Tenzin Choezom is a Tibetan refugee woman born in exile. Her life has so far oscillated between the borders of India and Nepal. She is also a graduate from Ashoka University and has a Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Studies and Research (Adv. Major in Sociology and Anthropology). She has had a fair share of experience suffering from tinnitus for almost ten years and Meniere’s disease for the last four years. It has always been an endeavor from her end to spread awareness about the disease and create a more empathetic world for everyone.
Tell us more about the problem you are facing.
The prospect of suffering from meniere’s disease is not just physically debilitating but it rots your mental composure as well over the time. It is an everyday inner battle as an individual. But it gets isolating when that battle is not understood within the larger social setting. Unlike the people suffering from cancer which is very obvious, meniere’s disease on the other hand is a chronic invisible illness. A person with meniere’s hardly has any external visible symptoms and everything might seem normal except for the moment when the attack happens which can come at any point in time and is always uncertain. Imagine giving a presentation and you suddenly have a meniere’s attack. You are fully conscious but you have no control over yourself. You are literally spinning, losing your balance, feeling vulnerable in front of others and helpless with constant vomiting(if the dizziness gets intense) and tinnitus (ringing in the ear) which is there 24/7. Oftentimes, as a victim, instead of expecting people to understand what you are going through, you have to first deal with explaining your condition. This is a repetitive reality and it can get daunting because of the massive gap in knowledge of the disease within the community and the larger South Asian context. It is truly disheartening when people hardly acknowledge the existence of the disease as a debilitating condition of the inner ear and straight up say that it is just a mental condition when I try to bridge the gap.
When did your issue get diagnosed?
It was during the summer of 2018. I was all ready to kickstart the summer semester at Ashoka University. But the table turned when I started having consecutive dizziness for a few seconds in the morning every time before my 8:30 class. I was fully conscious when the dizziness happened but I had no control over my balance. My friends would often laugh at me respectfully and say that I was using this as an excuse to not attend the morning class.Whatever they said did not bother me because I was naughty in that way. I was a sleepy head in the first place and would do anything to even get an extra five minutes of sleep. In between the moments of labeling it as an excuse to not attending the morning classes to potentially thinking that I was weak to knowing that my blood pressure level was low, the school infirmary nurses gave me ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts) to drink. I drank it for the first few days but no change. Finally, I decided to visit the doctor at the school infirmary who turned out to be an ENT specialist. I owe a lot to Dr. Priyanka and everyone involved at university for always giving me immense support. When I told her about the incident and my past experiences with tinnitus only after she asked, she referred me to a bigger hospital. I went through different tests (P.T.A, MRI Brain, CBC ESR, S.VirB12, T3T4TSH) and that’s how I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease.
What is the cure?
There is no cure or scientifically proven treatment till date but there are different measures that would help control/alleviate the symptoms. There are different medications, therapies that one can look at and it can vary for different people but as for me, maintaining a salt/caffeine diet really helps.
How are you helping other people who have the same issue?
I have always feared being vulnerable in front of others and being judged because of my illness. It has taken me a while to come to terms with it and accept it as it is. It is a part of me that will remain with me forever. But I have turned this into a purpose to make sure that no one has to suffer silently because of the gap in the knowledge. I hope that my story helps each one of you who are suffering out there to be courageous and open up a conversation with your loved ones and as envisioned, this is a start to bringing more awareness about the disease, empathizing with the individuals, finding the treatment for it scientifically and thriving together as a community for a better tomorrow.
What has helped you to cope with the struggles you are experiencing?
