Saturday, 8 November 2014

Yolanda's first year

Yolanda Rain Malate and her mother Marike (19). Yolanda was born on the night of the superstorm. Inset, mother and baby in December 2013. © IOM/Joe Lowry 2014 
First published on

One a year ago, 18-year-old Marike Malate was swimming for her life, in the dark, debris-strewn water that engulfed her family home on Pampongo Street, Tacloban. Not just for her life, but for the life inside her, the life that burst out hours later in an abandoned building, with her mother and father as her birth attendants.  
The city was pounded by Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda). Thousands died, hundreds of thousands were left homeless, and a year on it, and all its 240,000 residents still bear the scars.
As Marike was giving birth, her husband, Johnel, also just 18, was swept away and never seen again. She christened her baby Yolanda Rain, “So I can always remember.”
Tomorrow night 50,000 candles will light up the route from the airport to the centre of Tacloban. IOM is supporting the event, which will mark one year since Typhoon Haiyan. © IOM/Joe Lowry 2014 
 Yolanda is a year old now, a big-eyed, happy child, living among a chaotic family of 12, in a house made of salvaged material, metres from the sea. If there would be another Yolanda-style storm tomorrow it’s hard to see how they’d survive.
But survive they do, on the 300 pesos (USD10) a day that Marike and her father Juanito (46) make selling vegetables, as his father did before him. Yolanda joins them, a fourth generation of market traders. “People complained at first that I called her after the storm but they see why now and they love her”, says Marike.
Haiyan/Yolanda left four million people homeless across the central Visayas region of the Philippines. A year on, just a few hundred still live in tents. The vast, vast majority have received shelter materials through IOM and other organizations, and many have already moved back into their own, refurbished homes or into transitional shelters, either one-family homes made of locally-sourced material, or “bunkhouses” which can accommodate several families. IOM has completed almost 2,000 transitional shelters, and is committed to building almost 6,000 more in 2015.
There are massive challenges ahead. The much-vaunted “durable solution” of safe new homes for all in need is still some way off, and then jobs, schools, healthcare, and all the other infrastructure every town and village needs has to be put in place.
And while the recovery has been far from smooth, there is no doubt that it is happening, and happening fast. Tacloban’s streets are buzzing with traffic and shoppers. The Christmas lights twinkle and the carols blare out under the hot sun.
For Yolanda and her family, celebrations are on hold. “We can’t afford to do anything for her birthday, but we will light a candle, not only to mourn her father, but to celebrate her life and ours,” says Marike.
A view of some of the IOM-built temporary homes in Eastern Leyte, Philippines. 
The year behind has been a blur for the Malate family, full of struggle and sadness. As they, like millions across the Philippines, live on untitled land, the future is unclear. For the moment, they stay where they are, metres from the cruel sea.
Tonight the family will join with thousands of Taclobanos in a candlelight vigil, which IOM is co-sponsoring. Organizer Jeff Manibay who runs an independent TV channel in Tacloban says it will be a time for the community to come together as never before, to show their grief, their determination, their gratitude and their hope for the future.
“We have moved on,” says Jeff. “We will never forget that terrible day, but we are stronger now than ever before. For Tacloban, this is humanity’s finest hour.”
The vigil will be live-streamed on also accessible via

Monday, 27 October 2014

The How To Be A Man project

This blog's for you.
Blair Sheridan, 1964-2014
Man, mate, dad, musician
In the summer of 2012 I was reading an article in the Guardian, all about books on how to be a mother, sister, wife, girlfriend, niece, aunt, grandmother, god-daughter etc and the author made the point that there were no books about how to be a man. In typical Guardian style, he a) was not altogether correct, there are many, and b) he came up with the woolly suggestion that any guide to being a man would say simply "help out around the house more, and stop watching so much football".

Well I thought that was rather fatuous.  (Mind you, I know someone who would say that would be a good start...) I mean, some of the men I don't know don't even like football. Some are even married to other men and never fight about the housework.

