Monday, January 26, 2015

Field research opportunity in Sri Lanka for Master's students

In this competitive age, numerous students in many fields of studies face limited opportunities to showcase their knowledge and skills through practical work. Qualified applicants are numerous and chances of being selected are limited. Nonetheless, opportunities are there for the taking by qualified applicants who dare to apply. Those who do not apply stand no chance.

Shalin Finland, an NGO that, according to information on its homepage, networks on environmental, social and economic justice issues with focus on local solutions to challenges presented by environmental change and development-induced poverty, is looking for 6 students (preferably Master's level students) in the fields of Geography, Forestry, Biology, Development studies or other relevant subject to conduct field research in a project titled "Community participation for improved forest governance in Sri Lanka."

According to information in an email I received through a mailing list I am subscribed to, the proposed research areas are:
  1. GIS mapping
  2. Biodiversity and ecosystem services 
  3. Livelihood in the project sites
According to the email, the field research positions are self-financed (2000 euros for a three-week field trip, including flights, accommodation, meals, logistics in the field, translator and other supporting services). The research will ideally be conducted between April and May 2015 and the final report is expected to be submitted within 3 months after the field trip to Sri Lanka.

Shalin Finland offers selected students support in planning and conducting the research by the Finnish project management team, local partner in Sri Lanka supporting the field work and the opportunity to work with local students. In order to facilitate the research, the organisation also makes practical arrangements in the field, such as accommodation, logistics, translation services, research permits, etc.

It is stated in the email announcing the research opportunity that interested candidates should express interest by emailing their CVs, academic transcripts and motivation letters of not more than 200 words - indicating which of the three aforementioned research areas you are interested in, and preferred timing of the field research - to Applications will be screened until the required number of students is reached.

More information can be obtained via email: or from the Sri Lanka project webpage.

It is worthy to mention that I am not affiliated with Shalin. Sharing information on my blog about the research opportunity in Sri Lanka is a personal initiative designed to help interested students and to show support for the sustainable development work Shalin is doing. I believe there is a link between human rights - a cause I am passionate about - and development.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Charlie — I Am Charlie

Last Wednesday's gruesome attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly magazine in France, sparked outrage and shock among supporters of what has been described as the thing terrorists fear most: freedom. The massacre inspired the hash tag #JeSuisCharlie (I Am Charlie) on social media to show support for freedom of expression and solidarity with the victims of the office massacre. On the other hand, the barbaric act of terror enjoyed some muted support from those who think the magazine crossed a red line. Charlie Hebdo divides opinion even in the wake of a massacre in its Paris office.

On January 7, 2015, an attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo left 12 people dead, mostly journalists - as victim obituaries show. The attack sparked a three-day manhunt that culminated in the killing of three suspects after hostage crises and a massive police operation.

French authorities described the Charlie Hebdo attack as an act of terror, and it is believed to have been motivated by Charlie Hebdo's satirical depiction of the prophet Mohammed in publications.

Now, the facts of the attack are undisputed. Differences lie in responses to the attack.

There are those who think the writers and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo deserved what they got because they repeatedly offended a cross-section of the Muslim community by mocking the prophet Mohammed. This argument is, I think, misguided.

Some have argued that freedom of expression is a double-edged sword: cartoonists have the right to express themselves, and their audience also have the right to express disapproval of their work. An absurd argument, given that murder, in my opinion, is not a legitimate expression of disapproval in a civilized society.

In my view, the attack was a gruesome and disproportionate response to satire. It is unjustifiable. Anything other than complete and absolute condemnation of the attack amounts to support for the act of terror. Hence the way I see it, those blaming Charlie Hebdo for "provoking" the attack are indirectly showing [muted] support for cold-blooded mass murder. Some people in this category "condemn" the killings, but their use of of the word "but" after passive condemnation is revealing.

There are those who think Charlie Hebdo cartoonists "baited extremists" and brought murder on themselves. Perhaps they believe that ridiculing some of the absurdities of religion should be punishable -- maybe not by death, but should be punishable.

Personally, I would not depict the prophet Mohammed -- or any religious icon for that matter. Neither would I post any potentially offensive material on my blog or elsewhere. It is a personal principle evidenced by my blog rules and regulations. However, I would defend the right of anyone who chooses to do otherwise -- although I would advise against doing so because, as I stated in a 2011 article about a Danish man found guilty of racism against Muslim men, there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech, which is punishable by law in some countries.

I believe people should not be forced to uphold religious standards they do not believe in. To illustrate -- if Christianity says Jesus Christ should not be drawn or depicted the rule should apply only to Christians. Non-Christians should not be forced to comply. This is in line with the principle of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Some of cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo are pretty shocking and provocative to some viewers. As noted by NPR, some of the cartoons go well beyond standards of offensive material. However, I share the view that "no one deserves to die just because he's rude, crude or otherwise obnoxious."

I AM CHARLIE because I oppose what the brutal attack of 1/7 seeks to achieve: terrorize the public and impose an Islamic norm on non-believers. In truth, I would probably not be Charlie if the massacre had not happened because some Charlie Hebdo cartoons are, well, in poor taste.

It was Voltaire who said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year 2015 message

It is January 7, 2015. I would like to thank my family, friends and blog readers for the massive support and encouragement I received in 2014.

In general, last year was a good one. A lot did not happen but the few things that happened were pretty significant. For instance, I finally traveled for the United States for vacation -- during which I had the pleasure of reuniting with some of my oldest and best friends. While in the United States, I also met my niece and nephews for the first time. The trip was so significant that I consider it to be one of the highlights of my life so far.

Another example of an exciting thing I did in 2014 was set up a home aquarium. What many people do not know is that I am an aquarium hobbyist -- which partly explains why the Georgia Aquarium was one of the places I visited during my trip to the United Stated last summer.

In 2014, I successfully set up a home aquarium in my living room -- without prior experience. I successfully cycled my 100-liter hexagon tank, and stocked with a variety of aquatic plants and tropical fish, including cherry barbs, honey gouramis, pristella tetras, corydoras and a bristlenose pleco. One year on, the little "ecosystem" I created in my living room is balanced, and I still enjoy the hobby -- despite the strict weekly maintenance regimen required for successful fishkeeping in a home aquarium. The only "downside" of my new hobby is that it took a toll on my blogging, evidenced by the fact that I made thirty blog entries in 2014 as opposed to fifty three in 2013.

My wish is to write more in 2015 and engage and connect my readers. I will find a way to balance my hobbies so that one does not suffer as a result of the other.

Personally, 2014 was a good year, and I am thankful to God and all the great people around me for that. But the year was certainly not good for everyone. My thoughts are with all those who were affected in one way or the other by the horrors of the year, including terrorism, air travel disasters, armed conflicts and the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. I appreciate all the health workers who instead of running away from the virus they took the fight to it and helped save lives. I also appreciate rescue workers and security forces who risk their lives in response to disasters and security threats.

I wish my family, friends, blog readers and all global citizens a happy, safe, peaceful and prosperous new year 2015. May all of us endeavor to make the world a better place this year for all who live in it through acts of kindness, tolerance and consideration for others.

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