Inspiring cultural tolerance through global learning

It’s Monday, 25 February, and try as I might, I just couldn’t find anything interesting related to this date, to write about.

Just as I was about to give up completely (hence the lateness of this post) I discovered that this week, 24 Feb – 2 Mar 2013, is Peace Corps Week. And as part of this week of celebration, each day of the week has a particular sub-theme:

  • Sunday: Grow Your Peace Corps Family Tree
  • Monday: Inspire Global Learning
  • Tuesday: Share Culture from Around the Globe
  • Wednesday: Invite the World to Your Table
  • Thursday: Foster Global Citizenship
  • Friday: Champion RPCVs as Global Professionals
  • Saturday: Act Locally, Influence Globally.
Today is all about learning to appreciate the diversity around us.(© All Rights Reserved)
Today is all about learning to appreciate the diversity around us.
(© All Rights Reserved)

So today, Monday, it’s all about Global Learning. The idea being to integrate global issues and cultural awareness into the daily reality of the youth. That awareness of the diversity around us is just so important, leading to increased tolerance for people that are different to us, and customs that are foreign to what we know. And this helps us appreciate the uniqueness of vastly different cultures around the globe, adding to the realisation that our way is not the only way – on the contrary, it is just one of many equally valid ways of living your life.

In essence this day is a celebration of global diversity, and a gentle reminder that you’re never to old to learn more about the ways of others. It’s a potentially thrilling journey – enjoy it!

Promoting cultural identity on International Mother Language Day

It’s 21 February, International Mother Language Day – the day language diversity and variety is celebrated worldwide.

Mother language education helps a child appreciate his or her culture and heritage. This, in turn, contributes to a healthy and positive self esteem.(© All Rights Reserved)
Mother language education helps a child appreciate his or her culture and heritage. This, in turn, contributes to a healthy and positive self esteem.
(© All Rights Reserved)

We live in an age where people live increasingly mobile lives, moving around the globe, and calling multiple countries home at different times. Mother Language Day is an opportunity to encourage people around the globe not to lose their mother language knowledge. By retaining mother language competence, even those people who have emigrated to a new country can contribute to the continued survival of their language of birth.

Even as the world’s population becomes more mobile, mother language will always retain a special position in each individual’s life. It remains the language of his thoughts, the language of his dreams. To quote Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Celebrating mountain life on International Mountain Day

Today, 11 December, is International Mountain Day. This is an awareness creation opportunity to focus attention on the giants in our midst, the mountains of the world. What makes this year special is that it is the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Mountains, 2002.

Mountains are a critical part of our ecosystem – whether we live at sea level or up in the highlands, our lives are connected to the mountains, in more ways than we may be aware.

Mountains cover approximately a quarter of the earth’s surface. They are key for collecting freshwater, they support a rich diversity of fauna and flora (in climates ranging from tropical rain forests to permanent ice and snow), they impact on our weather and climatic conditions, and they are home to more than a tenth of the world’s population. Yet, as stated on the Food and Agriculture Alliance of the United Nationswebsite, “environmental degradation, the consequences of climate change, exploitative mining, armed conflict, poverty and hunger threaten the extraordinary web of life that the mountains support.”

The Drakensberg mountain range between South Africa and Lesotho - home to many, source of ecotourism and important influence on the climate of the region.(© All Rights Reserved)
The Drakensberg mountain range between South Africa and Lesotho – home to many, source of ecotourism and important influence on the climate of the region.
(© All Rights Reserved)

International Mountain Day supports sustainable mountain development, promoting environmental sustainability of mountainous regions, and also mobilising resources to improve the livelihood of mountain communities. To this end, the theme for 2012 is ‘Celebrating Mountain Life’. People living in mountainous areas often face treacherous physical conditions – avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, eruptions, and floods. While they have adapted to the conditions, employing low-impact, risk-resilient land-use systems, they often remain politically and economically marginalised, lacking access to basic health and education services. Sustainable mountain development is key in improving the livelihood of the isolated communities living in the mountains. Achieving this requires a holistic, integrated approach taking into account water, biodiversity, tourism and infrastructure development.

While I am unsure what we as individuals can really do to contribute to this cause, at least a day like International Mountain Day reminds us of the importance of these splendid landforms, and should at least increase our appreciation and understanding of the complexity of the political, economical and environmental issues faced in sustainable mountain development.

Frederick Bowen and the fascinating ferns

Today we celebrate the birthday of one Frederick Orpen Bower, born 4 November 1855. Bower, an English botanist, was famous for his studies of the origins and evolution of primitive land plants such as ferns and mosses. In his research, published in books like Origin of a Land Flora (1908), Ferns (1923-28), and Primitive Land Plants (1935), Bower concluded that these plants had evolved from algal ancestors.

