nakba Day protests, and a majority opposed any participation. But on the morning of Nakba Day the government supplied buses, which hundreds of people got on.

At the border, the Syrian army let the buses through the demarcation lines and several protesters climbed the fence that blocks access to Israeli-controlled territory (occupied Golan Heights?). Israeli troops used tear gas and live rounds. Three people died.

A month later, on Naksa Day – the anniversary of the defeat of Arab armies by Israel in the 1967 six-day war – minivans sent by Syrian security took about 50 Yarmouk residents to the border, where they were joined by several hundred other young people. Syrian state TV cameras were on hand to film what happened.

Again people tried to scale the fence, and this time 23 were shot dead by Israeli forces – 12 of them from Yarmouk, according to Bitari.

Though the Israelis fired the bullets, “the rage was almost as great against the factions for not doing anything to stop the bloodshed”, as Bitari said.

The next day the funeral of the victims was attended by 30,000 people.

Angry mourners surrounded the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC, a faction led by Ahmed Jibril, which rejected the Oslo accords.)  The PFLP-GC was a firm supporter of the Syrian government and was seen by many residents as the regime’s enforcer in the camp. When a PFLP-GC security guard shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, the crowd stormed the building and set it on fire. Jibril had to be rescued by the Syrian army.

This event embarrassed Bashar al-Assad and encouraged Syrian opposition groups to see Yarmouk as a potential support base for the uprising against him.

Yarmouk’s geographical position, wedge-shaped with its apex pointing at the heart of Damascus, gave it strategic value.

The district was bordered by two poorer Syrian suburbs, al Hajar al Aswad and Tadamon, which were already being infiltrated by opposition fighters. To the south was open countryside, which was easy for them to move through.

Bitari and his friends still hoped to keep Yarmouk neutral. They were alarmed when the Syrian government, shaken by the anti-PFLP-GC protest and the threat of rebel advances, gave Jibril’s men the right to parade with weapons.

This escalation encouraged the Free Syrian Army – at that time the main opposition group, backed by western governments – to plan to move into the camp and seize it from Syrian government control.

The Palestinian youth coalition’s efforts had failed. The group disbanded in despair. Civilians who wanted to avoid their district being militarised and dragged into conflict found themselves isolated. The same dynamic was affecting most of the rest of the country.

For the Free Syrian Army, Yarmouk was a particularly valued prize after Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas in exile who had lived in Damascus for more than a decade, moved to Qatar in February 2012.

Meshaal felt unable to accede to the Syrian government’s pleas that he condemns the anti-regime uprising. Instead, he accepted an invitation from Qatar, one of the armed opposition’s main financial backers. It was a severe blow to Assad’s credentials as leader of the axis of resistance.

In December 2012 the FSA and the al-Qaida affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra were ready for a concerted attack to capture Damascus and topple Assad.

Yarmouk was the gateway to the capital, closer to the centre than any of the other suburbs where the regime was losing control.

The crisis came to a head on 16 December, when a Syrian air force plane bombed Yarmouk in what the government later claimed was a mistake. Dozens of civilians were killed. Brigades from the FSA and Jabhat al Nusra seized the opportunity to enter the camp – and in response, the government launched a hail of artillery shells, turning most buildings on the edge of the district to rubble.

A girl receives soup from Kafaf, a charitable foundation, in Yarmouk

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A girl receives soup from Kafaf, a charitable foundation, in Yarmouk Photograph: Reuters

Within a few days most of the PFLP-GC, the main Palestinian faction supporting the Assad regime, had fled Yarmouk; some defected to the rebels who went on to gain full control.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians left. The Syrians of Yarmouk mainly went to relatives and friends in central Damascus or other cities, or moved to Lebanon and Jordan.

Palestinians fled to what they hoped would be safer areas inside Syria. Although rebel efforts to capture the rest of Damascus failed, Yarmouk remains in rebel hands today. Some 18,000 civilians still live there, including anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 Syrians. Still, it is clear that Yarmouk has reverted to being a largely Palestinian enclave.

Assad’s government responded to its defeat in Yarmouk by putting the area under siege.

For a few months food could still be brought in from the rural areas to the south, though profiteering was intense.

In July 2013 the government tightened its grip and the siege became almost total. Inside Yarmouk fighting erupted between the FSA and Jabhat al Nusra, the latter of which had set up sharia courts.

Spasmodic attempts were made to relieve the suffering of Yarmouk’s civilians. In the spring of 2013 Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, even proposed that all of Yarmouk’s 150,000 Palestinian residents move to the West Bank or Gaza. In November 2013, Abbas sent a team to Damascus to discuss humanitarian relief and a ceasefire between the rebels and the government. The idea was to open a safe corridor for the movement of supplies and displaced civilians, but no deal was ever reached.

In September 2014, I met Abu Akram, a member of the PFPL-GC leadership, in a flat on the edge of Yarmouk. A tall older man with one arm in a brace, who moved to Yarmouk from Lebanon in 1994, he had taken part in the abortive ceasefire negotiations with the Syrian opposition, whose breakdown he blamed on the Islamists. A tough, battle-hardened figure firmly allied to the Assad regime, he showed no embarrassment in defending the siege. It was a legitimate tactic, he claimed, in part because the food from UNRWA that was allowed into Yarmouk ended up in the hands of the rebel fighters, for their own use or for sale on the black market.