So, the idea came to write a blog about being a man. I mean I was going to write a blog, a single one, on this blog but then I had the idea to write to friends and acquaintances and see if they'd all write a blog. I first discussed the idea with my wife Lena, who pronounced it good. "Bloody good", was the phrase she used. And then I mentioned it to Andy McElroy, a bit of a soul mate in that he's bald, likes a beer, likes football and likes to talk about the state of the world, and he fell for the idea straight away. he said "Guardian books will publish it. Let's get it done by Christmas". Eventually, 50 other men also dug the idea, and their musings you can read here.

The original idea was for this to be a book. In flights of fancy I imagined myself on the chat show circuit, a guru on the sensitive man, on fatherhood, on straight-man-gay-man friendships, on interracial friendships (whatever they may be), love, life, death, football, crisps, beer, farting...

Well, publishers kindly read a few chapters and told me that it was an interesting idea, but with the recession blah blah, risky project blah blah chick lit was still where it was at blah blah, too Irish, not Irish enough, too heavy, too flippant. Friends of the project supported the idea of an e-book, self-publishing, public readings, and so on. I reluctantly emerged from my dreams of the Late Show and Letterman, and one evening during a quiet pint on a quiet Soi in Bangkok, Will Rogers said he'd help me build a website. And promptly buggered off to West Africa to fight the Ebola virus as soon as I was ready to publish.

So, I started a blog.

The project has been so long in the making that children who were still in utero at the outset now have siblings - blame it on laziness, blame it on work, blame it on the boogie, anyway, it's here. The very strange part of all this is that one weekend, four weeks ago, I got the urge to really attack this project and get the shagging thing out of my head and into the blogosphere. So I attacked it and was pretty close to publishing it when... well, back up a sec. A good pal of mine in Kiev, a hearty and bacchanalian Canadian by the name of Blair Sheridan was a staunch supporter of this idea of mine. He often said he would find time to pen 1,000 words for me, as it would be important for his son, growing up, to see what his old man had been thinking back in 2010s.

Well, just as I was getting ready to publish, a mate in Kiev, Neil Campbell, sent me a message on Facebook to tell me that Blair had been found dead. Heart attack. 49. Two kids, 15 and 12. It took me all of five seconds to decide that this blog was going to be in his memory. And then I walked into a parent teacher meeting and promptly started blubbing in front of Ms Jen when I should have been discussing phonics and number bonds. Ho hum

The blog will go through many iterations, I hope, and I will do my best to keep it live and lively. I will add some general articles, some self-penned and others stolen from greater minds, about the man thing, about how that generally dangly thing and the Y chromosome defines us, and hope that some people find it useful. (The writing, not the generally dangly thing).

Thanks are due to the men who wrote this, you know who you are and you need to know how very deeply I appreciate your support. I am so sorry it took so long to do - what can I say, I am a man, so are you, so you understand. What am I even apologizing for?  Thanks to my wife Lena for encouraging me (and for rubbing my nose it it when I was not being particularly manly on occasions). Thanks to my daughters Maya and Polina for exposing me to the most euphoric and addictive drug there is, the one called a dad loving his kids. Thanks to my dad for the Y chromosome, and to mum for incubating it. And to my sisters, Joanna and Paula, who got the X ones. Special thanks to John Richardson, my oldest and dearest friend. And very special thanks to my brother Luke, who will never read this, but is a better man than me, hands down.

Joe Lowry, Bangkok, 6 October 2014 (aged 49 and a half, today!)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Happy Birthday to Saint Matt, The Enigma of Southampton

I read this interview with Matt “the Enigma”  Le Tissier in the Grauniad recently, and thought hmmm.. if I just snip the quotes out it will make an engaging blog. And what a good day to publish it, today being the 46th birthday of the man from St Peter Port. So here it is, the story of one of the best goals ever scored by one of the most loyal and skillful footballers of all time, scored against Newcastle in 1993. It's the second goal in the ten gems in the video below. Over to you, St Matt. (Apologies for the annoying Thai phone number that flashes up, the video is also at

I had seen that the guy I had come back into the team for was warming up on the touchline, so I’m guessing I was just about to be substituted. I had a half-chance early on in the game which I snatched at a little bit. Then there wasn’t much happening until that moment. It was entirely feasible that I was going to be the one coming off.

