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Hemley Gonzalez: The Truth About Mother Teresa
[Note: Please welcome Hemley Gonzalez to Daylight Atheism. Hemley is the founder of Responsible Charity, a secular non-profit organization serving the poor of Calcutta, which was a past beneficiary of the Foundation Beyond Belief. In this interview, he discusses his time as a volunteer with Mother Teresa's supposed charitable organization, how he became disillusioned, and how it inspired him to start a better alternative. See also my past post on the same subject. —Adam]
You used to be a volunteer with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. What originally inspired you to volunteer? What did you think of her back then?
After the real estate market collapse of 2007, I decided to take some time off and get in touch with my compassionate and creative side. In 2008 I took a backpacking trip for several months throughout India. Before leaving the US I had read one of the authorized biographies on Mother Teresa which portrayed the organization as a beacon of hope, and I decided to split my time in India between backpacking and volunteering, giving them two months of my time and energy; it was then that I discovered the serious medical negligence that had been taking place for quite a while inside the organization and began to document and report the abuse I witnessed.
When did you first start to become disillusioned with her organization? What were some specific things you saw that changed your mind about them?
It happened almost instantly, literally on my first day volunteering. I was shocked to discover the horrifically negligent manner in which this charity operates and the direct contradiction of the public's general understanding of their work. Workers wash needles under tap water and then reuse them. Medicine and other vital items are stored for months on end, expiring and still applied sporadically to patients. Volunteers with little or no training carry out dangerous work on patients with highly contagious cases of tuberculosis and other life threatening illnesses. The individuals who operate the charity refuse to accept and implement medical equipment and machinery that would safely automate processes and save lives.
What, if anything, did you learn subsequently that cemented your opinion?
After further investigation and research, I realized that all of the events I had witnessed amounted to nothing more than a systematic human rights violation and a financial scam of monumental proportions. Not once in its sixty-year history have the Missionaries of Charity reported the total amount of funds they've collected in donations, what percentage they use for administration and where the rest has been applied and how. Since its inception, defectors of the organization and other journalists have placed the figure upwards of one billion dollars (and counting). The mission currently operates over 700 homes and maintains an average of 4,000 workers while consistently failing to provide statistics on the efficacy of their work.
What have you done to publicize your views about Teresa's organization since then? Has there been any kind of response?
When I returned home, I immediately began speaking up about all the negligence I had witnessed; I created a Facebook page so I could post the photos and notes of all that I documented during my time there and within months I was contacted by FORBES-India, who interviewed me last year and published a serious article pertaining the monumental medical negligence of this organization and as a result "the home of the dying" was immediately closed for "renovations" after the national circulation of the article.
Here's the link to the article: http://business.in.com/article/on-assignment/mother-teresas-legacy-is-under-a-cloud/15932/1
And the link to Kalighat before: /a>
And the link to a photo album of Kalighat now closed: /a>
What would you advise atheists to say when confronted by people who hold up Mother Teresa as a model of virtue?
Regardless of your personal beliefs; adoration of suffering, medical negligence and financial fraud are human right violations.
Mother Teresa's was NO ONE'S mother. This supposedly celibate nun's name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, an Albanian native who lived most of her life without speaking to her own family and proselytizing her religion under the disguise of charity. There is absolutely nothing normal or "saintly" about this.
Standing firm against planned parenthood, modernization of equipment, and a myriad of other solution-based initiatives, Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor but rather a promoter of poverty.
It was Mother Teresa's own admission during an interview that more than 23,000 people had died in the halls of the particular home I had worked in, as if boasting at the figure and missing entirely the point of the enormous compilation of unnecessary deaths.
Mother Teresa also repeatedly admitted that she was not a social worker, and her followers continue to assert the same to this day. So under what motives do they tend to the poor, you may ask? The mantra of the operation rests solely on the belief that suffering and poverty are ways of loving God, a seriously troubling statement to say the least.
How would you describe your personal beliefs today?
Disgusted and disappointed by my experience with the Missionaries of Charity, I began working in the slums alongside other friends and volunteers who also felt their efforts were positively and effectively changing the lives of those disadvantaged families we came into contact with.
