Women Entrepreneurs, Champions Against Poverty
In the rural Nicaraguan community of La Laguna, Ana Cecilia Acuña is joining the ranks of a growing group of women entrepreneurs worldwide and defying the traditional gender roles of her community while improving the lives of everyone around her. Ana grew up in poverty, often without enough food to eat and working when she was young to pay for school. As an adult, Ana opened up a store that feeds her community with items such as oil and rice funded by micro loans from the non-profit organization Opportunity International.

One problem that faced her community was obtaining potable water from a viable source. With encouragement from Opportunity International, she joined the La Laguna Community Cooperative and later became the first woman member of the board. The cooperative then received a loan for enough money to dig a well and create water pipes that serve many of the families in the community. Soon they plan to have potable water running to each of the 3,800 people in the area. Fresh water in their homes supplants the previous method of walking seven kilometers to fill up a bucket of water. Currently, Ana Cecilia Acuña is one of five employees of the cooperative and is proud to make enough money to move out of her mother’s house and pay for her son’s school fees.

According to Vicki Escarra of Opportunity International, “when a woman is given an opportunity to change her life, she invests 90% back into her family.” From there the women entrepreneurs will invest what they make into their community. It is with the belief in this principal that Opportunity International hopes to raise $50 million for their One Woman Initiative that will provide two million women worldwide, like Ana, with loans to start their own small business. Seventy percent of the people who live on $2 or less a day are women. It is easy to feel helpless to make real change when faced with the daunting statistics of poverty, but the growing popularity of organizations that fund entrepreneurs using micro loans make it more accessible than ever to make real change in someone’s life on a small budget.

– Sean Morales

Source: The Huffington Post
Photo: TechnoServe

Does International Aid Help Or Not?
In the never-ending debate about whether international aid helps or not, Al-Jazeera’s Counting the Cost gets four experts’ insight. Will Ruddick, a young scholar at the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability who has spent time in Kenya, argues that such resource-rich countries might not need as much as 300 million dollars in food aid every year. He argues that it’s not the aid itself, it’s the Western economic model which has been proven inefficient when it comes to international aid and development.

Ruddick thinks that a new economic model is needed, one that’s similar to the Swiss model, where there are monetary innovations to reach the goals of sustainable development. He says that micro-finance lending and entrepreneurial models are causing more social stratification thereby amounting to more debt. Ruddick suggests policies that move to something that creates more networks and communities, an implementation that involves the local affected and recipient communities.

In Keyna, there is a wide dependence on anti-retroviral drugs for HIV as opposed to development. Ruddick argues that there should be more of a push from international aid organizations to help these people develop the needed drugs locally; aid and development aren’t necessarily linked. Networks must be encouraged and created to help local people help each other. According to Ruddick, Kenya is exporting 3 billion dollars worth of food to Europe, and yet every year, with the consistency of food aid to Kenya, people are still underfed and starving.

In Jerusalem, Palestine, Dr. Nora Murad argues that “aid” is subsidizing the Israeli occupation that it’s allowing the Israeli army to occupy cost-free because every time a road, a school, or a hospital is destroyed, the international community pays for it rather than have the Israeli army replace it. Thus, in places like Palestine, the international community needs to politically intervene to better implement any aid that goes to Palestine. “The Israeli occupation costs the Palestinian economy 6.8 billion dollars per year,” Dr. Murad argues. She also argues that recipients of aid, in her case she’s talking about Palestinian communities specifically, should have control over their own development resources and be able to make development decisions.

Alan Duncan, the British minister of state in the department of international development, argues that they don’t deal directly with untrusted governments, they focus on the “real economies” of “real people,” that they are the “engine of development,” and such a development is precisely what his department is pushing for. He explains that the private sector is so important and that the existent aid model isn’t flawed, and that they “underpin the basic building blocks of an agricultural economy,” to help the underdeveloped internal economy of Africa. In regards to Palestine, he says that the kind of aid that goes to Palestine is to equip the Palestinian Authority to be a future government, the development is thus working in such specific political circumstances.

The head of development finance and public services at Oxfam, Emma Seery, comments by saying that her organization is more focused on development than aid, they focus on policies in an effort to put an end to extreme inequality. So the question is this: we know that foreign aid helps, and that poor countries are appreciative of this gift but are the right policies being implemented to sustain growth and development? Is there a need for a new more efficient economic model?

