Imagine living in a slum. There is little food to split between you and your family and you are a minority in your age group because you have regularly attended school before. This was exactly the situation that teenager Phiona Mutesi found herself in when she started learning chess.

The slum where Phiona lives is called Katwe, and it is located right in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, where veteran and refugee Robert Katende began a chess program for children, giving them food in return for completing a lesson. Of his program, Katende has said that he had started it hoping to teach analytic and problem-solving skills that the children could apply to succeed in their own lives.

This was the program that would come to change Phiona’s life and turn her into “The Queen of Katwe”.

“I was living a hard life, where I was sleeping on the streets, and you couldn’t have anything to eat in the streets. So that’s when I decided for my brother to get a cup of porridge,” Mutesi told CNN.

Although she was unfamiliar with the game, as is most of Uganda, Phiona worked hard, practicing every day for a year. Eventually, she began to win against older children and compete for titles. Since those early days, Phiona has represented her country in several international chess competitions in countries such as Sudan, Siberia, and Istanbul.

Although life for her is still hard – she still lives in the Katwe slum with her family – winning competitions and working hard to one day become a Grandmaster keeps her hopeful. A grant that she has received through her competing has even allowed her to go back to school and develop her reading and writing skills.

While Phiona’s story of success has yet to win her the chess title of Grandmaster, she has gained another, unofficial reputation as the ultimate underdog. She is an underdog on the global chess stage both because she comes from Africa, a continent where chess is culturally absent in most countries, and because she is from Uganda specifically, a nation that is one of the poorest on the continent. The fact that she is from Katwe, a slum, is a strike against her even to other Ugandans. However, despite these odds, she has achieved enormous success given her circumstances.

Phiona Mutesi’s inspiring story was written into a book called “The Queen of Katwe,” by Tim Crothers, and was published in October of 2012. Since then, Disney has bought the rights to the story and has started making a movie to chronicle Phiona’s journey to the international chess stage. The Queen of Katwe remains steadfast in attaining her dream of becoming a Grandmaster and is an inspiration to us all.

– Nina Narang

Source: CNN

USAID Claims Further Transparency and Accountability

Financial foreign assistance is one of the most powerful ways that developed nations can help lower-income countries fight their way through poverty. It also provides the most immediate results, given that aid investment is effectively distributed both to short-term direct programs as well as long-term indirect programs. Many in aid-giving communities, including the United States, criticize foreign aid spending because they believe it a wasteful investment, used to line administrator’s pockets or be lackadaisically distributed to corrupt governments.

Futuregov estimates that annually, around $150b is contributed globally to aid and assist socio-economic and social development.

Given the global community’s demands for greater accountability and transparency in funding, the AidData Centre for Development Policy organization was established.  The organization is “a joint venture between the College of William & Mary, Development Gateway, Brigham Young University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Esri.” AidData will be funded $25 million over five years in its conjoined efforts with the United States Agency for International Development.

The program will combine the work of experts in a menagerie of different fields to track and make public the effects of specific foreign aid projects. The purpose of the program assessments is also self-reflective, as programs become more stringently criticized. The aim is to have less money spent will have efficiently maximized impacts.

Nina Narang

Source: futureGOV
Photo: BIPPS

Women UNICEF 2_opt
140 million women across the globe have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting, otherwise known as female circumcision. The age-old practice could involve removing the clitoral hood, clitoridectomy, or the removal of the inner labia or outer labia, ensuring pre-marital virginity as well as preventing extra-marital sex. February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, an observance that raises awareness of the harmful effects of this practice.

This year marks the 10th commemoration of the declaration of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting since the first conference was held in Addis Ababa in 2003. In 2000, USAID officially introduced the eradication of FGM to its development agenda. Significant development has occurred since, but there is much more to be accomplished.

