A Shift in Foreign Aid PowerThe U.S. might lose its leading role as a foreign aid donor, allowing the United Arab Emirates to take over. Two weeks after a city in Missouri experienced a terrible tornado that left 161 people dead, the U.A.E. stepped in to see what the city needed.

According to The Seattle Times, “six schools, including the city’s sole high school, had been destroyed in the May 2011 disaster.” Although insurance would cover the new building constructions, damaged and destroyed books still have to be replaced. A staffer from the U.A.E. Embassy called the public school district in an effort to help them, and he wanted to “think big.”

For Joplin High School, thinking big meant a computer for each student.  Each student now has a MacBook, courtesy of the U.A.E. The next step was for the U.A.E. to spend $5 million to build a “neonatal intensive-care unit at Mercy Hospital,” which was badly affected by the tornado.

Such a generous act by the U.A.E. is also serving to better present its international image after a 2006 controversy in Dubai; a firm wanted to take over and manage 6 U.S. ports which caused major congressional opposition.

In regards to Joplin High, the U.A.E responded after the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi saw the tornado’s effects on the city on CNN. Had the embassy not stepped in when it had, the school system would not have been able to open by its promised date, and families would have needed to find other arrangements for their children’s education.

The U.A.E.’s involvement marks a shift in foreign aid power as the Arab world competes with the West in an effort to help those less fortunate in providing aid to poor communities and those who are in need in general.

After the longest time of the U.S. being the major financial contributor to tackle global needs, donations from other nations such as China, India, and oil-rich Gulf countries, are now rising up to the global economic plate. The U.A.E has also provided funds to create durable soccer turfs, ones that can withstand all kinds of weather conditions, in low-income areas of New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Generally speaking, the Gulf countries’ direct involvement with the global philanthropic economy not only plays in their favor of creating a better international image, but it also establishes them as strong international actors that genuinely care about the world’s state of being.

– Leen Abdallah

Source: The Seattle Times
Photo: Anchorage Daily News

Who is Benefiting From Land and Water Grabbing?It is assumed that the already existing gap between developed and developing nations is large and apparent enough that wealthier nations would try and fill this gap and bring these opposite ends closer together. According to an ABC Environmental article, however, wealthy nations are instead competing over ‘land’ and ‘water grabbing’ to appease their growing populations and the “stressed” supply of basic necessities such as food and water. Investors in a foreign land, or better yet, the land-grabbers, are countries and investment firms from biofuel producers to large-scale farming operations (agricultural investors).

Since 2000, the major countries that have contributed to this land purchasing are the U.S., Malaysia, the U.K., China, and the U.A.E. Experts aren’t sure of these investors’ motives but it is clear that they are only focusing on buying land where there is clear access to water.

‘Land grabbing’ is defined by Paolo D’Odorico, a professor at the University of Virginia, as “a deal for about two km2 or more that converts an environmentally important area currently used by local people to commercial production.” According to an environmental study, 454 billion cubic meters sums up the ‘water-grabbing’ per year by corporations on a global scale, which is about 5 percent of the world’s annual water consumption. According to the public database Land Matrix “1,217 deals have taken place, which transferred over 830,000 square kilometers of land” since 2000, with 62 percent of such deals happening in Africa alone.

From 2005 to 2009, during a major food price crisis, land purchases, which fall under a very low level of regulation, skyrocketed. In 2011, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. released guidelines that advise investors to consider the people and communities whose land is being used. However, such guidelines are viewed as humanitarian concerns and have little enforcement, meaning that they aren’t strict enough to have corporations and investors abide by them or even care for them.

Governments who are interested in and have been leasing and selling land to foreign countries and investors are mainly those in Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. They are interested in these sales because they want to modernize their farming and believe this is the way to do it. However, the reality is that the resulting development from such ‘land and water grabbing’ depends on the investors’ terms and conditions, as well as their sense of morality.

The main problem is that the majority of these sales are happening in poor countries in which there are high rates of hunger and where resources valuable to the local populations are being purchased by wealthier developed nations or even by private corporations. The main question of the matter is this: Who is benefiting from land and water grabbing? Are these sales helping the local people since it is their land? Or are these purchases only concerned about foreign benefits and the population concerns of developed nations?