– Leen Abdallah

Source: Al Jazeera
Photo: Google

5 Critical Factors In Rwanda’s Healthcare SuccessJust in the last ten years in Rwanda, deaths from HIV, TB, and malaria have dropped by 80 percent, annual child deaths have fallen by 63 percent, maternal mortality has dropped by 60 percent, and life expectancy has doubled. All at an average annual healthcare cost of $55 per person.

Normally, after horrific national traumas, like Rwanda’s genocide of almost a million people in 1994, countries fall into a cycle of poverty and economic stagnation. Poor health and disease cripple workers and then the national economy, leaving the country ineffective to break out of depression.

A recent article in BMJ, led by Dr. Paul Farmer, Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, examined data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and attempted to identify why Rwanda was able to make such dramatic progress when so many other nations have failed before them.

They identified 5 critical factors In Rwanda’s healthcare success:

1. The government formed a centralized plan for economic development, with one of the pillars being health care; knowing that, without improving health, poverty would persist. There were heavy research and reliance on facts and data to formulate their health metrics.

2. Aid allocation was controlled and monitored; the government insisted that all aid agencies meet transparency and accountability standards consistent with the national development plan.

3. A treatment plan addressing all the associated issues around AIDS was implemented:  tuberculosis, malnutrition, need for in-home care, community health workers, “psychosocial” support, primary and prenatal care.

4. Financial incentive was given to coordinate care; a performance-based financing system was set up to pay hospitals, clinics and community health workers to follow-up on patients and improve primary care.

5. Universal health insurance for all citizens, with particular attention to providing for the most vulnerable populations. The average, annual out-of-pocket health spending was cut in half, and households experiencing health care bills that force them into poverty were significantly reduced. (Half the funding came from international donors and a half from annual premiums of less than $2 per person.)

Access to healthcare for ALL citizens is a prerequisite for controlling diseases and thus allowing for economic growth to lift people, and nations, out of poverty. The medical advances in Rwanda have pushed their economic growth, the GDP per person has tripled, and millions have been lifted from poverty over the last decade. Rwanda offers a replicable model for the delivery of high-quality healthcare and effective oversight, and even with limited resources.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The Atlantic

A Voice for the Poor
There are billions of people in the world today who are currently living under the shaky circumstances of poverty. One in five people in the world survive on less than $2/day, while 1.5 billion struggle with less than $1/day. This shocking truth affects people everywhere and creates a lack of hope and opportunity.

Although there is aid money that is accessible, cash transfers have become comparably effective way to help the poor. In the effort to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty, cash transfers have played a significant role in reducing the high number of people living in extreme poverty. While the benefits of having access to cash transfers are well known, the people who are most in need of them believe that the value and improvement of the system can be better. For the poor, their voices remain unheard.

Cash transfer programs in developing countries have been viewed as an effective and fast way to provide aid.  Because of how money is distributed, the money is not being given to everybody due to eligibility concerns and a lack of people properly applying before deadlines. Some countries such as Kenya had trouble trying to figure out the application process for cash transfer programs. Like many people living in poverty stricken area, many are unaware of what to do and are more focused on surviving.

While there are always benefits to receiving money, there is also conflict in the process of collecting it. Elderly people in Uganda have had a difficult time trying to voice their issues whenever mistakes occurred. Whenever there is any kind of conflict, elders are faced with the problem of whether to address it or not. They don’t believe that a voice truly exists for them. Not being able to share their complaints has a lot to do with their fear of having their benefits taken away from them.

As the poor are struggling to reach out to share their voice, there is an ethical argument for them to have a say in society. Although they already face such vast conflicts in their life as the poorest in society, discrimination plays into their lives on the basis of gender, age, disability, ethnicity, sexuality and religion.

Being able to find a voice for the poor is not only going to better their lives, but it will properly open up a different perspective on how unjust the poor are treated. This issue is not that these programs are not already effective enough in combating poverty, but by having their own voice, the poor can address their issues with aid systems to the government and donors for improvement, efficiency, and fairness.

Jada Chin

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Council on Foreign Relations

From March 16 to 25, close to 200,000 people all around the world will take part in walks for water in a global event aimed at bringing awareness to the need for clean water and safe sanitation. With 25 countries including the US, the UK, Bangladesh, Belgium, Nepal, Colombia, and Cameroon in participation, the project called “the World Walks for Water” is set to be the largest people power event this year.

Organized by the World Walks for Water and Sanitation Campaign, the project hopes to highlight the millions of Africans, overwhelmingly women and children, who have to walk great distances on a daily basis for water and lack proper sanitation. Over 330 million Africans or 39 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa live without access to clean water. 600 million or 70 percent go without safe sanitation. Every year 400,000 African children under the age of five die due to diarrheal diseases caused by lack of clean water and safe sanitation.

