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Bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan leaves Pakistani community in the Bronx shocked

By Sana Gulzar

Almost a week after the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad in Pakistan, Pakistani residents in the Bronx have been left disillusioned and worried.

At one of the very few Pakistani restaurants near Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, many Pakistani Bronx residents watched a Pakistani news channel  analyzing Bin Laden’s death. While all eyes in the restaurant were glued to the widescreen television showing images of Osama bin Laden’s compound, an awkward silence pervaded the room.

Many felt relieved at Osama bin Laden’s death. But when approached for comment, they had little or nothing to say about it. Embarrassed, shocked and angry at the presence of the 9/11 mastermind only a couple of miles away from the Pakistan Military Academy in a settled Pakistani town and worried about their country’s future, many seemed reluctant to talk about this sensitive issue. And the few patrons who did share their view were uncomfortable having their names published.

“Being a Pakistani, this was shocking—that he was in Pakistan and that too in Abbottabad,” said a Pakistani post-doctoral research fellow living in the Bronx, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity.

Those who did express their opinion said that the silence of the Pakistani government about the issue made matters worse. Some even said that the government of Pakistan should have taken its people living inside Pakistan and abroad into confidence immediately after the news came out.

“Our leaders could not protect their own image,” said the post-doctoral research fellow. “It has created a bad image in the U.S.”

As in Pakistan, conspiracy theories are circulating and questions are being raised here about the role of the Pakistani military and the premier intelligence agency, the ISI. Many are also questioning the Pakistani military’s capability to protect its borders, as the presence of U.S. troops within Pakistan went undetected.

“How is it that another country’s troops came in and they did not know about it,” said Muhammad Anwar, a Pakistani taxi driver living in the Bronx for 21 years and one of the few Pakistanis interviewed that was willing to give his name. “Although the killing of Osama bin Laden was a good thing, they should have reacted.”

While some in the restaurant seemed to agree that what happened was a major intelligence failure for the Pakistani military, they were skeptical about the allegations that the military knew about Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and played a double role.

“There might be a few at the lower level, like there are everywhere in the world, who sympathize with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, but why blame the whole Pakistan army and the ISI,” said the research fellow.

As the debate over Osama bin Laden’s killing rages on and the details come in, the Pakistani community in the Bronx, anxious and worried about the future of their country and its relationship with the United States, is mostly silent for now.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Former Featured, NewswireComments (0)

Time to talk about sex in the South Bronx

Time to talk about sex in the South Bronx

By Sana T. Gulzar

It is 4 p.m. in M.S. 218 in the South Bronx and it is time to play Pregnancy Jeopardy. The board in front lists six categories of questions—Myth and Facts, Pregnancy, Conception, Fetal Development, Genetics and Terminology and Definition. Two five-student teams of 7th graders—the Lions and the Tigers—are battling out their knowledge about everything from conception to birth.

High school senior, Audrey Pichardo draws to explain fetal development to middle school students.

Under the category, “Terms and Definitions,” the questioner asks, “What is the term that describes the ability to get pregnant?” One curly-haired 7th grade boy yells, “Sexual intercourse.” The others giggle. The answer is incorrect! “It is called being fertile,” replies one girl from the opposing team.

This is an after-school weekly sex education workshop held in the spring semester for middle school students as part of the “Just Ask Me” (JAM) program organized by WHEDco, a Bronx non-profit women’s development group. It’s been a worthwhile mission. According to New York’s summary of vital statistics released in December 2010, the Bronx has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the city—11.6 percent of live births.

One thing sets this middle school class apart: the educators are high school seniors, who founded the program to teach sex education and reproductive health to middle school students. JAM started six years ago by a group of 7th grade girls who decided that talking about sex is the only way to combat teen pregnancy in their neighborhood.

“When they saw a lot of kids leaving high school and coming back to the community pregnant,” said Nicole Jennings, head of the sex-ed program at WHEDco, “they were really concerned about it themselves as well as why it was happening,”

High school seniors now, the original group of girls from M.S. 218, having been trained by WHEDco now teaches the sex-ed classes at the middle school. They blame the high rate of teen pregnancy to the lack of sex education, especially in middle school when kids first start exploring their sexuality.

