13 May 2015

Write on! Street paper vendors help promote literacy in Macedonia

Lice v lice vendors have been helping to promote Macedonian literature and improve reading habits by joining a special campaign run by electrical distribution company, EVN Macedonia.

On May 7, the street paper vendors attended the campaign's launch at the Skopje Book Fair to sell a special edition of the Lice v lice.

The issue was packed with feature articles, interviews and news reports that highlighted Macedonian writers and explored how literacy levels could be improved across the country.

Dressed in their Lice v lice uniforms, vendors also carried backpacks displaying large bookmarks emblazoned with the reading motto – “Create your habit" to promote the pleasure of reading.

The vendor team also handed out free books from several Macedonian publishers ("Tabernakul”, “Tri”, “Goten”, “Ars lamina”, “Magor”) to the first 100 readers that bought the magazine. A free anthology of work produced by young Macedonian authors was also given as a special freebie to every Lice v lice customer.

The event was hosted by Macedonian journalist, Ana Zafirova, and school pupil, Ana Stankovska. It also included poetry readings and several educational writing and drawing workshops for school children.

Famous Macedonian actress Verica Nedeska – Trajkova is the cover star of the latest Lice v lice magazine promoting literacy and literature.

Photos by Tomislav Georgiev.

(Cover pictured left - photography by Milena Viitman, design and illustration by Evgeny Viitman).

To learn more about promoting Macedonian literature and new authors, go to Raskazi.mk. For more Lice v lice news, click here.

8 May 2015

"They are fighting. Shedia's vendors never give up"

Shedia, Greece’s first street paper, launched two years ago in Athens. Today, the publication is still going strong, and supports around 160 vendors, 17 of whom are now in permanet housing. But one third of Greeks still live below the poverty line and the list of people looking to Shedia for help continues to grow. 

Editor Chris Alefantis speaks about the current situation in Greece, the vital work Shedia does and its incredible vendors.

Shedia came about from the desire to support those who had been most seriously affected by the economic and financial crisis. One could also say that Shedia is a result of the rage surrounding injustices which have happened to the vast majority of Greek workers and the middle class. We had to do something to help those affected. The same goes for the thousands of people across the country who have set up networks of solidarity and who are helping in every possible way. These are grass roots answers to a bigger problem.

If you look at the figures, it becomes clear that not much has changed over the past five years. The unemployment rate continues to be around about 26%, and the youth unemployment rate is 50%. People have been job seeking for years without success. We are especially concerned about those who are aged 45 and over. Their job prospects are particularly bad.

The queues outside soup kitchens are continuing to grow. Hundreds of thousands of people don't have health insurance anymore. How can we allow this to go on? The number of long-term unemployed people is so great, and that's dreadful. If you walk around Athens, you don't see many people smiling.

On the other hand, we support each other in everyday life. In an interview with us, the famous Greek author Vassilis Alexakis said, "We have no other option than to be optimistic." We should try that and continue to fight for a better future, both individually and collectively. This is also the stance taken in our street paper vendor meetings.

99% of our vendors are victims of the financial crisis. They had a job, a place to live, a family. They lost their jobs, then a few months later they lost their homes, and then they lost everything. Architects, former publishers, tradesmen or shop owners work at Shedia, as do people who have worked in unskilled labour. They were the first victims of the financial crisis. Their stories are those of completely normal people. On the one hand it's sad, and on the other their determination to get their old life back is impressive. They are fighting. Shedia's vendors never give up.

We also support our street paper vendors in their search for jobs and accommodation. Seventeen formerly homeless street paper vendors already have their own small flat paid for using the income that comes from selling street papers. We are delighted when it works. For us, this is a common victory. It's our readers who make this happen when they buy a street paper.

Our dream is that Shedia becomes superfluous, that all of our vendors find "regular" employment, through which they can earn their living. We also dream that we will reach the point where we will no longer need a street paper. We all look forward and work hard towards a better future. It's hard work, but we'll manage to do it. As Vassilis Alexakis says, "We have no other option than to be optimistic."

This post is based on an interview by Bastian PĆ¼tter originally published in German street paper Bodo. It was made available to INSP members in German and English via our News Service and has been republished widely across our network.

7 May 2015

Our vendors: Mark (The Big Issue Australia, Adelaide)

Years of smoking, drug use and alcohol addiction had taken their toll on Mark's health, which in turn made it difficult for him to keep a steady job. Then last year, he started selling The Big Issue Australia seven days a week in Adelaide. He says being a vendor has completely changed his life. 

"You know, once I was a real wild bastard. And even up to when I turned 50 I thought I'd grow old disgracefully," says Mark. "Then, six months ago, I came back to Adelaide and totally changed my life around. Instead of being a wild man, doing The Big Issue has put some direction and discipline in my life."

