2019
March
15
Friday

“Hello, brother.”

Those were the final words of a man serving as greeter at the door of one of the two mosques attacked in a Friday shooting that killed at least 49 people in New Zealand.

He had seen the gunman approaching, weapon in hand. And whether he spoke in the hope of defusing the attack or simply out of resolve to meet hatred with something higher, his message was one of courage and love.

Those qualities were mirrored by others during the attack by an assailant who was taken into police custody – and who according to news reports was an Australian who had forged white supremacist beliefs. One woman on the street acted to keep some of the wounded alive while the assault was still underway inside the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch.

The response to the attack was swift and global. Voices of sympathy and solidarity resounded worldwide. Beyond the initial responses, many are voicing the need to take deeper practical steps in the hard work of displacing hate with a brotherhood and respect that spans cultural or ideological differences.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stood for that ethos in addressing her nation Friday. “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand; they may even be refugees here,” she said. “They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us."

Now on to our stories for today, highlighting educational opportunity, global indicators of progress, and a grassroots role in mental health care.

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1. Algeria’s youth, finding a voice, seek more than token change

The Arab Spring left Algerians, still exhausted by civil war, on the sidelines. But they were watching and learning. Now, as young Algerians press an out-of-touch ruling class, they are in the vanguard.

Mark
Ramzi Boudina/Reuters
Slogans and messages on sticky notes are posted during a protest demanding immediate political change in Algiers, Algeria, March 12.

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Algeria’s youth-oriented demographics are mirrored across the Arab world. Seventy percent of the population is under the age of 30, and joblessness among youth is 25 percent. The government’s failure to grow the private sector and diversify the economy meant tens of thousands of young Algerians lost jobs when oil revenues dried up. For many, illegal migration to Europe became a first, rather than last, resort.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a hero of independence from France, is also credited with saving the country after its brutal civil war of the 1990s. But when the octogenarian announced he would run for a fifth term in April’s election, young Algerians took to the streets en masse. He said this week he would not run, but Algeria’s youth are hungry for more fundamental change.

“This generation did not experience the ‘black decade’ of the 1990s, they did not hold a special reverence for the ruling class, and they grew up with the Arab Spring,” says Houcem Hamza, a professor of political science in Algiers. “It was only natural for them to start a peaceful protest movement, and it is growing.” And it’s being watched.

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Algeria’s youth, finding a voice, seek more than token change

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was an independence war fighter who drove out the occupying French, built a prosperous economy, ended a decade-old civil war that killed scores of thousands in the 1990s, and healed a nation.

He and his party, the National Liberation Front, or FLN, were supposed to be remembered as heroes in Algeria.

Yet as protests that erupted over the octogenarian’s intention to run for yet another term as president of Algeria morphed into demands for an overhaul of the entire political system, Mr. Bouteflika and the ruling class are finding themselves increasingly out of touch with the Algeria they built.

Armed with lessons they learned from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and fueled by demands for better living conditions, young Algerians are no longer deferring to their founding fathers.

As they fill the streets in protest, deflecting as inadequate an initial offer by Mr. Bouteflika to reverse course and not seek reelection, they are increasingly finding their own voice, which is both peaceful and warily nonpartisan.

And as they keep the heat on the ruling party, they are sending warning signals across the Arab world.

On Friday, Algerians staged one of the largest demonstrations since the political crisis began, with tens of thousands pressing their demands for fundamental change.

“This generation did not experience the ‘black decade’ of the 1990s, they did not hold a special reverence for the ruling class, and they grew up with the Arab Spring,” says Houcem Hamza, professor of political science at the National Higher School of Political Sciences in Algiers.

“It was only natural for them to start a peaceful protest movement, and it is growing.”

From peacemaker to punchline

A hero of the war for independence and former foreign minister, Mr. Bouteflika was coaxed out of political retirement by the left-leaning nationalist ruling elite to first serve as president in 1999.

Algeria then was still in the midst of a civil war between the ruling FLN and the military on one side and Islamists militants on the other. The conflict had already killed some 150,000 people since the military annulled the Islamists’ 1991 electoral win.

Mr. Bouteflika moved forward with an amnesty in 1999 and later ordered a national referendum be held on a charter for peace and national reconciliation that aimed to reintegrate the Islamist militants into society. Mr. Bouteflika’s heavy focus on reconciliation led the various militias to lay down their arms. The violence ended in 2002, and national unity was restored in 2005.

As peace came to Algeria, Mr. Bouteflika and his inner circle of former revolutionaries, generals, and business elites quickly worked to rebuild Algeria’s economy, bolstered by the country’s 12 billion barrels in oil reserves and the largest natural gas field on the coast of the entire African continent.