“It’s the age that they get curious about sex life and they want to do all these kind of things but they don’t know how to stay protected,” said Dylan Serrano, 17, one of the peer educators. “If they have information they would know what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.”

While sex education takes place in New York’s high schools, it’s too late by then, Serrano argues. Most middle school students do not get any information at home either. Peer educators believe that parents are reluctant to talk to their children about sex, contraception and pregnancy and would much rather have the school give out that information to them.

“A lot of parents are close minded and they feel that you’ll learn everything at school,” said Yanisla Frias, 17, who adds that parents seem to worry that the information might encourage their teenagers to have sex. “They are afraid that if we are going to teach them then they are going to do it.”

This problem is especially pertinent within the Bronx, as there are a large number of immigrants in the borough. Many parents from different cultural backgrounds do not realize the challenges teens face with respect to the their sexuality and the external factors influencing them, say educators.

“There is a lot of cultural diversity here and with that come a lot of customs about talking to your kids about certain things or not talking to your kids about certain things,” said Rachel Mendelson, JAM program coordinator.

Mendleson points out that a family’s income level also plays a role. “If you are a single mother working and 2 or 3 jobs, you are not really around and your kids are free to get information elsewhere or just free time to have sex,” she said.

17-year-old Emily Godoy plays Pregnancy Jeopardy with middle schoolers.

Teen pregnancy rates in the United States are twice as high as those in Canada or England. , Emily Godoy, a 17-year-old peer educator believes that the numbers are much lower in Europe because schools and parents there talk to the teens about it and discuss the options. Here, she argues, the focus is on abstinence.

“When you tell somebody not to do something, they are going to do it,” said Godoy.

Coordinator Mendelson says that with no information at home, no formal education at school and misinformation from T.V. and their peers, American teenagers do not know how to protect themselves and end up getting pregnant.

During the course of the workshop, the peer educators showed the class clips from two popular reality t.v. shows—Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. These shows viewed by a large number of teenagers primarily track the lives of teen moms trying to cope with being a parent. The JAM educators said that such programs further misinform kids.

Audrey Pichardo, 14, believes that while these shows do depict the struggles of teenage pregnancy, they also in a way glorify it.

“Without the information, when kids see these shows, they get confused.,” said Pichardo. “And they are like, ‘Is it a bad thing or is it a good thing?’”

For all of these reasons, this group of high school students has taken matters in its own hands. They believe that sex education and human sexuality should be treated as any other academic subject, even for middle schoolers And until that happens they will do it themselves.

“I know that I am going to talk to my kids about it. Because I know what it felt like when I was in 5th grade or 6th grade,” said 18-year-old Frias. Even if it means for now, just playing another round of Pregnancy Jeopardy.

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As bus accident probe continues, riders are undeterred

As bus accident probe continues, riders are undeterred

By: Yiting Sun, Sana Gulzar and Mehroz Baig

On March 12, 2011, a bus carrying 32 passengers crashed on the Bronx/Westchester County Border, on I-95, killing 15 passengers and injuring 18 others. Since then, government agencies have launched an investigation into the accident.

Despite the accident in the Bronx, as well as others in New Jersey and New Hampshire, travelers are not deterred from taking these buses, and business is continuing as usual.  Watch what passengers lining up for a bus from Chinatown to Atlantic City had to say:

In a March 30 update, Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that it is too soon to determine a cause of the accident, but that NTSB has so far determined that the driver of the bus was traveling at up to 78 miles per hour. The driver had said that another truck was involved in the accident. Another truck driver came forward saying that he had witnessed the accident. NTSB inspected his truck and found that it had not come in contact with the bus. The bus also had a camera attached to its windshield but the camera did not record the accident.

The NTSB is also holding a public forum on safety on May 10-11 to review progress since the last time the agency held such hearings, 12 years ago. This forum had been scheduled prior to the bus accident in the Bronx.

