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Going Up in Smoke, Point Blank with Asian Weekly 12th January 2018

lips-smoke-female-woman-54316.jpegThree centuries ago, the Persians enjoyed what is known as the hookah. This is a pipe connected to a bowl of water that is heated and the vapour steams the flavoured tobacco, cannabis or hashish. When the hookah spread around the world it was called shisha. It literally is a pipe version of a cigarette and according to the World Health Organization in one session you end up inhaling as much as a person would if they took one hundred cigarettes.

There is no doubt that shisha is bad for the health. In fact it is bad for the society. The Akbar Empire era is long over and we are better aware of the health risks that tobacco has so why take the chance? Using this water pipe means being able to contract tuberculosis or hepatitis easily especially if shared. Even if you have your own piece, still there is no significant proof that it is safe. While the water contains the concentration of the nicotine, the person smoking does end up taking more and longer puffs because they do not see the smoke going up in the air and think there is really no harm being done.

While previously it was only restricted to older males smoking shisha, it has widely spread to the younger males and now even females between the ages of 18 and 24 years especially in the cities. Since the tobacco for shisha comes in different flavours it offers an alternative than the usual cigarette and on that pretext many youngsters are experimenting. Herbal shisha too contains nicotine so really there is no difference and your health is at risk.

Shisha smoking is usually found in high-end bars because the assembly and ingredients required are plenty. You can smoke a cigarette anywhere but to have shisha you need the water pipe, charcoal and of course the tobacco. This means sitting down and taking the puffs, thus the bar has to be designed accordingly. Eventually it is promoting a culture of being high and cozy, which can lead to unsolicited activities at the place or thereafter. Of course even drinking alcohol in public can result to the person getting high and losing control of their talk and walk and perhaps cause a fight or engage in sexual violence. Taking shisha is just as close to the cliff too.

Just like a glass of wine can loosen the tongue and get the conversation flowing, so can a puff of shisha, but at what expense? The rich and spoilt children of especially Nairobi are using shisha smoking as an excuse to chill out and faze out from the realities that they should be facing. They become lethargic and unresponsive to real life. Shisha smoking is a way for them to kill time. If it is a part of the Arab culture to have shisha then go an enjoy it in their part of the world, there is no need to spread second hand smoke to the rest. Getting that one kick can literally kick you out of life, trying taking in the fumes of your car exhaust and you know where you will end up.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health Cleopha Mailu has rightfully banned shisha in Kenya. Businessmen who are crying for loss of business should remember that dealing in shisha is actually signing up a slow death warrant for your customer. The ban is an excellent way to stop this lazy habit of “socializing”. However he should combine efforts with the Ministry of Sports and Culture, because at the end of the day people do want to socialize and youngsters need their space for enjoyment. This enjoyment should be productive and in the form of sports, arts, music and dance. To enable these activities to happen cost effectively the service providers should get as much assistance as possible to penetrate the youth to keep them busy and competitive.

Finally social vices begin at home just like charity, what you show your kids are what they will emulate later on. While you can’t keep a leash on them, educate them on what is happening from your point of view and not wait for them to Google their symptoms.

 

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Posted by on January 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Sing, Dance or Score Back to School, Point Blank with Asian Weekly 5th January 2018

pexels-photo-256428.jpegThe beginning of the year marks the most important movement and that is back to school. The school fees is done, new uniforms if required are ready and books are in the new bag too. The private schools are in their second term and the national schools are starting their academic year. In either case, back to school can mean a lot of pressure for both student and parent or guardian.

 

The student is worried about unfinished holiday homework. The parent is worried about traffic and transport issues. The teacher is worried about new students. This interesting situation remains unique in experience from person to person. While the academic performance is important to success in life, there is more that is key to a fulfilling career.

According to a World Bank report released on 26th September 2017, “millions of young students in low and middle-income countries face the prospect of lost opportunity and lower wages in later life because their primary and secondary schools are failing to educate them to succeed in life.”

It goes on to say, “according to the report, when third grade students in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda were asked recently to read a sentence such as “The name of the dog is Puppy” in English or Kiswahili, three-quarters did not understand what it said.”