Algeria’s state-dominated economy grew, and Mr. Bouteflika consolidated power in the presidency while increasing spending on social and housing projects.

When the Arab Spring swept North Africa and the Levant in 2011, Algerians, still worn out from the civil war and wary of foreign powers’ backing of regional protest movements, largely stayed at home.

When protests did break out over a rise in food prices – the so-called “oil and sugar” crisis later that year – Mr. Bouteflika and his crew were able to buy off protesters with $20 billion in subsidies, bonuses, and government salary raises.

A turning point

But then something happened.

As international oil prices dropped by nearly 50 percent in 2014-15, oil revenues dried up. The government cut subsidies. Nearly a fourth of Algerians saw their households dip below the poverty level.

But by then Mr. Bouteflika, who was paralyzed after a stroke in 2012 and last spoke in public in 2013, had become an absent ruler, an empty symbol of what many Algerians began to see as a hollow regime.

A failure to grow the private sector and mismanagement of the economy – 30 percent of Algeria’s GDP is still dependent on oil exports – meant that tens of thousands of young Algerians were without jobs.

In a country where 70 percent of the population of 42 million is under the age of 30, youth unemployment skyrocketed to 25 percent. A large segment of Algerians began turning to illegal migration to Europe as a first, rather than last, resort.

When Mr. Bouteflika announced in February that he would run for a fifth term in April’s presidential election, young Algerians, simmering over a regime that could no longer provide for them and over mismanagement of the economy, took to the streets en masse.

His announced concession Monday to not run for another term and instead delay elections to hold a “national conference” to draft a constitution to establish a “new republic” was received with anger, and young Algerians continued their nationwide protests.

Sidali Djarboub/AP/File
Algeria's longtime leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, pauses after taking the oath as president in Algiers April 28, 2014. Mr. Bouteflika has abandoned his bid for election to a fifth term in office but has simultaneously postponed the election set for next month.

Lessons from the Spring

Algerians taking to the streets are combining a unique Algerian perspective with Arab Spring lessons.

After watching the divisive politicization of the revolution in Egypt and the foreign meddling and violence in Syria and Libya, young Algerians have stuck to their mantra: Peaceful; united; for all Algerians.

No political parties have been welcomed at protests, Islamists are kept at bay, and even former ruling party officials who wished to join the movement are rebuffed.

“We are not allowing anyone to hijack this movement for personal interests, for outside interests, or allow the regime to divide us,” says Hichem, a 24-year-old activist. “We are a united Algerian movement for the people and by the people.”

Activists are also aware that the removal of a figurehead leader often leaves behind a deeper autocratic system intact.

Algerians insist that le pouvoir, or the powers that be – the influential businessmen, FLN old-guards, and the military – are “sacrificing” Mr. Bouteflika and are merely playing for time, waiting for the protests to die out, a measure they refuse to let happen. 

“The postponement of the presidential elections and the set-up of a national conference are the umpteenth ruse of le pouvoir to extend the fourth presidential mandate and to maintain the status quo,” said the Collectif des Jeunes Engagés, or the youth engagement collective, a transnational group of Algerian activists, university students, and young professionals formed in February to organize protests.

“Let’s stay mobilized! Let’s refuse the regime’s agenda and continue to work for a radical break, one that would enable the foundation of the rule of law and a genuine democracy,” the Collectif said in a statement made available to The Monitor.

Generation gap

Mr. Bouteflika and his inner circle are veterans of the war for independence; the rest of the political class, even the opposition, all hail from the same technocratic school of political thought.

Young Algerians in the street say political parties, unions, and civil societies are all products of a bygone era and do not represent them.

“The mode of governance in Algeria has largely been management from the top rather than something more representative of the people, says Andrew Lebovich, visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Even the man tapped by Mr. Bouteflika to organize the “national conference” to draft a new constitution, Lakhdar Brahimi, a respected former UN diplomat and member of The Elders, is 85 years old and seen as close to the regime.

The generation gap is apparent even in the way the ruling party and protesters communicate.

For weeks, Algerians have taken to social media to share memes of Mr. Bouteflika, political cartoons, jokes, corruption allegations, and thanks and encouragement for their fellow countrymen and women to keep pressure in the streets.

In contrast, when Mr. Bouteflika announced his grand “compromise,” he wrote the Algerian people a letter. 

“It is a generational issue rooted not only in politics, thought, and ideology, but in experiences and outlook,” says Mr. Hamza, the Algerian political analyst. “The center of power not only fail to understand the people’s demands; they fail to understand the people themselves.”

“Algerians are asking: How can we even communicate? How can we build a new republic with leaders in their 80s and 90s?”

