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Linsanity: Asians have got game
Jeremy Lin plays in a friendly match at the middle school in Pinghu, his family's ancestral home in eastern China's Zhejiang province. Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images
February 20th, 2012
09:35 PM ET

Linsanity: Asians have got game

By Traci Tamura, CNN Senior Producer

"Linsanity" has arrived on the West Coast of the United States.  All of the excitement surrounding a California-grown rising NBA star, Jeremy Lin, has hit a fever pitch – especially within the Asian-American community. The ethnic pride to see the first Asian-American to break into the starting line-up of an NBA team is simply LINTASTIC to watch.

I was also born and raised in California, and have been playing basketball since elementary school. I played point guard in high school, but got my start playing for an Asian-American basketball team coached by my father years earlier.  California is home to several thousand youngsters playing in Asian-American basketball leagues. These leagues have been around since the 1930s and are as popular as ever today. It gives the kids a sense of cultural community and camaraderie.

My own two daughters started playing on their year-round girls Asian-American basketball teams in first grade. The girls have spent a fair amount of time watching Mom run up and down the court playing basketball on weekends with girlfriends, most of whom are also mothers with kids playing on these teams.

The racial pride that has spread through Asian-American basketball players is almost beyond words. To actually have an Asian-American role model playing and winning games for an NBA team is groundbreaking. And to finally be able to see a face like their own playing in the big show, on prime time TV, guarding the likes of Kobe Bryant is unprecedented.

For some Asian-American kids, their dreams have just burst wide open with Jeremy Lin's explosion onto the NBA scene. They can now envision themselves actually playing in the NBA. Whether or not that's a real probability is not the point. The hope, inspiration and possibility are enough for them.

As my third grade son says, "Jeremy Lin, he's amazing." And he would love to be like Jeremy. But, not everyone has bought into "Linsanity" at my house. When I asked my basketball-playing fifth grade daughter what she thought of Jeremy Lin she said, "Who's that?" Can't win them all. But Jeremy is proving that Asian's got game ... something I always knew.

A new Playground in Vietnam
February 15th, 2012
07:39 PM ET

New hope for Vietnam's children of the dump

CNN's Natalie Allen went with an adventure-philanthropy group to explore Vietnam. She ended up building a new playground for the children of the Catalyst Foundation in the coastal town of Rach Gia. Children in this area were previously living and playing around a large trash dump. Families around the border of Cambodia and Vietnam frequently have to worry about the harsh reality that their children could be sold to the sex trafficking industry.  

By Natalie Allen, CNN

Twelve-year-old Dieu wears a bright-green top sprinkled with yellow flowers as she squats in a pile of garbage with her mother.

The two talk and laugh while their hands work quickly, sorting plastic from the discarded food and waste.

A full bag will bring their family just pennies. But this is their life’s work. They live on a dump in Rach Gia, Vietnam, part of the Mekong Delta.

Dieu’s little sister, one of nine siblings, watches from the family’s two-room shack. One of her brothers sits on a nearby tombstone with his dog. The dump lies on an abandoned cemetery, and the above-ground tombs are the only places to sit that aren’t covered by trash.

Some 200 families live on this and one other dump in Rach Gia. They are three generations of Cambodians who fled the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. It’s the only home they have ever known.

What they eat and what they wear is often from what they find in the trash. For the longest time, the children didn't even know flip-flops were supposed to match.

But there is a danger here far worse than filth or poverty.

Human traffickers prey on these poor people’s desperation. Children are bought and sold here, some for as little as $100. The parents sell because they are tricked into believing that the buyer has good intentions, that their children will have a promising job and a promising future. They so badly want to help their sons and daughters escape poverty.

Oftentimes, however, the children end up as sex slaves.

“The trafficker looks like your mom, (the trafficker) doesn't look like a bad guy," said Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker, who founded the Catalyst Foundation to help Dieu and other children in Vietnam's poorest communities.

The kids are sometimes stolen, too, when they make their long walk into town to sell lottery tickets.

“When we started, we knew of a house that was at the entrance of the dump, and we know girls were being taken in there by traffickers and being raped,” Ticarro-Parker said. "If they screamed, then they were let go. If they didn't scream, then they were taken. And the girls were as young as 4."

Lessons for survival

After leaving Dieu’s dump, I arrive at another one just as a sanitation truck leaves behind a fresh pile.

People scurry with picks and bags and start sorting. They work day and night alongside their children. At 1 a.m., when the last truck of the day arrives, they all don headlamps to work in the dark.

I follow a mother who carries her baby to the family’s shack. One could barely call it that; it is nothing more than tarps strung together for shelter. Bowls of discarded food are covered in flies. Clothes dry on barbed wire.

The mother lays her baby in a net strung up as a hammock. After rocking the baby to sleep, she heads back out to work in the dump.

Another parent offers me his baby when I arrive. He is cradling a little boy, months old, wearing a colorful striped hat. The father swats flies away from the child’s face. He mistakenly thinks I am here to buy his baby.

Ticarro-Parker’s family fled Vietnam when she was a child. She returned as an adult to give back to her homeland, bringing clothes to the poor. But when she stumbled onto the families of the Rach Gia dumps, she knew much more had to be done.

She went back home to Minnesota, started raising money and eventually opened a school for the children of the dump.

Lesson one: Arm the children with cell phones so they can call for help.

“It sounds weird, but we gave the prettiest girls the cell phones first,” Ticarro-Parker said. “They’re most at risk.”