Mark grew up in Woodforde, a suburb of Adelaide, in South Australia. After leaving school in Year 10 - "they asked me to leave. [They] rang up my parents and said I was wasting their money and the school's time" - he went to a technical college for a few months, then got a dead-end job in the motor trade.

"After a year [of that] my old man gave me an apprenticeship in the family butcher shop," Mark recalls. "That was in 1978 - I've still got all my fingers! But I had to retire for health reasons, and then I drove taxis, did bar work, fruit picking…all sorts of things.

"I got put on a pension years ago for chronic alcohol abuse, and I used to be a firm believer in drug testing - namely, what drugs are we testing out today? But it was more so that alcohol was my favourite poison."

Mark first heard about The Big Issue during his five-year stay in Melbourne.

"A friend of mine was selling The Big Issue there - I made enquiries, but I never got around to doing it. I came back to Adelaide 'cos my old man was really ill, and I got the induction course done and started selling.

"They put me back on the pension a couple of years ago for emphysema, and this is the only job I'm capable of doing now."

He normally works seven days a week, mostly at a new pitch on the corner of Gawler Place and Pirie Street, outside the NAB (National Australia Bank).

"I'm getting regular customers," says Mark. "A lot of the businesspeople like the magazine, and now they can walk out of their business and find a vendor on the way to the coffee shop. I've got a big personality and a big work ethic - they treat me as another one of the workers down Pirie Street now.

"Material wise I've got bugger all, but since I've been doing this I've bought myself a good camera and a watch, so I have something to show for the money that I've earned."

This is a summary of a full article from The Big Issue Australia made available to street papers in our network via the INSP News Service here. Original interview by Peter Ascot.

5 May 2015

Megaphone celebrates vendor writing with Voices of the Street

Canadian street newspaper Megaphone has launched the fifth annual edition of Voices of the Street, a special literary anthology of vendor writing.

From Friday, May 1, Megaphone vendors working in Vancouver and Victoria have been selling the special edition for $5 (they buy it for $2.50, and keep the profit).

Since its first issue rolled off the presses in 2008, Megaphone has been dedicated to amplifying marginalised voices and supporting homeless and low-income people.

For the past six years, its vendors have been able to participate in weekly creative writing workshops and their work is regularly published in the magazine. 

"Between then and now, Megaphone has worked with an enormously talented, evolving team of writing workshop facilitators, many of whom are published authors, poets, journalists, and academics," said Megaphone editor Jackie Wong.

"Each week, they've been working with participants to tap into the therapeutic, empowering potential of writing. In the workshops, the writers craft poems and short stories that knock our socks off.

"Voices of the Street is a powerful collection of writing that means so much to so many people."

Many people involved in the workshops describe the process as empowering and even healing.

Loralee Ave Maria Judge is one of 32 published authors in Voices of the Street and was also the cover star of Megaphone's April edition (pictured below), which celebrated the impact of the project.

"Writing, for me, is kind of like drawing the poison out," she said. "It's like getting rid of a poison that no other form of expression - healthy or unhealthy - can do."

Poet and longtime Megaphone contributor Jim Ryder agrees:

"I was in really rough physical shape and mental shape after coming out of a coma. If I didn't get involved with Megaphone and started getting my work out there, I don't know where I would be."

Jim is from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, an area of the city that has gained notoriety for high rates of crime and poverty in recent years. It has become a major theme in his writing.

"I want to write so that someone who is unfamiliar with the Downtown Eastside will listen and understand what it is like," he added.

"A lot of people in the community have never had anyone listen to their opinion. When someone gives you the opportunity to share your story down here, it's totally validating."

Read more about Megaphone and find your nearest vendor here.

1 May 2015

Home: real stories of homelessness from Edinburgh

By Zoe Greenfield

Home. What is home? How do you end up without one? And how do you get back ‘home’ after life on the streets?

Home takes a novel route to addressing these questions. An original, multimedia show created and performed by homeless and formerly homeless clients of Crisis, it is based on their own personal experiences. It explores the human stories behind the statistics using comedy, drama, video, song and even puppetry... and gives an honest and stark insight into life on the streets of Edinburgh. Though possibly little rough around the edges - perhaps down to opening night nerves - any unevenness is made up for in energy and insight.

“Fuck statistics, I’m a person. I’m real!” says Danny, whose quest for home and security we follow throughout the show. As the stage fills with characters for the opening scene, each entrance brings a new story of just how easy it is to become homeless. This isn’t just one story of homelessness, it’s about each individual and their personal journey - abusive relationships, military service and growing up in care.
The Three Wise Men

You may be wondering how puppets fit into all this. I know I was. Yet as the giant puppet heads (which took the team three months to make) appear from behind the backdrop curtain, I have to concede they're a great choice for the depiction of Maximus (a corporate giant awarded the contract for getting people back to work on ‘wageus minimus’) and Sanctions (the benefit god). Their effigies loom large over the stage, looking down disdainfully on all those below, including the audience.