The NTSB is an independent government agency that investigates accidents to determine their cause and then makes recommendations. It does not have any power to enforce those recommendations or any responsibility in oversight of buses.

Oversight of commercial bus traffic rests with the New York State Department of Transportation and on a national level, the United States Department of Transportation. Since the bus accident, the state department of transportation held a three-day inspection of buses from March 18 – 20.  The agency set up 13 checkpoints and inspected 164 buses. Within Manhattan alone, inspectors checked 26 buses and found that 16 of them, or 62 percent, had violations that were significant enough to put the buses out of service. Outside of Manhattan, another 138 buses were inspected and 25 of them, or 18 percent, had violations that put those vehicles out of service.

According to the state department of transportation’s website, this agency conducts about 154,000 inspections a year and requires all buses to be inspected at least every six months. However, 80 percent of the inspections are done on buses used for school transportation services. The other 20 percent are parceled out among other services such as charter buses, line-run commercial buses, ambulette, and airport buses.

World Wide Travel of Greater New York is the operating company of the bus involved in the crash. CNN reported that the company was involved in two crashes since 2009, and cited five times for fatigued driving from December 2009 to October 2010. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website also lists two crashes for World Wide Travel, but does not specify when they took place.

The chart below displays the number of inspections the company had each year, and the number it failed, according to the New York State Department of Transportation. During the most recent fiscal year, from April 2009 to May 2010, the company did not fail any inspections. The company could not be reached for a response.

Source: NY State Department of Transportation

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Former Featured, VideoComments (0)

[VIDEO] Over the hill and picking up speed

[VIDEO] Over the hill and picking up speed

They say old age slows you down but that’s not true for 95-years-young Ida Keeling.

by Sana Taskeen Gulzar

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Citywide Plan to Replace Hazardous PCB Lighting Fixtures

By Sana Taskeen Gulzar

On the heels of an alarming study of PCBs in New York City Schools by the Environmental Protection Agency, the city’s Department of Education has announced a $708 million plan to replace PCB lighting ballasts and to improve energy efficiency in 772 city schools.

The EPA’s study of fluorescent lighting fixtures in seven city schools, including PS 68 in the Bronx, showed PCB leaking in levels higher than federally approved limit of 50 parts per million. In PS 68, 10 out of the 13 samples taken showed PCB leakage exceeding that limit.

The EPA has been conducting spot inspections at random city schools to help steer a city-wide policy to address the issue of PCB leakage in schools, said Mary Mears, the agency’s spokeswoman

PCB or Polychlorinated Biphenyl is a chemical found in florescent lights and caulking and was manufactured before a 1979 congressional PCB ban in the United States. Extended exposure to PCB has to cause cancer in animals and other health problems including damage to human immune, reproductive and endocrine systems.

In response to increased pressure by the EPA and concerned parents and community leaders, the DOE says it will replace lighting ballasts in schools all over the city over a period of 10 years. According to the Department of Education, the city will prioritize 772 city schools according to the following criteria:

1)    schools with visual leaks,

2)     elementary schools built between 1950 and 1966,

3)     secondary schools built between 1950 and 1966,

4)     elementary schools built between 1967 and 1979,

5)     secondary schools built between 1967 and 1979,

6)    elementary schools constructed prior to 1950, and

7)     secondary schools constructed prior to 1950

The DOE spokesperson, Marge Feinberg asserted that this 10-year plan will not only rid the schools from PCBs but will also make them more energy efficient.

“We believe this is a fiscally responsible approach to addressing the issue of PCBs in our schools—the plan can be accomplished without disrupting student learning and it will generate significant energy savings for the city and taxpayers in the long run,” Feinberg said in an email response.

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Community leaders back Woodlawn cemetery workers

A proposed budget bill by the Wisconsin governor that would take away unions’ bargaining rights was invoked several times as members of the group South Bronx Community Congress stood with Woodlawn Cemetery workers Monday.

Joining the South Bronx Community Congress, clergy, union leaders, members of the Green Party and the Freedom Party called for support in a protest planned for Monday in front of the cemetery.

