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Lest We Forget
November 20, 2011 - 10:20pm

Six months ago, we here at University of Venus wrote passionately about our reactions to the beating and blinding of Rumana Monzur by her husband and in front of their daughter. We hoped that this would shed light on the issue of violence against women and the power imbalance that still exists between men and women.  But we also feared for her academic career, her and her daughter’s safety, and her future more generally. How is she?

A little more than a year ago, we were riveted by the news of 33 Chilean miners stuck in a mine and their stories. A year later, can anyone say if they’ve given the miners more than a second thought after they were on all of our televisions and Twitter timelines? Has the mining industry changed at all in Chile? Are these workers any safer, better off or at all alright after their ordeal?

And finally, almost two years ago, Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake. We, once again, globally rallied our support to help rebuild Haiti. Haitian-Canadian author Dany Laferriere happened to be in Haiti when the earthquake stuck and also happened to have a manuscript due soon after. Instead of the book he was supposed to submit, he instead quickly wrote a memoire of the earthquake, Tout bouge autour de moi (Everything is Moving Around Me; you can read a excerpt in English here). A mere two months after disaster struck, Laferriere provided us with a moving account of the earthquake and how life went on in the immediate aftermath. Because he was an author and a Canadian, the government quickly evacuated him from the island and he continued on his book and speaking tour, noting the reactions in the media and the people he came into contact with. Over-all, the tone of the book is hopeful. The following is my translation of the last few sentences of the book:

When people talk to me, I see in their eyes that they are addressing the dead, while I grab hold of even the smallest living fly. But what really touches me is that they seem genuinely moved by their own emotions, and they hope to internalize and hold on to the emotions longer. It is said that one disaster follows another. And while the journalists will move on to the next tragedy, Haiti will remain in the world’s hearts.

We know that we moved on when the journalists and (more significantly) the media did, too. Haiti remains in my heart because I study their literature and culture academically. But Haiti’s story since then has been far from happy, nor has it been in the front (or even back) of our minds. Instead, there has been political instability, a cholera outbreak, tent cities that were meant to be temporary but remain today, and less than half in some cases of the aid money promised to Haiti has been paid out or spent and corruption both in Haiti and from the outside remains a problem. We pledged out money and then largely forgot about it. Mostly, we moved on to the next headline-grabbing humanitarian crisis.

The Chilean Miners have not fared well, either. The New York Times recently did a piece that looked at how life was going for the miners a year later. Just about all of them are poorer than they were before. The President of Chile took advantage of his popularity after the miners were rescued to tour the world, and while he made good on his promise to pass legislation to improve the safety of mines in Chile, it is still unclear if they have done much good.

Finally, the impetus for this whole post. About a month ago, I was struck wondering what had happened to Rumana Monzur. I knew that her parents had joined her back in Vancouver, but it was unclear (or unreported) whether her daughter had made it to Canada as well. Would the charges against her husband stick? Would Monzur be able to continue her studies? A quick Google search revealed nothing. There was the initial flurry of activity and reports around the date of the attacks, and then nothing save for an announced fund-raiser for her continued medical care and other expenses in Canada. What had happened to her and her family?

A more recent Google search revealed more. The Globe and Mail did a follow-up story on her situation; she is learning Braille and determined to finish her MA and then PhD. Her daughter did make it to Canada and so far more than $80K has been raised to help her recovery. There is an online video channel devoted to archiving the media surrounding her case. And perhaps more importantly, there have been several posts devoted to how the media in her home country handled the case, sparking lasting change in how issues of domestic violence are covered.

We cannot let the media’s short attention span dictate what we care about and what we pay attention to. These stories mattered to us and they should continue to matter to us even after, as Laferriere says, the media has moved on. I write about this today to remind us to stay engaged and to stay connected; Google can’t send me results that aren’t there.

Morehead, Kentucky in the US

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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