Bringing in ICT (information technology) into the classrooms can only useful if teachers are trained and parents are also involved. You cannot have a student use the devices and only to return home to paper and pen and find a gap. It is therefore necessary to involve all stakeholders for the greater good, which is a brilliant education. The main objective of a good education is that a child is prepared for his work life, whether employed or becoming an entrepreneur.

This definitely requires a closer look at the extra curricular activities schools offer. Every national school in the country must have the basics no matter what, in both primary and secondary. These include, a school band, a full music room, art competitions, football pitches, basketball courts, athletic fields and swimming. These basics can gear them up to face any private school standards should the income allow them to move. Having a theatre in the school will give them the opportunity for drama, acting, debate and elocution.

Each school must have an up-to-date IT facility and chemistry lab. While the Science Congress fairs are common with the National Schools, there needs much improvement for resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the children compete across schools with the sports championships because this will prepare them for the big leagues of life ahead and maybe a professional career in sports. In fact this is a perfect platform for the Government to prepare its future Olympians. That way the children have an income and the basic education should they retire in their mid-30s from the sports career.

Playing sports reduces anxiety and helps children battling with depression. Even music is known to be therapeutic for children, so let their arts and crafts shine.

 

Parents can only provide so much, thus it is up to the Government and the schools to give the children a well rounded education that can prepare them for life.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Shape Up or Shape Out, Point Blank with Asian Weekly 29th December 2017

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New Year is around the corner and what are you up to? Where are you in life? Where do you want to go?

 

 

 

 

There is no surprise that the number one and most common New Year’s eve resolution is to loose weight, followed by eat healthy and spend more time with family and friends. You must be wondering where do you lie in all of this? Well, that’s the thing, most lie through the year only to end up and make the same resolutions.

How about you go for losing more than just weight? Don’t get bogged down by the kilos you have to get off, maybe there is more in life you need to let go off. You can still have chocolates but learn to have the right ones and not over do it, if you calculate the amount of festivals to celebrate you will eventually end up eating a chocolate every 5 days.

How about you lose the drama in your life? From watching pathetic time waster TV serials to not over reacting in life! Turn a new leaf and choose to loose the crap and keep the treasure. De-clutter your friends list, even if this includes “family members” who do not add value to your life. But remember if you loose, you must add too. Things have to balance. Take a good stock of your friends and enemies and figure out what is best for you.

If you are dropping the calories then make sure you add them on for someone else. For every fine dining meal you give up, make sure you buy a school meal plan for someone else. That will make you feel better and for sure you will look better. Maybe 2017 was a year of gaining a new skill, then do not let it sit on the laptop, use it to benefit at least one more person and start the process of changing the world.

Since we are all used to the plastic ban, remember the fight has just started, you must still plant at least one tree. This will keep the balance of the earth in check. These are important resolutions. Instead of wasting time buying a new phone, you can choose to get better drainage for your compound and help the neighbourhood. The importance of community living has never been more significant than today. The digital world has connected us but we are strangers in person. Thus, make sure you reconnect with your friends in person in 2018. You never know what opportunities may arise for either of you.

Spending a lot of money over a New Year’s eve party makes sense if there is a purpose. Showing off is a big purpose in Kenya, from the big car syndrome to celebrity stalking. Fall prey if you will but remember these are shiny things that wear off at some point. Splash the money on savings, on a new home, on a retirement plan, medical insurance or a surprise future holiday. That way you will live for tomorrow while enjoying today.

You can choose to make your birthday the New Year of your life. There is no rule written on stone saying it has to start every 1st January. Cut yourself some slack but shape up or shape out when the time is right for you.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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The Merry Money Making of Christmas, Point Blank with Asian Weekly 22nd December 2017

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Once upon a time there was Santa Claus, now upon a time there is an unlimited credit card. Christmas is one of the most sacred festive periods for the Christians around the world. However the Western culture of turning it into a big celebration started turning wheels of fortunes for some.

The famous WHAM! Song Last Christmas earns them $ 400,000 every year.