“I am here supporting the workers,” said Pastor Doug Cunningham of the New Day United Methodist Church in the Bronx. “The treatment of workers is outrageous. It’s a threat to the economy and the community of the Bronx.”

An ongoing labor dispute brought the Woodlawn Cemetery into spotlight recently. The cemetery management proposed cutting 23 out of 38 landscaping jobs and outsourcing the work to a private firm, the Brickman Group.

While the negotiations between the management and workers’ union are still going on, Dee Knight, the labor community forum coordinator for the South Bronx Community Congress said that the group believes that the management is finalizing the deal with the Brickman Group and getting ready to let go of the workers.

However the Woodlawn Cemetery spokesman Howard Cannon denied the assertion and said that the matter is still under review and no deal has been made as yet.

“Discussions are still going on with the Brickman Group,” said Cannon.

The community leaders claimed that by outsourcing the landscaping work, the cemetery is getting rid of good paying jobs in the favor of cheap labor by immigrant “guest” workers. Teresa Gutierrez from the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights said that bringing in immigrant workers would be an injustice to the Woodlawn workers and the immigrant workers themselves.

“We are struggling to keep jobs in both sides of the border,’’ Gutierrez said. “We don’t want workers from other countries to come and work in hostile, racist environment.”

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Woodlawn Cemetery and workers lock horns over proposed layoffs

Woodlawn Cemetery and workers lock horns over proposed layoffs

By Sana Taskeen Gulzar

Woodlawn Cemetery is known for the famous people who are buried there, from Miles Davis to Robert Moses. But an ongoing labor dispute has put the sprawling burial ground in the spotlight for a different reason. Controversy brews over the cemetery’s plan to lay off 23 union workers and to outsource the landscaping of the cemetery to a private landscaping firm.

The famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is embroiled in controversy over proposed worker lay offs.

The Woodlawn workers claim that the management announced the decision to lay off 23 out of 38 workers at the cemetery right after a new workers’ union was voted in last October. Enrique Coss, one of the workers, says management did not want to deal with a strong workers’ union, the teamsters

“Management always had their way,” said Coss. “They were always able to have control and were in bed with the previous unions,” he said.

According to the current workers’ union, Local Teamster 808, the cemetery management took the decision of outsourcing 23 landscaping jobs in November last year after only one negotiation session. Chris Silvera, the secretary- treasurer of the union, alleged that the management retaliated against the workers who joined the union in October.

“They run the cemetery plantation style,” said Silvera. “It’s not a racial thing, but [the] company wants to treat people at their own discretion. You just do what I tell you to do,” he said.

The cemetery management denies the allegation. Howard Cannon, a spokesman for Woodlawn Cemetery, said that another union already represented the workers before the teamsters got voted in. Cannon asserted that the union was aware of the existing four-year contract with the workers set to expire on December 31. The management, still in negotiations with workers, has not made the final decision about the layoffs. “We are on the negotiating table every day; there have been no layoffs, we are still negotiating,” said Cannon. “If the management was interested in laying off workers, it would not have been on the negotiating table,” he said.

The cemetery management claims it only asked workers’ union for possible suggestions to save $731,000 in operational costs. The cemetery is deciding between outsourcing the jobs to the Brickman Group, a company that operates in 29 states, or cutting wages 35 percent.

Cannon says the cemetery business is in flux, forcing the management to reevaluate their needs and costs.

“Cremations have increased 512 percent since 1985,” said Cannon. “If there is a significant decrease in burials, then we need to readjust our work force,” he added.

But Coss asserts that even with increased number of cremations, the nature of the job doesn’t change much, as the 400 acres of land has to be maintained.

“They will be doing an injustice to the lot owners,’’ he said. “They would be walking into a jungle or a forest.”

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[Video] Hot house!  A Caribbean ecosystem in the snow-covered Bronx

[Video] Hot house! A Caribbean ecosystem in the snow-covered Bronx

By Sana Gulzar & Manuel Rueda

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