When you see everyone around you enjoying to the fullest, you do not even dare to ruin the moment by having a sudden attack. I had the hardest time accepting this and hence, avoided a lot of social gatherings. But trust me, people are more generous and kinder than you think. So, try a little every day to move past your fear and do what you have always wanted to do. The attack might or might not happen. There is a 50-50 chance. Do not let the uncertainty of attack define your life. Let it come when it wants to come and you will handle it gracefully. It is definitely nerve-racking and it might take a while for you to recover from the trauma of having an attack but you will see a brighter you at the end. It has been a work in progress for me everyday to get better with it. Seek therapy if you have the option to do it, talk to your friends and family, get your frustrations out and cry if you want to, have a balanced salt diet but most importantly, be there for yourself every step of the way. Because you can only understand the magnitude of what you have gone through. And do not ever lose your hope even when it feels difficult. I have made this far and I believe you can too. Besides that, reading really helped and has been so therapeutic for me. I would suggest you read ‘In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying’ by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche la. It has been a savior for me for the longest time and I still go back to it when I feel anxious.
Anything else you want to share?
To those who are suffering out there like me, I see you and can empathize with you fully. I know that it sucks to the core to always be positive when the disease drains your mental and physical energy but life goes on. Living with the fear of attack is the worst thing you are doing to yourself. I know this fact but it is still taking me a while to get over it. But I hope we can outgrow the fear of attack one day and truly live everyday to the best of our ability. I am always here if you need someone to talk to and let’s together create a better world to live for everyone. You can always write to me at tenzin.choezom[at]alumni.ashoka.edu.in Also, thank you to Vidhi for amplifying my story of struggle with Meniere’s and giving a hope to thrive for everyone.
Talking tolerance in polarised societies
EU research projects provide fresh insights into what it takes for communities to accept different religious and world views.
By ALISON JONES
Ann Trappers harnessed a shock in her native Belgium to help heal social wounds across Europe.
After Islamic terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016 left 35 people – including three suicide bombers – dead and more than 300 injured, Trappers and her colleagues at a non-governmental organisation called Foyer sought to rebuild community trust and cohesion.
They used the NGO’s long-established youth centre in the religiously and ethnically diverse neighbourhood of Molenbeek. Their experience fed into a research initiative that received EU funding to explore and foster religious tolerance in eight European countries.
‘One of the ways in which we worked to counter radicalisation was to ensure it didn’t become a taboo subject,’ said Trappers, programme coordinator at Foyer. ‘We wanted young people to be able to talk about it freely and safely in the setting of the youth centre.’
Concerns about growing polarisation in Europe have pushed the issue up the EU political agenda.
The portfolio of a vice-president of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, includes dialogue with churches as well as religious associations and communities. The portfolio is called “Promoting our European Way of Life”.
The EU is also putting its weight behind various initiatives – including the Radicalisation Awareness Network – aimed at helping communities in Europe live harmoniously together.
The EU project in which Trappers was involved ran from May 2018 through October 2022 and was called RETOPEA. It brought together academic organisations from Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Poland and Spain as well as non-EU countries North Macedonia and the UK.
The project explored ways in which religion is regarded in the educational, professional and social realms. It also examined how peaceful religious coexistence has been established over history.
Past and present
The idea was to use insights gained from the past to inform thinking about religious tolerance today.
‘It’s not often you get the opportunity as a historian to make your work relevant,’ said Patrick Pasture, who coordinated RETOPEA and is a professor of modernity and society at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium.
The project delved into more than 400 primary source extracts from historical peace treaties, contemporary news reports and cultural snippets.
Based on these materials, teenagers from Foyer and other youth associations in each of the participating countries joined workshops to create their own video blog – or “vlog” – about religious tolerance and coexistence.
The vlogs, available on the RETOPEA website, include interviews with passersby, drawings and other creative work.
Pasture said the act of working together took the focus away from the participants’ differences.
‘The most important thing will always be that people have to learn to talk – to refrain from immediately judging,’ he said.
Spreading the word
Pasture was struck by the number of students who were unaware of the religious beliefs of classmates and by how open they were to talking about the issue.
He said most participants were upset about the divisiveness of contemporary discussions of religion and ‘hated’ the rise of polarisation.
Around a year after RETOPEA wrapped up, the results and materials collected are informing actions by interfaith organisations, governmental bodies and European teacher associations.
