Another cold snap could change things, of course, but it appears that after a long winter the Great Lakes have come close to — but won't break — their recorded record for ice cover.
The latest data from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory show the lakes are about 84 percent ice-covered, down from a peak this season of just over 92 percent and well short of the 95 percent high mark sent in 1979.
In an email, NOAA/GLERL scientist George Leshkevich tells us that satellite imagery also indicates "that ice cover is starting to break up on the Great Lakes."
Lake Michigan, though, can lay claim to a new record, at least in terms of what's in the data from recent decades. Its ice cover peaked at 93.3 percent on Saturday. Leshkevich says the lake's previous record, 93.1 percent, was set in 1977. The researchers at NOAA/GLERL began collecting the data in 1973.
By the way, Lake Michigan's ice caves haven't been safe to visit for a few weeks. As the Detroit Free Press has reported, "milder temperatures and high winds have broken up the ice sheet on the lake side of the formations, and open water is visible near the caves."
As of Monday, though, the Green Bay Press Gazette was writing that Lake Superior's ice caves were still attracting tourists.
A Swedish journalist was gunned down in a heavily guarded section of the Afghan capital that is home to Westerners working for aid agencies, embassies and news organizations.
Nils Horner, 51, who has dual British-Swedish nationality, worked for Swedish Radio and had been in Afghanistan for only a few days when the attack occurred in Kabul on Tuesday.
The Guardian reports Horner was killed "when travelling from his hotel to the ruins of a restaurant bombed by the Taliban in January. He had been planning to meet a survivor there for a report."
A "senior source" at the city's criminal investigation department tells the newspaper that Horner was taken to a hospital where he died from his injuries. It says the gunman, who used a pistol with a silencer, fled the scene but that two suspects were later arrested.
"The journalist had got out of a Toyota Corolla car and was walking down the street, when he was shot, witness Zubair Atta Mohammad was quoted by the newspaper as saying. "He was shot in the head and the road was covered with blood," Mohammad said, adding that he had not seen the attackers.
"Nils was one of our absolute best and most experienced correspondents and what has happened to him today is terrible," said Swedish Radio's director-general, Cilla Benkö, tells Reuters.
"The attack was the first time in years that a Westerner appeared to have been specifically targeted and killed in Kabul. The journalist's death sent a fresh wave of concern through the sizable community of diplomats, journalists, aid workers and others who live and work in the Afghan capital."
"The city once had a thriving, albeit limited, expatriate social scene. There were a handful of restaurants and bars that catered almost exclusively to foreigners - Afghans are legally barred from drinking - and regular parties at the lightly guarded homes in which many Westerners here live."
"But the deteriorating security situation in many rural areas of Afghanistan and a number of high-profile attacks on Afghan officials, Western embassies and coalition forces in Kabul in recent years has forced many foreigners, especially diplomats, to live under tighter security restrictions."
Growing up in Taiwan, ShaoLan Hsueh stuck out.
She liked writing in Chinese.
"I know all the children hated it, but I was a bit odd in that I loved writing Chinese characters," says Hsueh, the daughter of a Chinese calligrapher.
Now living in London, she later discovered that the love she had for Chinese language felt like "torture" to her two British-born children. "I found it really challenging to try to convince them that it's really cool to read Chinese," she said. "No one in their environment would be interested or have contact with Chinese-speaking people."
Her solution is a system that helps readers learn Chinese characters through cute illustrations. The pictograms, developed with a team of visual designers, are now published in a new book called Chineasy.
There are tens of thousands of Chinese characters, but learning the 400-plus characters featured in the book is enough to read at a basic level, according to Hsueh, who also presented her language learning system at a TED Conference last year.
She adds that while learning to read may be challenging to Chinese-language learners, it can provide a deeper understanding of Chinese culture. For example, she points to the character for "female" (?), which when appearing twice to form another character (?) can mean "a quarrel" or "stupid." Hsueh says it's a sign of gender inequality that's embedded within traditional Chinese culture.
Writer Andrew Solomon delves deep into topics most wouldn't touch. His book Far From The Tree is a thoughtful look into parents raising children who are different from themselves: children with Down's syndrome, autism, or a complete loss of hearing and others. His TED Talk based on the book has been seen almost two million times.
