Human Trafficking in Cambodia
Human trafficking in Cambodia is consistently on the rise. Therefore, the U.S. State Department has classified the nation as a Tier 2 Watch List country for the third year in a row due to its limited efforts to combat trafficking. This ranking means that “the Government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” All of Cambodia’s 25 provinces are sources of human trafficking and exploitation of women, men and children. According to World Vision, “Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children trafficked into sexual exploitation and forced labor.” In 2001, the coalition of 16 organizations, Cambodia against Child Trafficking (Cambodia ACTs), came into existence. Cambodia ACTs serves 22 provinces and municipalities to ensure all Cambodian children live a life free from trafficking, exploitation and abuse.

A Closer Look at Human Trafficking in Cambodia

The Global Slavery Index, a study of the prevalence of modern slavery, ranked Cambodia third out of 167 countries in 2016 in terms of the prevalence of modern slavery in the nation. This is a very poor ranking as the estimated number of people facing modern slavery in Cambodia in 2016 stood at 256,800, which equates to 1.65% of the population.

Why is this? According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, most human trafficking incidents in Cambodia materialize as forced marriages, trafficking for marriages, forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation forced begging and orphanage tourism. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated human trafficking in Cambodia due to the increasing vulnerability of populations as a consequence of rising poverty levels and widespread unemployment.

According to the Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey for 2019/20, at the newly defined national poverty line of $2.70 per person per day, 18% of the population faces poverty. Without enough money to provide for themselves and their families, Cambodians are at increased risk of trafficking lures and often look to child labor to make ends meet. Sometimes families unknowingly send their children to work in environments that are exploitative and unsafe to make extra money. In the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2018, the U.S. State Department deemed Cambodia one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of human trafficking.

How Cambodia ACTs Helps

Cambodia ACTs offer survivors a safe place to share their stories anonymously as it believes silence only aids in the problem of human trafficking. This is why Cambodia ACTs works tirelessly to raise awareness of human trafficking and educate and aid children who are at risk, all while strengthening Cambodian laws to stop human trafficking.

Cambodia ACTs uses a 4P strategy to combat the trafficking of children: prevention, prosecution, provision and promotion. Cambodia ACTs prevent trafficking through education, awareness-raising activities and workshops in the community. The coalition aids in the prosecution of perpetrators and seeks justice for victims. As for provision, Cambodia ACTs provides for survivors by offering essential care, social services and psychological assistance. Lastly, its promotion activities involve working with government agencies to enact policy change.

How to Aid Survivors

The work of Cambodia ACTs has continued to expand since its start in 2001. However, this is only possible due to the generosity of people who wish to see human trafficking come to an end. Through donations and grants, Cambodia ACTs can continue to fight human trafficking. In 2015, using its prevention strategy, Cambodia ACTs gave “awareness training” to 25,000 Cambodian adults and children. In addition to this, Cambodia ACTs created “6,000 posters, 5,000 leaflets, 4,000 stickers and [four] billboards” to help end human trafficking in Cambodia. To help Cambodia ACTs continue its great mission, even ordinary individuals can play a role by donating or using social media to raise awareness.

– Kaley Anderson
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in East Africa
Village Enterprise, an organization that aims to end extreme poverty in rural Africa, published the results of its Development Impact Bond for alleviating poverty in East Africa in November 2021. A development impact bond is a kind of financial security that is made of funds from private investors to finance development in low-income communities. Village Enterprise implemented the program in households across Uganda and Kenya from November 2017 to December 2020. IDinsight, the program evaluator, documented the success of the program.

Poverty in East Africa

Extreme poverty is prevalent in East African countries, with about 44.2% of citizens living on less than $1.90 per day in March 2021. About 41% of the population of Uganda in 2016 and 37% of Kenyans in 2015 lived below the international poverty line.

Countries in East Africa experience extreme poverty because of consistent droughts, conflicts and unstable economies. Data shows connections in these regions between poverty and a significant lack of clean water services, access to quality education, transportation, housing and energy.

Details of the Development Impact Bond

In Uganda and Kenya, the Development Impact Bond provided aid to 241 villages and gave no aid to 241 control villages in order to measure and compare the effects of the aid on household consumption and amount of assets. Consumption included purchases relating to food, transportation, social activities and other everyday spending and assets included household savings, livestock and business supplies.