1 billion dollars is spent annually on Christmas trees in the United States. Incidentally the most expensive Christmas tree so far in history was unveiled in 2010 at the Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi and valued at 11 million dollars because it was adorned with jewellery, necklaces and semi precious stones.

In the UK average Christmas spending amounts to easily 400 sterling pounds per person. Meanwhile the UK brands are known to cough up to 4 billion sterling pounds just for marketing their Christmas campaigns.

New York is the most expensive place in the world for Christmas shopping, followed by Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Reykjavik and Shanghai.

In the UK one of the most luxurious gift trending is the a jewellery box in the shape of the HighClere Castle which is the home of the series Downtown Abbey and it is valued at over eighty thousand dollars.

Then what is Christmas like in Kenya?

It is almost at an infant stage. The shopping sprees are picking up, the decorations are increasing and the lunches and dinners are being booked, but not yet quite there. While the Church of England still has over 1.1 million regular worshippers over Christmas and the rest of UK is dwindling in numbers heading to church, the opposite may be true for Kenya.

According to an article by the online publication Bible.Org they have written that there is the argument the scriptures do not allow Christmas.

“Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16 and 17 in no way forbids believers from commemorating something such as the birth of Christ if it is done out of love, devotion, and the joy the season gives when used as a way of focusing on the Savior and not as a religious duty. The issue is not the observance, but the reason, the attitudes and the spirit in which it is done.”

Thus, they agree that Christmas celebrations are relevant.

By the way churches such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Sevent-day Adventists do not believe in Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

Kenya’s Christmas certainly revolves around church time and going to the village and spending time with family and friends before a refreshed New Year. The commercial aspect is still picking up. If your monthly income is KES 80,000 and after expenses you are left with KES 10,000 and an average meal at a mid-range restaurant per person will cost you KES 2,500. You can figure out the Christmas shopping spend.

There is no doubt that Christmas is more commercial than spiritual. If the Churches can involve their worshippers to do more practical things such as donation drives, tree planting and meals for all, the meaning of Christmas can change. There is hope. The reality is that we are living in materialistic times so unless even the spiritual organizations do not address these, then there will be no spiritual followers.

 

“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”- Scrooge in the Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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From Chalk Board to iPads, Point Blank with Asian Weekly 15th December 2017

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Almost 70 years ago, the US Defense Systems started the exploration of the thing we now call the Internet. It was not until in the 1970s that Robert E. Kahn and Vint Cerf created the Internet Protocol Suite and then in the 1980s, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web.

Of course with the genius works of Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs the fun of the Internet has exploded and now children know it instinctively. Our Dos Prompt era is over and do not be surprised if your teenagers start to tell you then want to create, develop or code video games.

In fact according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers the video game industry is expected to have revenues over 90 billion dollars by 2020 worldwide. Nintendo’s Wii Sports, a home video game console released in 2006, is also the best-selling console game in the world, with a little over 82.5 million units shipped worldwide, as of 2017,

A typical scenario of how children are using the Internet is when they are playing games or watching YouTube videos on the tablets, iPads or smart phones of their parents or relatives at home. They are usually doing this while the parent is driving, shopping or cooking. In very rare occasions is the parent or relative watching the YouTube video with them or playing a PlayStation game with them. While parents may need that time out to get their chores done, and can not act like a CCTV over their children, they need to have a talk about how digital media is advantageous or harmful to them. Obviously parents and any other adult around the child need to be aware themselves first.

Adults should realize that the use of Internet improves work, or create learning opportunities through educational apps. If they showed Barbie going to a tea party, it is entertainment, but if they showed a cupcakes recipes, that is education. Parents can easily set goals for the video games, such as competitions that can result in a prize giving ceremony. This can enhance their competitive skills and discipline, the idea is not to cross-levels of games and show off, but develops cognitive skills too. This is useful in homework and problem solving in school.

Teenagers in South Africa are using the Internet to learn about health issues. Clearly they are curious about the reproduction aspect and are experimenting with sexeting. Thus, it is important for parents to have “that bees talk” even at the age of 11 years or depending on the child’s curiosity. They should tell kids that as much as Google is useful for knowing how to do things and what are things, they need to always check with Parents first. They have of course experienced it. Parents maybe shy to discuss such matters, but it is better than a boy taking advantage of a girl or any type of sexual bullying that can result to disastrous results. The smart phones for children are first for emergency and then education and finally entertainment.