It was Iain Dowie that had knocked the ball down to me, so I was always aware that it was possible it could go anywhere. So when the ball landed a little bit behind me it wasn’t a massive surprise and I was able to adjust my body and get a little flick up. All my momentum was going forward, so I had to try and find a way to get the ball to go with me. That was my only option really, from the shape of my body and where the ball had landed, and it just happened to work out perfectly. It was a lovely touch, there was perfect weight on it, and just enough to commit the defender, even though I was going to get to the ball first.

I think the one thing that possibly separates a lot of footballers is that there isn’t actually anything going through my mind when it happens. You just kind of react to where the ball has gone and your body reacts instinctively to how you have to put it into a shape that is going to get the ball under control and where you want it to be. I think some players … you sometimes see players talk about playing with a free mind. That just means that they’re clear and ready to adapt to any situation that happens on the pitch. They don’t have a set thing in their mind that they’re going to do this or that when the ball comes to them because there are so many variables on a football field, so you have to have a free mind and just really be ready to react at any given point to any deviation in the ball, any bounce off the pitch that’s a little bit unusual. From that point of view, what happened there was very instinctive.
I would have had situations in training where the ball was a little bit behind me and I would have needed to flick it in front of me, so that wouldn’t have been unique to that game. I think what was unique was that the defenders came in thinking that they could get the ball and I was able to get there just in front of them and it fell into place perfectly, like a jigsaw puzzle.
There’s different kinds of intelligence. A lot of footballers will tell you that academically they weren’t that bright, but if you ask them to drop a ball down and clip it 30 yards and land it within a couple of square yards, most of them could probably do it. Some might take a bit longer than others but it is a skill that requires a lot of thinking and coordination and a different kind of intelligence.
In the time between me taking the first touch and me taking the goalscoring touch, there were a lot of calculations that were going through my mind. Really quickly, in the space of a split-second. You have to judge how far away the defender is. Will you get to the ball before him? How high do I need to flick this to get round him? There’s a lot that goes through your mind that happen pretty instinctively – or at least they did for me on a football pitch. It’s only when you look back and think ‘blimey, there was a lot that went into that’. There are a lot of variables that have to be taken into account before you’re into the position of scoring a goal.
Instinct takes over. I would have thought that was the best chance I had, get the ball over him (Kevin Scott) and get me around him without him fouling him. By doing that, lobbing it, I gave myself time to get around him and get to the ball and after that I was able to finish it.
There are elements of logic. It feels instinctive. But I guess in that split-second, in that moment, your mind is working so fast that you don’t realise how quickly you are thinking in those situations. That would have been my body reacting, my mind telling me this is the best way to get round the other side of him and get onto the end of the ball and score.
In that situation, I certainly didn’t want to miss the target and by lashing at it with a full volley, you lose a bit of control and the ball can sometimes go anywhere, so I felt that was the safest option. Do you know what? Looking back, I don’t remember the volley ever coming into my thoughts. The ball was dropping. I felt that was the way to go, the sidefoot into the bottom corner because that side of the goal was available. There was a fairly big space in that corner.
Well not that I didn’t mean to do that. The ball was meant to go in that corner and I actually was trying to sidefoot the ball quite firmly. But I didn’t quite get my sidefoot on it and it came off the bottom of my foot instead. The sidefoot would have been a more powerful finish had I connected with it properly. As it happened, Mike Hooper was kind of flat-footed anyway and his whole body was not in the right position. He wasn’t set properly to make a save. The pace it went in at the end, if he had dived to his left and taken a gamble, he may well have saved it. If I’d have sidefooted it as I wanted to, the ball would have been past him and he wouldn’t have had any chance either way.
It was a huge relief and a big turning point in my career.
There’s a thing called confidence, which people talk about a lot, and nobody has really done a great deal of research into it. Certainly after scoring that first goal, when the ball got headed to me, I actually remember thinking – it was late on in the game and I was knackered, I had nothing left – I hope he heads this to me because I almost didn’t have enough breath to call for it. But I was only four yards away and fortunately Maddo sent a perfect header to me, just on my thigh, and it was perfect for me to knock it up on my thigh and swivel and volley. It was one of those things where maybe if I hadn’t have scored the first goal in that game, perhaps I wouldn’t have tried it, let alone actually pull it off.
When you score a goal like the first one, confidence levels soar and you feel like you can do anything on the pitch that you want to do. Wherever the ball comes to you, you feel that you can do what you want with it, so when the ball fell that perfectly to me, my first touch set it up perfectly for the second. Although I wasn’t quite sure when I hit it, because it was difficult to judge, if it was going to dip enough under the crossbar from the angle I was looking at it. When I look back on the television, it was well under the crossbar. From where I hit it, it looked at one point like it was going to hit the bar.
You have to be willing to try something a little bit different and you don’t want to have the fear of failure. I think a lot of people tend not to try things because they think it will look foolish if it doesn’t come off, whereas I was a little bit the other way round. I didn’t have any great embarrassment if it didn’t come off. If it does come off, it benefits your team. And it makes you look good.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Migration is a Solution, not a Problem

