To sing or sign?


It was a late call – could I go to Minnesota to film the deaf, Finnish rapper for the last two days of his US tour?

I wasn't quite as fazed by this request as you might guess: I'd seen the poster for Signmark when he'd passed by the UN in New York – but hadn't had time to see him perform.

I did have a few questions: what would he sound like? Did he sing?

Well, I had a few things to learn. He doesn't sing, but he does sign. It's just a matter or rearranging the "g". And he also puts on a "bilingual" performance. – meaning that he signs for the deaf audience, while his collaborator Brandon sings for the hearing audience.

And the music really began to grow on me – first from listening to his latest CD, Breaking the Rules - then from watching, and filming, his concerts. It was cool – I was allowed to be a kind of MTV camera guy for a couple of days.

Why Minnesota (the university of)? Because they have a strong and proud tradition of support for the deaf community there – for example providing numerous interpreters to work with deaf students.

The serious side: Signmark, real name Marko Vuoriheimo, wants people to think carefully about how they see deaf people: are they disabled, or part of a linguistic minority? After all, he says, isn't being deaf in the hearing world a bit like being a Brit in Finland and not knowing the local language – and then needing an interpreter to communicate?

Members of a club for deaf people in Finland in the 1930s:

When he was making his first album Signmark discovered that, in

Finland, deaf couples were officially barred from marrying between 1929 and 1969 – on the basis of pseudo-scientific eugenics theories: the concern that the Finnish race would degenerate if people with disabilities were allowed to procreate.

Signmark's own story is one of cheerful triumph – his songs make
frequent references to the people who doubted him – and shoves their skepticism back in their faces.  He's not a shrinking violet.

Here’s an extract from the film:

The full documentary – which has been distributed to broadcasters worldwide as part of the UN's 21st Century magazine programme.

Filed under Uncategorized.

Water or coal? South Africa’s dilemma


by Gill Fickling

The explosion was deafening … the ground shook … and thick black dust fell from the ceiling. Nobody dived under the table, or ran for cover. In fact, nobody flinched as this was all part of daily life. No, we weren't filming in a war-zone but in South Africa, at the home of a black farmer who lives with his family just 50 metres away from a coal-mine.

The blasting at the large open-cast mine next door is a daily occurrence, but Lucas Maseko and his wife are philosophical about the fact that they can no longer live in their house due to the large cracks to walls and ceiling, and are forced to sleep in the small barn next door. But they cannot accept that their water supply is now unusable due to underground pollution caused by the mining activities, killing their cattle and forcing them off their land. And they are one family of many.

I traveled with cameraman, Al Lyne, to the main coal-mining region, Mpumalanga, to shoot a story on the impact of coal-mining on South Africa's main rivers, which provide water to millions. Experts warn that the country is heading for a catastrophe if the water-sources are not protected calling for restrictions to further coal-mining. But with the nation's dependency on coal as a source of energy and export income, as well as the industry's provision of employment to thousands, the country is faced with a difficult dilemma.

See the film here - part of the UN’s award-winning monthly magazine programme,  ”21st Century”.

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E-mail, shooting and the Moscow rush-hour – without vision


by Francis Mead

One of the things about Anatoliy is you can e-mail him and he can e-mail you back. Which sounds completely trivial – except that Anatoliy Popko is blind. So how does he do it? It's all down to voice recognition software – something called JAWS (Job Access with Speech). He showed me when I went to film him at the All Russia Association of the Blind in Moscow.

There's a continuous burble of a robotic voice. As his cursor runs over a sentence or as he writes, the software reads it out, so he knows at every instant what's on the page. It's definitely cool – and it means he can function at work and communicate with the world.

Next stop: table tennis and shooting. (more…)

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Pakistan: Youth for Change


by Mary Ferreira

Lahore, Pakistan – Some 10,000 youth — men and women — are part of a growing movement for change in Pakistan.

Punjab University students

Led by Abrar ul-Haq, Chairman, the group is known as the Youth Parliament of Pakistan or YPP. Abrar told UN TV multimedia producer, Mary Ferreira, “I have a vision to empower the youth of Pakistan with an ability to understand the importance of their role in society.”

YPP is a non-profit, non-political, non-religious programme fostering and translating talent and excellence of adolescents and youths of Pakistan into tangible action and community service. Now young people affiliated with this non-governmental organization or NGO are raising their voices and demanding change from provincial parliamentarians. Their hope is that local leaders will support their views and take their proposals to the federal level in Islamabad.

Cafetaria at Punjab University

Two main proposals were put forward by YPP members dealing with constitutional change and new educational curricula. Some of YPP’s activities included a week long series of televised debates for broadcast later this month.

The activities of YPP recently caught the attention of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) which is supporting the participation of youth in democratic processes around the world. 21st Century video coming soon.

Filed under Youth.

Qatar: Sweet Epidemic


by Mary Ferreira

Counting calories is not on anyone’s mind when visiting fast food chains in Doha, the capital city of the State of Qatar. But it’s now a necessity as young people are becoming “addicted” to quick meals, according to one of the leading newspapers in the country, the Peninsula. Now the Government is implementing rules and regulations to force restaurants to disclose to consumers the calorie count in every meal.

This initiative is part of a plan to reduce the onset of diabetes across the nation. Many Qataris, regardless of age, are developing diabetes at an alarming rate. But the disease is not new to Qatar. Abdullrazaq was diagnosed with diabetes when he was only 25 years old.

Abdullrazaq at Home

Experts say the reasons vary – unhealthy diets of fast food and sugar-filled desserts, sedentary lifestyles and hereditary genes.

