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No Money For Schools Or Hospitals, But Here's A Free Haircut Instead

Authorities in Shenzen, China are offering a slew of free services such as shoe shining and haircuts. But this is not most citizens' idea of urgent public reform.

Haircut anyone? ( J Solomon)
Haircut anyone? ( J Solomon)

SHENZHEN - A few days ago, the city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, announced it was setting up a voluntary force of 500 public servants to provide more and better public services to its residents. The services include free haircuts, "wine quality identification," "food safety knowledge," and electronics repair services. There are also free shoe shines.

The announcement prompted an intense public discussion. Some people were enthusiastic about the project but most were just downright angry.

How could they dislike such a generous initiative? It" all about semantics - and a general wariness when it comes to authorities. In Cantonese, the phrase "shoe polishing" is the same as "patting the horse's bottom," meaning to flatter or kiss-up to someone. Shenzhen citizens are saying that "the patting has fallen on the horse's leg," which means they do not appreciate the municipality's idea at all.

A majority believe that if civil servants did their jobs properly and politely, people would be grateful. For them, this shoe polishing idea is just another political show.

It's not at all surprising that Shenzhen authorities received such a hostile reaction. On the surface one might think the public is just fed up with bureaucracy, but the underlying cause is much deeper. This is about accumulated frustrations and dissatisfaction with public service.

Last week, the biggest news was about local farms in Shenzhen feeding psychotropic drugs to chickens. The Chinese press publishes food security stories almost every day. The vital problems associated with daily life, along with school and hospital shortages, are in strong contrast to the privileged situation of public servants and the rampant corruption of officials.

According to reports, the voluntary force initiative comes from Shenzhen's Political Work Department, a political agency under the control of China's Central Military Commission. In an Internet and market economy where Chinese people's civic conscience is awakening, such initiatives just prove how obsolete and ridiculous the authorities are.

China is in a transformation process, and social contradictions are highlighted by serious problems. If the Political Work Department's cadres need to prove their worth, they have to move into the 21st century and deal with real problems. Narrowing the public servants' distance with the masses by having a few volunteers polish people's shoes is, to put it lightly, like an adult trying to calm a crying child with candy.

Read the full story in Chinese by Hua Tic

Photo - J Solomon

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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