According to a recent report by the UNICEF:

  • Young people are the most connected age group. Worldwide, 71 per cent are online compared with 48 per cent of the total population.
  • African youth are the least connected, with around 3 out of 5 youth offline, compared to just 1 in 25 in Europe.
  • Approximately 56 per cent of all websites are in English and many children cannot find content they understand or that is culturally relevant.
  • More than 9 in 10 child sexual abuse URLs identified globally are hosted in five countries – Canada, France, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation and the United States.

The safety of this digital space should be a combined effort between the Government, Education Institutions, Community Centres and of course the children. There should be workshops that are held at crucial age groups of especially the toddler (1 to 3 years), preschool (4 to 6 years), middle school (6 to 12 years) and then adolescents (13 to 18 years).

The Government needs to provide subsidized Internet to Education institutions and they in turn need to send out Internet teachers to the schools. There must be sessions with Parents too; who can engage in dialogues with experts so they are more knowledgeable too.

This digital space can only be navigated with each player participating actively and positively.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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The Roadmap to Independence, Point Blank with Asian Weekly 8th December 2017

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What is Independence? This quote by Mahatma Gandhi can perhaps explain best:

“To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect, and their oneness.”- Mahatma Gandhi

 

Kenya is turning 54 this Jamhuri Day and the year 2017 has been one of the most memorable ever. Our General Elections literally brought the country to a standstill. From August 8th to October 26th and not until November 28th we did not get an opportunity to feel as normal. The campaign period did not affect urban life until voting. This was one of the most important elections ever run for the country for various reasons. What is important now is that we must take stock of what happened, why and do the necessary.

An Independent country is able to make its own policies and has a constitution. On 4th August 2010 Kenyans turned out in large numbers for a referendum and by 67% gave Kenya’s its new constitution since 1963.

This one includes 18 chapters:

Chapter One: Sovereignty of the people and supremacy of the constitution

Chapter Two: The republic

Chapter Three: Citizenship

Chapter Four: The bill of rights

Chapter Five: Land and environment

Chapter Six: Leadership and integrity

Chapter Seven: Representation of the people

Chapter Eight: The legislature

Chapter Nine: The executive

Chapter Ten: Judiciary

Chapter Eleven: Devolved government

Chapter Twelve: Public finance

Chapter Thirteen: The public service

Chapter Fourteen: National security

Chapter Fifteen: Commissions and independent offices

Chapter Sixteen: Amendment of the constitution

Chapter Seventeen: General provisions

Chapter Eighteen: Transitional and consequential provisions

There is no doubt we are reaping its benefits till today and more days to come.

In 2003 the National Rainbow Coalition made Primary School education free countrywide and quickly Kimani Maruge became the oldest student at the age of 84. The programme has seen an exponential rise in enrollment and in the recent update, this KCPE year will see almost all students make an entry to Form One as per the directive from Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i. He has also informed the public that the Government will now directly supply the textbooks in order to curb the rampant corruption over this menace of schoolbooks.

The move by the Commission for University Education Kenya that all professors must have a PhD will prove its real purpose in due time.

If the developed world has Bitcoin, the developing world has MPESA. It was this education environment and not a Harvard or MIT where a student from Moi University developed the software that was able to mobile money transfer. Safaricom bought the patent rights and they launched it as MPESA in 2007. This platform is being now used in a few countries including India.

This genius work is reaping billions of shillings for the country. According to Safaricom, M-PESA’s contribution to the Kenyan economy stands at GDP of over 40%.

There is no doubt that MPESA has given Kenya a serious financial identity that it lacked.

A synonymous development happened in 2009 when SEACOM, which is a sub-sea fibre optic cable, was switched on in Kenya. This is a 17,000km cable that is providing Internet facility to Kenya, Djibouti, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. But the Kenyan government wanted to be self-reliant and thus they created TEAMS (The East African Marine System) with the Emirates Telecommunication Establishment (Etisalat). It is a 5,000km fibre optic cable between Mombasa and Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

The number of jobs that have opened up just because we have better Internet is unbelievable. Internet penetration in Kenya has almost doubled in the last four years. Also with the entry of the smart phones, these benefits are simply on the rise.