“We saw that the armed groups were taking food from civilians,” he said, then claimed that boxes of aid meant for Yarmouk could be seen for sale in a nearby district. He even criticised the decision to relax the pressure in early 2014. “It was a mistake to break the siege,” he said. “If we had continued by another week, hunger would have forced them to give up.”

The barbaric nature of sieges has remained unchanged for thousands of years.

The aim is to starve the trapped civilians into submission, in the hope they will turn against whatever armed faction controls the territory and persuade them to surrender. The armed faction, in turn, wants to keep the civilians inside so as to make it less likely the besieging army will bring destruction upon the captives.

Now, in the 21st century, the very same tactics are being deployed not only in Yarmouk but in several other parts of Syria.

Sieges fuel a war economy in which those who man the checkpoints can run a lucrative business selling permission to leave or return. They encourage smuggling of people and food, and keep prices in the camp’s few markets artificially high.

When I visited Yarmouk’s northern entrance in September 2014, I found nothing but bleakness. Syrian government soldiers stood guard near a crossroads known as Battikha – “watermelon” – Square, so named for a green monument of a globe that stands amid a clump of palm trees in the middle of the street. The only route into the camp required a walk through a narrow alley between two five-storey buildings that had most of their windows blown out. The neighbouring alley was shielded by huge white padded sheets strung from the upper floors of buildings on either side – makeshift screens intended to stop rebel snipers from targeting anyone walking in the square.

A young woman in hijab was standing near the entrance, weeping as she and a male companion talked with the officer in charge of the checkpoint. After a few minutes of conversation that ended on what looked to be a frustrating note, the woman and her friend pulled back, then wandered up and down the street, apparently debating whether to try another tack to convince the officer or just give up and leave.

Palestine refugees in Yarmouk queue for food distributed by UNRWA.

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Palestine refugees in Yarmouk queue for food distributed by UNRWA. Photograph: HOPD/AP

“I am trapped,” the woman, named Reem Buqaee, told me. She had been given permission to leave Yarmouk three months earlier with her three teenage daughters. The oldest one was pregnant. Owing to malnutrition, she was suffering from anaemia so severe that she was at risk of losing her baby. The other two girls also had medical problems. But leaving the camp had meant splitting the family. The husband of the pregnant woman could not leave the camp, nor could Reem’s husband, or her 16-year-old son. Rebel groups were eager to keep people in the camp, she said, particularly men and boys. Their departure was seen as defection from the opposition cause as well as potentially making it easier for government troops to enter the camp by force and regain control.

Buqaee’s daughter had safely given birth and the other girls had regained their strength, so she wanted to take them back into Yarmouk.

“I had to choose between living in a prison under siege but alongside my husband and son, or stay outside Yarmouk separated but free,” she said.

On this particular day, she had come to the camp entrance to see whether her request to return had been granted, but the officer told her he had not received orders to let her and her daughters and baby grand-daughter inside. “Our house is only 100 metres from here, just inside the camp. It’s so near but very far,” she said.

The next day, I visited Buqaee at an overcrowded flat in the Dummar suburb of Damascus, where a distant relative had given her and her daughters temporary shelter.

A thick atmosphere of fear surrounds any discussion of Yarmouk. This affects everyone from UNRWA officials to Yarmouk residents. People worry that their families will suffer if they publicly attribute blame to the regime or the rebels for the siege, the collapse of ceasefire talks, and the impossibility of escaping.

UNRWA officials are concerned about losing the minimal access they have to Yarmouk if they say anything that might be misinterpreted by one side or the other. When I spoke to residents who had left the camp for other parts of Damascus, but who talk regularly with siblings and parents still inside, they refused to be quoted, explaining that people are scared of reprisals from both the regime and the anti-Assad forces inside the camp.

Buqaee, however, described the horrors of the siege without hesitation: women dying in childbirth, infants killed by malnutrition.

There was no anger or hysteria in her voice, just a calm recollection of facts. “You couldn’t buy bread. At the worst point a kilo of rice cost 12,000 Syrian pounds (£41), now it is 800 pounds (£2.75) compared to 100 Syrian pounds (34p) in central Damascus. It was 900 pounds (£3.10) for a kilo of tomatoes, compared to 100 here,” Reem recalled. “We had some stocks but when they gave out we used to eat wild plants. We picked and cooked them. In every family there was hepatitis because of a lack of sugar. The water was dirty. People had fevers. Your joints and bones felt stiff. My middle daughter had brucellosis and there was no medication,” she said. In October 2013, in a sign of how bad things had become, the imam of Yarmouk’s largest mosque issued a fatwa that permitted people to eat cats, dogs and donkeys.

The relaxation of the siege in January last year was limited and insecure, she said. UNRWA’s food deliveries were regularly cut short by mortar explosions and sniper fire. No one was sure who began firing or why. She remembered one incident vividly: “It was March 23. I had gone to collect a food parcel and was on the way back when a mortar went off. Twenty-nine people were killed. My daughter’s husband had come to help carry the boxes. He was hit by shrapnel and cannot walk now. It’ll take him another three or four months to get better.”

For most of 2014, both sides were willing to allow some humanitarian supplies to enter the camp on an ad hoc basis, UN officials told me, even if the amount was far below what was needed.

Every day, UNRWA would check whether there had been exchanges of fire in Yarmouk. Sometimes the agency’s minivans never left the warehouse in central Damascus, on other occasions, delivery convoys were turned back. “We never say we’ve had access. All we say is that they’ve given us some opportunities to provide aid,” one UN official said.

UNRWA has not yet been able to enter the camp to conduct a needs assessment.