USAID acknowledges the incredible progress that has been achieved thus far. In 2004, UNICEF presented an important publication, “Changing A Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting,” providing extensive facts and information on the practice while promoting change.  In 2008, UNFPA and UNICEF joined hands to create “Accelerating Change”, a program that strives to fund and implement official policies to affect change. Last year, the UN General Assembly called for states to denounce harmful practices against women and girls, specifically FGM.

Despite the progress made, every year 3 million girls remain at risk of this cruel procedure. The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation serves to remind us to work towards ending this cruelty that had been disguised as the norm in many societies.

Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana

Source: USAID

Photo: eLearning Africa

Canada Pledges $13 Million to Mali for Humanitarian EffortsIt seems that global media has been bouncing back and forth between reports on Mali and Syria. Both countries have been submerged in the mountainous political upheaval that many of us living here in the United States and other peaceful countries are not able to comprehend, due to no fault of ours. One way in which observers of these revolutions (yes these are revolutions and not merely protests or civil strife as the media chooses to call them) can help make a difference is by choosing on what issues to focus both their money and attention on. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the first step towards the right direction earlier this week at a global donor meeting in Ethiopia. Canada has made humanitarian efforts.

According to the Canadian media, Canada’s $13 million aid to Mali for humanitarian purposes stood out among the millions of dollars pledged by other countries specifically for combat resources and other military costs for AFISMA (the African coalition of about 20 countries and 3500 troops fighting against the Islamists in Mali).

However, the BBC notes that donations from other countries, such as the United States, Germany, and China, are also directed towards “Afisma, humanitarian assistance, logistics, improving security and the future development of Mali”.

Nevertheless, the Canadian government withstood arguments made on behalf of the African Union to put more money and troops into AFISMA’s military campaign. Prime Minister Harper made it clear that Canada will no longer be sending troops but instead “will continue its lifesaving work in Mali through humanitarian and development assistance”.

When political unrest creates such horrid living conditions in a country at war, it is understandable how concerned countries may be caught in the middle of choosing between military or humanitarian assistance. However, it can be viewed as a cycle, where choosing which end to start with makes the difference. By becoming involved at the ground level in the villages, schools, and health centers, outside aid can create stability, survival, and small patches of peace, which will hopefully create an internal domino effect. These acts may not remove the Islamist forces from the north in Mali, but they surely create a more constructive path with fewer deaths instead of instigating fighting with tank and arms donations.

As governments make decisions on where to funnel their money, the people of Mali will be patiently waiting. For them, other than becoming refugees, there is not much they can do against hunger and weapons. While keeping in mind the importance of political stability and the different ways to achieve it, the African Union and future global-donor meetings will hopefully not call for special meetings focused on collecting only a certain kind of assistance, especially when that assistance is not for the basic survival needs of the people of Mali.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: CTV,BBC
Photo: CTV

Climbing For Hemophilia AwarenessHemophilia is a life-threatening and frequently disabling condition that cannot be cured. However, with correct treatment, hemophiliacs can live a normal life. Hemophilia is a serious threat in the majority of developing countries where patients lack access to proper treatment.

Chris Bombardier, a 27-year-old hemophiliac, is attempting to climb Mt. Aconcagua as a part of his Seven Summit Challenge to raise awareness of hemophilia. Bombardier was the first American hemophiliac to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro in June 2011. The remaining 6 summits include Mt. Aconcagua, Mt. Denali, Carstensz Pyramid, Mt. Elbrus, Vinson Massif and Mt. Everest. He is currently climbing Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, which is approximately 22,847 miles high. He started the climb on Tuesday, January 29th with 2 guides and 8 other climbers.

Bombardier is a board member of Save One Life, an international non-profit that aids impoverished hemophiliacs in developing countries. All money that Bombardier raises through his climbs will go to Save One Life.

Bombardier hopes that his climbs will increase hemophilia awareness: “Most people in the States don’t even know about hemophilia; think about how little is known worldwide. I think having someone with hemophilia pushing the limits is a cool story in itself, but I hope it raises awareness of the discrepancy in treatment,” Bombardier said.