After returning home, I began a campaign to raise awareness about the issues I experienced and the challenges the children of the Park Circus face daily, and thus Responsible Charity was born. Through a homegrown network of friends, family and volunteers in different regions of the world we are now beginning to gather donations which we can track and report on our website and show exactly the progress and help such funds allow us to administered to those in need.
Unlike some religious-based organizations which have no progressive plans in effect to educate and empower the children, women and men out of poverty, Responsible Charity would like to make advances in areas of education, planned parenthood and self employment.
I returned to Kolkata at the beginning of December last year. I felt a bit overwhelmed with the amount of necessity and tasks which Responsible Charity needed to take on to truly make a difference in the lives of several families in a slum in the City of Joy. But after a few days and a slow but sure readjustment to the pollution, weather and constant noise, things started to become clearer.
In the last 10 months, we have been able to gather a great wave of support from freethinkers, atheists and just plain compassionate human beings from around the world thus bringing their attention to the conditions on the ground for some of the children and their parents.
There are a lot more details than what I've listed below, please browse the albums on our Facebook page where we document our work and feel free to add and choose any of the tasks we've performed over the last 10 months.
Here's a quick list of all that we've accomplished thus far:
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
The design of a classic video game yields insights on how to address global poverty.
Poverty can be a self-sustaining cycle that might require an external influence to break it. A new paper published in Nature Sustainability and written by professor Andrew Bell of Boston University suggests that we could improve global anti-poverty and economic development systems by turning to an idea in a video game about a race car-driving Italian plumber.
A primer on Mario Kart
For those who have not played it, Mario Kart is a racing game starring Super Mario and other characters from the video game franchise that bears his name. Players race around tracks collecting power-ups that can directly help them, such as mushrooms that speed up their karts, or slow down other players, such as heat-seeking turtle shells that momentarily crash other karts.
The game is well known for having a mechanism known as "rubber-banding." Racers in the front of the pack get wimpy power-ups, like banana peels to slip up other karts, while those toward the back get stronger ones, like golden mushrooms that provide extra long speed boosts. The effect of this is that those in the back are pushed towards the center, and those in front don't get any boosts that would make catching them impossible.
If you're in last, you might get the help you need to make a last-minute break for the lead. If you're in first, you have to be on the lookout for these breakouts (and the ever-dreaded blue shells). The game remains competitive and fun.
Rubber-banding: A moral and economic lesson from Mario Kart
In the real world, we see rubber-banding used all the time. Welfare systems tend to provide more aid to those who need it than those who do not. Many of them are financed by progressive taxation, which is heavier on the well-off than the down-and-out. Some research suggests that these do work, as countries with lower levels of income inequality have higher social mobility levels.
It is a little more difficult to use rubber-banding in real life than in a video game, of course. While in the game, it is easy to decide who is doing well and who is not, things can be a little more muddled in reality. Furthermore, while those in a racing game are necessarily antagonistic to each other, real systems often strive to improve conditions for everybody or to reach common goals.
As Bell points out, rubber-banding can also be used to encourage sustainable, growth programs that help the poor other than welfare. They point out projects such as irrigation systems in Pakistan or Payments for Ecosystems Services (PES) schemes in Malawi, which utilize positive feedback loops to both provide aid to the poor and promote stable systems that benefit everyone.
Rubber-banding feedback loops in different systems. Mario Kart (a), irrigation systems in Pakistan (b), and PES operations in Malawi (c) are shown. Links between one better-off (blue) and one worse-off (red) individual are highlighted. Feedback in Mario Kart (a), designed to balance the racers, imprAndrew Bell/ Nature Sustainability
In the Malawi case, farmers were paid to practice conservation agriculture to reduce the amount of sediment from their farms flowing into a river. This immediately benefits hydroelectric producers and their customers but also provides real benefits to farmers in the long run as their soil doesn't erode. By providing an incentive to the farmers to conserve the soil, a virtuous cycle of conservation, soil improvement, and improved yields can begin.
While this loop differs from the rubber-banding in Mario, the game's approach can help illustrate the benefits of rubber-banding in achieving a more equitable world.
The task now, as Bell says in his paper, is to look at problems that exist and find out "what the golden mushroom might be."
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."