Village Enterprise provided two phases of cash transfers and regular entrepreneurial training throughout the duration of the program. The program provided two grants to 13,839 households. The program focused on business skills and cash transfers as a combination of both has shown to be more effective at helping people raise enough money to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

The results of the study considered various characteristics within each household. Some households started with more baseline wealth than others, about 30% of households had a woman head of household, about 47% of households reported at least one member with a disability and each household also reported their respective business types.

The study also aimed to provide results to aid and encourage similar organizations in designing and implementing future programs to alleviate extreme poverty.

Results of the Development Impact Bond

Results of the Development Impact Bond reported an increase in both the consumption and asset categories across households, with a 6.3% increase compared to the control group in consumption per household and a 5.8% increase in net assets per household. The program exceeded its goals, with a 140% benefit-cost ratio. The Impact Bond initially invested $5.32 million into the program and reports predict that the lasting effects of the program will generate quadruple this amount.

Although the program provided two different amounts of cash transfers to households, there was a similar increase in all household consumption regardless of the transfer amount. Households that received larger cash transfers reported more assets than households that received smaller cash transfers. Households headed by women started out with less baseline wealth than households headed by men but reported a similar percentage of improvement in both consumption and assets. There was no significant difference in the effects in households that had at least one member with a disability.

When comparing business types across households, households that ran crop businesses consumed less on average and households that had businesses that fell under multiple identifying categories consumed more. Households with livestock businesses and multiple-category businesses reported higher asset gains than other business types. Businesses that started with higher success levels reported an average higher in both consumption and asset wealth.

Overall, results from the Village Enterprise Development Impact Bond show significant improvements in the livelihoods of extremely impoverished households across Uganda and Kenya. Recipients all reported positive improvements in consumption and assets and provided data that organizations can use to build and improve similar programs in the future.

Success in Numbers (2017 to 2021):

  • About 4,766 businesses emerged.
  • About 14,100 beginner entrepreneurs received training with women accounting for 75%.
  • Exactly 481 business savings groups began.
  • There was a 6% average increase in household consumption and assets.
  • Estimates determined there was a $21 million “increase in lifelong household income.”
  • About 95,000 people benefited from the program.

It is clear that Village Enterprise has seen substantial success in alleviating poverty in East Africa. Through its efforts, people have been able to start businesses and improve their incomes, subsequently impacting their overall lives.

– Melissa Hood
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in Thailand
In 1916, Thai monarch King Vajiravudh established the first formal university in the nation. Named Chulalongkorn University after the king’s father, the institution’s founding, along with the royal family’s surrounding emphasis on higher education in Thailand, represented the high value that the Thai monarchy has historically placed on higher education.

Overview of the Higher Education System

Throughout the next century, higher education in Thailand expanded, and as of 2016, the country had 170 institutions of higher education in the form of universities. Admittance to universities largely hinges upon a standardized entrance exam that Thailand has used since 1962.

Unfortunately, the widespread use of this “meritocratic system” of the entrance to universities “favors those of higher socioeconomic background from the best secondary schools” over students from more rural and impoverished backgrounds as rural students are not as likely to take or pass the exam.

Just as unfortunate, in recent decades, enrollment in Thai universities has declined as the demand for university education has dropped off due to reasons “such as the decline of the Thai birth rate and international competition.” Decreased enrollment is now a critical issue that higher education in Thailand faces. For example, in 2015, the number of students who participated in entrance exams stood at around 105,000 while the entrance system had the capacity to annually admit 156,000 students.

Why Does This Matter?

On the surface, this may not seem like a pressing problem. After all, what is the harm in having a scholarly surplus? Unfortunately, the declining enrollment is an indication of something far more serious: the rapid aging of the Thai population.

In the year 1970, the Thai government introduced the National Family Planning Program, which, combined with the rising education levels in Thailand, caused a decrease in fertility rates. By 2014, Thailand’s declining fertility rate was falling the fastest out of all the world’s developing nations.

The number of college-age citizens is decreasing and will continue to do so. According to the World Bank Group, “By 2040, it is projected that 17 million Thais will be 65 years or older – more than a quarter of the population.”