The project team is regularly invited to make presentations at teaching workshops and seminars in the EU and beyond – places ranging from Austria and Italy to Jordan and Wales.
And the European Association of History Educators – established in 1992 to build educational bridges on the continent following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe – includes the RETOPEA materials on its website.
Another EU-funded research project looked specifically at the notion of tolerance – how it feels for people to push themselves to accept “others” and what it feels like to be “tolerated.” The research relied mainly on questionnaires and online experiments.
‘People have their own opinions and their own beliefs and we can’t just expect them to give them up and consider everything of equal value,’ said Maykel Verkuyten, who led the initiative and is a professor in interdisciplinary social science at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Called InTo for Intergroup Toleration, the project ran for five years through September 2022.
In conducting studies in the Netherlands and Germany, Verkuyten and his team were pleasantly surprised to find that a clear majority of people regarded tolerance as an important societal value.
He said that most respondents agreed with, for example, the following two presented statements: “I accept it when other people do things that I wholeheartedly disapprove of” and “Everyone is allowed to live as he or she wants, even if it is at odds with what I think is good and right”.
On a cautionary note, the team also found that it’s far easier to move people towards greater intolerance than it is to make them more tolerant.
Verkuyten is driven by an interest in the middle ground of the whole subject – where space exists for differing views without any desire either to crush or to celebrate them.
He said this zone must be promoted through civics courses, human-rights lessons and other educational initiatives to help ensure the health of democracies and multicultural societies.
‘There is something in between being very negative, discriminatory, and fully embracing all diversity,’ Verkuyten said. ‘That’s essential for a functioning liberal democracy and indispensable for a culturally diverse society.’
Research in this article was funded by the EU via the European Research Council (ERC). This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Women’s Health Security: Threats for Women in Refugee Camps
Women’s Health Issues
Natural disasters and socio-political conflicts in a country are events that can disrupt people’s lives and encourage the flow of refugees. Refugees are people who have to leave their home areas for their safety or survival. A refugee’s home area can be a country, state, or territory. most refugee law is based on a 1951 United Nations document, the Convention, relating to the status of refugees. The 1951 Convention was created to deal with the large number of people displaced by World War II. (National Geographic, 2023).
In these situations, women and girls do not have access to basic materials, such as pads, clothes, and underwear, needed to regulate monthly blood flow. As the number of refugee women increases, health problems are prevalent due to the lack of access to women’s production health services throughout the refugee camps, even though women need a private space to change clothes, breastfeed, or rest. This high refugee population requires more than just basic care, including antenatal care, postnatal care, hygiene care, and care during menstruation, which is a widespread problem for women around the world. In the case of Rohingya refugee women, they mostly use natural materials such as mud, leaves, dung, or animal skins to regulate their menstrual flow. In addition, lack of access to water and private latrines and increased open defecation put women and children at greater risk of disease. therefore, this paper aims to discuss the constraints on vital hygiene practices that pose a health threat to women in refugee camps (Kashfi Pandit, 2022).
Syrian refugees often report high rates of gynecological problems, including menstrual irregularities, reproductive tract infections, severe pelvic pain, and dysmenorrhea. Married Syrian refugee women living outside refugee camps particularly suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, sexually transmitted infections, and mental health symptoms. In addition to the impact on physical health, women also have a significant impact on mental health due to the pressures of living as refugees, such as the lack of opportunities to earn a living, substandard living conditions, lack of access to food and transportation, the possibility of having to adapt significantly in bearing additional social burdens to ensure the care of their children (SAMS Foundation, 2019).
In 2017, Rohingya refugees also caught the attention of the public in large numbers, with more than 700,000 Rohingya people entering Bangladesh. With this influx of refugees, the condition of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is greatly affected. SRH issues in Rohingya women and girls include increased risk of morbidity, mortality, and gender-based sexual violence, higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases causing unwanted pregnancies, and the potential for unsafe abortion and its complications. The rape of women in refugee camps violates the sexual and reproductive health rights of adolescents, the non-use of contraceptives can increase their population and allow the transmission of HIV among them, but the absence of a good sanitation system and hygienic environment causes women to suffer (Semonti Jannat, 2022).
