Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pakistan pilot's sandwich demand delays flight by over 2 hours ( this real?)

Pakistan pilot's sandwich demand delays flight by over 2 hours
PTI | Dec 16, 2013, 05.14 AM IST

LAHORE: A foodie pilot delayed a New York-bound Pakistan International Airlines' flight by two and a half hours because he wanted to take sandwiches, which weren't in approved menu, aboard the plane.

PIA flight Pk-711, scheduled for New York via Manchester, was ready for departure on Saturday from Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore at 6.45am (local time). The catering department served the approved menu, including lunch, peanuts, chips and biscuits but flight captain Noushad asked them to serve him sandwiches, The Nation daily reported.

The catering staff expressed their inability to serve anything beyond the approved menu and also informed him of the sensitivity of the flight's departure time. The staff told him that sandwiches could only be arranged by placing an order to a five-star hotel in the city, which would take more than two hours.

The captain remained adamant and said no matter what he needed his sandwiches , it said.
The catering department then contacted the PIA head office in Karachi and brought the matter to their notice. Surprisingly, the management then directed the catering department to meet the pilot's demand.

Finally, the sandwiches were arranged from the five-star hotel concerned and the flight could depart to its destination at 9.15 am (local time) after a delay of two and a half hours, the report added.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Fighting to footwear: US Army veteran's Afghan factory plan

Fighting to footwear: US Army veteran's Afghan factory plan

Matthew Griffin (right) Matthew Griffin (right) did three combat tours in Afghanistan with the Army Rangers

After three tours of duty in Afghanistan, former US special operations soldier Matthew Griffin now wants to help the country by opening a factory there instead of going on combat missions.

Mr Griffin, who was an Army Rangers captain, is the founder and chief executive of footwear business Combat Flip-Flops, based in Washington state.

The 34-year-old came up with the idea for the company after visiting a shoe manufacturing facility in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that made military boots.

"It came as a brainwave," he says. "I realised that flip-flops were as popular in Afghanistan as they are in the US, that the two countries had that in common.

"So I thought to myself, 'Why not start a business making flip-flops in Kabul which we can then sell in the US and around the world?'

"That was back in 2009. It is fair to say that the business has faced a few hurdles since then."

The main hurdles have been three failed attempts in the intervening years to contract out the manufacturing of the flip-flops to existing shoe factories in Kabul.

To sidestep the problem, Mr Griffin now wants to open his own factory in the country - by driving one in.

To make this possible, Mr Griffin and his colleagues have developed a flip-flop assembly line that fits inside a standard cargo container. But they still need to secure sufficient funding to return production to Afghanistan.
'Infinitely safer'
Mr Griffin says he always wanted to join the US Army. Enrolling when he was 18, he went on to spend three years with the Army Rangers between 2003 and 2006. The Rangers describe themselves as the US Army's "premier direct-action raid force".

Combat Flip-Flops' AK47 model The company describes its flip-flops as "bad for running, worse for fighting"

Mr Griffin left the army in April 2006. He says: "By then I had two children, and I was barely home. I wanted to spend time with the family."

Yet civilian work would three years later send him back to Afghanistan. By then he was working for Remote Medical International (RMI), a US company that offers medical assistance and rescue services to people working in remote or hostile environments around the world.

It was while at RMI that Mr Griffin visited the shoe factory in Kabul in 2009.

"I couldn't believe how much Kabul had changed for the better over the intervening years," he says. "It felt infinitely safer, and there were small businesses growing everywhere.

"So I instantly thought, 'Why don't we help this, why don't we send more entrepreneurs not soldiers?'

"And then I visited the shoe factory, and I wasn't prepared for what I saw - it was a clean, sterile, modern manufacturing facility. It was making military boots, but it could easily also make flip-flops. That's where the crazy idea came from."
Advance orders
With busy work and family commitments, Mr Griffin says his idea "stagnated for a year and a half", until he eventually launched the business in early 2011. One of his former Army Rangers friends, Donald Lees, came on board, as did Mr Griffin's brother-in-law, Andrew Sewrey.