– Leen Abdallah

Source: ABC
Photo: Water Governance

Heroes of AdvocacyEvery wrong in the world has been addressed and corrected through some kind of advocacy, the most prominent kind of which is social advocacy. Well-known leaders throughout time from all over the world have led social movements, revolutions, and non-violent protests all in the face of injustice. Here are some of the most influential social leaders; the heroes of advocacy:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi: Named “Mahatma” by one of India’s best-known writers, Tagore; the title ‘Mahatma’ stood for ‘Great Soul.’ It was in South Africa, while serving as an Indian businessman’s legal adviser, that he became aware of European racism and injustice. While in South Africa, Gandhi found himself “politically awakened” and began to use non-violent strategies to fight injustice. He wrote a book about the Indians’ struggles to claim their rights in South Africa. He returned to India in 1915 and found himself involved in several local struggles involving workers and working conditions. He then went on to initiate the non-cooperation movement, advising Indians to be self-reliant and withdraw from British institutions. In February 1922, when Indian policemen were killed by a crowd, Gandhi was arrested, and the movement was suspended. At his ‘Great Trial,’ where he was tried for sedition, he delivered a powerful indictment of British rule. After his release from prison, he worked hard towards maintaining relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. Gandhi was the most prominent figure in his engagement in the constructive reform of Indian society. Gandhi used “satyagraha,” systems of non-violence, to try and make the oppressor and the oppressed identify with one another as humans. Gandhi recognized that “freedom is only freedom when it is indivisible.”
  2. Nelson Mandela: Born in Transkei, South Africa, Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 and engaged in resistance against the racist apartheid government of the ruling National Party. The African National Congress sought to create democratic political change in South Africa. In 1956, he was tried for treason. It was during his time in prison on Robben Island, from 1964 to 1982, that Mandela’s reputation became more famous. “He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.” Upon his release from prison in 1990, he dedicated himself to achieve the goals that were sought after four decades earlier. In 1991, he was elected President of the African National Congress (ANC). He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work for the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa” – Official Nobel Prize Website
  3. Martin Luther King Jr.: Known for boycotts, demonstrations and civil movements to express civil disobedience, King was the symbol of a nonviolent civil rights revolution. He changed politics. According to The King Center, African Americans achieved “more genuine racial equality” under the leadership of Dr. King with the American Civil Rights Movement than they did before him. King was heavily influenced by his Christian faith and the teachings of Gandhi, both of which guided him to lead nonviolent movements in the 1950s and 60s to achieve African American equality in the United States. Martin Luther King was quoted during his delivery of the “I Have a Dream” speech, saying that African Americans were still not free, that they still lived in poverty and segregation, that they are exiles, and so now they had to “dramatize a shameful condition.” This is precisely what the Borgen Project is doing by fighting global poverty.
  4. César Chávez: The Mexican-American who brought on agricultural reform and whose works led to the creation of the National Farm Workers Association, later named the United Farm Workers. He witnessed the harsh labor conditions that farmers had to endure and the employers’ exploitation of workers: they were unpaid, had poor living conditions in return for their services and had no medical or basic privileges. He organized marches, boycotts and strikes, forcing employers to provide adequate payment/wages to workers and provide them with benefits. Chávez was recognized for his commitment to social justice and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

There are many more social activists or heroes of advocacy who dedicated their lives to social reform and political change by fighting for people’s rights and freedoms. The activists listed above were a few of the most prominent and most influential throughout history.

Today, we’re fighting for a different kind of freedom, although it is not any less important: we’re fighting to end global poverty and free people from the shackles of poverty. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” during his fight for equal rights for colored people in the United States.

With advocacy, we deliver information and vital knowledge to the masses, thereby engaging them and mobilizing them to stand up for an issue and demand justice as the heroes of advocacy did.

– Leen Abdallah

Sources: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela: Biography, Mandela: Nobel Peace Prize, The King Center, I Have a Dream, Nobel Peace Laureates
Photo: Daily Good

Investing in the Future with Universal Pre-KIn his State of the Union address, President Obama called for action on something just as unprecedented as universal healthcare in America – universal preschool.