Abdullrazaq is not sure how he acquired diabetes but he told UN TV multimedia producer, Mary Ferreira, that he lost both of his parents to diabetes. His mother passed away only a few weeks ago.

Now at age, 51, the disease is claiming several parts of Abdullrazaq’s body, including vital organs. His days are filled with doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, and insulin injections.

He is currently receiving dialysis treatment three times each week at Hamad General Hospital in downtown, Doha. The hospital boasts more than 200 dialysis stations and in 2009, the hospital performed some 60,000 dialysis sessions.

Abdullrazaq’s family is supporting him fully as he struggles to move around his home to complete routine daily activities. According to medical experts, the only solution for Abdullrazaq is a kidney transplant when an exact match is found.

In the meantime, the campaign against fast food addiction will test the nation’s commitment to healthy eating. Before any success is reached workers at eateries need to be aware of the impact of fried food on consumers’ health, says the Peninsula.

Filed under Health.

Pakistan: Wagah Border Ceremony


by Mary Ferreira

Lahore, Pakistan – Thousands of spectators on both sides of the border – Pakistan and India – cheer as soldiers representing both nations participate in a ceremony which ends in a perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations’ flags.

Called the beating retreat border ceremony, one infantryman or Jawan stands at attention on each side of huge iron gates separating the two countries. As the sun sets, the gates are opened initially and soldiers from both sides shake hands as a sign of friendship. The pageantry continues as citizens wave the flags of their respective countries. The gates open for the last time and remain so until the flags are lowered simultaneously. The flags are then folded, the ceremony ends, soldiers shake hands and retreat from both sides as the gates close once again.

The ceremony attracts visitors from all over the world. It was indeed an amazing event to witness. Watch this short clip of what we saw.

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Qatar: Robotic Camel Jockeys


by Mary Ferreira

Doha, Qatar – Camel racing has been a popular sport for centuries in the Gulf region.
In most countries children were used as camel jockeys. But governments along with the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, knew that it was dangerous work for children.

In 2005, children from several South East Asian countries were repatriated after a ban was implemented, prohibiting them from working as jockeys. Camel owners had to find a replacement to keep the sport alive. They turned to inventor, Rashed Ali, who came up with the idea of using robots. After several prototypes were developed, a robot weighing no more than three kilos, equipped with a thin whip, is getting the job done.

We were fortunate to cover several races in Doha – a spectacular moment as camels with colorful robots on their backs jostled for first place. Watch this short clip for a quick glimpse. The final story is coming soon.

Filed under Stories Coming Up.



River Ivindo, Gabon


Malondo Pygmy Village

By Producer Gill Fickling
2011 was not a good year to be an elephant. Although trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, more ivory was seized during that year than any other on record, representing at least 2500 dead elephants. African elephants are being killed in ever larger numbers to satisfy a growing demand in Asia. Cameraman Antonio Tibaldi and I travelled deep into the rain-forest in Gabon with Joseph Okouyi who has dedicated his life to protecting these endangered animals. As chief warden of Ivindo National Park, covering some 1200 square miles of almost impenetrable forest, he and his team have their work cut out. Elephants in this country in Central Africa are increasingly the target of poachers chasing the rich-pickings. Also, it seems local poverty is driving the trade.

Joseph with his team

The indigenous pygmy population, known for their expert hunting skills and knowledge of the forest, are now struggling to survive as their livelihoods are squeezed. For some soap and lamp-oil and a few dollars, poor pygmies are recruited by ivory traffickers to do the killing. But Joseph, the animal-lover who shares his home with a pet wild-boar and who, as a boy, used to eat out of the same bowl as his dog, is determined to protect the forest elephants – at whatever cost. Watch our story, coming up soon on "21st Century".

Dwindling Fish Stocks


Fish stocks

By Mary Ferreira and Elizabeth Waruru
The fishing industry helps millions of people escape poverty around the world especially those in small island States like Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

Some one thousand fishermen living on the south western coast of the island depend on the sea for their livelihoods and to feed their families. But lately, they’re reporting smaller catches. They told UNTV Producer, Mary Ferreira, during an interview that pollution, trawling, and restricted fishing grounds are contributing to the current state of fish stocks in the region.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, fish is an ideal source of animal protein for more than two billion people worldwide who consume some 100 million tonnes each year. The Government of Trinidad & Tobago is working with private investors to introduce aquaculture to combat the problem of dwindling fish stocks in the country. It’s a solution that has been shared with local fishermen who hesitate to trade their small fishing boats for more lucrative “fish farming” businesses.

A recent report from UNEP also suggests that an investment of US$8 billion annually to rebuild the world’s fisheries would increase catches worldwide to 112 million tonnes per year. Watch this short clip of a fisherman’s story in Trinidad & Tobago.

Filed under Economy.

Senegal: Beyond Tradition


By Mary Ferreira

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, or genital cutting is an age-old custom that’s still practiced in many countries. It’s a custom that affects some 140 million women and girls worldwide.

In partnership with the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, a film crew from UNTV traveled to Senegal in West Africa to produce a film documenting efforts made by the Government to ban this practice.

But in a country where dozens of ethnic groups live according to their own traditional values and beliefs we found that even though the ban on FGM is in place, it’s still practiced, especially in the ethnic stronghold of the Pulaar people. A woman, believed to be a “cutter” living in the Pulaar region of Matam, received a jail sentence when caught performing excisions on young girls.

Upon learning of her release, we requested an interview through Tostan, a local non-governmental organization. We attempted to interview her after receiving permission but when we arrived at the home she was nowhere in sight.

Despite this setback, we managed to complete our mission with adequate elements to produce a compelling piece focusing on cultural perspectives, religious points of view and individual regrets. Watch this brief clip.

Filed under Women.