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Unemployment Leads to Increased Volunteerism in the United States


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. This week:

We hear music by performers at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas …

Answer a listener question about the documentary film "Sharkwater" …

And report about how the recession has affected volunteering in the United States.

Recession Volunteerism

Aid organizations are sometimes the first to suffer in a bad economy. Many people are forced to reduce the amount of money they donate to these organizations. However, the current economic problems are helping nonprofit organizations in another way. In many American cities, people who have lost their jobs are now volunteering. Nonprofit organizations are reporting record numbers of new volunteers. This is good for everyone involved. The organizations gain more volunteers. And the volunteers gain work experience or learn new skills while supporting causes they care about.  Bob Doughty has our report.

Ian Shaw moved back to the Washington, D.C., area from Colorado hoping to find work. He had lost his job out west and saw little hope of finding another one. "There just was not any work out there at all," he says. He moved in with his father in Fairfax, Virginia, last August and began the job search again.

But, unemployment rates in the Washington area are at their highest level in more than ten years. After two months without luck, Mr. Shaw decided to work for free. He said he wanted to help people and maybe even gain some business contacts.

He decided to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, a group that builds homes for low-earning families. Mr. Shaw signed up at the group's office in Manassas, Virginia. He said he knew the organization was great because his sister had volunteered for it. And, his experience in the building industry made the organization the right one for him.

Traci DeGroat leads the Manassas Habitat for Humanity office. She says there has been a sharp increase in volunteers recently. She said Ian Shaw was among several people who could not find paying jobs but still wanted to work.

This is also true at the Arlington Free Clinic, in Arlington, Virginia. It provides medical services to low-earning citizens who do not have health insurance.

Lee Miller is the director of volunteers. She says she has seen a rise in volunteers, especially young people. "There are more people just out of college who might be waiting to start graduate schools. They are not able to find the temporary, part-time jobs they would normally take," she says. Ms. Miller says the clinic work provides good experience, especially for those interested in the medical field.

Back in Manassas, Ian Shaw's volunteer experience was even better than he expected. In January, the Habitat for Humanity office offered him a paying position. Ian Shaw is now employed.

Sharkwater

Our listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Junsuki wants to know about the movie "Sharkwater." This powerful documentary film was written and directed by the Canadian photographer and biologist Rob Stewart. It was released in two thousand seven. "Sharkwater" has won more than thirty awards at film festivals around the world. It was also the opening film for the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C., which we reported on last month.

About seven years ago, Rob Stewart was working in the Galapagos Islands photographing sharks. There, he discovered that the illegal practice of long-line fishing was taking place in a protected sea area. This method of fishing kills huge numbers of sharks and other sea animals. So, Mr. Stewart decided to make a movie to increase public awareness about sharks. He spent four years filming in fifteen different countries.

ROB STEWART: "You're underwater and you see the thing that you were taught your whole life to fear. And it doesn't want to hurt you. And it's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. And your whole world changes."

Sharks have existed for hundreds of millions of years. They developed more than a hundred million years before the dinosaurs. Sharks play an important role in the food chain. So when their numbers fall, the entire ecosystem of the ocean is put at risk.

Rob Stewart explains that people fear sharks because of media stories and movies about shark attacks. But he says in fact, sharks are very shy creatures that do not like to attack humans. He says that elephant attacks kill far more people a year than shark attacks. But few people are afraid of elephants as they are of sharks.

In "Sharkwater," Rob Stewart uncovers the illegal shark fin trade in Costa Rica. In Asian countries, the high demand for shark fins for cooking has led to an illegal trade worth millions of dollars. The mass killing of sharks continues because very few countries have rules to protect the creatures.

"Sharkwater" shows beautiful images of sharks in nature. For example, you can see hundreds of female hammerhead sharks gathering to find mates. You can see Mr. Stewart holding a playful shark underwater. But the movie also shows the terrible reality of shark fishing. It shows bloody images of fisherman cutting the fins off dead sharks then throwing them back in the water.

The movie says that the world's shark population has dropped by an estimated ninety percent. And, it explains how life on land depends on life in the ocean. So, by saving sharks we are also helping to save people.

SXSW

Since nineteen eighty-seven, the South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, has been an important event for people in the music industry. The festival started as a way for musicians in Austin to reach out to larger audiences. It has grown into a huge event that brings together musicians, record companies, filmmakers, reporters and radio programmers from around the world. Barbara Klein has more.

That was the song "She's Got a Hold on Me" by the band Hacienda from San Antonio, Texas. This group was one of about one thousand eight hundred musical acts that performed at the South by Southwest festival last month.

Some performers at the festival, like Metallica, Jane's Addiction and Erykah Badu, are very well known. Other less known artists attend the festival to be discovered by record companies. And some musicians attend to gain new fans and have fun performing.

Most people at the festival would agree that the Internet has greatly changed the ways musicians and record companies do business. Online music stores and file-sharing have had a big effect on record sales. But the Web has given a kind of freedom to independent musicians who depend on the Internet for sales, reviews and staying in touch with fans.                                             

Here is the song "Lips" by the British band Micachu and the Shapes which also performed at the festival. This group plays very inventive music using unusual instruments and layers of sounds.

South by Southwest also includes movies as well as an Interactive festival that celebrates new media technologies. But for many, the festival will always be about listening to good music. We leave you with "Everything I Love" by Juliet Commagere.

I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by Caty Weaver and Dana Demange who was also the producer. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.


"American Mosaic" in VOA Special English
www.manythings.org/voa/america

Source: Unemployment Leads to Increased Volunteerism in the United States
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