Solomon was featured on the TED Radio Hour episode Identities and answered listener's questions about his work.
What part of you, if any, was the driving force behind writing Far From the Tree? Was it being a writer, being a psychologist, being an LGBT advocate, personal experiences?
All of those characteristics informed my writing of the book. I'd say the leading factor, however, was the revelation of how much I, as a gay person, had in common with others who are outside the mainstream in various way. People have asked me why I didn't include a chapter on gay people, and I have explained repeatedly that the whole book is informed by my experience as a gay person, and that everything in it is relevant to gay identity. I have always been drawn to outsiders, and that interest, predicated on my own sense of outsiderness, has determined much of my research. Though I didn't know it, even the work for my first book, which was on Soviet artists, was informed by my interest in how people find dignity in the face of adversity—how they forge meaning and build identity. And Far from the Tree is the epitome of that concern. And that concern originated for me in being gay.
How did you learn to be such an eloquent speaker, especially regarding difficult topics? Any tips?
I don't know that I have tips per se. For my TED talks, I came up with the ideas and spent a long time organizing them, then practiced talking about them with a broad range of people. I wasn't reading from a script, and I hadn't memorized what I said, but I did have the carefully considered structures of my talks in mind before I went out there. I think the best thing to do before a talk is to organize and practice. As for difficult topics: I have always been drawn to difficulty, and most of all to how people manage to find strength in difficulty. I sometimes find it easier to talk about difficult topics than about easy ones; I have a sense of merit in the difficulty that inspires me onwards.
How do explain how you became such a generous man willing to listen to and including everybody? What do you think it is that has enabled you to do that with such depth and integrity?
When I was growing up, my mother used to say, "A good listener is always more interesting than a good talker." She also used to say, when teaching social skills, "You should be able to make conversation with a brick wall." I think those two bits of guidance have informed both my personal and my professional life. Not that I don't talk; obviously, this question is asked in the context of my talks, and I can yammer on. But I learned to listen early, and I like doing it. I'm endlessly intrigued by stories, and I love helping someone to formulate his or her story. I can drift off when I'm reading pure abstraction, but the narratives of human lives hold my attention every time. And I've discovered, over time, how much people want their stories told and retold, and so my work as a writer has consisted in part of accommodating that desire.
How do you describe depression to those not afflicted?
I begin by explaining that the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and then I try to describe it much as I have in my TED talk—to explain the loss of interest in the world, the loss of the ability to function, the loss of interest in one's own life, the loss of ability to eat, take a shower, answer the phone. I talk about the feeling of deadness that takes over. And I describe the anxiety, that sense at every moment that doom lies just ahead; I speak of that constant fear with no particular object, that sense that it is too frightening to stay alive, and that death is the only release.
Sometimes I use metaphor. In my book, I wrote, "I returned, not long ago, to a wood in which I had played as a child, and saw an oak, a hundred years dignified, in whose shade I used to play with my brother. In twenty years, a huge vine had attached itself to this magnificent and confident tree and had nearly smothered it. It was hard to say where the tree left off and the vine began. The vine had twisted itself so entirely around the scaffolding of tree branches that its leaves seemed from a distance to be the leaves of the tree; only up close could you see how few living oak branches were left, and how a few desperate little budding sticks of oak stuck like a row of thumbs up the massive trunk, their leaves continuing to photosynthesize in the ignorant way of mechanical biology.
"Fresh from a major depression in which I had hardly been able to take on board the idea of other people's problems, I empathized with that tree. My depression had grown on me as that vine had conquered the oak; it had been a sucking thing that wrapped itself around me, ugly and grotesque and more alive than I. It had had a life of its own that bit by bit asphyxiated all of my life out of me. At the worst stage of major depression, I had moods that I knew were not my moods: they belonged to the depression, as surely as the leaves on that tree's high branches belonged to the vine. When I tried to think clearly about this, I felt that my mind was immured, that it couldn't expand in any direction. I knew that the sun was rising and setting, but very little of its light reached me. I felt myself sagging under what was much stronger than I; first I could not use my ankles, and then I could not control my knees, and then my waist began to break under the strain, and then my shoulders turned in, and in the end I was compacted and fetal, depleted by this thing that was crushing me without holding me. Its tendrils threatened to pulverize my mind and my courage and my stomach, and crack my bones and desiccate my body. It went on glutting itself on me when there seemed nothing left to feed it."
