World

Why I’d like to visit Afghanistan

The second of the five countries I’ll be writing about is Afghanistan. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think it’s the safest place on earth because it’s not. We all know about the challenges the country has faced over the past few decades – from the Soviet invasion to the Taliban rule to the various attacks in the country.

But with all the awful things that have happened, we rarely think about the positives it has to give. We rarely hear about the great things that ‘ordinary’ Afghans have achieved; and I think with all the troubles Afghans have faced for so long, it is also important to also draw attention to the Afghans who are doing great things. But, as already identified, life has not been easy for many people in the country.

One of my absolute favourite authors is Khaled Hosseini, who is originally from Kabul. Through the issues highlighted in his novels, you can clearly see how people’s lives have been ruined by decisions out with their control. From women in abusive marriages to civilians having to flee their homes, the novels really open your eyes to how people’s lives can be completely turned around by others’ decisions. Although the books are fictional, the point still stands: life has been difficult for so many Afghan people. Even Khaled and his family had to seek political asylum in the United States.

It reminds me that I have so much to be grateful for.

So I would like to visit Afghanistan for two main reasons. The first one is that I’d like to meet Afghans who have faced significant hardship and hear their stories first hand. It is so vitally important that their voices are heard – it’s equally crucial that we over here know about what other human beings have had to deal with. In so many ways, we are all so similar but circumstances – especially our places of birth – have determined so much about our lives, meaning some have had more opportunities than others.

But I’d also love to hear about the great things that people in Afghanistan are doing. We know that so many Afghans have faced so much hardship, and it’s absolutely necessary to talk about that. But I also think it’s vital that Afghan success stories are also highlighted. After all, there are extraordinary people all over the world.

So that pretty much sums up the main reasons why I’d like to visit Afghanistan. I strongly believe that the most important role of a foreign correspondent is to talk about the actual human beings who are affected by a situation or event. And that’s what I aim to do, whether that’s as a journalist or not. Of course it will be difficult, and sometimes a little dangerous, but nothing worth doing is ever easy, right?

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World

Why I’d like to visit North Korea

We all know how secretive North Korea is. The government controls literally everything: what people say, where people go and every other aspect of their lives. The world is shown what North Korea’s leaders want us to see: all the wealth and glamour of Pyeongyang. Anything to shine a positive light on the country. But, as we’re all aware, North Korea has a very dark side to it.

I remember watching a documentary by Sky News’s Mark Stone about the secretive state. He was accompanied by ‘minders’, who kept a watchful eye on what he did and controlled where he went and what he said. (‘It’s DPRK, not North Korea’, they kept reminding him). Additionally, some questions he put to the minders went simply unanswered; this lack of response told Mark everything he needed to know.

So the point is, even foreign visitors are tightly controlled by the state, especially journalists. Foreign visitors are only shown certain areas and are not allowed to travel elsewhere within the country. We all know that the government is hiding what would tarnish the image of North Korea it wants the world to see: the poverty, the work camps, the oppression… the list goes on.

I know that, if I went to North Korea, my actions would be closely monitored. I would never be able to reach the areas of the country that the state wants hidden from the outside world. So if I would not have freedom of movement, why do I want to visit North Korea?

Truthfully, the very simplistic answer is that I find the place incredibly intriguing. I am genuinely interested in seeing the place for myself. As a foreign correspondent, it’s arguably so important to be interested in foreign affairs and to be willing to go to the places that people don’t usually visit. It’s vital that people back at home are made aware of what is going on abroad and how civilians are affected.

Now, I know I’m not actually a foreign correspondent – at least not yet anyway. But that isn’t stopping me wanting to see different places and find things out, however difficult that may be. After all, seeing a country first hand, however staged and sugar coated everything may be, is completely different to hearing about it second hand.

So whether it’s as a journalist or not, I’d one day like to visit the very secretive state that is North Korea. I’m interested to see what I’d be shown and what the government would want me to see. But, more importantly, I’d like to observe people’s behaviour over there. Do they really believe that they’re being told? Or do they merely comply out of fear?

World

Sport Relief: Are they right to stop using celebrities in their films?

We Brits are very familiar with both Sport Relief and Red Nose Day. For the benefit of my non-British friends, they alternate on our screens every year to raise money for people in need. The associated charity, Comic Relief aims to end worldwide poverty, with Sport Relief and Red Nose Day raising millions of pounds every year. But this year, Sport Relief will see a major change: its films depicting the stories of people in need will now not include celebrities. This is due to various complaints of “poverty tourism”. But is increased celebrity involvement a key part of Comic Relief’s work? Or does it mean that the actual people in need are getting less of an opportunity to speak for themselves?