Since the graphic scenes of starving masses early last year, the agency developed a more orderly process, with lists of people who are allowed to cross the no man’s land at the edge of the camp once each month to collect food parcels.

Each parcel contains 5 kilograms of rice, 5 kilograms of sugar, 5 kilograms of lentils, 5 litres of oil, five kilograms of powdered milk, 1 kilogram of halva, one and a half kilograms of pasta and five 200g tins of luncheon meat. This is designed to feed a family of 8 people for 10 days.

In other parts of Syria where displaced Palestinians are living, UNRWA provides cash so that people can buy food for the rest of the month, but in Yarmouk that has not been not possible.

Providing medical supplies is sensitive, since the Syrian government fears they will go to wounded fighters.

Initially it only gave permission for rehydration salts and basic painkillers. UNRWA eventually managed to operate a mobile health clinic at the food distribution point, which provided basic treatments for communicable diseases and other infections, as well as conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Tests conducted in 2014 on a random sample of patients found that 40% had typhoid.

Education has been dramatically affected by the siege.

According to residents inside the camp, all of Yarmouk’s 28 schools have been closed, and volunteer teachers hold informal classes in 10 “safe spaces”, including the basements of mosques.

The lack of electricity means children have to do their homework by generators if their parents can afford the fuel for them, or by candlelight. The spotlight that the UNRWA has tried to keep on Yarmouk may have acted as some restraint on government forces – the area has not been bombed as heavily as other rebel-held districts of Damascus. But this is only a crumb of comfort.

“Conditions are far worse than Gaza,” said one UN official. “Palestinians always had dignity, hope, resilience. Now after four years of war I see people giving up. They find it hard to accept there are no options”.

The latest attempt to reach a ceasefire and end the siege of Yarmouk was last June, when the armed groups inside the camp and some civilian representatives signed a pact with 13 representatives of the Assad government, which would have seen gunmen leave Yarmouk after the creation of a new security force to defend the camp. The deal was never implemented.

Nidal Bitari now lives in the United States, where he remains in daily contact with friends in Yarmouk by phone and Skype. He lobbied at UN headquarters in New York for western governments to support the June ceasefire agreement, and blames them, along with supporters of Jabhat al Nusra, for letting the deal collapse.

“I suppose this initiative went against the wishes of France, UK and USA,” he said, “as their policy is based on supporting the interim government in exile, and they believe such truces give legitimacy to the regime.”

Talal Alyan, a Palestinian-American writer and researcher who lives in the US, recently wrote that Jabhat al Nusra controls 60% of the camp, and suggested the group had attempted to ban singing and force women to wear the veil.

Since our conversation, Reem Buqaee has managed to go home to Yarmouk, even though it meant returning to siege conditions. When no response came from the Palestinian authorities who shared control of the camp’s northern entrance with regime forces, she decided to use an unofficial channel.

A friend in the air force, one of the pillars of Assad’s regime, persuaded his commander to contact officers at government checkpoints in Beit Sahem, a village to the south of Yarmouk, to let them cross the frontline. Inside the camp, the water supply has still not returned, 6 months after pipes were damaged by fighting in September 2014. This has forced the residents to rely on untreated groundwater and a single well.

To add to the horror of the siege, the shadow of ISIS has fallen across Yarmouk. When the group announced the establishment of a caliphate last year, Bitari said, some Jabhat al Nusra fighters in Yarmouk switched their allegiance and threatened to kill anyone who supported the ceasefire agreement.

Isis is not yet in Yarmouk in full force, according to Bitari, but it was in nearby suburbs and had threatened to enter the camp at any time. (It did and has occupied a large portion of the camp)

Nidal Bitari is gloomy in exile. When it became clear the US was about to strike targets in Syria in September, he coordinated an appeal from activists back home.

They feared Obama would attack Isis positions in Yarmouk. “Here in Washington I’m surrounded by people from the Syrian National Coalition [the western-supported opposition] who tell me they want Obama to bomb Damascus. It would be a political more than a military action, aimed at warning Assad that the opposition has powerful friends. I told them it would cause a high number of casualties and there’s no way for Palestinians in Yarmouk to flee,” he said.

The appeal condemned the Syrian government for mounting a brutal siege but said any coalition air strike on Damascus would create an even greater humanitarian disaster.

In Bitari view the reimposition of a total siege since early December was a tactic by the Assad regime to drive Yarmouk’s people to despair and have them press the armed groups to accept a truce under the regime’s conditions. It would amount to a surrender like those the government achieved in the city of Homs and the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya last year.

The armed groups would have to give up their weapons and submit to interrogation, with the risk of torture or execution.

In spite of the siege, Bitari feels that in one way Syria’s Palestinians who have escaped abroad may be worse off than those left behind.

“We heard much about the Nakba from our parents and grandparents, about their suffering when forced to leave their country, at having lost everything,” he wrote. “They worked hard to build their lives in Syria, and what they built is destroyed. And now we, the third generation, are experiencing this also, of starting from zero in other countries.”

  • This article was amended on 11 March 2015. It mistakenly described Talal Alyan as a former Yarmouk resident. He is a Palestinian-American writer and researcher who lives in the US. This has been corrected.
Najat Rizk  shared  Jamil Mroue link  on FB this April 9, 2015

This is criminal and nothing else.

The long read: Yarmouk, near the centre of Damascus, prospered as a safe haven for Palestinians.
Under siege, it is now a prison for its remaining residents….
theguardian.com|By Jonathan Steele

 

Are you participating in Family Card Games? How good in Math are you?