I have suspected a dear friend of mine is suffering from fairly severe depression, but she is stubborn and believes it not so much a disease as it is a weakness of character. Whenever the topic is brought up she will dismiss it out of hand, practically as if it were an insult. Do you have any advice on how to approach the subject with a person like this?
It's important to say that depression has biological underpinnings, and that while medications do not seem to create irreversible changes in the brain, repeated depressive episodes do. So if she can control her mood states without medication, that's great; and if she needs medication, that's just fine; and if she neglects her psychic decay completely, that's a bad way to go. Untreated depression tends to get worse and worse. When it's at its apex, it can lead to suicide. So your friend is gambling with her life, and you should emphasize that to her. But even putting the potential for suicide aside, she is giving over time to depression when she could be well—and life is short, and she won't get the time back. Dealing with depression effectively is a mark not of weakness, but of strength.
In your opinion, since "The Noonday Demon" was published, what is the most radical breakthrough in treating depression? Any new pharmaceutical developments we, as depressives can be hopeful for? And would you consider writing another "Noonday Demon" more of a follow up with updated statistics?
The most radical breakthrough is deep brain stimulation, a field led by Helen Mayberg, a functional neuroimaging specialist who realized that Brodmann area 25 of the brain seemed to be implicated in depression, and who developed a process for implanting an electrode in the brain to provide constant stimulus to this area, so regularizing its activity. She's achieved absolutely astonishing results with people who have failed every other kind of treatment: failed psychotherapy, psychopharmaceutical interventions, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and electro-convulsive therapy. It's brilliant, inspiring work, and is the first hypothesis-driven treatment for depression. She doesn't tell her patients when she turns the device on, but one of them, at that moment, said, "What did you just do? All my life I've been locked in a room with a thousand screaming children, and they just left the building."
I wish I could say there had been huge breakthroughs in pharmaceutical therapies (which are obviously preferable to brain surgery for those for whom they work). There are some new drugs here and there, but nothing radical and worthy of notice.
As for an updated edition, I've got too many new books to write. But I am putting together a new introduction for the reissue of the book abroad and will look into using it in the English-language versions as well.
You recently received your Ph.D. — would you please explain what your thesis research topic, and why you chose it?
The title of my thesis was "Transition to Motherhood: The acquisition of maternal identity and its role in a mother's attachment." It is about the idea that a new mother has two new relationships in her life: one to her newborn child, and the other to a maternal identity. It is possible to be besotted with your child but uncomfortable in the role of motherhood; it is possible, equally, to find fulfillment in this new role and yet be curious unattached to your own child. For the work, I put together a cohort of 24 women each of whom I interviewed once just before the birth of her first child, once just afterwards, and then every six months until the children were four and a half.
Motherhood entails a radical break. The shift is often disorienting, and even women who are very proud of and thrilled about having produced children frequently find the initial disequilibrium very difficult. For most of the women in this protocol, becoming a mother seemed to me to entail trauma, which sometimes included but was not limited to postnatal depression. While these women were in general deeply committed to their children from the start, they also negotiated a recovery from their disturbance that went on for some time. This recovery was a component of maternal engagement, as it provided the mothers with a feeling of success in relation to their children. The earliest stages of maternal attachment entail the mother's bonding with a child simply because that child is her child; most of the child's particular qualities are not initially legible. Later attachment involves the active recognition of the child as a distinct other with his or her own personality and character. This is a connection based less on the generic situation of motherhood and more on interaction with a specific child. The mothers in the protocol and the people around them tended to value enthusiasm about their role as mothers and, separately, about their child; they tended to stigmatize any concomitant negativity. External and internal relationships were altered to accommodate a shift in priorities that ultimately constituted a shift in identity.
Two teams of teenage boys play soccer, while adults and younger children look on from wooden picnic benches on a grassy athletic field behind an elementary school. Later, there will be relay races, tug-of-war and dancing. The organizers are preparing a lunch of paprika-colored sauerkraut soup, bread and slices of watermelon. The motto of the day is "also sport can unite." Wobbly translation aside, the organizers are trying to make a point in this town in eastern Slovakia.