For years, celebrities have been involved in working with Comic Relief for both Sport Relief and Red Nose Day. Many have also appeared in films showing what life is like for many disadvantaged people around the world. One benefit of this is that they can use their raised platform to appeal to people to help those with less. They are recognisable, especially among their fans, and are therefore likely to be listened to.

Having spent some time with the people they are trying to help, the celebrities will have gained some idea of the issues that need to be addressed. They can then appeal to the rest of us back home to help do just that.

But while there are benefits to celebrities appearing in the videos, this arguably means that the actual people in need have a lesser platform to tell their stories, with celebrities arguably taking too much of the limelight. I’m not saying they should have absolutely no involvement in charity work – that would be a huge loss – I merely believe they do not need to appear in the Comic Relief films.

Disadvantaged people do have their own voices and should be given a bigger platform to tell their own stories. MP David Lammy spoke to the BBC, specifically referring to those in Africa. He said that instead of celebrities acting as “tour guides”, Sport Relief should allow Africans to “talk for themselves about the continent and the problems they know”. Who better to talk on behalf of people than the people themselves, right?

And it would be far more powerful for people to describe their own situations, as that is their everyday. Someone else, who lives a far more privileged life, and therefore doesn’t really understand the full extent of their situations, couldn’t get the point across as well. Spending a limited period of time somewhere can never really give someone the full extent of how life really is there.

If the people in need were given a bigger platform to tell their stories, it would arguably add greater credibility to the films. After all, they’re the ones actually living the issues on a daily basis.

So is Sport Relief right to not show films with celebrities having visited developing nations? Don’t get me wrong, I can totally see the benefits of celebrities appearing in them. But I have to say, on the basis that I believe everyone should be able to tell their own stories themselves, I think Sport Relief has made the right decision.

Society

Store Closures: Is online shopping really the way forward?

We’ve all heard about the recent New Look store closures. 60 stores across the UK are to close within the next 12 months. Around 1000 jobs have consequently been lost. But New Look isn’t the only chain that has have to closed some, if not all, of their shops. So is online shopping really the way forward? Should more of us really be looking to the internet to do our shopping? Or are the more ‘traditional’ shops still the way to go?

One thing many of us love about online shopping is the convenience of being able to shop wherever and whenever you like. We always have access to our smartphones, tablets or laptops and apps mean that we can order things to our homes with just a few clicks. And with next day delivery, it’s not like we even have to wait long for our orders.

And the sales! Let’s take Boxing Day as a classic example: you’ve just got all this money and some gift cards for Christmas that you want to make the most of. But those crowds are seriously off-putting – who wants to have to spend their day squeezing past other people who love getting in your way, right? Luckily, sales also extend to the wonderful world of online shopping, so there’s the option to spend your Christmas money without getting shoved by hundreds of other shoppers.

Although, videos of people fighting over TVs is pretty hilarious every year on Black Friday!

But despite the ease of online shopping, actually seeing products in real life before buying them is arguably far better. For example, when buying clothes, trying them on saves so much time. We all know that no size is actually the same in every shop – it’s so irritating! Personally, I can’t be bothered with the hassle of having to return a load of online orders just because they don’t fit.

On a wider scale, the closure of high street stores means the loss of many jobs. 1000 people have lost their jobs with just one company having closed many of its stores.

Everyone will have their own opinions about whether they prefer online shopping or going out to the shops. And many of us use both: even as someone who much prefers going to the shops, I do sometimes use the internet for shopping. So is online shopping really the way forward? I suppose it just depends on people’s own personal preferences.

Politics

Does the UK really need the House of Lords?

The UK is a country with a Bicameral Parliament. This means that Parliament has two chambers, or Houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In the House of Commons, our elected MPs debate political issues and introduce bills that could potentially become law. But bills can only become law after going through the House of Lords. Many people in the UK suggest that the second chamber is undemocratic, as it is not elected; there are those who even believe it should be totally scrapped altogether. But others say that the UK should have a second chamber, despite the fact that Lords are unelected. So to what extent does the UK really need the House of Lords?

Those in favour of abolishing the House of Lords say that the chamber is not democratic, as it was not elected by the general public. They suggest that as it is unelected, it is not representative of the British public. No one voted for those who sit in the House of Lords, yet they have a significant impact on the laws that affect our everyday lives. Why should an unelected chamber have such a heavy influence on our laws?