Sue Shellenbarger published in The Wall Street Journal on April 7, 2015

Looking for a way to help your children take turns, follow rules, learn math and memory skills and face competition in a healthy way? How about a game of Crazy Eights?

Card games can teach math and memory skills, as well as strategic thinking, psychologist and sociologists say.

The conversation and friendly rivalry that come with sitting down to play cards can strengthen family ties.

Family games also can build children’s confidence: The rules are the same for everyone, and it is fun to play a game in which anyone can win.

“To be able to compete against parents and sometimes win is symbolically important to kids.

They get a sense that ‘my time is coming,’ a little foretaste of not being under the parent’s thumb,” says William Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Children also can learn to win and lose gracefully, he says—“to be happy but not gloat, and to lose and not pout.”

Left to right, siblings Tommy, Danny, Brian and Bridget Brett played cards on a family RV trip in 2008. ENLARGE
Left to right, siblings Tommy, Danny, Brian and Bridget Brett played cards on a family RV trip in 2008. Photo: Mary Brett

Card games generally aren’t rocket science, but for many families, the ease and fun are half the point.

Mary Brett and her husband Craig, a cardiologist, have kept their four children, ages 15 to 21, interested in playing cards by making sure the children see their parents enjoying the game.

“We can make fun of each other and not take it too seriously,” says Ms. Brett, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Dr. Brett sometimes dons crazy hats to lighten the mood. Their 15-year-old daughter Bridget says, “Seeing my parents go back and forth, I will tell you, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

Ms. Brett often carries a deck of cards in her bag to play during spare moments such as waiting for a pizza.

The family plays with Ms. Brett’s parents, who are in their 80s, on summer vacations at a lakeside camp in Vermont.

Card-playing has honed her children’s memory skills and taught them to plan competitive strategies in advance, Ms. Brett says. Bridget, who struggled with basic math as a young child, says playing cards helped her gain confidence and skill.

The Brett children, with a cousin, played cards in Vermont in 2007. ENLARGE
The Brett children, with a cousin, played cards in Vermont in 2007. Photo: Mary Brett

At a time when children’s schedules are packed and digital distractions are everywhere, youthful card sharks are increasingly rare.

“A whole generation of consumers didn’t learn to play cards the way an entire prior generation did,” says P.J. Katien, vice president, sales and marketing, for the U.S. Playing Card Co., Erlanger, Ky., owner of the venerable Bicycle, Bee, Kem and Hoyle brands.

Still, Katien says he sees interest among young parents in teaching their children card games as an alternative to videogames. Sales of traditional playing cards have risen between 1% and 2% industrywide in the past two years, he says.

Tim Sullivan of Attleboro, Mass., says playing a card game his family calls “Tim & Louise” kept him, his wife Ellen and their four children entertained for hours during this past winter’s blizzards. (The game, a simple trick-taking game that originated in the 1930s, is known by many names, including “Oh Hell” and “Oh Shoot.”)

His children, ages 9 to 16, are naturally competitive, and card games teach them to take teasing as well as dish it out, Mr. Sullivan says.

Their 9-year-old daughter, Molly, takes pride in holding her own against her parents and older brothers. “It feels good to beat them, and it makes me feel like I can do more,” she says.

That confidence comes in handy in basketball, swimming, softball and going on “scary rides at the amusement park,” she says.

In the family, memorable hands become a running joke. Mr. Sullivan’s son Jeremiah, 16, astonished his siblings two summers ago when he made an extremely risky bid and rebounded from a 100-point deficit to win a game. His 12-year-old brother, Ryan, says Jeremiah has been exercising bragging rights ever since. “The first couple of times he told the story, we said, ‘Oh yeah, that was pretty cool,’ ” Ryan says, “but after the 10th time we got a little tired of it.”

Such verbal sparring can be “a good way to make family memories,” says Cynthia Copeland, author of “Family Fun Night” and other books on parenting. “Kids remember silly, fun, bonding moments more than they remember a trip to an amusement park.”

To get children hooked on cards, some families start by teaching their children beginner games, such as War and Old Maid, when they are small, and challenge them with a variety of games as they get older.

A regular family game time, say, on Friday nights, can help. Many parents also make sure their children see them having fun playing.

Both card and board games are linked in research to better math skills in small children. Both create opportunities for face-to-face play, conversation, taking turns and following rules.

Parents say it is easier to interest video-savvy children in colorful board games with splashy graphics than in staid-looking playing cards.

Game designers are flooding the market with creative new board games. And sales of “hobby games,” or nontraditional tabletop games ranging from Dungeons and Dragons to collectibles such as Pokemon, have been rising 15% to 20% a year since 2010, according to ICv2, a trade publication.

Sales of family board games such as Monopoly and Clue rose 5% in the year ended Feb. 28, according to the market-research firm NPD Group.

Traditional card games can be more engaging in other ways, however.

For small children, card games tend to provide more counting and matching practice. Shuffling and dealing cards can instill greater manual dexterity.

And skilled card-playing often calls for more nuanced social skills, such as bluffing one’s opponents into unwise bets. Some grandparents impress youngsters with their skills in counting cards—remembering which cards have been played so they can anticipate opponents’ next move.

Fifteen-year-old Matthew Siegel says learning to keep a poker face while playing Texas Hold ’em with his grandfather, 78-year-old Victor Spetalnick of Valley Stream, N.Y., has served him well at school. “I’ve had my share of being teased, and keeping a straight face and not looking like it’s getting on your nerves is helpful,” says Matthew, of Armonk, N.Y.