Bombardier’s Seven Summit Challenge is crucial for raising awareness about the existence of hemophilia in developing countries where therapy and factor concentrations are often unavailable. Factor concentrations are preparations that are injected into a hemophiliac’s vein to replace the missing blood clotting factors.

Only a few developing countries have fractionation facilities or have made concentrates available. Problematically, approximately 80% of patients with severe hemophilia (PWH)  live in developing countries. PWH patients denied access to factor concentrates will have five damaged joints by the age of 20. Damaged joints limit physical movement and thereby prevent normal participation in society.

In addition to factor concentrations, PWH patients should participate in physiotherapy and rehabilitation which help prevent disabilities that prohibit normal social involvement. Physiotherapy and rehabilitation procedures include muscle strengthening exercises, exercises that maintain or increase range of motion, training proprioception and coordination, management of pain, and orthotics.

Facilities must be formed in developing countries that provide access to educational materials and trainers in order to educate local areas about the proper treatment for those diagnosed with hemophilia or PWH. Hopefully, Bombardier’s Seven Summit Challenge will raise the money and awareness needed to tackle this challenge so that patients with hemophilia or PWH can enjoy a normal life.

– Kasey Beduhn

Sources: Europe PubMed Central, Europe PubMed Central, PRWeb, Adventures of a Hemophiliac
Photo: Adventures of a Hemophiliac

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world.” For those prepared and passionate to change the world with the key to success, at a time when it is increasingly harder to achieve credentials and training through limited courses and high student loans, websites such as ‘Coursera’ are becoming an effective means of sharing and teaching the information we need to know how to change the world.

For those who want to become involved in foreign policy and understand the interconnected economies of the global food system, Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health recently started a 6 week long free course entitled, “An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health”.

Taught by Robert S. Lawrence, M.D., this introductory course on food systems discusses “activities, people and resources involved in getting food from field to plate.” Food production in the United States deals with not only the agriculture sector but our country’s economy, the population’s general well being and health, and political issues impacting all corners of the world.

Dr. Lawrence has an extensive and highly respected background in public health. He is currently a Professor of Health Policy and International health and the Center for a Livable Future, an institution which he helped establish in 1996. He has sat on multiple committees and was the director of Health Sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation. Aside from himself, the course will also feature other faculty from the Center for a Livable Future as guest lecturers.

In order to create meaningful policy changes to reduce food insecurities and global poverty, courses such as this are extremely useful in introducing to the public the various connections that must be taken into consideration before embarking to ‘change the world’.

For someone with the desire to end world hunger, it is not enough to be equipped with a fire in their heart and a sociology degree in their hand.  By having widespread familiarity or in depth knowledge across multiple sectors, economics, diet and health, and global politics in this case, it will be easier to attack the problems we want to fix.

Deena Dulgerian

Source:coursera

Broadband – A Basic Human RightMost technology is limited in Mfangano, a fishing community off the Kenyan shore of Lake Victoria. The first time a car drove around the entire island was in 2007. Islanders only receive spotty coverage from cell providers due to the difficulties of building cell towers on Mfangano. Providers face difficulty constructing links from the mainland, and islands perceive key construction platforms as sacred.

Worst of all is the lack of internet access.

Chas Salmen, the director of the Organic Health Response (OHR), a small Kenyan NGO that provides HIV/AIDS-related services, noted the Islanders’ repeated desire for internet at community meetings. OHR started the meetings as a means to educate the public about HIV/AIDS and encouraged feedback in order to understand the lives of the islanders.

One of OHR’s primary difficulties was getting a substantial proportion of the community to attend the meetings. This was solved when OHR built the Ekialo Kiona Center (EK). The EK has a computer center, library and training facility. “Ekialo Kiona” means “Whole World” in the Suba language; the name refers to the OHR’s policy of allowing anyone access to the EK and the internet in exchange for maintaining a schedule of HIV tests every 6 months.