The consequences? Higher education in Thailand is now at risk. Universities might have to start downsizing programs or even close their doors permanently. Additionally, this is the last thing that Thai education needs as the nation is struggling to improve the quality of its colleges. Thailand does not have any highly ranked universities in the international world of higher education and this may be causing the best and brightest students to seek their diplomas elsewhere.

Taking Action

There is a concern that Thailand will not be able to cope with its changing labor market. Recent economic trends show that Thailand is in need of workers with technical or vocational training, and in light of the aging population, this is not something that Thailand can ignore.

Fortunately, efforts are underway to reallocate resources, ensuring that the nation prioritizes the most practical programs. Some universities are becoming vocational training institutes and others are simply putting a larger emphasis on technical education.

In September 2021, the Association of Private Higher Education Institutions of Thailand (APHEIT) and Oracle Thailand partnered to increase access to computer science training for students in Thailand. The initiative will involve 39 universities from APHEIT and will help students “succeed in the new digital era” through hands-on practical training. These skills will open up more job opportunities relevant to today.

Higher education in Thailand has a unique challenge ahead of it, but fortunately, there are always innovative ways to increase the future efficiency of a workforce and the education system provides an opportune starting point.

– Mia Sharpe
Photo: Flickr

Power Crisis in Puerto Rico 
Puerto Rico is facing a power crisis as regular power outages put a pause on the island’s regular schedule, forcing many Puerto Ricans to throw away their groceries and stay at home in shelter from the unwavering heat. Hurricane Maria heavily damaged the electric grid system in 2017, leaving the public power company with $9 billion in debt. According to AP News, power authority workers stated that they patched up the electric grid with whatever material they could during the hurricane as they did not have enough funds or materials to completely repair the electrical grid. The Puerto Rican government announced the privatization of the power company in June 2020, selecting Luma Energy to care for the electric grid for the next 15 years.

Blackouts in Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans claim the new power company has failed to meet the standards it promised the citizens. Puerto Ricans claim constant power outages plague their daily routine as several explosions in the electric grid have caused major blackouts in the recent months. The Center for New Economy, a Puerto Rican-based thinktank, has said that the blackouts will continue as a regular occurrence until the electric grid receives full repairs which could potentially cost $10 billion for the local government. The CNE also stated that most of the irregularities within the electric crisis in Puerto Rico have been due to miscommunication between the government and Luma Energy.

A recent outage on the island that lasted five days led to more than a million citizens being left without electricity on the island. Around 160,000 did not have water due to buildings needing the power to push the cistern to the upper floors. Hospitals around the island ended up without power leaving many patients who rely on electricity waiting.

The power crisis in Puerto Rico has been an ongoing constant on the island since Hurricane Maria, no viable solution has yet emerged for the island to recuperate its electric grid system. Puerto Ricans have become used to living in the dark as of 2022.

Green Initiative

The Casa Pueblo Foundation is a community-based organization that focuses on developing sustainable management for communities in Puerto Rico by beginning to build a solar power grid system to bring sustainable energy to the pueblo of Adjuntas. Approximately 1,000 solar panels underwent installation in December 2020 in 18 businesses and buildings around the town. The panels include a 220 kW capacity and a 1 MW storage capacity. The Honnold Foundation is an organization that promotes solar energy for a more equitable world. This Foundation and the Community Solar Energy Association of Adjuntas supported the project to help finance the installation for low-income community members as the organization projected a 30% decrease in the communities power bill for the incoming year.

Maximo Solar, a Puerto Rican-based company that looked to staff the installation process with members of the Adjuntas community, produced the solar grids. The initial profits of the project will go towards the operation of the microgrid, repairs and maintenance while the remaining profits will go back into the community.

– Nuria Diaz
Photo: Picryl

Zubale's Economic Aid
E-commerce is a growing market worldwide and Latin America is no exception. Zubale, a company working in the e-commerce trade, connects workers, part- or full-time employees, with contractors and companies desperate for work. In its first major round of funding, a Series A round, Zubale earned $40 million in its first round of receiving significant venture capital. Zubale’s economic aid should expand operations throughout Latin America, beyond the boundaries of Mexico, where it started.