Mr. Spetalnick, a retired assistant high-school principal who plays cards every two or three weeks with Matthew, says his grandson often beats him in gin, “and I’m not an easy person to beat. He really has to earn it.”

Playing cards is an easy way for several different generations to sit down together, and grandparents and parents say games afford an unusual opportunity to bond with children.

“It’s much better than sitting across the table from one of your kids and saying, ‘Tell me about your day,’ ” says Ms. Copeland, the author. “You learn so much more about each other in the context of a playful setting.”

Carl Harnick, 80, and his wife Fran, 77, have maintained a family card-playing tradition for years by making it part of a biweekly ritual of baby-sitting for their two grandchildren, Isabella Harnick, 15, and her brother Ben, 10.

The four go out for dinner and ice cream, and then they play Kings in the Corners, a variation on solitaire, says Mr. Harnick of Lake Success, N.Y., a retired accountant. Ms. Harnick, a retired teacher, says the best part of card-playing is the conversation: “We learn about their friends and what’s going on at school.”

Isabella says playing cards has changed her views on competition.

An avid soccer player, she has occasionally seen opponents have a meltdown if they miss a goal, she says—an attitude she has come to regard as “ridiculous.”

“You don’t win everything in cards. You can’t expect to win everything in life either,” she says.

Patsy Z  shared this link on FB this April 9, 2015

I grew up playing card games with my grandparents – looks like it was educational as well !

From Canasta to Crazy 8s, playing cards helps children, especially in a time of screens and schedules
wsj.com|By Sue Shellenbarger

 

While USA has long-term destabilizing policies, China executes its far-sighted economic expansion. Pipeline of Iran/Pakistan

Now that there are no reasons for sanctions against Iran, China is resuming its economic plans in the region.

China has the cash for economic development and not for investing in preemptive wars as traditional colonial powers are used to control the world.

 

ISLAMABAD—China will build a pipeline to bring natural gas from Iran to Pakistan to help address Pakistan’s acute energy shortage, under a deal to be signed during the Chinese president’s visit to Islamabad this month, Pakistani officials said.

The arrival of President Xi Jinping is expected to showcase China’s commitment to infrastructure development in ally Pakistan, at a time when few other countries are willing to make major investments in the cash-strapped, terrorism-plagued country.

Saeed Shah posted on April 9, 2015

The pipeline would amount to an early benefit for both Pakistan and Iran from the framework agreement reached earlier this month between Tehran and the U.S. and other world powers to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The U.S. had previously threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it went ahead with the project.

“We’re building it,” Pakistani Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasitold The Wall Street Journal. “The process has started.”

In Washington, U.S. officials said details of sanctions will be negotiated as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran due in June.

“We aren’t going to speculate as to how any solutions we may reach in that regard could impact on any particular proposed business ventures,” a State Department official said late Wednesday, adding that “significant support to Iran’s energy sector, such as providing significant investment or technology,” could still result in sanctions under the framework agreement last week.

ENLARGE

Dubbed the “Peace Pipeline,” the project will further bolster improving ties between Pakistan and Iran, uneasy neighbors for decades as a result of Pakistan’s ties to Iran’s long-term adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

The pipeline will bring much-needed gas to Pakistan, which suffers from a crippling electricity deficit because of a shortage of fuel for its power-generation plants.

Pakistan has been negotiating for months behind the scenes for China to build the Pakistani portion of the pipeline, which will cost up to $2 billion.

Tehran says that its 560-mile (900-kilometer) part of the pipeline from an Iranian gas field is complete and has long pressed Pakistan to build its part of the scheme.

Pakistan hasn’t begun construction, however, in light of threatened U.S. sanctions for trading with Iran.

Islamabad had sought to work around the sanctions by asking the Chinese to build the pipeline but not yet connect it to the Iranian portion.

The prospect of an Iran nuclear agreement, which would ease sanctions in stages once the deal is completed, has given Islamabad further impetus to clear the project.

Among the first sanctions to be lifted, according to the framework accord, would be the ban on Iran energy exports.

“This [Iran nuclear agreement] will help us in getting a few things which were coming into the way of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to be cleared and we will move forward,” Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran, Noor Muhammad Jadmani, said Sunday in Tehran, according a report on IRNA, the official Iranian news agency.

Pakistan is negotiating with China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau, a subsidiary of Chinese energy giant China National Petroleum Corporation, to build 435 miles (700 kilometers) of pipeline from the western Pakistani port of Gwadar to Nawabshah in the southern province of Sindh, where it will connect to Pakistan’s existing gas-distribution pipeline network.

China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau referred questions to CNPC, which didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The cost would be $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion for the pipeline, or $2 billion if an optional Liquefied Natural Gas terminal at Gwadar is included in the scheme. Under the deal, 85% of the financing will be provided by a Chinese loan, with Pakistan coming up with the rest.

The remaining 50 miles (80 kilometers), from Gwadar to the Iranian border, will be built by Pakistan.

The pipeline, which would take two years to build, would eventually supply Pakistan with enough gas to fuel 4,500 megawatts of electricity generation—almost as much as the country’s entire current electricity shortfall.

The pipeline would give Iran a market to its east for its gas. The pipeline scheme, conceived in 1995, originally was supposed to extend to India. Tehran blames U.S. pressure for India dropping out in 2009.

Islamabad believes the Iranian gas is the cheapest and simplest energy supply option for Pakistan.