Participation in OHR’s programs has grown rapidly with the internet incentive. Now over 2,000 participants, or 10 percent of the population, use the EK and attend the regular meetings.

“The timing of the project was just perfect,” said Salmen. “It went live just before schools closed for a one-month break and we had 250 secondary students enroll right away. 75 percent of our new enrollment has been young people, under 25. They engage with us in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

The OHR also set up a network-connected radio transmitter to broadcast, which has greatly increased the amount of the population on the receiving end of their educational messages.

Salmen said, “When we broadcast we get SMS messages from a huge area, including Kisumu, 90km away. EK Radio fan pages have started appearing on Facebook without any prompting on our side. It’s a total game changer to start those conversations and have everyone listening at once.”

Broadband connectivity is not a high priority for those aiding developing communities. But, as Cisco’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Tae Yoo noted, it creates jobs, higher productivity and ultimately enables economic and social development.

The United Nations now classifies broadband as a basic human right because it helps developing communities advance economically and socially. Yet, UNESCO estimates that 90 percent of communities in developing areas are without access to broadband.

Inveneo has launched the Broadband for Good Initiative (BB4G) to speed up access to broadband throughout the developing world. BB4BG uses low-cost technologies to deliver broadband into urban and rural areas. BB4G currently provides broadband access to 20 percent of rural Haiti, and certain areas of Micronesia, Kenya, Uganda and the West Bank of Palestine.

“Mfangano is a great pilot for building sustainable broadband networks,” said Eric Blantz, senior program director for Inveneo. “The challenges we’ve seen here are not unique, but the solutions we’re finding are innovative and replicable across the developing world.”

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: The Huffington Post

Photo: Organic Health Response

Cabs for Women by Women

As the recent rape and death of a young medical student in India have highlighted, the state of the safety and public health of women in the country are tenuous at best.  While there are a minority of women who can afford to have their own cars, usually with chauffeurs to drive them, most Indian women who live in the nation’s capital of New Delhi are subject to the public transportation system of the city, which is comprised of an army of rickshaws, taxis, buses, and trains, none of which can protect them from the harassment from or assaults by disrespectful men.

However, a local non-profit called Sakha Consulting Wing is trying to counter this particular hardship that Indian women face by creating a taxi service that is completely catered to and serviced by women called Cabs for Women by Women. The program has existed since before the December rape but following the event, the service’s business has greatly increased as more women fear for their safety in public.

“Women who used other cab services are also turning to us,” driver Shanti Sharma tells Rhitu Chatterjee of PRI’s The World.

Composed of eight women drivers and seven taxis, the service acts not only as protection for its customers but as empowerment for its drivers.

“Ever since I started doing this job, I feel like I’ve reached my destination. I don’t want to change jobs anymore,” says Shanti.

Well-paid, this is the first time that Shanti, a single parent, has enough regular income to support her three children, and she is proud of that.

Life for female cabbies in New Delhi is still not a walk in the park though. Ridiculously outnumbered by male counterparts and mostly male drivers on the road in general, Shanti has experienced harassment while doing her job in the form of feeling alienated by other cab drivers in the city and having strangers dangerously cut her off and honk at her.

According to Shanti, “The only way to change the attitude of the men…is to have more women driving.”

While this is not untrue, the harassment of Indian women throughout the country is a systemic issue that will take broad strokes against the patriarchy, so firmly entrenched in much of Indian society, to end. This is the situation that women face not only in India but in much of the world today.

As the 2015 deadline to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals looms closer, with less than 1000 days to go, notes United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the African Union Summit, one can only hope that the goal of achieving global gender equality will one day be met.

As they say: the sooner, the better.

– Nina Narang

Sources: The World , UN
Photo: The Huffington Post

8 Developing Countries Get HPV Vaccination ProgramsThe GAVI Alliance announced on February 4 that it will provide HPV immunization programs to 8 developing countries. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer which 275,000 women die from annually, and 85% of that number live in developing countries. That’s a life lost every 2 minutes due to cervical cancer. Without changes in the current situation, cervical cancer-related deaths are predicted to increase by 430,000 annually, starting in 2030.