Zubale’s Foundation

The founders of Zubale, Allison Campbell and Sebastian Monroy created the company and began operations specifically in Mexico to serve as a testing ground and to allow people to find work and seek reliable income for those who have flexible schedules with the assistance of a smartphone. When the company first started, it connected workers with employers and the connected workers could earn rewards from certain corporations. Zubale, in its earliest days, worked out a system of credit that helped in the short-term for its contractors and part-time employees. However, as the company has grown, the workers who use Zubale’s app now earn reliable money.

Zubale’s economic aid in the very first stages of the company’s development was minimal. As the connected workers only earned digital rewards, the economic aid was less than desirable in Mexico. Initially, the company opened its business to the public with only 10 full-time employees. Now, it has quadrupled in the size of its full-time base of workers who work in Zubale’s headquarters. Furthermore, Zubale has countless part-time workers both in-office and find work for themselves through their phones. Campbell and Monroy founded the company in Mexico and have met with great success. They now expect to expand operations into Chile and Brazil, Grit Daily reports.

Impact in Mexico

When measuring their number of workers using the term “gig-workers,” whether full or part-time, Zubale has tens of thousands of workers who use the company’s app to find fieldwork. Campbell and Monroy learned that the Latin American retail and e-commerce markets generate $2 trillion. However, companies spend about $40 billion funding unreliable work and tasks. Zubale’s economic aid in Mexico saves companies money by finding them reliable, flexible work to fulfill the unfinished duties efficiently and effectively.

Mexico’s poverty rate is 43.9%, which means that numerous individuals can benefit from the work Zubale connects them to. Zubale’s setup helps the app’s workers set up checking and saving bank accounts and credit cards with major corporations that work and garner trust internationally. The impact Zubale can have in Mexico is even more impressive considering that more than half of the population does not have a secure bank account. Credit card ownership dropped from 15% to 9% from 2014 to 2017. The number of credit cards in Mexico has already increased by two million, with more than 28 million credit cards in circulation.

Zubale’s economic aid has gained a reputation and investors were eager to jump on board and get the work of Zubale to other Latin American nations. QED Investors was one of Zubale’s investors, and Lauren Morton, a partner at QED Investors, said, “We were immediately impressed by the vision and execution of the Zubale team. Their approach to growing opportunities for independent workers in the region is a major step forward in financial inclusion and we’re inspired by the ways to grow this impact over time.”

What Can Zubale Do for Latin America?

Zubale’s economic aid can mirror the impact it has had in Mexico. The company can lower the poverty rates and increase the number of people who have credit cards or secure checking or savings accounts with respected banking institutions. Zubale intends to start by expanding in Brazil and Chile. Sebastien Monroy moved to Brazil to begin Zubale’s operations slowly and implement the company into the local economy, with positive receptions.

Respectively, Brazil’s poverty rate, the last figure is from 2019, was 19.6% and Chile’s poverty rate, from 2020, was 10.8%. Some 30% of Chileans own a credit card and 27% of Brazilians own at least one credit card. Almost 70% of Chile’s adult population has a bank account with a secure and reputable bank, with Brazilians matching Chile’s rate of bank account ownership.

As long as Zubale promises the same assistance with setting up credit cards or bank accounts, the opportunities for economic advancements are significant. Setting up a credit card for someone allows the person to build a credit score and financial history, making them eligible for more economic advances. Credit scores and credit histories are building grounds for trustworthiness and international acceptance. Credit scores also have benefits outside of the individual impacts.

It is a bit of a domino effect because individuals with higher credit ratings are more likely to invest in stock. Areas with more citizens who have higher credit ratings overall are more likely to open more investment opportunities, creating a circle of prosperity, not poverty. With Zubale’s economic aid, this change in cyclical economics is becoming a greater possibility for all the countries in which they operate.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Housing Crisis in Puerto Rico 
The housing crisis in Puerto Rico worsens with the increase of natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes that have destroyed housing around the island. According to the United States Interagency Council on homelessness, 2,451 Puerto Ricans have faced homelessness on the island since January 2021. The U.S. Department of Education reported that around 4,717 students met chronic homelessness in the 2018-19 academic year, with 439 students completely unsheltered. The Puerto Rican housing market has faced a prolonged crisis since the 2006 economic crisis that depreciated values within the market; the island lost around 45,880 households due to increased migration to the mainland. The housing crisis in Puerto Rico led to an increase in bank repossessions, leaving 45%-55% of houses abandoned according to the American Bar Association.