Pakistan will also start to take liquefied natural gas from Qatar, and it remains in protracted multicountry negotiations over a pipeline that would bring gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to supply Pakistan and India. Washington had long lobbied Pakistan to go for the Turkmenistan pipeline instead of the Iranian one.

The Chinese president’s visit, which has been postponed at least twice, is now expected on or around April 19.

Pakistan has had a close strategic alliance with China for decades—aimed mostly against common foe India—but now Beijing is seeking to add an economic dimension to the relationship.

Islamabad and Beijing plan an “economic corridor” linking the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which is under Chinese management, to southwestern China with road and rail connections. The highly ambitious program, which also includes power-generation projects, carries a price tag of some $40 billion. Unveiling agreements and details for the economic corridor will form a center piece of Mr. Xi’s visit.

The Iran pipeline isn’t part of the economic corridor but it will be separately fast-tracked, Pakistani officials said.

“The Chinese have an expertise, a willingness to come here, and also work in areas which are not considered to be very safe,” said Hamayoun Khan, director of the Pakistan Council on China, an independent think tank based in Islamabad.

Jeremy Page in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com

Asad Ghsoub shared this link on FB

This is big if it goes ahead after being halted for a long time and can kiss Pakistani intervention in Yemen goodbye

A project long thwarted by international sanctions on Tehran is flickering back to life as Islamabad gives it a go-ahead in light of the international framework accord on Iran’s nuclear program.
wsj.com|By Saeed Shah

 

Your story is waiting to be told: We need to hear it.

Tonight, I’m going to try to make the case that inviting a loved one, a friend or even a stranger to record a meaningful interview with you just might turn out to be one of the most important moments in that person’s life, and in yours.

0:28 When I was 22 years old, I was lucky enough to find my calling when I fell into making radio stories.

At almost the exact same time, I found out that my dad, who I was very, very close to, was gay. I was taken completely by surprise.

We were a very tight-knit family, and I was crushed. At some point, in one of our strained conversations, my dad mentioned the Stonewall riots.

He told me that one night in 1969, a group of young black and Latino drag queens fought back against the police at a gay bar in Manhattan called the Stonewall Inn, and how this sparked the modern gay rights movement.

1:09 It was an amazing story, and it piqued my interest. So I decided to pick up my tape recorder and find out more.

With the help of a young archivist named Michael Shirker, we tracked down all of the people we could find who had been at the Stonewall Inn that night.

Recording these interviews, I saw how the microphone gave me the license to go places I otherwise never would have gone and talk to people I might not otherwise ever have spoken to.

I had the privilege of getting to know some of the most amazing, fierce and courageous human beings I had ever met. It was the first time the story of Stonewall had been told to a national audience. I dedicated the program to my dad, it changed my relationship with him, and it changed my life.

1:59 Over the next 15 years, I made many more radio documentaries, working to shine a light on people who are rarely heard from in the media.

Over and over again, I’d see how this simple act of being interviewed could mean so much to people, particularly those who had been told that their stories didn’t matter. I could literally see people’s back straighten as they started to speak into the microphone.

In 1998, I made a documentary about the last flophouse hotels on the Bowery in Manhattan. Guys stayed up in these cheap hotels for decades.

They lived in cubicles the size of prison cells covered with chicken wire so you couldn’t jump from one room into the next. Later, I wrote a book on the men with the photographer Harvey Wang.

I remember walking into a flophouse with an early version of the book and showing one of the guys his page. He stood there staring at it in silence, then he grabbed the book out of my hand and started running down the long, narrow hallway holding it over his head shouting, “I exist! I exist.” (Applause)

3:07 In many ways, “I exist” became the clarion call for StoryCorps, this crazy idea that I had a dozen years ago. The thought was to take documentary work and turn it on its head.

Traditionally, broadcast documentary has been about recording interviews to create a work of art or entertainment or education that is seen or heard by a whole lot of people, but I wanted to try something where the interview itself was the purpose of this work, and see if we could give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way.

So in Grand Central Terminal 11 years ago, we built a booth where anyone can come to honor someone else by interviewing them about their life.

You come to this booth and you’re met by a facilitator who brings you inside. You sit across from, say, your grandfather for close to an hour and you listen and you talk.

Many people think of it as, if this was to be our last conversation, what would I want to ask of and say to this person who means so much to me? At the end of the session, you walk away with a copy of the interview and another copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress so that your great-great-great-grandkids can someday get to know your grandfather through his voice and story.

4:24 We open this booth in one of the busiest places in the world and invite people to have this incredibly intimate conversation with another human being. I had no idea if it would work, but from the very beginning, it did. People treated the experience with incredible respect, and amazing conversations happened inside.

4:43 I want to play just one animated excerpt from an interview recorded at that original Grand Central Booth. This is 12-year-old Joshua Littman interviewing his mother, Sarah.

Josh has Asperger’s syndrome. As you may know, kids with Asperger’s are incredibly smart but have a tough time socially. They usually have obsessions. In Josh’s case, it’s with animals, so this is Josh talking with his mom Sarah at Grand Central nine years ago.

5:11 (Video) Josh Littman: From a scale of one to 10, do you think your life would be different without animals? Sarah Littman: I think it would be an eight without animals, because they add so much pleasure to life.

5:21 JL: How else do you think your life would be different without them?

5:24 SL: I could do without things like cockroaches and snakes.

5:27 JL: Well, I’m okay with snakes as long as they’re not venomous or constrict you or anything.