Similar to Syrian refugees, Rohingya refugee women and girls also urgently need sexual and reproductive health services, including antenatal care, delivery assistance, postnatal care, family planning services, menstrual health, safe abortion, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. As many as 85 percent of refugees still do not have access to latrines, which can lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases among refugees (Karin et al., 2020). The lack of gender-segregated latrines and hygiene means that women in refugee camps must walk to the forest in the dark, leaving them vulnerable to harassment, violence, and even attacks from wild animals. (Semonti Jannat, 2022).
Health security is a state of freedom from disease and infection. Health is an essential component of human development and individual well-being and is recognized at the global level as a basic need if people are to achieve an optimal quality of life. Basically, human development and individual well-being cannot be achieved if the person is not adequately protected from threats and does not feel safe. Therefore, health security and human security are closely interconnected (WHO, 2002). In the case study of women’s health in refugee camps, it is clear that women and girls feel unsafe and have their health compromised. Thus, international assistance is needed to address women’s health issues in refugee camps because these refugees have difficulty getting adequate health facilities, causing insecurity to increase, and people find it difficult to take the initiative to protect themselves.
Contribution of International Organizations
In the case of Syrian refugees, there is a government organization called the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which is a global medical aid organization that is at the forefront of crisis relief in Syria and surrounding areas to save lives for every patient in need. In 2016, SAMS supported 66 Syrian reproductive health centers, helping deliver nearly 40,000 babies and providing a quarter of a million reproductive health services. In 2017, SAMS also provided 457,043 reproductive health services in Syria and provided reproductive health training to communities. In Lebanon, the organization supports women’s health services through a specialized Obgyn mission, as well as opening mental health and psychosocial services focused on helping mothers and supporting healthy parenting practices, treating anxiety disorders and speech disorders in children, and addressing the psychological wounds of conflict victims. SAMS reaches out to several countries, including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Kurdistan (Society et al., 2023).
In the case of Rohingya refugees, there are also non-governmental organizations that address similar issues, namely the Bangladesh American Society of Muslim Aid for Humanity (BASMAH), an organization based in the United States dedicated to providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. BASMAH has established health clinics to serve Rohingya refugees located in Bangladesh due to the lack of hygienic and sanitary quality of their living quarters, which are highly susceptible to diseases. Every day, hundreds of Rohingya patients, consisting of women, girls, the elderly, and men, also receive free services, free medicines, emergency services, and other health consultations. About 1.3 million Rohingya refugees, consisting of 75% women and children in a day there, are 300 patients receiving health services from doctors under BASMAH. Since 2017, BASMAH has been working directly in the camp and creating programs to help refugees. These programs include clean water, a learning center, an education project, medical care, empowering women, orphans & helpless children, dental care service, winter project, Qurbani, zakat / sadaqah, Ramadan iftar, feed the hungry, home for the homeless, rohingnya refugee support, skill development center, urgent earthquake relief, eid gifts for children (BASMAH, 2023).
However, women’s health problems in refugee camps still occur, and these organizations have not reached all refugees in the world. They only serve Syria, Bangladesh, and surrounding areas. But, in Africa it has not been equally assisted. The World Health Organization (WHO) has verified that there were 46 attacks on health workers that killed eight people, and health facilities were also looted and used by armed forces. The incident caused refugees in the African region to not get help. Thus, the issue of women’s health is still a problem and has not been resolved until now (Renewal, 2023).
The Vast Potential of the Human Spirit
With hope and courage, we must rise to the challenges before us. We must rise to the challenge of a world set afire by climate change, forced displacement, armed conflicts and human rights abuses. We must rise to the challenge of girls being denied their right to an education in Afghanistan. We must rise to the challenge of a global refugee crisis that is disrupting development gains the world over. We must rise to the challenge of brutal and unconscionable wars in places like Sudan and Ukraine that are putting millions of children at risk every day.