If all the international migrants in the world lived in one country it would be the fifth most populous in the world, midway between Indonesia and Brazil.
Those 232 million people need the same services as local populations – health care, education, access to markets, water, transport, security – but they often find them harder to access, as they are strangers in strange lands.
Furthermore, their movement needs to be well managed, so that they can bridge the gap between labour supply and demand to the benefit of all concerned: themselves, their families, their host communities, as well as the sending and receiving countries.
We have seen, tragically often, the results of poorly managed, “desperation”  migration. Only this week another 500 migrants died trying to make the journey across the Mediterranean. This underscores the need for progressive thinking.
In the year 2000, when the governments of the world met to agree on the Millennium Development Goals, the concerns of migrants were not explicitly factored in.
In the intervening years, international migration has increased by almost one third, and the amount of money being sent home has jumped five-fold. This dynamic is blurring the lines between “developed” and “developing” countries, forging a mutual interdependence and dramatically affecting national – and global – economic performance.
Furthermore, migration is evolving, driving global change. It is no longer simply a mechanism to cope with poverty, where poor people move to rich countries – just as many people make south-south migrations, from one developing country to another, and we are witnessing a growing trend of people leaving richer nations in the north for new lives in less-developed contexts.
Migration has been on the global agenda for many years, first at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The Cairo Population conference in 1995 recognised that “orderly international migration can have positive effects on both communities of origin and those of destination.”
Twenty years later we have abandoned the notion of “addressing the root causes of migration” and moved on to conceptualizing migration that is easier, cheaper, safer and which adds value.
Here in the Asia-Pacific region, migration is complex and multi-dimensional.  In the past 20 years new economic powerhouses have emerged, and populations have swelled. Some countries are full of youth, seeking jobs, whereas others have an aging work force that is not being replaced from within.
Asian diaspora communities in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere have changed the face of their host countries, while retaining close links (and exerting great impact) on the motherland.  However, almost half of all Asians migrate within Asia, and despite the many obstacles to ASEAN’s economic blueprint, the first tentative steps towards freedom of movement of skilled workers will be taken in 2015.
Almost half of Asia’s migrants are women, with their own specific needs and challenges that have not yet been fully thought through by policy-makers. Research shows that women are the most productive migrants in terms of remittance sending, investing more in education for their children, health care for their parents, and savings for their family’s future.
Finally, the shadow of “environmental migration” caused by climate change, sea level rise and rapid urbanization is coming into ever-sharper focus. In 2012, 22 million people (68 per cent of the total) were displaced by disasters in Asia.
For all these reasons, and for the many more that will emerge as migration continues to evolve, we believe that migration must be a part of the new set of “sustainable development goals” that will emerge from the global conference to be held at the United Nations General Assembly  in New York a year from now.  We are heartened to see migration strongly mentioned in preparatory discussions.
In a world that faces severe skills shortages, migration is already playing an essential role by filling labour market gaps. And while both natural and manmade catastrophes are set to increase and impact greater numbers of lives, remittances will support the resilience of the populations that leave, and those that opt to stay.
The world must finally recognize migration for what it is: a solution, not a problem. It is humanity’s oldest and most effective development strategy.
As the International Organization for Migration and the Migration Policy Institute launched the tenth “Issue in Brief” in Bangkok last week, the above are IOM Regional Director Andrew Bruce's reflections on its subject matter: how migration must be integrated into the post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda. This event coincided with the opening of the 69th UN General Assembly in New York, which will discuss the post-2015 vision. This JJB-penned op ed was also published in the Bangkok Post under the headline "Migrants are Economic Assets" 