The Hurricane

Hurricane Maria struck the island on October 2, 2017, significantly damaging causing around 250,000 houses. It completely destroyed 70,000 of those homes. At the time, now-ousted Governor Ricardo Rossello stated that Puerto Rico would allocate around $31 billion in funds to recover most of the properties.

Many of the properties that the hurricane destroyed were illegally erected buildings that violate building codes around the ocean side. That is because some of these houses are located in flooding zones and unstable hillsides, which prevent them from being rebuilt.

Five Years Later

Five years after Hurricane Maria struck the island, the housing crisis in Puerto Rico has barely seen improvement.  Tax breaks have attracted investors from the mainland. This has spurred skyrocketing housing costs around the island.  In turn, those rising housing prices have led to unaffordable housing for Puerto Rican citizens. This has also displaced many Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans around the island are troubled by the growing gentrification around the island as they fear permanent displacement. The growing sense of unease has increased tension around the island.

A Nonprofit Against Homelessness

Nonprofit organization Casa del Peregrino helps identify and assist the homeless population in Puerto Rico while operating with the goal of improving the quality of life and health on the island. Founded in 1997 after the local university surveyed that 67% of the population in Aguadilla were homeless, the organization began to distribute used clothing, meals and personal hygiene items. In recent years, the organization has expanded its services to include rehabilitation programs with drug and alcohol specialists and an emergency shelter with 20 sleeping spaces.

As the housing crisis continues to develop, the organization struggles to expand its outreach through the 78 towns that compose the island; currently, only 15% of the clients have been able to fully rehabilitate through its rehabilitation center. The organization’s lack of government funding or support portrays an overarching problem with homelessness left to grow without any governmental measure to meet ensure citizens’ needs.

The island continues to face many challenges that increase homelessness within the population while organizations similar to Casa del Peregrino stand to provide the necessary resources for the island’s citizens until they await a solution from the government.

– Nuria Munoz
Photo: Flickr

Agent Orange Affect Southeast Asia
During the Cold War, the policy of containment dominated U.S. foreign policy. The policy of containment is the concept that one can most effectively combat communism by fighting it whenever and wherever it appears. Vietnam came into the crosshairs of the U.S. because the U.S. feared the Soviet influence that was taking hold of the country. Evidently, this policy barely distinguished between neutrality and open hostility and led to the use of agent orange and the U.S. bombings of officially neutral Cambodia and Laos.

Cold War Bombs in Southeast Asia

From 1961 to 1975, beginning with the secret war in Laos and closing with the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. dropped 2.7 million tons of ordnance, including 26 million cluster bomblets in Cambodia. The U.S. dropped more than 2.1 million tons of ordnance on Laos and 8 million tons of ordnance in Vietnam.

As of 2021, injuries and fatalities because of the campaigns number nearly 64,931 people in Cambodia, 25,000 people in Laos and more than 100,000 people in Vietnam. The crisis at hand is that the legacy of these wars is still severely impacting people living in Southeast Asia. A notable amount of bombs did not detonate on impact, UXOs (Unexploded Ordnances), and these UXOs are still taking lives in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam today. The estimated percentage of ordnance that did not explode that remain are respectively 25% for Cambodia, 33% for Laos and 10% for Vietnam.

Agent Orange in Southeast Asia

Agent Orange was a mixture of herbicides created to eliminate vegetation that the U.S. military sprayed in Vietnam and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a trail that spills over into Cambodia and Laos, with the intent of killing vegetation that guerilla fighters were using for cover. By the end of the Vietnam war, the U.S. had sprayed more than 11 million gallons of Agent Orange on Vietnam, with spray drifting into Cambodia and Laos.

The agent resulted in generations of birth defects and chronic health issues including cancer, heart disease, shortened or missing limbs and developmental disabilities that affect both those who had exposure to Agent Orange and their descendants. The damage from the usage of Agent Orange is extensive, for it still deteriorates the health of hundreds of thousands of people and their children in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and the U.S. in the case of veterans who served.