Lesson two: Teach the children to read so that if they are taken, they can read city signs and call the school to let them know where they are.

That happened in 2008. Four girls were taken, but the traffickers were caught because the girls had a cell phone and knew how to read a road sign to give their location.

Lesson three: Teach the children to run if strangers approach.

That’s exactly what 13-year-old Hanh did when men, presumably traffickers, chased her and her brother as they walked home on the last day of school in 2010. She did what she was taught and ran. But while getting away, Hanh fell into a canal and drowned.

Ticarro-Parker fights back tears recalling the tragedy: “She died doing what we asked.”

Before she died, Hanh was interviewed for the school’s first brochure. Next to her picture is a quote of what hope meant to her: “Hope is my school.”

School is the only hope for these children, Ticarro-Parker says. It strengthens the entire community.

"When we started it was 99% illiteracy,” she said. “None of the parents (at the dumps) knew how to read and write, the children had never been to school.”

They are now down to 40% illiteracy.

“The children are understanding that they could be the generation that doesn't work in the dump,” Ticarro-Parker said.

The school also teaches parents the cold hard truth: what will really happen to their children if they sell them.

In 2006, before the school opened, more than 37 girls from the dumps were sold to traffickers by their parents, Ticarro-Parker said. In 2011, only four were sold.

'A catalyst for change'

Inside one of the school’s two classrooms, a boy writes in his notebook. He clutches a blue pen with fingers covered in dirt, black under all his fingernails. The children are dirty, but their maroon-and-white school uniforms are crisp. Across their backs reads, “be a catalyst for change.” And they all wear shoes that match.

Outside is the sound of a power saw. Volunteers are here to build a playground for the school, which was built on a rice paddy on the edge of the town.

It will be the first real playground these children have seen.

One Vietnamese woman helps the volunteers with sanding and toting wood. She is working to pay off a debt to the school. She sold her teenage daughter to traffickers – twice – and the school helped get her back both times. Now the woman works to pay off her debt.

When the playground opens, the children are waiting. They swarm. Up the climbing wall, down the slide, over the monkey bars, onto the swings. They have to be taught how to pump their legs and pull the ropes to make the swings move. They don’t have any idea how it works. They learn quickly, however, and are soon flying high.

Dieu, on the seesaw, screams with joy as a row of girls fall like dominoes onto the sand in hysterical laughter. Seeing their smiles and hearing their joy, it is hard to believe these children live on a garbage dump.

"Over the last year and a half, the boys and girls have been happy,” Ticarro-Parker said. “They want to be singers and teachers and doctors and architects. Suddenly they have a career in mind. …

“We're not going to eliminate trafficking. We are not going to change this whole culture of girls feeling unworthy of themselves. But we're going to change this group of girls. We're going to change 200 girls. It's going to happen, one girl at a time."


Filed under: asia • backstory • CNN Freedom Project • journalists • photography • Uncategorized
February 10th, 2012
06:44 PM ET

Documenting Mexico's cartel culture

For more on photographer Shaul Schwarz visit his website: www.shaulschwarz.com

For updates on these and other stories find Back|Story on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @BackStory.

Part one of this interview can be found here: http://on.cnn.com/yehh9x


Filed under: backstory • Cartel Violence • Interviews • journalists • Mexico • U.S.
February 10th, 2012
04:23 PM ET
February 10th, 2012
03:37 PM ET
Photographing Syria's horrors
February 9th, 2012
11:38 PM ET

Photographing Syria's horrors

Syria has restricted journalists from entering the country, so it has been difficult to document the horrors of this conflict. But CNN.com has posted some chilling photos commissioned by Time Magazine. Here is the link to those photos by Alessio Romenzi.

http://on.cnn.com/xqodYq


Filed under: backstory • journalists • photography • Syria
February 8th, 2012
10:11 PM ET

American Volunteer takes Afghan Orphans on a Road Trip

American volunteer Ian Pounds first traveled to Afghanistan to learn more about the country and its culture.  His trip inspired him to help the country's orphans. So, Pounds and others are taking a group of Afghan orphans on a road trip across the United States. CNN's Asieh Namdar has been reporting on their ten-week journey.
Read more here:

http://on.cnn.com/yZ4C2b

http://on.cnn.com/zIU97Z

for more, keep in touch with Back|Story on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @BackStory

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Filed under: Afghanistan • backstory • U.S.
The New York Giants win the Super Bowl
February 7th, 2012
11:36 PM ET

The New York Giants win the Super Bowl

The atmosphere in New York was full of excitement after the Giants won the Super Bowl. American football is serious stuff for sports fans. Sebastian Castro had a bit of fun in Times Square with the excited crowd.

Richard Roth met some fans in Lower Manhattan who were still excited about the win days later. Here he is talking to fans and dodging bathroom tissue.

Post by:
Filed under: backstory • Sport • U.S. • Uncategorized
February 7th, 2012
01:57 AM ET

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexico- Shaul Schwarz documents extreme violence

for more on filmmaker and photographer Shaul Schwarz, find him online at www.shaulschwarz.com

Keep up with Back|Story on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @BackStory

See part two of this interview here: http://on.cnn.com/xg8s0n


Filed under: backstory • Cartel Violence • journalists • Latin America • Mexico • photography
February 7th, 2012
01:48 AM ET

Taking a stand for worker's rights in China

For more on Li Qiang and China Labor Watch find his organization online at www.chinalaborwatch.org

Keep up with Back|Story on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @BackStory


Filed under: asia • backstory • China • Interviews • Science and Technology • U.S.
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