"We want to unite these children, whether they're Roma or non-Roma, because all children want to play together and they do understand each other," says Monika Du?dová, a Slovak Roma who helped organize this sports day in this small town of ?ari?ské Micha?any that has a population of close to 3,000 residents. The gathering here has attracted both white Slovaks and Roma. And it was here at this school that human rights attorneys have focused a fight for racial equality.
The sports gathering here has attracted both white Slovaks and Roma.
This former communist country has a homogenous majority population of ethnic Slovaks. It's home to several different cultural minorities including Hungarian, Czech, Ukrainian and even German residents. But here in the eastern part of the country, the Roma minority stands out more than the other subcultures. Because they often have darker skin, as well as a non-European language and culture, they have for centuries remained separate from the dominant population.
As Du?dová passes out food and drinks to hungry kids, there's a palpable dedication and obvious enthusiasm to everything she does. With reddish-brown curls framing her olive-skinned face, she speaks with idealism and conviction about the importance of local children playing together today. She grew up here and raised her family here, where there is an assimilated Roma minority. She moves easily in both Slovak and Roma circles and says she's proud to be part of both cultures. Her understanding of both ways of life keeps her optimistic about fostering a respect between the two cultures.
"There was no problem with non-Roma and Roma children playing together," said Vlado Rafael, another event organizer and also a Roma. He said he observed a sense of color blindness throughout the day.
Culture Of Segregation
A few weeks later, that sense of color blindness has disappeared. Students gather in front of the elementary school that hosted the sports days. Clusters of young boys and girls laugh and chat together in anticipation of the first day of school. Some clutch their mothers' hands, others hold bouquets of flowers for their teachers. More than half of the students are Roma, their darker skin reinforcing their separation from the lighter-skinned Slovak population.
The sports day showed that integration is a possibility, but casual student banter reveals current schisms. When asked if they ever play with the Roma kids, a group of sandy-haired ethnic Slovaks doesn't hesitate to answer.
"No. We don't play with them," says one 10-year old. Another chimes in: "Because they are ugly."
An 11-year-old Roma student named Luca explained: "The white kids didn't want to play with us, so we just played together."
Human rights activists have made this bucolic town surrounded by grassy hills and sunflower fields the nucleus of the movement to integrate the Slovak and Roma cultures.
In 2008, the principal of this school, Mária Cvancigerová (who has since been fired and has sued the school for firing her) moved the Roma kids to separate classrooms on the second floor. The Roma kids would get cold lunches and the ethnic Slovak students would have warm lunches served in the cafeteria. When it was time for recess, the whites would go to the Biely Dvor ("white courtyard") and Roma to the ?ierny Dvor ("black courtyard"). Though a few assimilated Roma children remained in the white classrooms, the practical result was racial segregation.
The tension between the Roma and non-Roma cultures started centuries ago. Though stories, myths and tales abound as to how and why the Roma arrived in Europe, the exact reasons are unclear. Most historians believe the Roma left the province of Rajasthan in India between the 6th and 11th centuries. European records first document their existence in the 14th century. The Romani language spoken throughout the many varying populations in Europe has traces of Persian and Hindi. Culturally peripatetic, they traveled in groups and became known for their metalworking, music and crafts.
They were also accused of being thieves and criminals. Europeans called them "gypsies," assuming their dark skin meant they came from Egypt. The English term "getting gypped" or ripped off refers to the Roma. "Gypsy" is a term that outsiders called them and is now considered pejorative. "Roma" is the preferred word.
Despite their centuries-long presence, the stereotypes persist today: Roma are lazy, they don't want to work, they just live off the government, they are dirty, they are criminals, they are thieves. Roma in Slovakia are often seen begging or playing street music. They are rarely seen working in shops or restaurants or any public place of employment. The Slovak Republic reported an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent in 2012, but surveys by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme found that Roma, between 20 and 64 years of age, showed that only 30 percent of that population had paid employment. Aid groups report that unemployment in some areas in Eastern Slovakia is as high as 80 and 90 percent for the Roma.
Part of the reason the unemployment remains high is because Roma students lack higher education. Segregation of Roma students is the norm and is an accepted practice in many schools. The Roma students are also more likely to attend special education schools designed for children with mental disabilities. The European Roma Rights Centre reports that about 60 percent of the students in special education schools are of Roma descent:
"The situation in education of Romani children is alarming: about 60% of the total number of pupils enrolled in special education designed for mentally disabled pupils are of Romani origin. Roma account for 86% of pupils attending special classrooms within mainstream elementary schools. In 2010 more than 20% of all Romani children in Slovakia were enrolled in special education settings, whereas according to national averages 4.1% of pupils in the respective school age were enrolled in special schools and 2.2% in special classes."