The White House has released an infographic sharing that at-risk children who do not receive a high-quality early education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, 60 percent more likely to never attend college and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

The investment in preschools, therefore, means investing in the future of American life, according to an administration that has championed demands that every child one day receive an affordable college education, and who has also called for sharp restrictions to be placed on assault weapons as a result of increasingly sensationalized acts of gun violence.

The investment in early education may raise a generation out of poverty, as current reports claim that the United States provides, at the moment, some of the least access to the social mobility of the world’s utmost developed nation. This has proven disheartening to a society that functions on the ideals of the American Dream, which is that anyone can achieve anything if they work hard enough.

Investing in the future is a principle that is both bipartisan and essential to the capitalist identity of America. We can only hope that legislators can overcome their differences to invest in this preventative social program, as has been done in the states of Georgia and Oklahoma.

– Nina Narang

Sources: The Huffington Post, The Washington Post
Photo: Post University

US Troops Removal Affects Aid in AfghanistanLast week President Obama announced that he plans on bringing home 34,000 troops from Afghanistan within the next year. The presence of American troops in Afghanistan over the past 12 years has served more than just a military purpose, but also a humanitarian one as well.

Despite the corruption and backlash from the Taliban, U.S. soldiers have been successful in creating a much safer community for the Afghan population through constant patrolling on both lands and in the air. They have also provided the necessary institutions to provide health care and educate young girls. However, with the removal of most of the remaining troops, certain experts and members of Congress are worried that the $15 billion aid program for development and aid in Afghanistan will have been a wasted effort.

Because of the United States’ current economic standing, continuing to fund civilian-focused programs in Afghanistan is seen as creating a dependency on American assistance. In order to convince Congress and the President to at least gradually remove U.S. troops and continue to provide a small amount of monetary aid, Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that those in support of aid must quickly plan out their selling points and present a case to Congress that shows social and economic improvements in Afghanistan.

The argument against continuing aid is the belief that after all these years, the Karzai government still remains unaccountable and unable to keep corruption out of its administration. Those in support of aid believe that the Afghan people need more time to adapt if they are to begin independently managing their own affairs.

Over concern for the safety of Afghan women and girls from the Taliban, many senators, both Republican and Democrat, have come together to fully support the continuance of civilian assistance.

The main priority for all is to make sure that the billions of dollars that have been put into rebuilding Afghanistan and the American lives lost in doing so will not go wasted. All sides of the issue also understand that aid can no longer be given at the rate it has been for the past decade.

Reaching a middle ground that can guarantee the safety of Afghans but at the same time encourage them to actively build upwards from the foundations already set seems plausible and will hopefully remain an important concern while troops are being removed.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: The New York Times

Singer Susan Boyle Tackles Poverty for LentSusan Boyle, the singer who gained international attention for her appearance on the TV singing competition “Britain’s Got Talent”, is spearheading a charitable drive for Lent that aims at eradicating global poverty. Paralympic gold medalist David Smith, along with Boyle, will participate in the Lent campaign called Wee Box, Big Change, which is supported by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF).

In keeping with Lent traditions, participants are asked to give something up and then donate the funds they would have spent buying something to the charity, who last year raised 830,000 GBP that went towards impoverished people in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi. This year, the money raised through Wee Box, Big Change will benefit communities throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America where SCIAF is active.

Susan Boyle has participated in the campaign for the last three years, and said that she will be giving up “sweets, chocolate, and crisps” for the people throughout the world who “dream of peace, good health and having enough food to eat.”

The charity uses the funds raised through Lent to provide services to poverty-stricken communities by providing “agricultural training, seeds and tools,” said David Smith, after remarking on his visit to Burundi with SCIAF, and said he witnessed the “amazing work” that the campaign and SCIAF does.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Christian Today

High Poverty School Raises $7,000 for Cancer ResearchWilliam Penn Elementary School, an Indianapolis public school, managed to raise a total of $7,309.49 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients campaign to fund cancer research by collecting pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters. The school was able to accomplish this despite having a 92 percent poverty rate.