Ferns, the subject of much of Bower’s research, is a fascinating plant in many ways. Unlike mosses, ferns are vascular plants with stems, leaves and roots. Unlike other vascular plants, however, they reproduce via spores rather than flowers and seeds.

The shape and structure of young fern fronds can provide endless visual fascination.
(© All Rights Reserved)

While we typically associate ferns with moist, shady areas, they can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from desert rocks to mountains to water bodies. They can prosper in marginal areas where many flowering plants fail to grow. This tenacity make certain fern species serious weeds, such as the Bracken Fern in Scotland, and the giant water fern, one of the world’s worst aquatic weeds.

From a biochemical point of view, ferns can be particularly useful in fixing nitrogen from the air into compounds usable by other plants, and for removing heavy metals from the soil.

Another beautiful young frond, appearing almost animal-like.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Patterns and motives based on fern shapes are popular in traditional art and culture. In New Zealand, for example, the silver fern is a very prominent cultural symbol, featured often in traditional art. The leaf of the silver fern is also the proud emblem of many of the country’s top sporting teams such as All Blacks (rugby) and Silver Ferns (netball).

On a more esoteric level, ferns are a wonderful embodiment of mathematics in nature, with young fern fronds unrolling in stunning Fibonacci spirals. The patterns and structure of fern leaves can also be simulated by means of iterative mathematical functions.

Definitely a plant that fascinates on many levels. No wonder Frederick Bowen committed his life to studying these wonderful plants!

That cliche rings a bell!

Rise and shine! Today is Cliche Day, so don’t worry, be happy!

Cliches may come a dime a dozen, but once in a blue moon one comes along that hits you between the eyes. On Cliche Day, the idea is to look through new eyes at these well-worn expressions, and leave no stone unturned to try to find the diamonds in the rough.

In the good old days we used to call a spade a spade, but in this day and age everyone beats around the bush. Often it’s all talk and no action. You have to dig deep to get to the bottom of things. With age comes wisdom, so if you get your act together and hang in there, at the end of the day you may end up sadder and wiser. Better late than never, I always say!

The classic visual cliches – sunsets and silhouettes.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In this life you can go with the flow or kick against the pricks. There’s a time and place for everything, but when push comes to shove it’s every man for himself. So get your ducks in a row or you may end up between a rock and a hard place.

Forgive me if I’m all over the map with this post, but I hope my words of wisdom will do the trick – good things come to those who wait. Always look on the bright side of life, and remember all’s well that ends well.

In the final analysis, when all is said and done, all that’s left for me is to let it be and say Happy Cliche Day. 🙂

Give us this day our daily bread

Today is World Bread Day. While it coincides with the United Nations’ World Food Day, it’s a much more lighthearted celebration.  For the past seven years, 16 October has been the date that bloggers and other social medialites the world over have baked bread, and shared their experiences with their friends and followers.

A steaming, freshly baked bread must be one of the most basic culinary pleasures in life.  When you’ve been away from fresh food for a few days, there are few things better than a thick slice of bread, hot out of the oven, generously spread with melting butter.

Ahh, bread and olives. Add a glass of wine and life is good.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In a way it is fitting that World Bread Day falls on the same day as World Food Day, given the role of bread as a basic source of nutrition the world over.  Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods, with evidence of bread-making dating back some 30 000 years. Earliest breads seem to have been a form of flat-bread made from starch extract from the roots of plants, while ‘modern’ grain-based bread appeared around 10 000 BC.

Considering it’s prevalence, bread plays an understandably important role in culture and religion. In Christian religion, bread is a symbol for the the body of Christ, while Jewish religion uses different types of bread for specific religious ceremonies and events. Bread is often equated to our general daily necessities (‘Give us this day our daily bread’, ‘putting bread on the table’). Around the 1950’s, ‘bread’ started to be used as a slang euphemism for money – a figure of speech that is now common the world over. Aligned with this comes terms like ‘bread-winner’ as the main income-provider in the family.

Bread is such an amazingly versatile food – once baked, it can be eaten warm or cold, or toasted. Eat it with dipping liquids like gravy, olive oil or soup; spread it with sweet or savoury toppings; stack it as a sandwich with your favourite fillings including meats, cheeses and more – the options are limited by your  imagination only.

All this talk is making me peckish – I think I can do with a slice of toast with homemade marmelade!

Which leaves me with just one question: Whatever was the greatest thing before sliced bread?