By ensuring every single child has access to quality education and embracing the vast potential of the human spirit – especially the 224 million girls and boys caught in emergencies and protracted crises that so urgently need our support – we can rise to this challenge. It’s a chance for girls with disabilities like Sammy in Colombia to find a nurturing place to learn and grow, it’s a chance for girls that have been forced into child marriage like Ajak in South Sudan to resume control of their lives, it’s a chance for refugees like Jannat in Bangladesh to find hope and dignity once more.
As Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies, has successfully completed its first strategic plan period and now enters its second strategic period, we are seeing time and again the power of education in propelling global efforts to deliver on the promises outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and other crucial international frameworks. By ensuring quality holistic education for the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable children in crisis settings, we invest in human capital, transform economies, ensure human rights, and build a more peaceful and more sustainable future for all.
The achievements outlined in ECW’s 2022 Annual Results Report tell a story of a breakout global fund moving with strength, speed and agility, while achieving quality. Together with a growing range of strategic partners, ECW reached 4.2 million children in 2022 alone. It was also the first time girls represented more than half of the children reached by ECW’s investments, including 53% of girls at the secondary level, which is a significant milestone in achieving the aspirational target of 60% girls reached. Now in its sixth year of operation, ECW has reached a total of 8.8 million children and adolescents with the safety, power and opportunity of a quality, inclusive education. An additional 32.2 million children and adolescents were reached with targeted interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are also seeing a global advocacy movement reaching critical mass, together with stronger political commitment and increased financing for the sector. In 2022, funding for education in emergencies was higher than ever before. Total available funding has grown by more than 57% over just three years – from US$699 million in 2019 to more than US$1.1 billion in 2022.
However, the needs have also skyrocketed over this same period. Funding asks for education in emergencies within humanitarian appeals have nearly tripled from US$1.1 billion in 2019 to almost US$3 billion at the end of 2022. This means that while donors are stepping up, the funding gap has actually widened, and only 30% of education in emergencies requirements were funded in 2022.
With support from key donors – including Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, as the top-three contributors among 25 in total, such as visionary private sector partners like The LEGO Foundation – US$826 million was announced at the ECW High-Level Financing Conference in early 2023. Collective resource mobilization efforts from all partners and stakeholders at global, regional, and country levels also helped unlock an additional US$842 million of funding for education in-country, which was contributed in alignment with ECW’s Multi-Year Resilience Programmes in 22 countries, and thus illustrates strong coordination by strategic donor partners who work in affected emergencies and protracted crises-contexts.
We must rise to this challenge by finding new and innovative ways to finance education. To date, some of ECW’s largest and prospective bilateral and multilateral donors have not yet committed funding for the full 2023–2026 period, and there remains a gap in funding from the private sector, foundations and philanthropic donors. In the first half of 2023, ECW faces a funding gap of approximately $670 million to fully finance results under the Strategic Plan, 2023–2026, to reach more than 20 million children over the next three years.
The investments will address the diverse impacts of crisis on education through child-centred approaches that are tailored to the needs of specific groups affected by crisis, such as children with disabilities, girls, refugees, and vulnerable children in host communities. These investments entail academic learning, social and emotional learning, sports, arts, combined with mental health and psycho-social services, school feeding, water and sanitation, as well as a protection component.
Since ECW became operational, we have withstood the cataclysmic forces of a global pandemic, a rise in armed conflicts that have disrupted social and economic security the world over, the unconscionable denial of education for girls in Afghanistan, floods and droughts made ever-more devastating by climate change, and other crises that are derailing efforts to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Now is the time to come together as one people, one planet to address the challenges before us. Now is the time to embrace the vast potential of the human spirit. With education for all, we can make sure girls like Sammy, Ajak and Jannat are able to reach their full potential, we can build a better world for generations to come.
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