The GAVI Alliance will start demonstration programs in Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. The demonstration programs are the selected countries that will educate through experimentation and subsequently make an informed decision as to whether the programs should be expanded nationwide.

Seven of the countries will start providing HPV vaccines to girls 9 to 13 starting in 2013. Cervical cancer is best prevented through the immunization of girls before exposure to HPV infection making 9 to 13 the ideal age range. Once a person is infected with HPV, the vaccination is no longer effective.

Tanzania will wait until 2014 to participate. GAVI-eligible countries with already instated systems to distribute vaccines nationwide can apply for funding without undergoing the demonstration programs.

The vaccinations will be provided through schools and community health programs so that even girls who don’t attend school will have access. Through these demonstration programs, an estimated 180, 000 or more girls will be protected from HPV.

The HPV vaccines are administered in three doses. More than half a million doses will be necessary for the first round of HPV vaccines. This could be incredibly expensive, but GAVI aims to provide the HPV vaccines at a very affordable price in order to guarantee that the programs remain sustainable. To date, the best price is $5 a dose, which is a 64% reduction on the current lowest price.

UNICEF will procure the vaccines through the competitive pharmaceutical market. Currently, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are the only manufacturers who have prequalified for the HPV vaccines.

A series of challenges face the implementation of demonstration programs in developing countries. Many of the countries don’t offer regular health services for girls aged 9-13. Additionally, it is difficult to ensure that the girls at the highest risk will be reached, and difficult to ensure that sexually transmitted cancer-causing infections are identified and prevented.

Yet, the initial HPV programs that have been implemented through schools in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have had positive results.  Moreover, the introduction of HPV vaccines may also create the opportunity to improve other adolescent health services that focus on nutrition, HIV, as well as sexual and reproductive health.

Professor Ian Frazer, creator of the HPV vaccine said, “Today’s announcement of country approvals for HPV pilot projects is another big step forward to ensuring that girls living in developing countries enjoy the same access to HPV vaccines as girls elsewhere in the world.”

By 2015, GAVI intends to help more than 20 countries establish HPV vaccination programs that should protect an estimated one million girls. GAVI also expects to have more than 30 million girls vaccinated in over 40 countries by 2020.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: allAfrica, NZweek
Photo: GAVI Alliance

Food Security in the Democratic Republic of CongoSometimes a little goes a long way. This principle guides the idea of investments when one hopes that an initial effort or resource will somehow profitably pay off at some point in the future. Institutionally and globally, this is how education has come to be understood. The power of education has recently begun to change the lives of farmers around the village of Buganda in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are programs that improve food security in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a project facilitated through World View, 2,000 farmers had been brought into classes of 30 for a farmer field school meant to teach new and innovative agricultural techniques to farmers, including simple but extremely valuable practices such as drip irrigation and proper seed spacing. These techniques help to stretch valuable and limited resources and increase harvests to unprecedented yields.

The program also involves empowering women in their local communities, trying to make sure that equal and efficient work is understood by everyone and that no one is disadvantaged in the future.

The farmers in this project plan to form collectives and resource pools for the betterment of their community; after all, there is strength in numbers.

“Learning about improved techniques has enabled them to increase yields: where once they harvested two bags of cassava, now they get 15,” writes The Guardian.

The optimistic outlook for this project is that it will significantly help alleviate poverty for more subsistence farmers. As far as food security in the DRC goes, ongoing military conflict undermines the gains from improved methods because harvests and resources are taken by militias from both the DRC and Rwanda.

Thus, the prospects for food security in the DRC are uncertain. Societal innovation and destruction are continuously at odds but hopefully, when the violence ends, the farmers will be ready to produce sustainable quantities.

Nina Narang

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Catholic Relief Services