The mighty and universally feared Sanctions imposes benefit cuts as a form of penance for sinning against society. But the audience is left wondering about the soul of the system rather than that of the so-called ‘scrounger’ in an emotive scene which sees a terminally ill cancer patient facing the rest of his life on £11 per week.

It is a show of contrasts, ranging from raucous ensemble number ‘The 3 Step Hoedown’, to the stargazing Three Wise Men, who enjoy an alfresco aperitif and put the world to rights. A calmness descends at the end of the first act when Kirsty Heggie takes the stage with her guitar for a stunning performance. Granted, at times there is a definite sense of winging it (I think the technical term is improvisation), but even then you get the feeling you’re listening in on a real conversation and wonder quite how far it might go.

"You lose your job, you hit the boozer. Not knowing yet you’re a fucking loser. Then she can't stand you anymore. Here's your bag and there's the door."
(Verse 2: The 3 Step Hoedown)

A confident and charismatic performance from MC Blair Christie ties the scenes together well and acts as a moral compass for the audience asking, 'have you thought about what you would do?'.
It takes guts to get up on stage. But to tackle some serious and deeply personal issues, challenge stereotypes AND add a touch of humour deserves some serious kudos. This show is personal. It’s full of passion.

As Danny walks the high wire in the closing scene, we're reminded that life is a balancing act between the pain of the past and hope for the future, all the while grappling with an unfair and sometimes cruel system. I am full of admiration for the cast.

Home is on tonight and tomorrow at Old St Paul's in Edinburgh. And Edinburgh's newest theatre group have aspirations to take their show to the Fringe and on tour. You should see it. You might just learn something.

Macedonia's Lice v lice Embraces Rarity with stunning portrait series

Macedonian street paper Lice v lice (Face to face) put health in focus recently with a special edition that marked Rare Disease Day 2015.

The paper's Embrace Rarity campaign featured a stunning series of portraits that paired people affected by rare diseases with well known personalities.

It was produced in association with “Holistic”, the association of citizens for rare diseases Life With Challenges and the National Alliance for Rare Diseases of R. Macedonia.

Photographer Tomislav Georgiev worked with the Lice v lice design team, coordinated by Nebojsha Ilijevski, and stylist Irina Tosheva and make up artist Viktor Mirchevski to tell the stories of people living with rare conditions such as Hemophilia, Gaucher’s disease (brittle bone disease), Strumpell’s syndrome (where muscle turns to bone) and Pulmonary Hypertension.

Patients posed for photos alongside well known faces from the country's music, sport, TV and fashion industries. Many of the images were later digitally enhanced by graphic designers  Zoran Inadeski and Ruzica Mandichevska (Ruki Chuki).

Explaining the idea behind Embrace Rarity, Lice v lice editor Maja Nedelkovska said the aim was "to highlight that all rare disease patients are faced with big challenges in their lives."

She added: "Some of them are alive and well thanks to vital medications and treatments, but for others, there is no cure for them yet. The campaign stresses the importance of understanding them, giving a hand and embracing them, but also the need for constant research in new treatments."

The Embrace Rarity portaits were unveiled at a special exhibition in Skopje, and were displayed alongside short texts explaining each rare disease patient's story and the daily challenges they face. These were also published in a special edition of the magazine (cover pictured above).

Ana-Marija and Vera Miloshevska

The colours in Ana-Marija's (right) daily life are difficult to imagine. Delayed development, affected coordination, breathing difficulties, and lowered communication and cognitive skills are the characteristics of the RET syndrome, a disease that only affects women.

Iva Petrevska and Dani Dimitrovska

Living with Epidermolysis Bullosa means Iva’s skin is as delicate as a bubble. The slightest daily childhood activities cause painful sores on her body that require constant care and dressing, and even slight pressure, a tiny injury or scratch can threaten her health.

Vesna Aleksovska and Tanja Kokev

Having Gaucher’s disease made Vesna's (far left) bones prone to fracturing - even a slightly stronger embrace could cause a broken bone or a bruise on her body. After receiving therapy for five years, her state is now stable and she can lead a normal life.
Viktor Dimitrijoski and Bubo Karov

Viktor (far left) has never tasted chocolate, pancakes, ice-cream, walnuts, eggs, soy, meat or white bread. He has Phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare genetic condition makes body unable to break down a substance called phenylalanine, which builds up in the blood and brain. PKU is treated with a special low-protein diet, which reduces the levels of phenylalanine in the body and prevents brain damage.

Azemina Kurtishi  and Ognen Janeski

Azemina (far left) is the first patient diagnosed with rare disease Gaucher to receive appropriate therapy from the Macedonian state. Without it, this disease in its last stage can completely immobilise patients, causing discomfort and inflammation of the liver, osteoporosis and shorter life expectancy.

You can see more photos from the series, and learn the stories behind them, here