Region on notice

Despite widespread admiration for the peaceful people power, few are expecting the Algerian “spring” to spread soon to other Arab states. 

But it remains a fact that several of the issues plaguing Algeria’s ruling elite – a mismanaged economy, a lack of transparency, a credibility gap, and an inability to create jobs for a young population coming of age – are chronic ills in many other Arab countries.

In autocrat Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt, 60 percent are under the age of 30 and face both rising inflation and 30 percent youth unemployment. Over 70 percent of Jordanians are under the age of 30, face a jobless rate of over 30 percent, and have begun marching to the capital to demand work.

Even Tunisia, the Arab Spring’s lone success story, struggles with a 30 percent youth joblessness rate and is governed by a 92-year-old president.

With Gulf monarchies themselves struggling to create jobs for young citizens, Arab satellite networks such as Al Jazeera have been less enthusiastic in their coverage of Algeria’s protest movement than they were for the 2011 uprisings. Some Arab publications barely mention it at all.

“Unless something really drastic changes, the protests are going to continue, and we will basically see how far the government is willing to go to meet their demands,” says Mr. Lebovich, the analyst.

The Arab world will be watching closely how far Algiers is willing to bend.

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2. California shuts down death row. Signs a red state may be next.

As with criminal justice reform, the death penalty may be a growing area of bipartisan agreement among lawmakers. The reasons range from moral to economic.

Mark

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom surprised Democrats and Republicans alike this week by announcing a halt to executions in the state with the country’s largest death row, a move that follows similar actions in recent years by governors in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

His decision comes amid growing signs of bipartisan support for abolishing capital punishment.

Republicans in several red states, including Kentucky, Montana, and Wyoming, have sponsored bills this year to end executions. Beyond moral misgivings and questions about whether the death penalty deters crime, some conservative lawmakers have raised questions about the spiraling cost of capital cases.

Another factor uniting Republicans and Democrats has been the steadily climbing number of prisoners sentenced to death who were later exonerated. A Republican lawmaker in Wyoming, where an effort to repeal the death penalty narrowly failed last month, told The Hill that the 164 inmates released from death row since 1973 are proof that “we get it wrong.”

Twenty states have outlawed the death penalty, including eight since 2007. California is one of 11 states with capital punishment that have gone more than a decade without an execution.

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California shuts down death row. Signs a red state may be next.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom surprised Democrats and Republicans alike this week by announcing a halt to executions in the state with the country’s largest death row, a move that follows similar actions in recent years by governors in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

His decision has drawn criticism from President Donald Trump and California Republicans, among others, yet bipartisan support for abolishing capital punishment appears on the rise.

Republicans in several red states, including Kentucky, Montana, and Wyoming, have sponsored bills this year to end executions.  Beyond misgivings about the morality of taking a life and whether the death penalty deters crime, some conservative lawmakers have raised questions about the spiraling cost of litigating capital cases.

Last month in Montana, where the most recent execution occurred in 2006, Republican legislator Mike Hopkins introduced a bill to abolish the practice. He called the death penalty “another form of life in prison that just so happens to cost the state of Montana a lot more money than regular life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

Democrats share similar concerns, and they further question whether states apply capital punishment disproportionately against black and Latino defendants. Washington’s state Supreme Court cited that disparity in striking down the death penalty last fall, four years after Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who is running for president, banned executions.

Another factor uniting Republicans and Democrats has been the steadily climbing number of prisoners sentenced to death who were later exonerated. A Republican lawmaker in Wyoming, where an effort to repeal the death penalty narrowly failed last month, told the political publication The Hill that the 164 inmates released from death row since 1973 are proof that “we get it wrong.”

Five of those inmates were freed in California, and Governor Newsom invoked the possibility of wrongful convictions in explaining his rationale Wednesday. Referring to the state’s 737 death-row inmates, he said, “I cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings, knowing – knowing – that among them are people who are innocent.”

Both Pew and Gallup report that, while support for the death penalty among Republicans remains high, with about three-quarters in favor, the number has declined by 10 points in recent years. About 52 percent of independents and 35 percent of Democrats support capital punishment, according to Pew.

Twenty states have outlawed the death penalty, including eight since 2007. California is one of 11 states with capital punishment that have gone more than a decade without an execution.

As lawmakers in red and blue states weigh repeal legislation, the annual number of executions in the United States has fallen by about three-quarters since reaching a high of 98 in 1999. In politics and practice, there appears to be waning interest in tinkering with what late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun called “the machinery of death.”

SOURCE: Gallup, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Death Penalty Information Center
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
SOURCE: Gallup, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Death Penalty Information Center
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. America to elite colleges: Shape up (but please let us in).