5:31 SL: Yeah, I’m not a big snake person —

5:33 JL: But cockroach is just the insect we love to hate.

5:36 SL: Yeah, it really is.

5:37 JL: Have you ever thought you couldn’t cope with having a child?

5:40 SL: I remember when you were a baby, you had really bad colic, so you would just cry and cry.

5:45 JL: What’s colic?

SL: It’s when you get this stomach ache and all you do is scream for four hours.

5:51 JL: Even louder than Amy does?

5:53 SL: You were pretty loud, but Amy’s was more high-pitched.

5:56 JL: I think it feels like everyone seems to like Amy more, like she’s the perfect little angel.

6:02 SL: Well, I can understand why you think that people like Amy more, and I’m not saying it’s because of your Asperger’s syndrome, but being friendly comes easily to Amy, whereas I think for you it’s more difficult, but the people who take the time to get to know you love you so much.

6:18 JL: Like Ben or Eric or Carlos?

SL: Yeah —

6:21 JL: Like I have better quality friends but less quantity? (Laughter)

6:25 SL: I wouldn’t judge the quality, but I think —

JL: I mean, first it was like, Amy loved Claudia, then she hated Claudia, she loved Claudia, then she hated Claudia.

6:33 SL: Part of that’s a girl thing, honey. The important thing for you is that you have a few very good friends, and really that’s what you need in life.

6:41 JL: Did I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born? Did I meet your expectations?

6:48 SL: You’ve exceeded my expectations, sweetie, because, sure, you have these fantasies of what your child’s going to be like, but you have made me grow so much as a parent, because you think —

6:59 JL: Well, I was the one who made you a parent.

7:01 SL: You were the one who made me a parent. That’s a good point. (Laughter) But also because you think differently from what they tell you in the parenting books, I really had to learn to think outside of the box with you, and it’s made me much more creative as a parent and as a person, and I’ll always thank you for that.

7:20 JL: And that helped when Amy was born?

7:21 SL: And that helped when Amy was born, but you are so incredibly special to me and I’m so lucky to have you as my son. (Applause)

David Isay: After this story ran on public radio, Josh received hundreds of letters telling him what an amazing kid he was.

His mom, Sarah, bound them together in a book, and when Josh got picked on at school, they would read the letters together. I just want to acknowledge that two of my heroes are here with us tonight. Sarah Littman and her son Josh, who is now an honors student in college.

8:02 You know, a lot of people talk about crying when they hear StoryCorps stories, and it’s not because they’re sad. Most of them aren’t.

I think it’s because you’re hearing something authentic and pure at this moment, when sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s an advertisement.

It’s kind of the anti-reality TV. Nobody comes to StoryCorps to get rich. Nobody comes to get famous. It’s simply an act of generosity and love.

So many of these are just everyday people talking about lives lived with kindness, courage, decency and dignity, and when you hear that kind of story, it can sometimes feel like you’re walking on holy ground. So this experiment in Grand Central worked,

8:44 and we expanded across the country.

Today, more than 100,000 people in all 50 states in thousands of cities and towns across America have recorded StoryCorps interviews. It’s now the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered. (Applause)

9:05 We’ve hired and trained hundreds of facilitators to help guide people through the experience. Most serve a year or two with StoryCorps traveling the country, gathering the wisdom of humanity.

They call it bearing witness, and if you ask them, all of the facilitators will tell you that the most important thing they’ve learned from being present during these interviews is that people are basically good.

And I think for the first years of StoryCorps, you could argue that there was some kind of a selection bias happening, but after tens of thousands of interviews with every kind of person in every part of the country — rich, poor, five years old to 105, 80 different languages, across the political spectrum — you have to think that maybe these guys are actually onto something.

9:52 I’ve also learned so much from these interviews.

I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen, like this interview between a betting clerk in Brooklyn named Danny Perasa who brought his wife Annie to StoryCorps to talk about his love for her.

10:17 (Audio) Danny Perasa: You see, the thing of it is, I always feel guilty when I say “I love you” to you. And I say it so often. I say it to remind you that as dumpy as I am, it’s coming from me. It’s like hearing a beautiful song from a busted old radio, and it’s nice of you to keep the radio around the house.

10:34 Annie Perasa: If I don’t have a note on the kitchen table, I think there’s something wrong. You write a love letter to me every morning.

DP: Well, the only thing that could possibly be wrong is I couldn’t find a silly pen.

AP: To my princess: The weather outside today is extremely rainy. I’ll call you at 11:20 in the morning.

DP: It’s a romantic weather report.

AP: And I love you. I love you. I love you.

DP: When a guy is happily married, no matter what happens at work, no matter what happens in the rest of the day, there’s a shelter when you get home, there’s a knowledge knowing that you can hug somebody without them throwing you downstairs and saying, “Get your hands off me.”

Being married is like having a color television set. You never want to go back to black and white.

DI: Danny was about five feet tall with crossed eyes and one single snaggletooth, but Danny Perasa had more romance in his little pinky than all of Hollywood’s leading men put together.

11:28 What else have I learned?

I’ve learned about the almost unimaginable capacity for the human spirit to forgive. I’ve learned about resilience and I’ve learned about strength.

11:38 Like an interview with Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson.

When Oshea was a teenager, he murdered Mary’s only son, Laramiun Byrd, in a gang fight.

A dozen years later, Mary went to prison to meet Oshea and find out who this person was who had taken her son’s life. Slowly and remarkably, they became friends, and when he was finally released from the penitentiary, Oshea actually moved in next door to Mary. This is just a short excerpt of a conversation they had soon after Oshea was freed.