Ameliorating this situation has an added difficulty, the State Department has a split stance. The VA publicly concedes that Agent Orange spray did drift into Cambodia and Laos. Upon being asked about dioxin [Agent Orange], a State Department spokesperson responded that “The legacy of dioxin is a complex issue; and one that the U.S. and Vietnamese governments have collaborated on since 2000,” exclusively referring to Vietnam when Laos and Cambodia have also experienced the effect of how U.S. usage of Agent Orange complicates global efforts to right the wrongs.

UXO Removal: Cambodia and Laos

One State Department partner making a difference in Cambodia and Laos is the HALO Trust, a notable humanitarian landmine and UXO removal organization. Thanks in part to the advocacy efforts of the HALO Trust, there was an increase in Congressional funding for demining efforts in Vietnam and the region, $7 million for Vietnam and $25 million for the region. The combined efforts of the HALO Trust and their local community partners led to the remarkable achievement of dismantling over 575,000 landmines and UXOs in Cambodia and Laos.

Fighting Agent Orange: Vietnam

Dr. Charles R. Bailey, head of the Ford Foundation and agricultural economist, funded a study that led to a monumental breakthrough in fighting Agent Orange. Until this study, there was widespread fear and uncertainty pertaining to how to deal with Agent Orange. However, this study led to the discovery that dioxin [Agent Orange] was no longer a danger in the general landscape of Vietnam, rather it was concentrated only in a few hotspots. This discovery is what made it possible to clean up Agent Orange contaminations so the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia can finally begin to heal from this wretched legacy of war.

Additionally, this discovery got the legacy of the Cold War in Southeast Asia into American policy circles, executive and Congressional. As Dr. Bailey recalled his time in Vietnam in the late 1990s, he found U.S. diplomats in the embassy were under the direction of the State Department to not even utter the words “Agent Orange.”

The nature of the debate has surpassed this point in the past 20 years, hence the bipartisan support that has come to the floor for funding UXO removals and Agent Orange clean-ups. As of 2022, the U.S. government has spent $400 million to address environmental cleanup and health effects of Agent Orange with the money going towards clean up and persons with disabilities in Vietnam since 1991. This development presents a promising shift in U.S. foreign policy, taking greater responsibility for the legacy of its war in Vietnam. A hopeful start towards extending not only UXO removals to Laos and Cambodia, but also a recognition of the need to fight Agent Orange in the countries as well.

Chester Lankford
Photo: Flickr

Literacy Rates
Literacy is fundamental when investing in the future and working toward greater health, economic prosperity and gender equality and is a fair indicator of a nation’s relationship with education. Former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova summarized this perfectly when she said “the future starts with the alphabet.” As a proven pathway out of poverty, education leads to higher literacy rates, which can ease economic burdens in developing nations.

Global Literacy Rates

According to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), in 2016, the global literacy rate stood at 86% for individuals 15 and older in comparison to 91% for youth aged 15-24. These high percentages are indicative of increased access to basic education. Across the past 65 years, “the global literacy rate increased by 4% every five years from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015.”

However, there is a large disparity among developing countries, specifically those in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, in 2019, Niger’s youth illiteracy rate for ages 15-24 stood at 60.3%, which is a constraint for economic and social development in the nation.

From an economic perspective, any effort toward increased literacy marks a returned investment in the nation’s growth. High illiteracy rates place a financial burden on nations. The World Literacy Foundation found in 2018 that the economic cost of illiteracy in the U.S. alone is more than $300 billion, and in terms of the global economy, illiteracy costs the world $1.2 trillion.

Literacy for Poverty Reduction

Established research highlights the correlation between high literacy rates and a high GDP. Friedrich Huebler, the head of the Education Standards and Methodology Section of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, conducted a study in 2005 where he plotted the school net enrollment ratios (NER) against GDP per capita of 120 different countries. His findings showed that “the higher the income levels of a country, the higher the levels of school enrollment.”

When it comes to cost per student in regard to literacy rates, there is a stark global trend: “In high-income countries, for instance, households shoulder a larger share of education expenditures at higher education levels than at lower levels – but in low-income countries, this is not the case.” The amount a household spends on education directly correlates to higher education rates. Because of this, low-income countries are falling behind in education levels because of the low private spending on education in comparison to their higher-income counterparts.