Analyzing what’s wrong with college admissions became a pastime for Americans this week. At the heart of the discussion is a desire for fair opportunities to get ahead. 

Mark
Ben Margot/AP
Students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara County, California. In the first lawsuit to come out of the college bribery scandal, several students are suing Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, and other schools named in the case, saying they and others were denied a fair shot at admission.

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When the college admissions scandal erupted this week, it landed in the middle of a societal crisis of sorts. Finding out wealthy people were buying their way into elite institutions, while not surprising to many, fed the breakdown in faith people are experiencing about America being a land of opportunity, observers say. Even though only a few students can get into prestigious schools, there’s still a sense that the process should be fair and promote social mobility.

Getting there from here may take time. But ideas about how to reach those goals are already emerging: eliminating tax breaks for donations made to schools if the donor’s child is in or nearing enrollment, for example. Also being raised: getting rid of preferential treatment for legacy students and reducing federal loans to force schools to lower prices to attract students. 

The common thread among the reactions is a focus on fairness. “Our profession doesn’t need a scandal to remind us of our ethical obligations,” says Todd Rinehart, who oversees enrollment at the University of Denver. “The silver lining in this scandal is that more schools might take a deeper dive to analyze inequities and barriers that exist on their campuses.”

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America to elite colleges: Shape up (but please let us in).

Photoshopping a student’s head on an athlete’s body. Bribing proctors to fix exam scores. The charges in the college admissions scandal read like a made-for-TV script.

But beyond the immediate flow of outrage, calls are coming to hold a prism up to the spotlight and examine a whole rainbow of critiques of higher education. One is focused on the seeming reluctance of wealthy campuses to promote social mobility rather than replicate privilege. Another seeks to tamp down the pressure placed on teens to land a spot at a tiny number of elite schools.

Many who would like to see reforms feel impatient for change, but it can be slow in a system comprising thousands of diverse and autonomous institutions.

“Higher education, for a host of complicated reasons, has become one of those social institutions that people love and hate at same time,” says Barmak Nassirian, director of federal policy at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The larger societal backdrop, he suggests, is a breakdown of people’s faith in America as a land of opportunity, which is “taking a back seat to a more grim reality of economic anxiety. People are looking for pathways…. Society should be able to tell its youngsters what it is they can concretely do to get ahead.”

Beyond just catching people who go to the extreme of breaking the law in order to get their kids through a “side door,” many say there’s a need for scrutiny of elite schools’ admissions practices, their relationship with donors, and their competition in college rankings. Low-income and first-generation students continue to face steep barriers to top schools.

Members of Congress from both parties have called for hearings and more oversight in the wake of the scandal.

“I will soon be introducing legislation that would end the tax break for donations made to schools before or during the enrollment of children of the donor’s family,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, in a statement March 13. “If the wealthy want to grease the skids, they shouldn’t be able to do so at the expense of American taxpayers.”

Brian Snyder/Reuters
William 'Rick' Singer leaves the federal courthouse after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston on March 12.

A silver lining? 

College admissions officers share the goal of a fair process that broadens access to college, says Todd Rinehart, who led the rewrite of the ethics code for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and oversees enrollment at the University of Denver.

“Our profession doesn’t need a scandal to remind us of our ethical obligations…. The silver lining in this scandal is that more schools might take a deeper dive to analyze inequities and barriers that exist on their campuses,” he writes in an email interview.

Admissions officers haven’t been implicated in the federal case against 50 people. Dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” it is the largest such investigation by the FBI, allegedly involving $25 million in bribes to get students into top schools.

But the relationship between admissions and athletic departments is a focal point of discussion because college coaches – in sports such as water polo, tennis, and sailing – are among those accused of taking bribes to put students on their list of recruits.

William “Rick” Singer, CEO of the Edge College & Career Network LLC (“The Key”), a college consulting company, said he was at the center of such schemes and pleaded guilty March 12 in Boston to racketeering, fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. The institutions, such as Yale, UCLA, and Georgetown, were not targets of the investigation, and no students have been charged.

But even selective admissions practices that are legal are in need of reform, says Daniel Golden, author of “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges – and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates” and senior editor at ProPublica.

“There’s a series of rules I would love to adopt if I was the ‘czar,’ ” he says. “I would eliminate legacy preferences … [and] preferences for recruited athletes in sports that only rich people play.” He would also make admissions officers recuse themselves when they know an applicant’s family.

The schools haven’t adopted such ideas, says Mr. Golden, a graduate of Harvard, because “they’re scared to imperil fundraising.”

Rare criminal cases shouldn’t be used to paint the whole system as corrupt, Mr. Rinehart and other higher-ed administrators say. Athletic recruits, legacy applicants, or students with special talents “may be given additional consideration, but that doesn’t always equate to offers of admission,” he says.