It's a practice that is not isolated to Slovakia. Romania, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Hungary also have more a disproportionately high number of Roma students in schools meant for children with mental disabilities.
Focus On Education
The support for Roma human rights doesn't get much support from within Slovakia. Aid groups working on integration and equality rely on foreign groups for funding.
The Center for Civil Human Rights is a small organization based in the eastern Slovakian city of Kosice. Large black-and-white prints of Roma children hang on the wall of the modest offices where Stefan Ivanco works with attorney Vanda Durbáková on bringing discrimination cases into the Slovak court system to effect social change.
As a researcher and program coordinator for the group, Ivanco has observed many schools racially segregating Roma children into separate classrooms. It is a practice that is culturally accepted, though technically illegal according to a 2004 anti-discrimination law.
"Our intention was to pick up some case to start litigation in order to raise discussion about this issue in Slovakia, to draw attention of decision makers, politicians in Slovakia to deal with this issue," he explained.
A 2012 United Nations Development Programme survey showed that 43 percent of Roma students in mainstream schools were taught in ethnically segregated classrooms. The practice started to mushroom after the fall of communism in 1989. Discrimination still existed during the decades beforehand, but the strict authoritarian system promoted assimilation. School segregation became more pronounced under the free-market system.
"The segregation was not so serious like now," Ivanco said. "In the last two decades, we can actually see that maybe this issue got worse."
So as the legal team set out to choose a school to expose the practice, it had to choose carefully.
"It was really important to pick up the case which has the most possibility to win because we wanted a positive court decision," said Durbáková, a lawyer who works with civil rights cases in Slovakia.
Unlike the civil rights movement in the U.S., before Brown v. Board of Education, where the laws in the books allowed for "separate, but equal" classrooms, human rights advocates in Slovakia faced a very different situation. In Slovakia, separate but equal is illegal; those laws just aren't not universally followed.
From all the schools observed, they decided the particular dynamics of the elementary school in ?ari?ské Micha?any were most likely to prevail in court. "We had a list of kids, we have evidence that Roma-only classes exist," explained Durbáková.
?ari?ské Micha?any is home to stuccoed homes and well-tended gardens lining the streets. But drive just two miles east and the road winds into the village of Ostrovany, which is home to an impoverished Roma shantytown. The makeshift collections of shelters and homes are typical of Roma settlements in Slovakia. The residents are under constant threat of eviction because they are often squatting on state or privately-owned land. Many don't have sewer systems or running water. Children face high rates of diarrhea, infections and respiratory diseases. Many of the villages have walls built around them to keep the residents separate from the rest of the population.
"Life is hard in Slovakia for everyone, but especially for the Roma. And it's especially hard for people without an education," said Peter Kaleja, a resident of the settlement and an assistant principal at the school in ?ari?ské Micha?any.
The residences lining the narrow streets range from simple cinderblock homes to shacks cobbled together from corrugated scrap metal and wood sealed with dirt and straw. Stray mutts wander the area, as men, women and children linger in the streets. Without running water, young girls come to pump water into plastic buckets from one of the public wells. Because there is no school here, the children have to walk or take the bus to the school a couple kilometers away to ?ari?ské Micha?any, where the town is mostly white with a very assimilated Roma population.
Monika Du?dová, who helped organize the sports day, is part of that assimilated Roma community. She grew up here and raised her family here. Du?dová says the cultures and the standards of living are very different in Ostrovany and ?ari?ské Micha?any.
"But in the schools, they are all our children and we want to integrate them too," Du?dová said. And it was this type of community support that became a major reason that this school became the focus of desegregation.
"We found it really important that part of Roma parents living in ?ari?ské Micha?any disagreed with the situation. And also the evidence ... was really good in this case," said Durbankova.
A year ago, a regional court ruled that the school was indeed violating human rights and ruled that the school had to start making steps to bring the Roma children into mainstream classrooms.