Workers at the shoe factory in Kabul that subsequently shut down The company has struggled to contract out its manufacturing in Afghanistan

With none of them having any experience of making shoes, Mr Griffin says they did the only sensible thing: "We Googled 'how to make flip-flops'."

They used their savings and raising additional funds through garage sales to get the company off the ground. The name is a play on both Mr Griffin and Mr Lees's military background.

Before production could start in Kabul, Mr Griffin and his two colleagues designed some flip-flops and got 100 prototypes made in China.

The prototypes were good enough to secure a number of advance orders.

And so Combat Flip-Flops signed a deal with the shoe-making factory in Kabul for 2,000 pairs.

But when he arrived in Kabul in the summer of 2012 to pick up the flip-flops, Mr Griffin immediately realised that they hadn't been made well enough.

"It was a memorable moment, that's for sure," he says. "We must have smoked a packet of cigarettes in 20 minutes.

"We ended up giving the 2,000 pairs of flip-flops away to people in Kabul."

Combat Flip-Flops The company has developed a manufacturing facility in a cargo container

Undeterred, Mr Griffin went to another shoe factory in Kabul, but it turned him away because it said his order wasn't large enough.

So instead, he signed a deal later in 2012 with a third facility in the Afghan capital.

"All appeared to be going well at last, but then communication from the factory dropped off," says Mr Griffin. "We then heard that the factory has lost its order for [military] boots, and would have to close. So we were back to nothing again."
Production outsourced
With already long overdue orders to fulfil, Mr Griffin says that with a heavy heart he the decided at the start of this year to switch production of the flip-flops to the US, and more specifically to his garage in Issaquah, near Seattle.

"It dawned on us that you only need basic machinery to make flip-flops, so we started to make them in my garage. The idea for the cargo container came from there," he says.

Matthew Griffin in Afghanistan Mr Griffin plans to return to Afghanistan next year with his mobile factory

Struggling to keep up with demand this year, some production has since been outsourced to Colombia in South America, but Mr Griffin hopes to resume flip-flop manufacturing in Afghanistan next year as soon as he can raise the funds.

In the meantime, Combat Flip-Flops continues to also sell both sarongs and scarves that are made by Afghan women.

If taking the mobile flip-flop factory to Afghanistan is successful, he hopes the concept can "be extended to other former combat zones, to help provide employment and boost their economies".

Mr Griffin adds: "The business has faced some challenges along the way, that's for sure, but being in the Army Rangers was good training - you have to think your way out of a problem in high-stress conditions and a very short timeframe."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Crackdown ends at crumbling Myanmar university

Crackdown ends at crumbling Myanmar university

A staff member at Yangon University Library checks palm leaf manuscripts at the library, two days before undergraduate classes reopen in Yangon, Myanmar.
Yangon University, once among Asia's most prestigious, reopens to undergraduates after a two decade crackdown by military rulers.
YANGON, Myanmar — The campus is overrun by a tangled web of weeds and vines. Many of the books in the open-air library are ancient, their pages yellow. Students will have to share a handful of donated computers and put up with slow-speed Internet, at least at first. And professors are struggling to catch up with developments in their fields.
This is Yangon University, once among Asia's most prestigious institutions of learning. It reopens to undergraduates Thursday for the first time in nearly two decades, finally emerging from a crackdown by military rulers who considered education a threat to their supremacy.
"It's a start," Thaw Kaung, one of the country's most respected scholars, said with a smile.