As the husband of the University of Denver’s gymnastics coach, Mr. Rinehart recuses himself from the review of any gymnastics prospects.

If someone suspects an ethical violation in a college’s admission process, they can report it to NACAC for investigation.

On Wednesday, March 13, some students filed a class-action lawsuit seeking the return of application fees from the eight schools named in the charges, saying rejected applicants deserved a process free from fraud. And a mother whose son was rejected from one of the schools filed a class-action suit against dozens of the accused individuals.  

“The collateral damage is the kids. That’s the sad thing,” said Donald Heller, an attorney for Mr. Singer, who hung his head as the two left the federal courthouse in Boston after the hourlong hearing. “He’s remorseful for getting involved,” Mr. Heller added. The charges could carry up to 65 years in prison, though Mr. Singer is cooperating and hoping for leniency.

Obsession with select schools 

While damage may have been caused to students whose parents were charged, the broader concern is about the degree to which people fixate on brand-name schools.

“Underlying all of this is an unhealthy and unnecessary obsession by some parents to push their children into a select number of colleges even though our country offers many excellent choices among the best colleges and universities in the world,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, said in a statement emailed to the Monitor.

Among similar applicants, those who attend elite schools and those who attend less selective schools end up earning about the same later in life (although it does make some difference for low-income students), researchers have found.

For such students, it’s not the college but their “ability and motivation and willingness to work hard [that] are the primary factors affecting success and satisfaction,” says Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.

Changing mindsets, regulations

But that message is hard to get through to students and parents who think they have a shot at those coveted elites. The highly selective colleges are partly to blame because they court way more students than they will ever accept, says Sally Rubenstone, senior contributor for College Confidential, an online advice and discussion forum.

“I can’t tell you how many times a student has said to me, ‘Well, I wasn’t going to apply to Harvard, but I got this letter suggesting I apply, and now my dad says I have to,’ ” she says.

The fee-based college-advising sector could be ripe for regulation, especially in the wake of this scandal, but with such a high ratio of students to counselors in high schools, many families will continue to pay for help in choosing, applying, and financing college.

One refreshing trend, Ms. Rubenstone says, is that more are becoming wary of taking on too much debt. “I get questions from students who say ‘I got into my dream school, which is an Ivy, but I can also go to this public university on a merit scholarship.’ ”

Taking another view of mounting college debt, Mary Clare Amselem, policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, advocates for reducing federal loans to force schools to lower prices to attract students. To get higher education to become less oriented around fancy degrees and more responsive to the workplace, she also proposes to “revamp the accreditation system to encourage innovation.”

The current model focused on brick-and-mortar campuses “makes it very difficult for innovative new providers to come in … to train the future workforce,” she says. “They have a very hard time competing with the Harvards of the world.”

Noble Ingram contributed to this story from Boston.

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4. ‘Built from nothing’: One country’s homegrown mental-health care

Central African trainees hope to make mental-health care more sustainable and culturally sensitive. Some are familiar with patients' challenges – and say treating others helps heal their own wounds, too.

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Dr. Sylvain Gomossa is one of just two psychologists still permanently based in the Central African Republic, a country of 4.5 million. Seven years of ongoing conflict, meanwhile, have left most families touched by violence – and often trauma.

But today, Dr. Gomossa is teaching interns in the University of Bangui’s newly reinstated psychology program. When the first class graduates later this year, they will more than quintuple the ranks of Central African psychologists.

Many are working through trauma themselves. But in a country where the little mental-health care that exists has been dominated by nongovernmental organizations, and often foreign doctors, they hope their own experiences can help support others’ healing – and foster a more sustainable system of care.

Tatiana Moussoua, a student who is now working on her thesis, barely survived a militia attack in 2016. “We were studying post-traumatic stress,” she says, remembering her classes at the time. “And I was living it.” But as she started to apply her coursework to her own life, her son’s, and at camps for internally displaced people, she says she started to feel capable again.

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‘Built from nothing’: One country’s homegrown mental-health care

Dr. Sylvain Gomossa looks at the three students in front of him, curious how they’ll react to what he is about to say.

“We used to tie people up with big, heavy chains. Even right here in my office.”

The young men remain impassive. Dr. Gomossa looks disappointed.

“Anyway, it’s out of fashion now – we don’t do that anymore,” he says. “Shall we continue the tour?”

The students quietly trail the psychologist, jotting down notes in battered notebooks as he leads them through this ramshackle collection of buildings: the only specialized psychiatric and mental-health ward in the Central African Republic.

