Helen Briton Wheeler

An Overview from Down Under - Helen is a retired journalist living in Sydney, Australia. She will be bringing the NFP readers regular comments on current social, environmental and political topics from an Aussie's perspective.

Monday, 12 September 2011 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler
It comes as a surprise to realise it’s 10 years since September 11, 2001. The whole world was shocked then and, as I look back now on those dreadful images of the destruction of the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center, I am still shocked, still barely believing.

On the evening of September 11, 2011, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard headed a delegation of prominent Australians in paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the 9/11 disaster, especially to the heroic emergency service personnel and fire fighters. US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey L. Bleich represented the US and the flags of both nations were raised in solemn tribute.

The commemoration was held in Australia’s capital, Canberra, in the open air beside Lake Burley Griffin and the somber, wintry weather and occasional rain seemed to reflect the mood of the occasion. It was a time of formal speeches, yet the sincerity was palpable and the feeling of solidarity with those grieving in the US and around the world was unmistakable.

Saturday, 10 September 2011 19:53 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler
The news is out. Airline passenger safety is being compromised by the giant aircraft manufacturer Boeing. Whistle-blowing from within and investigative reporting without have revealed that the widely used Boeing 737NG aircraft, workhorses of the skies, have been manufactured using shortcuts in structural elements critical to the planes’ ability to fly safely.

If you are an airline passenger in a Boeing 737NG your safety could be at risk. Your loved ones could be at risk. These aircraft are in service around the world, including in my home country, Australia. We, the public, need to speak out.

We should because in the US, where the Boeing 737NG is manufactured, the US Federal Aviation Administration and the Defence Criminal Investigative Service have dismissed the dangers posed by these faulty aircraft and failed to act on documented evidence of defective parts used in manufacture.
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler
What a pleasure to read a book which gives insight into the people of Afghanistan – and particularly the women. Afghan women rarely appear on my TV screen and, when they do, they are shrouded beneath all-concealing blue burqas. So it’s been a joy to read about them in a new book called In His Strength, by university lecturer and language teacher Noriko Dethlefs.

Noriko lived in Afghanistan from March 2005 to May 2009 with her husband Roger, an ophthalmologist who served there with the Christian Blind Mission as part of the International Assistance Mission. The couple first moved to Hirat (she prefers this spelling to Herat) and later transferred to Kabul. Noriko’s emails home to friends in Australia paint graphic pictures of the country and reveal the men and women of Afghanistan as hospitable, courageous members of our global human family.

Such insights do more to influence hearts and minds – ours in the West as well as theirs – than a thousand battlefield reports and casualty statistics. They build bridges for the transfer of better understanding.

Noriko describes her first impression of Afghanistan as grim, a place with crowded, bumpy streets and hungry goats seeking food among roadside refuse. Life in Hirat was basic, with kerosene to heat water that was pumped from a well, a gas bottle for cooking, iodine to clean fruit and vegetables, a wastebasket instead of flushing toilet paper and a water purifier for drinking water and brushing teeth.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler
Today stark realities are all around us - especially if you are a Libyan freedom fighter opposed to Muammar Gaddafi. As the anti-Gaddafi forces rose in Libya to fight for freedom and democracy, they put their lives on the line. They also put all the major Western democracies – 'we in the West' – on the line too.

Here we are, champions of freedom and democracy, the supposed guardians of moral rectitude and responsible government. But now we have questions to answer. Do we put our principles into action here? Or not? Do we support this flowering of freedom? Or is there a five-out-of-ten response to moral challenge? This is where the rubber meets the road, where moral principles meet political savvy, practical possibility and the ultimate bottom line: how will this affect us and our economy?

Thus far 'we in the West' seem to have got about five out of ten. Many Western leaders have spoken out clearly against Gaddafi and his use of overwhelming military force against a helpless civilian population. Indeed, it is a truly disgusting spectacle.

Saturday, 05 February 2011 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

A handful of committed men and women are working to build a hospital and make childbirth safe in the arid Afar region of Ethiopia. Spearheading the initiative are the trio of Valerie Browning, an Australian nurse, her East African husband Ishmael, and her nephew Andrew Browning, an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Theirs is an inspiring example of what can be achieved by just a few individuals dedicated to a worthwhile cause.

The new 28-bed hospital is due to open in early 2011 and will provide safe, modern maternity and child care for the minority Afar people, who live in the impoverished lowlands of eastern Ethiopia. Here, infant mortality and, for women, death in childbirth and the disability of fistula are age-old problems. Valerie, Ishmael and Andrew and their small international team of supporters in the Barbara May Foundation – which Andrew set up in 2010 – are bringing hope, medical and financial assistance and starting a new chapter in health care for the Afar.

In November 2010 Sydney barrister Helen Cox, a director of the Barbara May Foundation, visited the hospital and project area in Mille, Ethiopia, and met Andrew Browning. She will report on progress to fellow Barbara May Foundation members in Australia at a meeting this February.

Saturday, 11 December 2010 00:00 GFP Columnist - Helen Briton Wheeler

The most startling thing about the WikiLeaks revelations has been the reaction to them. Whether or not you support what WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange have done, the response raises very serious questions about freedom of information, transparency in government and the independence of the judiciary.

The above three are central planks of any healthy democracy. Regimes which do not allow freedom of information, transparency in government and independence of the judiciary frequently fall into the category of rogue states. We may applaud or deplore what WikiLeaks has done, but if we throw out the cherished foundations of our democracy in order to persecute Julian Assange, then we are doing our whole societies a very grave disservice.

And while we speak of the persecution of Julian Assange, why are the editors-in-chief of The New York Times, The Guardian in Britain, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany not also being pursued and vilified? That would seem consistent since these respected publications have also published leaked US Embassy cables.


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