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Peaks and Valleys - Two Nepalese Journeys

Bhutanese refugees Suman Basnet with her daughters Emma and Numa, hours before their resettlement to the USA. 
This blog piece first appeared on
This is a story – or two stories – about three women and a man, going in different directions. A story of hope, and a story of despair. One of dreams dashed, one of butterflies in the stomach. A story of escape, and a story of imprisonment. It is about setting out on a new life full of soaring promise, and of returning to deep, bitter disappointment.
I met the protagonists on the same day, an hour apart, in the cacophony and hubbub of Kathmandu, Nepal’s bustling, quirky capital. It was a grey day, the hills ringing the city barely visible in the dusty gloom; the glistening Himalayan peaks hidden in ominous monsoon clouds.
Suman Basnet (42) and her daughters Emma and Numa (17 and 19) were preparing to leave Nepal for the USA on the US Refugee Admissions Program, after almost two decades in a refugee camp. Across town, 40-year-old Tanka Batala was sitting in an overcrowded, stuffy reception room at an NGO office, his right hand swathed in bandages.
Nepal is best known as the home of Mount Everest, but in recent years – since the end of the civil conflict – it has also become known as a source of cheap migrant labour. Over two million Nepalis now work overseas (hundreds of thousands work across the open border in India), and almost a quarter of the country’s GDP now comes from migrant remittances.