Covered in cracked and peeling paint, the men’s and women’s sections contain little more than rows of sagging beds and drooping mosquito nets. The main office is piled with stacks and stacks of yellowing, dusty files. Patients’ relatives fill the hospital: Some sit together on blankets spread in the shade; others tend small fires where they cook for their hospitalized family members. Generators hum, and a man chops down weeds with a machete.

The students take it all in with wide eyes.

They will spend the next few weeks interning here, at this specialized ward in Bangui’s General Hospital, as part of a newly reinstated psychology program – and, their professors hope, the beginning of a more sustainable solution to the mental-health crisis across this country in conflict.

When the first class graduates later this year, they will more than quintuple the ranks of Central African psychologists. Dr. Gomossa is one of just two permanently based in a country of roughly 4.5 million people, many of whom have experienced war at close range – including students in the program.

Most psychologists here are foreigners brought in by nongovernmental organizations, crucial support for a system demolished by war. But these psychologists-in-training hope to apply their intimate understanding of the conflict’s effects on their communities, and themselves, to build more homegrown care.

“After what my country has gone through, I just wanted to help my brothers and sisters,” says Wilfrid Odilon Guimendego, one of the student interns touring the hospital. “I want to use my studies to help traumatized family members reintegrate into society.”

‘We were studying post-traumatic stress, and I was living it’

The Central African Republic has been mired in insecurity and violence for decades, but today’s crisis emerged in 2012: the year the Séléka, a coalition of rebels from the marginalized northeast, began a long march on the capital, Bangui, and left havoc in their wake. In 2013, after the Séléka toppled the government, rival militia groups called the Anti-balaka started to organize, and a bloody struggle broke out. Though the conflict was about power and resources, not religion, the fact that the Séléka are predominantly Muslim and the Anti-balaka fighters mostly Christians and animists has led to vicious interreligious violence.

The Séléka gave up power in 2014, and the country elected former prime minister Faustin-Archange Touadéra as president in 2016. In recent years, the U.N. peacekeeping presence has kept the capital relatively calm. But fighting continues in the rest of the country, which is controlled by a complex web of armed factions, many of whom consistently target civilians. Thousands have died, and a fourth of the population has been uprooted from their homes. An eighth peace deal was inked in February, but one of the signing groups has already walked away.

Even before the crisis, the mental-health ward was understaffed and underfunded, employees say. Since then, the number of patients has nearly doubled, to about 1,500 per year, Dr. Gomossa estimates. Most of them, or their loved ones, have experienced trauma.

“My cousin was forced to watch as rebels burned someone alive. Then, they made him stay by the body,” says Mr. Guimendego, the student intern. “My cousin used to be gentle, but that experience turned him aggressive. He’d slam doors. He’d yell. He’d threaten people with knives and sticks. He had nightmares.”

Mr. Guimendego was already studying psychology, and brought his cousin to the mental-health ward for treatment. He himself is working through trauma, he says – struggling to trust people, and jumping when he hears a car backfire, for fear it is gunshot. 

Adrienne Surprenant/Collectif Item
The eight final-year psychology students listen attentively to a lecture on neuroscience given by the director of the Hôpital de l'Amitié in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

He’s far from the only one. Tatiana Mossoua is now working on her thesis on children’s anxiety and trauma. On Sept. 25, 2016, she was at home with her niece in Bangui when they heard a burst of gunfire. Within seconds, members of a local militia were breaking down the door.

“I couldn’t reach my husband, so I called a colleague,” she remembers. “I told him, ‘You might be the last person to hear me alive.’”

Miraculously, she says, one of the militants recognized her and escorted them to safety. But the neighbors were killed, and her home was burnt to the ground.

In the following weeks, she would lie awake at night, reliving the attack.

“We were studying post-traumatic stress,” she says. “And I was living it.”

Ms. Mossoua began to apply counseling coursework to her own life, and her son’s. The 9-year-old was asking repeatedly about their pet cat, who had disappeared in the attack. Gradually, she started to feel capable in the face of her loss.

“I asked myself, ‘Why am I focusing on my experience when other people need help?’” she said. “I started going to IDP [internally displaced people] camps to counsel people. That helped me a lot.”

‘You need to believe in yourself’

In 2015, when the University of Bangui resurrected its defunct psychology program, Barthelemy Doui was appointed head of the department.

“Everyone – and I mean everyone – in the Central African Republic has been traumatized,” says Professor Doui, a sociologist by training. He holds up three fingers: the number of times someone held a gun to his head during the initial phase of the crisis, when fighting was commonplace in the streets of Bangui.

“I am proud because we built this from nothing,” Professor Doui says of the program, which now has 33 students. “But we still lack material and proper facilities. Our students are like nomads, going from campus to campus.”