Even if the House is not abolished entirely, there are ways to make it more democratic. Reform of the House of Lords has also seen much support. One possible change would be simply to elect representatives into the second chamber. This would arguably make Lords more accountable for their decisions, as the public will have voted for them; they would have to answer to their constituents and actually deliver on the needs of the British people.

But supporters of the House of Lords say that another election would cost too much money. They suggest that the chamber should stay as it is, as appointing Lords costs far less than electing them.

They also argue that, without a second chamber, the House of Commons could have too much power. Without the House of Lords, the Commons could pass more bills without them being as heavily scrutinised as they are now.

There are many valid reasons both for keeping, reforming and abolishing the House of Lords. They range from looking at the economy to considering to what extent the House of Lords can exist in a democracy such as the UK. In my opinion, the House of Lords needs to be changed. It is ironic that a democracy can have an unelected chamber that has so much influence over the laws that we have to abide by. So if the House of Lords is to stay, I would be strongly in favour of electing its members.

Health

Organ Donation: Should there be an opt out system?

I once heard an anecdote about a man who, when he dies, wanted to be buried with his expensive car. People close to him were confused by this – they couldn’t understand why he wanted something so valuable to be buried with him, as he wouldn’t be using it anyway. But the man’s response, I thought, was pretty eye opening. He said that when most people die, they take with them things far more valuable than a car. They take their organs. Organs that could have saved someone’s life.

I’m not sure how true this story is, but it was extremely thought provoking. There are so many people in need of a transplant, who will die prematurely without one. So should everyone be automatically placed on the organ donor register and have the choice to opt out? Or is it better to let individuals decide for themselves if they want to opt in?

Organ donation has been a very high profile issue recently. Just yesterday, MPs backed a bill in Westminster which would change the law on organ donation in England. If successful, people in England would automatically become organ donors but could choose to opt out of this. Scotland is also looking into introducing this while Wales already has it in place. It is, however, a highly contentious issue.

So what are the main arguments both in favour of and in opposition of the opt out system?

Arguments in favour:

  • According to the NHS in England, around 500 people die each year as there are not enough suitable organ donors. Hundreds of people are losing their lives every year, which could be prevented, or at least reduced, if there were more organ donors.

 

  • More than 6500 people in the UK are waiting for a transplant but only 3500 transplants take place per year due to the lack of donors. Even if some of those people eventually do get the organs they need, their quality of life is likely to be compromised while they wait.

Arguments against:

  • Many who oppose the opt out system may argue that the uncertainty of what a person would have wanted after death could be upsetting for their family. As a person can die suddenly at any time, they may not have opted out, even if that was their intention.

 

  • Another argument against the proposal is that it’s not up to the state to make someone an organ donor, even if they can go through the process of opting out. Organ donation is something individuals should be able to consider for themselves and choose to opt in should they wish to do so.

 

In my own opinion, the opt out system could be hugely beneficial to so many people. There are thousands of people whose lives have been put on hold while they wait for a transplant. Many of those people have a lesser quality of life while many others will sadly lose theirs. So why should organs be buried or cremated if they can be used to save a human being’s life, or greatly improve their life’s quality? As an organ donor myself, I strongly believe that, in time, the proposal could help so many people who need it.

Feminism

Why the Suffragettes are still relevant in 2018

100 years ago, some women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote. This was a huge step forward on terms of gender equality in the UK and women can now vote on the same terms as men. As a 21-year-old female who has voted in two general elections, two referendums and one council election, I am so grateful to the Suffragettes for all of their incredibly hard work.

But in 2018, males and females are still not totally equal. The gender pay gap is arguably the most prevalent example of this.

We’ve all heard about the most recent BBC gender pay row. It is unacceptable that such a huge company has been paying its female employees less than their male counterparts. But it’s not just the BBC that has been doing this – it is a problem that also exists in so many other companies across the UK.

Even certain attitudes towards males and females still differ significantly. This is particularly noticeable in the showbiz industry. There have been countless occasions in which women have been criticised for their weight, their clothes, their make-up (or lack of) and so much more. There have been cases in which males have experienced this but, in comparison to women, this has rarely been a huge problem for them.

It might be a century since some women first got the vote but the Suffragettes are still extremely relevant in today’s society. Gender inequality still exists in the UK and there is still a long way to go in dealing with it. I am sure the Pankhursts and the Suffragettes would continue to work hard to achieve full gender equality. And that’s what, I think, we should do 100 years on from women first having the right to vote.