"It's quite clear now, that this is really a huge problem here in Slovakia, but this case in ?ari?ské Micha?any wanted to give a strong signal that the separation of [Roma and Slovak by] itself undermines the human dignity regardless of the quality of education," said Ivanco.
But the court ruling and the sports day have not erased long-simmering tensions. Many ethnic Slovak children have transferred out of the school and gone to private or other area schools.
The same weekend that brought the sports day also brought an extremist political rally to town.
Marian Kotleba is a right-wing, nationalist politician who came to promote his anti-Roma agenda. His ?udovej strany Na?e Slovensko ("People's party, Our Slovakia") campaigns against the Roma; its website regularly refers to them as "cigánskych parazitov" — "Gypsy parasites."
Wearing matching green golf shirts and holding matching flags, about a dozen followers publicly identified with the group. They sang the Slovak national anthem and clapped when Kotleba took to the microphone.
He spoke out about about the high unemployment and birth rate among Roma and expressed fears that ethnic Slovaks would soon become a minority.
"We want our children to grow up in a place that isn't pillaged and ruled by a Gypsy state." he said, "We still have hope to save Slovakia for the decent people. We don't want our children to come to us and ask, 'Father Mother, what were you doing, when you didn't save the country for us?'"
Slovakia's Roma population isn't the largest in Europe, but it has one of the largest per capita populations in Europe. The 2011 census reported that Roma made up about two percent of the total population, just over 105,000. But demographers and other surveys say those numbers are way too low and more realistic numbers are 320,000 and 480,000 Roma living in the country of 5.5 million. Even with the adjusted numbers, this impoverished population is far from tipping the scales into a majority.
Kotleba continued his inflammatory speech with criticism of the foreign groups working for racial equality in Slovakia. Though his views in the country are extremist, it's difficult to find people who understand the consequences of the racism and segregation that the Roma have endured. Igor André, who co-created a group EduRoma that is working to facilitate inclusive education in the ?ari?ské Micha?any school, says there are very small pockets of activists who support equal rights.
"These are only so-called islands of positive deviation. It's not something like in the U.S. that you would have a huge grassroots movement," said André. "In Slovakia, you don't have this phenomenon. So ... we have [a] long way before us to reach [the level of the] civil rights movement in U.S. in the 50s."
The pressure to address the many human rights violations isn't coming from internal groups, but from the United Nations, the European Union and non-profits like Open Society Foundation and Amnesty International. School segregation is just one of the issues. Forced sterilization of women, job discrimination and housing evictions are just a few of the others.
When the school doors opened to the 2013-2014 school year, children, teachers and parents were led into the central courtyard to a welcoming assembly. Du?dová was there and led some students in a song. Kaleja from the settlement was there too, optimistic about the future. Both Du?dová and Kaleja have been appointed assistant principals to help bridge the cultural gaps.
"I want the children to see my example that they can better their lives by working and getting an education," said Kaleja who believes there wouldn't be segregation if the Roma were educated and assimilated.
The new principal, Jaroslav Vala?tiak, has vowed to start the integration process, but the steps will be gradual. Only the academically top academically performing Roma children will be allowed into the classrooms for now.
"I don't think there will be a lot of difficulties, but the Roma already feel inferior and feel pushed aside by society. It's hard for them to adjust to being around non-Roma children. And the non-Romas exclude them," said Vala?tiak.
The court ruling says the school needed to desegregate, but didn't specify how or how quickly the school should do it. EduRoma, founded by André and Vlado Rafael, are working with the teachers, administrators, parents and students to move the integration process forward. They have arranged for university student volunteers to work with any child who is struggling to make sure they don't slip behind.
The group recently worked to get a school bus to run after school hours for kids living in the settlement in Ostrovany. EduRoma hopes this will help the kids participate in extra tutoring sessions and other extracurricular activities. The school has also formed an organization for parents that includes Roma parents to give them a say about the school's direction. André and Rafael hope these initiatives will build a model for inclusive education that other schools around the country will be able to use.
"I'm convinced that school in ?ari?ské Micha?any will move in a positive direction and towards inclusive education," André explained, "I think also other schools will realize that some that they have to stop complaining all the time and that they have to do something about their own resources."
And despite the many obstacles, the team believes this school could be the beginning of the road to racial equality.
"I am optimistic, but it will be a long way," Rafael said.