Matthew's end of year missive 2003
This is my end of year letter. I put it here in case you missed the email!
Hi. I hope you are having a great end to 2002
First, let me apologize if I've disappeared off your radar screens, if you were sitting there thinking, "where is that Matthew Holt fellow", I have indeed disappeared more or less off the map. I'm writing my end of year message from Laos, a small-ish country locked in between Thailand and Vietnam, about which the best known fact is that it had more bombs per person dropped on it than any other country in the world, and spent most of the 1960s and 1970s with armies from 4 other countries and the CIA's private drug-smuggling air force joining in its civil war. Now Laos looks like an offshoot of Thailand. Everyone by the border has a brand new scooter or 4WD extended cab pick-up, things costs as much as they do in Thailand, and the one-party state (still run by the revolutionary Pathet Lao) looks east to Vietnam for political inspiration, while everyone else is looking over the Mekong to Thailand in search of an extra Baht or two.
Before Laos I have been to several countries, mostly seeing the sites and lying on the beach, as well as trying to find out what makes the world tick from a non-Anglo-American perspective. If you want to know more about my trip, including seeing some of the hundreds of photos that I've put up (which may feature you if you were there!), please take a look further down in my "Blog". Briefly, I spent most of September in India, October in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand (on the beach), November in Bangkok, Cambodia and Vietnam, escaping to Laos just before Christmas. I spent Christmas with my friends Lish and Ann in Van Vieng, and am awaiting the arrival of Gabrielle, who will suffer through the New Year with me. I'm on my way to Australia and New Zealand before heading home some time in March or April. So expect to hear from me looking for a bed or a job (depending on your location) between now and then.
But this end of year message is not just about me, it's still supposed to be about the problems of the wider world and my perhaps trivial suggestions for what we can do to make them better. In some way having seen the grinding poverty of people in urban India and rural Cambodia and Laos, I'm feeling more helpless about making a difference this year. But I've also seen Vietnam getting on with rebuilding itself from total war, and seen Malaysia and Thailand showing some real progress in modernizing and becoming (perhaps too) westernized, and I've had conversations with people who couldn't begin to imagine what life is like in San Francisco or London, but still have an opinion about David Beckham's haircut. So even though the news on the TV promises crisis and war, there is hope than things can get better and we can help.
So again I've chosen three little things that you can do. As I wrote about this message last year, feel free to read it, forward it, delete it or hopefully act on it. In general I'm not trying to be too controversial, although some people are going to disagree with my stance on drug prohibition, but if one person who has been thinking about doing something this end of year/holiday season reads this and sends some money or writes an email, its been worth my time writing this. Please let me know any comments (good or bad) you have and be assured that I welcome any response.
The Projects, Charities and Issues
1) I still think that NetAid
remains a great clearinghouse for charities for the world's poorest people. In the past two years I've featured clean drinking water in Honduras and education for girls in very poor families (Burkina Faso--last year we were a small part of raising over $38,000). They are focusing on more education this year. I'm donating to help send some two dozen orphaned girls infected with HIV in Zambia
to primary and secondary school, but there are also opportunities to help people in Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Peru, Colombia and many others. For more information click on Netaid.org/projects
; you will see a list of countries with their relevant projects on the right of the page.
2) Of course, being me, most of my journey has been spent with various hedonists out to enjoy themselves. But I've also met a few very interesting people on my travels who have slightly more on their minds. Pete and Fiona Molloy (www.londontosydney.com
) are a young-ish British couple driving a Landrover from London to Sydney. Their blog
makes mine look very tame . I met them early in the morning by the Taj Mahal in Spetember. They are raising money for the UK-based charity Care International
which works in many areas delivering emergency relief and working to develop basic elements of self-sustainability. Here is a lit of Care International's projects in India
. To donate to Care click here
. In Vietnam (and also Cambodia and Laos) it's clear that many people are getting ahead and working hard to get up the economic ladder towards a state of near poverty that although 95% of you reading this would think was unacceptable, is in fact a decent aspiration--electricity 24/7, plumbing, a new scooter. However, the gap between rural and urban parts of the country is very large, and there are many desperately poor people in both places living on well under $1 a day. I bought several beggars dinner, and I've given dozens of pens to lots of children, but probably giving to an organzation
like the Saigon Children's Charity
is a much better way to help.
3) As most of you know I've been opposing the "War on Drugs" for a long time, and have been trying to help raise interest and awareness of alternatives to the insane position taken by the US government. It's clear to anyone without a stake in the system that the current policy of blanket prohibition does nothing to reduce drug use and costs individuals and taxpayers greatly. It, of course, also supplies jobs for prison officers, policeman and criminals. Sadly in 2002 things have been going backwards in the US. However, they have not elsewhere. Next year Canada is joing Britain and most of Europe in the effective decriminalization of marijuana (responsible for over 75% of all drug arrests), and the establishment of safe injection rooms for heroin addicts. Sadly, however, the antics of John Ashcroft and his fellow arch-conservatives at the DEA have been beyond conscience this year, culminating in the raiding and closing of virtually all medical marujiana dispensaries in the US, including the one in Santa Cruz, California. In that particular raid a quadraplegic woman was handcuffed to the bed for failing to respond to an order to stand-up! I believe the only way to respond to these prohibitionists is to publicize their actions. So this year I'm asking you to subscribe (Yes it's free!) to http://www.drcnet.org
, which publishes a comprehensive newsletter about the Drug War. You can of course give DRCnet money
(as I do), but probably better to read an issue or two (they come every Friday) and try to figure out why the US government is spending $380 of YOUR money fighting a war on drugs that causes more misery than any amount of drug adicition, and -- by the way -- increases the level of drug use worldwide.
So there you have it, a quick laundry list of charities and causes that I think are important enough to contribute money or electrons and stamps to.
Before I go just a quick update to last years missive
: There is still no ruling from the Canadians on the fate of drug war refugee Renee Bojee
, who was arrested for the "crime" of drawing illustrations of marujiana plants and faces ten years in jail for the same. She did though get married and have a baby this year. Other medical marujiana refugees such as Steve Kubby
are also now in Canada. It'll be very interesting to see if the Canadians manage to essentially turna blind eye to Cannabis production and consumption at home and send back Americans to massive prison terms for less than the same offences.
The Higher Education Act is still in force, meaning that no young person with any kind of drug offence on their record can get a loan for college education. If you go to http://www.raiseyourvoice.org
you can join the sensible majority opposing this terrible legislation. Finally some minor good news, both the Clearwater projects and the Burkina Fasso education project
have reached full funding from NetAid. If you gave, thanks. If you gave elsewhere thanks too, and how about letting your friends know?
With my best wishes for a very happy, prosperous and safe 2003