William Penn Elementary provides students with free lunch and free breakfast. Last year, the high-poverty school raised more money for the Pennies for Patients campaign than any other school that provided free lunch and free breakfast for their students. The school also came in tenth place out of all the schools in Indiana that participated in the fundraiser.

Third-grade teacher Kimberly Flake had organized the fundraising effort at the school. On Friday, an assembly took place to reward the children. One teacher would give an Elvis impersonation. Another teacher would shave his head. Flake said, “We have a caring staff and caring parents. Raising $7,000 at a high-poverty school proves they are caring for people.

Third-grade student Gabriel Salinas at William Penn Elementary states that the money “will be used for medicine for the kids that feel bad with cancer.” The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s goal is to accumulate $650,000 in donations from all the 621 schools in Indiana.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: FAO

National Reconciliation in South SudanOver the past several decades, civil war has left an indelible mark on the country of South Sudan. In a provocative bid to move forward, South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar met with various civil society organizations to discuss a campaign for national reconciliation. Machar made headlines in 2011 with his public apology for his involvement in the Bor Massacre in 1991.

Set to launch in April, Vice President Machar’s campaign titled “A Journey of Healing for National Reconciliation” is modeled after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The campaign will initiate a dialog that can help the country’s factions move past previous atrocities and towards a future of mutual peace and understanding.

Machar is not without his critics though as several civil society organizations questioned both his motives and the timing for the push for national reconciliation in South Sudan. Foremost among those criticisms is Machar’s future ambition of seeking the candidacy for President. These criticisms notwithstanding, South Sudan has allocated funding for the training and deployment of individuals assigned the difficult task of mobilizing and engaging specific communities that will be required for a successful national reconciliation.

As challenging a goal that national reconciliation in South Sudan will be, it is far outweighed by the potential benefits of moving past the long-held grudges of the civil war. Regarding the civil war, Machar remarked that “The war created barriers among our people… The war has created trauma to all of us.”

Brian Turner

Source: Voice of America

$70 Million Proposal for Food Security in UgandaIn an ambitious bid to invest in the roads, rice production, and village infrastructure necessary for future food security in Uganda, Parliament has requested over 70 million dollars from several African, Middle Eastern, and U.S. development banks. This money would go on to fund the Millennium Villages Project and the Masaka-Bukakata road project which will allow for better transportation of goods and supplies further bolstering commerce and economic opportunities.

Broken up into four separate requests which include $44 million from the IDB (Islamic Development Bank), $12 million from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (ABEDA), and $15 million from the OPEC Fund for International Development, the loans were laid out by the Minister for Finance to Parliament on February 12. Prior to moving forward with the loan requests, Members of Parliament expressed their desire for an official report on the performance of the current loans. Furthermore, the performance report must be presented to Parliament by Christmas as a prerequisite for any additional financing towards food security in Uganda.

If passed, these loans have the potential to increase both rice production and transportation and contribute greatly to overall development and food security in Uganda. Financial investments such as these are always good news, and serve as another step forward in the progressive march towards global food security.

– Brian Turner

Source: New Vision
Photo: AllAfrica

CRS Rice Bowl Fights HungerIt’s that time of year again for Catholics all over the world. With Lent starting this past Wednesday, Catholics are prompted to spend the religious season reflecting upon their own lives and giving up a little something to prepare for Easter Sunday. Many people give up the classics: chocolate, television, swearing, etc. Yet, there is a bit more to the season. A big part of the Lenten season isn’t just giving up, it is giving. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has launched this year’s Rice Bowl project, formerly known as Operation Rice Bowl.

The project involves distributing small, cardboard bowl containers to parishes and the parishioners take them home or to the office and continuously give a bit at a time by simply putting their gifts into the box and returning the bowl later. Wary about where this money is headed? Don’t worry, CRS is one of the most transparent organizations around.

The funds are handled responsibly and they are used in a very interesting way. About 25 percent of a person’s gift is used to help the hungry in their own community while the other 75 percent go to CRS humanitarian efforts around the world. With about 23.5 percent of the U.S. population donating to CRS, that could add up to be quite a large collection.

One certainly doesn’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the intentions and effects of all the CRS is doing to help the hungry.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: CRS Rice Bowl, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Catholic News Agency