Students have little access to computers, and copy down notes from cracked chalkboards. Before the program, many had little concrete knowledge about mental health, despite what they’ve witnessed. Across the Central African Republic, many communities associate mental-health issues with possession and witchcraft. And it was not so long ago that “treatment” involved chaining up patients.

But these students have something invaluable to offer – culturally specific understanding and treatment.

Up to 58 percent of health facilities in the Central African Republic are supported by NGOs, many of them international, according to a 2017 report. Most have brought in their own staff, who typically consult patients in French, a second language to many Central Africans, or through translators. Other NGOs run short courses to give Central African health and community workers basic mental-health training. Recently, some organizations have created internships for students in the program, which allows their clinics to provide counseling in Sangho, the country’s primary language.

Psychology student Gilbert Nguerepayo is interning today at Voix de Coeur, a shelter for street children. A former teacher and father of five, Mr. Nguerepayo took to the work immediately. Several days in, he is already conducting entry interviews in a pale green office. A tall man squeezed into a dress shirt, he sits opposite 12-year-old Caleb, who seems lost in his plastic chair.

The boy explains that he lost his father first, in a car accident, and then his mother died shortly thereafter “of sadness.” He moved in with his grandmother, but “she beat me, so I ran away,” he explains, pulling up his pant leg to show a long scar. He bends his head forward to show another, slicing across his brow.

Mr. Nguerepayo listens, studying the boy. He knows that street children come and go from the center, often disappearing and returning to the red dirt streets of Bangui.

“Caleb, I have some advice to give you,” Mr. Nguerepayo says, sounding gruff but caring. “This is painful and sad. I know it was hard for me when my own mother died.

“But we can’t stop death. It happens to everyone. So don’t focus on the loss of your parents. Your life will go on. You need to believe in yourself,” he continues. “Here, you’ll meet other orphans. They all go to school, they play, they live their lives. So, tell me, what do you want to do with your life?”

“I want to be president or minister,” says the small boy.

Mr. Nguerepayo smiles, breaking the lines across his face.

“Ah! When you are big, I will vote for you.”

He laughs as Caleb’s face lights up. “President Caleb – President of the Republic. Don’t you ever, ever forget that. Now, go on, that’s enough for today. Go and join the others.”

Still smiling, the boy slips out the door.

This story was reported with support from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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Points of Progress

What's going right

5. Corruption-busters, bee-backers, and an act of reconciliation

Finally, here’s a taste of a regular feature from our Weekly on global progress. Bhutan attacks graft with an approach that’s data driven and community based. British Columbia begins revenue sharing with its First Nation peoples. Andean herders get a heads-up on climate-change effects. Rhinos and bees get a boost in South Africa and Germany, respectively. Good is global.

Mark
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Corruption-busters, bee-backers, and an act of reconciliation

Bhutan

The country has attacked corruption with unusual and effective methods. Transparency International has noted Bhutan’s “substantial” efforts to address corruption, especially compared with its regional peers. The country’s anti-corruption efforts include commissioning scientific studies to find data-driven solutions, cultivating a tradition among political leaders that emphasizes the good of the country over personal gain, and encouraging communities to collectively address corruption from all levels of society. Importantly, Bhutan’s methods could be a model for other developing nations. (The Conversation)

Peru

Mariana Bazo/Reuters
Shepherds catch alpacas for a routine check-up in the Andean community of Upis in 2010.

A new program will help support alpaca herder families. Herders who live in the high Andes region face threats to their lives and livelihoods during periods of extreme cold. But a new kind of action protocol from the Red Cross and Red Crescent will use climate forecasting to predict and initiate humanitarian aid as a preventive measure – an approach that will save money and lives. (ReliefWeb)

Canada

The British Columbia provincial government announced a $3 billion revenue-sharing agreement with its First Nations groups as a step toward reconciliation. The plan, which has been discussed for decades, will fund First Nations community-building efforts over a period of 25 years. In the past, lack of self-directed funding has hindered the “beneficial development” of First Nations communities, according to Grand Chief Joe Hall of the Stó:lō Nation. (CBC)

South Africa

Denis Farrell/AP/File
Rhinos graze in the bush on the edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Anti-poaching efforts are saving rhinos in South Africa. The country’s environmental affairs office reported a significant decline in the number of rhinoceros poaching incidents in 2018. And it’s the third year that those numbers have fallen. Officials say the drop is due to better security measures for the animals among other policies aimed at saving them. (BusinessLIVE)

Germany

Bee admirers are showing up at the polls for a referendum in Bavaria. A new record high number of people took part in a petition to protect species diversity in the German state, with enough votes to force lawmakers to address the issue with legislation. They rallied to the slogan “Save the bees.” Their demands include protecting ecosystems from contamination by pesticides and setting goals for turning as much as 30 percent of Bavarian farmland organic. Bees, which are threatened by pesticides, will be a beneficiary of the environmental protections. (The Local)

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The Monitor's View

A fitting response to the Christchurch killings

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

Hours after a gunman in New Zealand killed dozens of Muslims attending prayers, close to 1,000 people in Australia responded by going to a mosque in Sydney. Muslims and non-Muslims gathered in interfaith unity. They offered prayers of praise, gratitude, love, and forgiveness. 