There is no doubt that better Internet access is a better Kenya.

The launch of the Madaraka Express known as the Standard Gauge Railway on 31st May 2017 had mixed reactions. The railway line faced many environmental hurdles due to its route. However right now it is running to packed boxes. The objective was to connect Kenya through rail and get the burden of goods and large number of passengers off the roads and air and make it pocket friendly.

The plastic ban that finally came into effect on August 2017 for Kenya was really momentous. Once again opinions may differ since plastic bags companies shut down. I call it lack of innovation on their part. This green land needed protection and it is a shame it took almost ten years to actually pass the bill and then enforce the ban.

There is no doubt, less plastic is better for the environment, better for Kenya.

Kenya has just started to rise up, watch this space for more to come.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Every Life Matters, Point Blank with Asian Weekly, 1st December 2017

World Aids Day 2017

 

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and is a lentivirus (a subgroup of retrovirus) that causes HIV infection and over time acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

 

 

This year on the World AIDS Day the theme is “Right to Health” and the World Health Organization is pushing the agenda “Everybody Counts”.

Some quick facts from WHO include:

There were 36.7 million people living with HIV at the end of 2016.

As of 2016, 20.9 million people are receiving antiretroviral treatment worldwide.

Seven out of ten pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral treatment.

The WHO African Region is the most affected region, with 25.6 million people living with HIV in 2016. The African region also accounts for almost two thirds of the global total of new HIV infections.

In Africa AIDS is the leading cause of death and its transmission is widely because of unprotected sex. Unfortunately there are just six countries in the world where half of the 15 to 19-year-olds are living with HIV and one of them is Kenya.

From childhood to adulthood it is such a vulnerable time that with the increasing social pressures, there is early entry to sex. Also there is the lurking danger of younger people having sexual relationships with the older generations.

Children are getting knowledge from their parents, extended family members, and schoolmates and unfortunately from their tablets and mobile phones. They are browsing through porn sites and watching illicit music videos that are arousing their hormonal activity. We are living in a conservative Kenyan culture in both Asian and African families. Do not be fooled by the picnic trips and school adventures that happen out of town that there is no sexual activity going on. It can even happen during wedding functions or religious days. When teenagers have access to cars or even Uber trips, then their movement is lucid and anything is possible. This is not to through off alarm bells, but that impossible conversation has to happen.

Before the conversation can happen, all parents must have their two cents of education that should primarily come from the school or community. All schools both public and private need counselors who begin with a special course for the teachers and workers too, because sometimes a cleaner can spot unusual behavior for example in the toilets that teachers might miss out. Since 2013 the Ministry of Education in Kenya has worked actively introduce Sex Education in the schools, but if the teachers are shy or not confident with their own sexuality and the subject, they cannot set good examples or convey the message properly.

Community centres should have peer group outings and perhaps on a monthly basis discuss a topic. The topic can vary from entrepreneurship to AIDS. Children and teenagers are suffering silently because of domestic violence, financial difficulties, separated parents, unruly family members, drugs and the list goes on. Sometimes parents have an idea but are too embarrassed to consider counseling, thinking that this applies to mad kids. But mental health problems can lead to suicide or a rebel teenager who can end up using sex to get their relief.

The UNAIDS and African Union have included the access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) as part of their HIV response programs. However much needs to be done and Kenya being a very religious country it is important that these programs are implemented at Churches, Mosques and Temples too.

Kenya is one of the 12 countries using social media to spread this education.

However better access to Internet and cheaper smart phones will allow the children and teenagers to use it properly.

Both boys and girls are vulnerable to increased sexual activity. Thus, find better peer groups where their mind is on games, books or a charitable activity. Remind them what’s real and definitely teach them about condoms and contraception, because if anything a sexually transmitted disease can be life threatening for their future. Sometimes it helps to be honest with your children and tell them how it was for you so they know that you were once just like them in their place.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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