Books For Africa Works to Increase Literacy Rates

Books For Africa is working to “end the book famine in Africa” by collecting and distributing books, tablets and computers across the African continent. Tom Warth founded BfA in 1988 when he visited a Ugandan library with an extreme scarcity of books. He went back to the U.S. and spoke with “publishers, booksellers and librarians” at the Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable, prompting the start of the organization.

Through a simple idea, Books For Africa has made a profound impact on the access to knowledge in Africa. According to its website, “last year alone, Books For Africa shipped 3.1 million books, and 224 computers and e-readers containing more than 885,000 digital books to 28 African countries.”

The organization’s methodology has been proven to increase education and literacy rates. According to USAID’s research, “children and youth who learn to read are healthier, more self-sufficient, can earn a better living and have more opportunities to become productive members of their societies.” Not only does the increased access to books promote literacy but it also contributes to the development of children and communities at large.

Room to Read

Room to Read is an international nonprofit that is fighting specifically for increased access to girls’ education alongside children’s literacy. This mission is important as more than two-thirds of the 796 million illiterate people in the world are women.

John Wood founded the nonprofit in 1998 when he visited a school in Nepal with 450 students and very few resources. Wood began with 3,000 book donations from family and friends. Wood soon left his job at Microsoft as director of business development to pursue his passion for education with co-founders Erin Ganju and Dinesh Shrestha.

Since its founding, the nonprofit has reached more than 32 million children across 15 developing nations. About 20 million children have enrolled in Room to Read’s literacy initiative and the organization has provided training to more than “200,000 teachers and librarians.” Specifically, in the arena of girls’ education, 2.8 million girls have enrolled in the organization’s girls’ education program.

Room to Read prioritizes working directly with “local governments, schools, communities and families” to highlight the importance of education “and how [these groups] can play a role in enabling students to achieve their full potential.” Additionally, 87% of the organization’s staff work in their countries of origin, ensuring that the efforts are more grassroots and built from the community.

High literacy rates are paramount for economic development, and with a continued commitment to further this at the grassroots level and beyond, global poverty rates can reduce.

– Imaan Chaudhry
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Renewable Energy in Greece
Greece has significant potential when it comes to sustainable energy, with plenty of wind, water and sun to go around. The Greek government is implementing creative solutions to rapidly propel the advancement of renewable energy in Greece.

Green Energy in Greece

For years, Greece has lagged behind other European countries in terms of renewable energy, sticking with coal as a primary source of power. While other nations installed wind and solar farms, Greece’s primary energy producer, the Public Power Corporation (PPC) insisted on burning coal for decades, causing carbon emissions to skyrocket past what they otherwise could have been. Fortunately, in the past few years, Greece and the PPC are taking steps toward renewable energy.

Overcoming Socioeconomic Obstacles

When switching to renewable energy, many nations struggle to balance the tightrope that is the free market, as dramatic sanctions on companies can have very serious economic consequences that personally affect citizens. Generally speaking, the people of Greece have supported the switch to renewable energy, but the issue is not without nuance. There is often a battle between what is affordable and what is environmentally friendly and the stakes are high for low-income families who cannot afford a higher cost of living.

As such, there are obstacles to the implementation of renewable energy in Greece. The coal industry is an enormous employer and shutting down coal energy means thousands of job losses and bankrupt businesses. Residents of the Mesohora village opposed the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the area as the dam would inevitably cause the area to flood, requiring residents to move elsewhere.

Combating Aftereffects

These foreseeable issues are not impossible to overcome and Greece is prepared to deal with them in creative ways that ensure the best outcomes for the citizens, the economy and the climate, giving hope to other nations struggling to strike a similar balance.

Perhaps the best example of this is the auction program that the European Union approved in November 2021. Greece is allotting roughly €2.27 billion to offer as incentives to help renewable energy producers. This idea is not new and often faces criticism because of the way it disrupts market competition.

However, this program solves that issue by awarding money through an auction system. Companies must compete against each other to receive this subsidy and receive judgment based on how efficient and affordable their results are. Therefore, the only companies that receive aid will be the companies that present the best and most well-balanced ideas regarding renewable energy.

At the beginning of the partnerships, the winning companies receive a set “reference price” that is a rough reflection of what the country can afford to pay. If the newly selected companies can keep their costs below that reference price, the government will pay them the difference. If their prices rise above the reference price, the company must compensate the government with the difference between prices.