The suspect probably did not reckon that attacking people in prayer would result in more prayer, the kind that helps negate hate and division. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, prayer often starts with this line from the first chapter of the Bible: “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness.” For people who believe those words are a touchstone, “then the greatest religious challenge is, ‘Can I see God’s image in someone who is not in my image?” writes Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain.

Answering such a question does indeed require prayer. Love is universal, but it is in the particulars that people struggle to find it. It helps when they gather in places of prayer. It especially helps after a terrorist attack on one.

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A fitting response to the Christchurch killings

Just hours after a gunman in New Zealand killed dozens of Muslims attending prayers at a mosque, close to a thousand people in Australia responded by going to Lakemba Mosque in Sydney. Because the attacker is Australian, both Muslims and non-Muslims felt a duty to gather in interfaith unity.

What did they do? Prayed, of course. Prayers of praise, gratitude, love, and forgiveness. One speaker asked God to “help us be peacemakers.” A young woman told the Daily Mail Australia: “It’s more important than ever for us to attend prayers.”

In Canada and Europe, many people also went to local mosques on Friday to offer special prayers on behalf of the victims and their families in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. In a tweet, the country’s famous rugby player, Sonny Bill Williams, wrote that he was sending prayers to all of those affected. He is a Muslim.

In offering these prayers, the political motives of the killer almost did not matter. While the suspect is a proclaimed white supremacist, he probably did not reckon that attacking people in prayer would result in more prayer, especially the kind that helps negate hate and division.

In the past decade, at least 21 of the mass killings around the world have occurred at a place of prayer. Most sites were mosques, targeted by Muslims and non-Muslims. But churches, synagogues, and temples have been hit. In the United States, the names of the houses of worship struck by mass terror are not easy to forget: Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, South Carolina.

For all religions, prayer is a spiritual resource to dispel fear and affirm love, which helps explain the interfaith response to the Christchurch killings. It is also a way to end the dualistic thinking that divides people into either good or evil.

For the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, prayer often starts with that line in the first chapter of the Bible in which God says, “Let us make man in our image according to our likeness.” For people who believe those words are a touchstone for prayer, “then the greatest religious challenge is, ‘Can I see God’s image in someone who is not in my image? Whose color, culture, or class is not mine?’ ,” writes Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain.

The same question could be asked of the Christchurch killer. Answering such a question does indeed require prayer. Love is universal, but it is in the particulars that people struggle to find it. It helps when they gather in places of prayer, like a mosque. It especially helps after a terrorist attack on one.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

A prayer of unity for New Zealand

“Though our fears may estrange and divide us,/ May we seek to dissolve them through love” encourages the hymn cited in part in today’s column, which points to the power of divine Love to uplift and unify even in the face of extreme hate. Also, there’s an audio link to a Christian Science practitioner and teacher sharing how he’s praying for New Zealand.

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A prayer of unity for New Zealand

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Though our fears may estrange and divide us,
May we seek to dissolve them through love.
We are sister and brother, each bound to the other,
One with our Father above.

One in purpose, one in power,
One in the Spirit, blessing each hour,
One in kindness, one in peace,
One in the Mind that makes all trouble cease.
– Mindy Jostyn, alt., “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 524, © CSBD

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
I John 4:21

When the divine precepts are understood, they unfold the foundation of fellowship, in which one mind is not at war with another, but all have one Spirit, God, one intelligent source, in accordance with the Scriptural command: “Let this Mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
– Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 276

To hear Christian Science practitioner and teacher Chet Manchester sharing how he's praying for New Zealand, click here.

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Viewfinder

Youths push to add light to heat

Mike Hutchings/Reuters
Students in Cape Town, South Africa, take part in a global protest against climate change March 15. Students at thousands of locations across, by one estimate, 123 countries rallied in the streets.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 18th, 2019 )

That’s it for today’s edition. We’ll be back Monday with a look at what the opening of a center for war victims means in Afghanistan.

As you head into your weekend, we’ll leave you with a bonus. Monitor interns were out reporting today on the worldwide climate strike that students have organized to urge action on global warming. You can visit us on Facebook and Twitter to learn what they saw.

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 15, 2019
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