The junta that ruled Myanmar for half a century gutted education, which received 1.3 percent of the budget, compared to 25 percent for defense.
Education spending has shot up since President Thein Sein was inaugurated to lead a nominally civilian government, jumping from $340 million in 2011 to $1 billion this year. But experts say more needs to be done.
"We need educated people to run the country," said Thaw Kaung, an octogenarian in thick, black-rimmed glasses who long served as the university's chief librarian. "We can't just rely on foreign aid and experts. Without a university producing capable persons, it will be difficult to sustain development in the long run."
Foreign investors are eager to do business in this desperately poor nation of 60 million that only recently opened up to the rest of the world. They are no longer hindered by U.S. and European sanctions, but now must figure out how to deal with an enthusiastic but utterly unprepared work force.
Even finding English-speakers for five-star hotels can be a challenge, investors say, let alone business and information technology professionals, lawyers or accountants.
The onslaught on education in Myanmar began when Gen. Ne Win seized power in 1962. Troops blew up Yangon University's Student Union because of protests and tightened control over classes. Soldiers stormed the campus again in 1974 to quell protests.
The biggest blow came in 1988, following the failed student uprisings that put a global spotlight on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta shut down urban campuses, seen as hotbeds of political dissent, and restricted what could be taught.
Yangon University produced many of Myanmar's leaders and its most famous dissidents and intellectuals, including Suu Kyi's father, independence leader Aung San. The school closed repeatedly for long stretches under the junta, and up until this week, only a handful of graduate students could be seen roaming the 200-acre campus.
"It's a dream come true," said 16-year-old May Thin Khaing, clutching the straps of her backpack as she looked for her name on the board near registration.
"My parents both went here in the 1980s and often spoke nostalgically about those days," said the teenager, who will study chemistry. "I hope I can feel the same sense of pride that my parents once enjoyed."
The school once had 60,000 students, but it's a long way from that now.
Initially, only 300 students — 15 from each of the 20 disciplines — were supposed to head to class on Thursday. Following criticism from academics and lawmakers, the number was boosted at the final hour to 1,000 — or 50 for each discipline.
That left professors scrambling to prepare extra lab equipment and clean up vacant classrooms. Workers were frantically putting in light bulbs ahead of the reopening and sweeping away thick, dusty cobwebs.
Dr. Phone Win, a physician who heads Mingalar Myanmar, a group promoting education, said enrollment should be even higher: "Why only 50 for each discipline? Who came up with that number?"
He said that despite economic and political reforms in the last three years, the government maintains a top-down approach across almost every sector, including education.
"It's very hierarchial," Win said. The ministry is reluctant to give too much control to the university rector, and the rector limits professors' autonomy, he said.
"What these students need now is academic freedom," he said.
Students also may be skeptical that such freedom has arrived. Political science has returned to the curriculum, but so far only six students have signed up.
With urban campuses closed, 70 percent of the country's students have in recent years relied on distance learning, with graduation depending largely on their memorization skills. Others made long, daily commutes to newly built sterile institutions on the outskirts of bustling cities.
Nay Oak, a professor of English at Yangon in the 1960s and '70s, said that as the military closed down universities, its answer to education was to allow students to take crash courses. Many walked away with degrees after just six months of study.

"In many cases, they didn't have to learn a thing," Nay Oak said.
Yangon University is getting international help to remake itself. Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Oxford universities and the Gates Foundation are among the groups that have provided assistance or expressed interest in doing so.
Charles Wiener, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has taken part in several recent workshops for university faculty. Training intended to draw 25 or 30 participants regularly attracted 70 to 100, he said, and many in the packed rooms impressed their instructors with their academic rigor.
They knew they had a lot of catching up to do, he said, but were clearly excited.
"The metaphor of a starving child," he said, "is not that distant."
AP writer Robin McDowell contributed to this report from Yangon.