Returned Nepali migrant Tanka Batala (left) with his case worker Yubray Nepal. © IOM 2014
In the 1990s, tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese fled violence and persecution in neighbouring Bhutan. Almost 100,000 have been resettled by IOM, mainly to the USA, but also to Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. Suman and her two daughters are bound for Los Angeles, where her cousin is already settled, running a beauty parlour.
Their mood is buoyant, exhilarated, breathless. It contrasts heavily with that of Tanka. He thought he too was leaving for a better life, a few months in Malaysia, polishing furniture and getting it ready for sale. Instead, he ended up in a  camp in the jungle for a year, working in a sawmill, duped, ripped off, arrested, imprisoned, and then “rescued” by his employer only to be sent back to the jungle, his salary withheld, until the day that his hand slipped and went under the blade, lopping off the top of three fingers.
“What can I do now,” he reflects, ruefully, rhetorically on my question, his thoughts on the education of his three teenage children. He wants to warn the thousands of “aspiring migrants” in his country: “Check the conditions on your contracts, know who is accountable, and take training before you go.”
For Suman and her girls, the future seems brighter. They all speak excellent English, honed by years of teaching the language to fellow refugees in unofficial schools. The girls are full of chatter about LA, the studies they want to pursue, but the mother’s face, though smiling, betrays a deep sadness.
“As soon as I get my green card and enough money I will come back and visit Bhutan. I’ve not been there for 20 years; my daughters were born here as refugees, but I love my country. I love Bhutan.”
She left, she says because of the threat of rape in a time of conflict. As young woman she saw the sexual violence meted out by soldiers on her peers. She doesn’t want to say much, but her daughters are proud independent women, and they interject: “She told us what happened. Women were tied up in trees and repeatedly raped. She hid in the roofspace to avoid it.”
Life as a refugee has been hard. “They would bully us,” says Numa. “They’d say we smell and eat worms, but it all stopped three years ago when we went into the resettlement programme. They thought they might get some benefits if they were nicer to us.”
Their plans for America are grounded in realism. “It’s not going to be easy. We will have to work hard,” says Suman.
But you know, you just know when you hear them talk and you see their faces, that they are going to be OK. They have been waiting years for this, the day of departure. Their last staging post is the IOM transit centre in Kathmandu – the last link in a chain of self and guided preparation in everything from how to get a job to how to fasten an aeroplane safety belt.
As for Tanka, all that is left is hope, which he clings to. He will get some small compensation for his injury, and the Migrants Rights Association (“For the Migrants, by the Migrants”, an IOM partner) will advocate for him, help him with his legal case and paperwork, and do what they can to help him reintegrate. But when he walks back into his own village, he’ll be seen as a failed migrant, just one of thousands who didn’t make it.
That’s hard to take, says migrants’ rights activist Yubray Nepal, Tanka’s case worker. “I’ve seen some desperately sad cases at the airport. Men coming home paralyzed from construction injuries, coming back with less than nothing. They take on debts to travel, and when it doesn’t work out there’s only alcohol abuse waiting for them.”
Mass migration is set to be part of Nepal’s future for a considerable time, given the lack of jobs at home. Managing that will be key to the future of the country; central to its development and prosperity.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Pacific Poet Sounds Climate Alarm

Poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner surveys her island home.
This post first appeared on
We are shocked to find
the rising waters have displaced
our grave sites
The land crumbles away
beneath rows of skywhite tombstones
The crashing sea swallows up
our ancestors
We watch
as it devours
our histories
The sea is angry with us
 an old man
It has begun.
These are the words of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from the far-flung Marshall Islands, one of the many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) grappling with the consequences of climate change and sea level rise.
It’s something I saw with  my own eyes in a small coastal village in Papua New Guinea earlier this year. Rest In Peace is no longer guaranteed.
Kathy will open the U.N. secretary-general's climate change summit later this month, where she will address 100 heads of state, alongside Ban Ki-Moon, and tell them what it is like to live in a country which may soon become uninhabitable.
The Marshall Islands has already suffered a massive drought, necessitating a national emergency to be called, and for the US government, through IOM, to mount a large-scale relief operation across the islands, separated by hundreds of miles of deserted sea.
Life is harsh in these island paradises, and Jetnil-Kijiner exposes that, using her poetry to raise “awareness surrounding the issues and threats faced by my people". Those include rising sea levels, extreme weather, forced migration, as well as a legacy of nuclear testing on the islands, and racism.
IOM’s Director General, William Lacy Swing is currently in Samoa at the SIDS conference, where he is raising the issue of climate-induced migration. “Threats to small island states should awaken the moral voice of us all”, he tweeted today.
IOM has been active on climate change an migration since 1992, believing the two phenomena are interlinked. The Organization works closely with governments, the UN and civil society to develop more comprehensive strategies to better manage environmental migration and to address potential impacts of migration on the environment.
Standing in solidarity with these remote populations, highlighting their plight, and working with them to find sustainable solutions is of major significance. No less a personage than the UN Secretary General has put it quite starkly:
“Climate change, in some regions, has aggravated conflict over scarce land, and could well trigger large-scale migration in the decades ahead. And rising sea levels put at risk the very survival of all small island states. These and other implications for peace and security have implications for the United Nations itself."
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