This way, the government always pays the same price for renewable energy, but the companies have the motivation to keep costs as low as possible, while simultaneously having a stable market to work with.

Additionally, the Greek government has introduced subsidies for low-income families that allow them to receive free electricity from solar power plants. It is also investing money toward minimizing the effects that energy switching will have on citizens’ livelihoods.

Current Energy Situation

The transition to renewable energy in Greece is seeing success. In early April 2022, Greece opened the “largest double-sided solar farm” in all of Europe.

Interestingly, the farm construction stems from the company Hellenic Petroleum, the largest oil refinery corporation in the country, now headed for greener pastures. The solar farm will provide power to about 75,000 households, representing a significant move toward renewable energy.

For years, the PPC was adamant about using coal, but this is no longer the case. The PPC is well on its way toward clean energy. Important to note is the fact that fossil fuels are unequal — different fuels produce different amounts of carbon dioxide. For every megajoule of energy produced, high-caliber coal generates roughly 2.6 times more carbon dioxide than natural gas generates.

Low-quality coal, such as the lignite coal Greece uses, produces at least four times more carbon dioxide than natural gas does. Even though switching from one fossil fuel to another may not sound like an exceptional solution, for Greece, it could significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Therefore, the PPC is using gas as a stepping stone on its path to neutralizing emissions — the corporation plans to primarily use gas by 2025 and completely eliminate its use of coal by 2028.

Looking Ahead

Greece met its 2020 goal of renewable energy use with renewables accounting for around 22% of its total energy use. According to the country’s National Energy and Climate Plan, the nation expects to generate 61% of its energy through renewable sources by 2030. By 2050, Europe has a plan to be carbon-neutral with net-zero emissions. Renewable energy in Greece is certainly on its way to success. Despite the seemingly insurmountable economic challenges that are commonly tangled up in the renewable energy issue, the message is clear: it is possible to implement renewable energy so that everyone can have access to it.

– Mia Sharpe
Photo: Piqsels

Poverty in France
After a two-week campaign against Marine Le Pen, the French people re-elected Emmanuel Macron as their president on April 24, 2022, for another five-year mandate. The man who many often call the “president of the rich” has to deal with a country that is experiencing more and more inequalities today. After a first mandate in which Macron had to deal with the yellow vests or “Gilets Jaunes” movements requesting economic and social justice, France experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Poverty in France has become central to its people, whose main concern is their purchasing power amidst rising inflation. In fact, France’s inflation rate was 4.5% in March 2022.

Poverty in France

Although many know France for how it funds education, health care services and retirement pensions, the pandemic has had an impact on the French people. COVID hit parttime workers and workers in the informal economy especially hard. Additionally, many students were ineligible for state support during the pandemic, and many migrants and clandestine workers were only able to obtain support from NGOs.

The Fight Against Poverty in France Over the Last Five Years

In order to answer the needs and requests of the French people, the French government took different measures to adapt to each crisis the country was going through. Back in 2018, Macron first began with a $9.3 billion plan to fight the poverty in which nine million people in France are living.

Macron’s philosophy has always been to allow people to get out of poverty through work. Hence, Macron’s government decreased income tax and distributed a €100 bonus to low-income workers. The government adopted the “no matter the cost policy” to support businesses that the pandemic affected, thus protecting as many jobs as possible starting with the medical professionals who benefited from a €9 billion salary increase.

What About the Next Five Years?

Despite the fact that the populist class voted for Marine Le Pen, Macron has plans to continue his fight against poverty in France. The first measure Macron promised upon re-election was to provide “food cheques” to the people who cannot afford high-quality, local food.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine and the rise in prices of gas, Macron authorized subsidies for energy bills. However, the main measure of his program is to provide work and employment for people so they can get out of poverty. For that to happen, Macron is encouraging employers to recruit employees by adopting “pro-businesses reforms.”

After efforts to alleviate poverty over the last five years, the country is more in need of more reforms to fight poverty. The recently re-elected president has already started to implement some reforms and has work to do to please the important part of France’s population that is against his policies and is seeing its purchasing power diminish every day.

– Youssef Yazbek
Photo: Flickr