(Video) Mary Johnson: My natural son is no longer here. I didn’t see him graduate, and now you’re going to college. I’ll have the opportunity to see you graduate.

I didn’t see him get married. Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to experience that with you.

Oshea Israel: Just to hear you say those things and to be in my life in the manner in which you are is my motivation. It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path. You still believe in me, and the fact that you can do it despite how much pain I caused you, it’s amazing.

MJ: I know it’s not an easy thing to be able to share our story together, even with us sitting here looking at each other right now. I know it’s not an easy thing, so I admire that you can do this.

OI: I love you, lady.

MJ: I love you too, son. (Applause)

DI: And I’ve been reminded countless times of the courage and goodness of people, and how the arc of history truly does bend towards justice.

13:27 Like the story of Alexis Martinez, who was born Arthur Martinez in the Harold Ickes projects in Chicago.

In the interview, she talks with her daughter Lesley about joining a gang as a young man, and later in life transitioning into the woman she was always meant to be. This is Alexis and her daughter Lesley.

(Audio) Alexis Martinez: One of the most difficult things for me was I was always afraid that I wouldn’t be allowed to be in my granddaughter’s lives, and you blew that completely out of the water, you and your husband. One of the fruits of that is my relationship with my granddaughters. They fight with each other sometimes over whether I’m he or she.

 Lesley Martinez: But they’re free to talk about it.

 AM: They’re free to talk about it, but that, to me, is a miracle.

 LM: You don’t have to apologize. You don’t have to tiptoe. We’re not going to cut you off, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to just know, that you’re loved.

AM: You know, I live this every day now. I walk down the streets as a woman, and I really am at peace with who I am. I mean, I wish I had a softer voice maybe, but now I walk in love and I try to live that way every day.

14:42 DI: Now I walk in love.

14:45 I’m going to tell you a secret about StoryCorps. It takes some courage to have these conversations.

StoryCorps speaks to our mortality. Participants know this recording will be heard long after they’re gone.

There’s a hospice doctor named Ira Byock who has worked closely with us on recording interviews with people who are dying. He wrote a book called “The Four Things That Matter Most about the four things you want to say to the most important people in your life before they or you die: thank you, I love you, forgive me, I forgive you.

They’re just about the most powerful words we can say to one another, and often that’s what happens in a StoryCorps booth. It’s a chance to have a sense of closure with someone you care about — no regrets, nothing left unsaid. And it’s hard and it takes courage, but that’s why we’re alive, right?

15:42 So, the TED Prize.

When I first heard from TED and Chris a few months ago about the possibility of the Prize, I was completely floored. They asked me to come up with a very brief wish for humanity, no more than 50 words. So I thought about it, I wrote my 50 words, and a few weeks later, Chris called and said, “Go for it.”

16:04 So here is my wish:

that you will help us take everything we’ve learned through StoryCorps and bring it to the world so that anyone anywhere can easily record a meaningful interview with another human being which will then be archived for history.

16:24 How are we going to do that? With this.

We’re fast moving into a future where everyone in the world will have access to one of these, and it has powers I never could have imagined 11 years ago when I started StoryCorps.

It has a microphone, it can tell you how to do things, and it can send audio files. Those are the key ingredients.

16:49 So the first part of the wish is already underway.

Over the past couple of months, the team at StoryCorps has been working furiously to create an app that will bring StoryCorps out of our booths so that it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Remember, StoryCorps has always been two people and a facilitator helping them record their conversation, which is preserved forever, but at this very moment, we’re releasing a public beta version of the StoryCorps app. The app is a digital facilitator that walks you through the StoryCorps interview process, helps you pick questions, and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview, and then with one tap upload it to our archive at the Library of Congress.

 That’s the easy part, the technology.

The real challenge is up to you: to take this tool and figure out how we can use it all across America and around the world, so that instead of recording thousands of StoryCorps interviews a year, we could potentially record tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or maybe even more.

18:00 Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving, so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. (Applause)

Or imagine mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down not to talk about that conflict but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so, begin to build bonds of trust;

or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday;

or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they’ve learned in life, and how they want to be remembered. (Applause)

19:11 Ten years ago, I recorded a StoryCorps interview with my dad who was a psychiatrist, and became a well-known gay activist. This is the picture of us at that interview.

I never thought about that recording until a couple of years ago, when my dad, who seemed to be in perfect health and was still seeing patients 40 hours a week, was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away very suddenly a few days later. It was June 28, 2012, the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

19:45 I listened to that interview for the first time at three in the morning on the day that he died.

I have a couple of young kids at home, and I knew that the only way they were going to get to know this person who was such a towering figure in my life would be through that session.

I thought I couldn’t believe in StoryCorps any more deeply than I did, but it was at that moment that I fully and viscerally grasped the importance of making these recordings.

20:10 Every day, people come up to me and say, “I wish I had interviewed my father or my grandmother or my brother, but I waited too long.

Now, no one has to wait anymore.

At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring and important.

Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true.

Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger.

Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less.

Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important.

And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely. Thank you very much.

Story collector
Over thousands of archived and broadcast interviews, StoryCorps founder Dave Isay has created an unprecedented document of the dreams and fears that touch us all. Full bio
Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared this link on April 9, 2015.
Dave Isay opened the first StoryCorps booth in New York’s Grand Central Terminal in 2003 with the intention of creating a quiet place where a person could honor…
ted.com|By Dave Isay

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