India's Cradle Baby aims to end female infanticide

India's Cradle Baby aims to end female infanticide

A baby girl lies in a cradle inside the Life Line Trust orphanage in Salem, India.
India's "Cradle Baby" project allows parents to give unwanted baby girls to the state, saving them from death in a region where daughters are a burden and their murder common.
SALEM, India — Unwanted infant girls in the sterile, sparsely furnished nursery rooms of the Life Line Trust orphanage in Tamil Nadu state, southern India, are considered the lucky ones.
They are India's "Cradle Babies" — products of a government project that permits parents to give unwanted baby girls anonymously to the state, saving them from possible death in a region where daughters are seen as a burden and where their murder is a common reality.

"Often babies are found in ditches and garbage pits. Some are alive, others are dead," said A. Devaki, a government child protection officer in the Salem district, one of the worst-afflicted areas.
"Just last week, we found a newborn baby girl barely breathing in a dustbin at the local bus stand."
She added that a lack of education, the low status of girls and widespread poverty were the main factors why girl babies were killed or dumped with little chance of survival.
"One girl is OK, but a second or third will likely end up being killed. That's why we introduced the Cradle Baby Scheme."
But while the project has been praised for potentially saving the lives of thousands of Indian girls, human rights activists have criticized it, accusing authorities of encouraging the abandonment of girls and promoting the low status of women in this largely patriarchal society.

Started in 1992, the project runs in dusty towns and mud-and-brick villages across Tamil Nadu. It allows parents to leave unwanted baby girls in dozens of empty cradles in hospitals, welfare centers and government offices.
At the beginning, parents would secretly leave their babies in the cribs. These days, they are more open and simply hand infants to welfare officers.
The children are then sent to registered orphanages like the Life Line Trust where they are put up for adoption.
"Words can't explain how much joy this little girl gives us," said R. Umamangeshwari, 42, sitting next to her husband, a businessman in the textile industry, with their newly adopted 1-year-old daughter, Janani.

After 10 years of trying for a child, the couple approached the orphanage and within a year, after government welfare officers carried out checks, they were deemed suitable adoptive parents and given custody of Janani.
Since the Cradle Baby program began, poverty-stricken parents and single mothers have handed-in more than 3,700 children, mostly girls. More than 3,600 of them have been adopted by childless, middle class couples in Tamil Nadu, officials said.
Palaniamma, 40, recalled how her mother took away her newborn daughter and put her in the scheme 11 years ago. Days later, she convinced her family to get her daughter back.
"I am glad I refused to give her up," Palaniamma said outside her mud-and-thatch home in Krishnapuram village. "Whatever difficulties I'll face, I thought, it's better to bring up my own child than desert her."
Activists and officials say financial pressures associated with dowries are so great that parents have been aborting female fetuses for decades after discovering their gender through ultrasound examinations, despite the practice being illegal.
A 2011 study in The Lancet medical journal found up to 12 million Indian girls had been aborted in the past three decades.

Other parents kill girls or fail to save them from preventable diseases, leading to alarmingly skewed child gender ratios. There were 919 girls to every 1,000 boys in 2011 compared with 976 in 1961, says the Census of India.
In Salem, communities like the Vanniyar people practice infanticide more than feticide, often because they cannot afford ultrasound tests, which are growing in popularity in parts of India, to illegally determine the unborn child's sex.
There are no official figures on how many girls have been killed across the state, but government officials and activists say at least one or two cases of babies being abandoned or found dead are reported every month.

In June, local media reported the arrest of a father of four girls in the district of Dharmapuri. He was suspected of killing his 22-day-old daughter by feeding her poisoned milk, then burying her corpse in a ditch.
Officials say the Cradle Baby program has been a success, improving gender ratios where the project is active.
Rights activists say the improved ratio is largely a result of greater awareness and advocacy work, and better family planning, rather than because of the project.
They say the program has failed to tackle the root causes of female infanticide by promoting the abandonment of girls and allowing parents to shift responsibility to the state. As a result, they say, killing of baby girls continues.
"The government is legitimizing the dumping of girls," said M. Shankar of the Development Education and Environment Protection Society, a Dharmapuri-based charity that works on gender rights issues.
Additional reporting by Anupama Chandrasekaran