The walks for water will take place on the week of the 20th Anniversary of World Water Day on March 22, designated by the United Nations. In Sierra Leone, Kenya, Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, and other African countries, people are organizing to call upon political leaders to keep their promises on sanitation and water. Natasha Horsfield, the coordinator for the World Walks for Water campaign in the UK, said, “It’s time to tell world leaders that it’s not acceptable for 2,000 children to be dying every day.”

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: End Water PovertyGhana Business News

Violence Flaring as Kenyan Elections ApproachKenya is nearing its first elections since 2007, and rival ethnic groups are beginning to take up arms once more as they fight out their differences. The violence more than five years ago more than 1,000 dead, but reforms since then (including a new constitution) had left many hoping that Kenya can proceed through its voting process in peace. Unfortunately, members of both the Pokomo and Orma tribes have been fighting each other in the Tana River Delta, and so far over 200 people have been killed.

Both tribes claim that the other has victimized them in many ways, including the destruction of homes, villages, and identification documents which prove the bearer is able to vote. And all over the country, the various governor races are prompting discord among Kenyans, many of whom have spent the past few years focusing on building a vibrant economy.

An article in The Daily Nation, the largest newspaper in Kenya, criticized the way Kenyans were behaving as the elections draw near. “All the tribal prejudice, all ancient grudges and feuds, all real and imagined slights, all dislikes and hatreds” are brought out, the journalist argued. To break the cycle of violence flaring as Kenyan elections approach, it will take this kind of honest accountability on the part of all Kenyans to put a stop to the violence before it goes too far.

President Obama has spoken out in favor of cooperation between all Kenyans, but the United States can do even more to help ensure the safety of these people by providing more aid for those Kenyans in poverty. It is far easier to live in peace when there is no need to worry about losing basic necessities at the hands of a government targeting a specific ethnic group. Kenya has experienced surprising economic growth over the past half decade; doing more to extend those gains to all citizens should be a major priority for all parties involved.

Jake Simon

Source: The New York Times

Listen to the Poor

In 2010, Armando Barrientos had a plan: just give direct money and resources to the poor, no need for the expensive aid industry. The argument made calls for community involvement, by directly transferring money to the poor. In this way, the recipients have a chance to decide what to do with that money. According to Barrientos’ argument in the Guardian, this model is being implemented in several countries including Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, and India. These countries provide “regular transfers of money to households in poverty with the aim of improving their nutrition, making sure children go to school and ensuring expectant mothers have regular check-ups.” Nevertheless, these same social transfer programs are difficult to set up without the help of the international community.

This year, the aim is a little higher; The Guardian posted an article discussing these social transfer programs in a broader light. The goal is to know how the poor and affected communities feel about these programs, if the programs actually help or detract the communities, and how the recipients can make better use of these money transfers. Recently, governments and aid donors have been more interested in involving the recipient communities in the decision-making, monitoring, and evaluating of “social protection programs.” Although the very concept of money transfers has generated positive results and is appreciated in several countries including Palestine, Mozambique, Yemen, and Uganda, monetary transactions are not sufficient enough in order to meet people’s basic needs.

Additionally, the access to cash transfers is confusing and alienating as the extremely poor either: do not know how to become eligible for funds, how to apply to receive funds, or are stuck on waiting lists for too long. Cash transfer recipients are reluctant to complain about such conditions regarding long waiting and the insufficiency of cash because the recipients are afraid to be regarded as “troublemakers,” which may cost them their access to funds altogether.

It is more efficient and effective to include the recipients in the decision-making process since the money directly affects them and their communities. It is also ethical, “people have a right to a say over what affects them.” The poor need a voice that will be listened to in order to improve social protection and cash transfer programs, making aid more effective, fair, and beneficial to the global community.

Leen Abdallah
Source: Guardian


The Importance of Sanitation to Education
Many people know the importance of clean water and basic sanitation for health, yet, hardly think of what not having these amenities means for schools and education. According to a program called Support My School, studies have shown that schools lacking “basic amenities like Toilets, Access to Water and Basic Infrastructure create[s] an unwelcome environment in schools, which leads to a higher rate of absenteeism, finally resulting into drop-outs.”

For rural India, this becomes an extremely large issue because an estimated 50 percent of schools here are without functioning toilets. This is why Coca-Cola India, NDTV and UN-Habitat have teamed up to start to Support My School, a program in India geared to revive schools in semi-urban and rural towns and improve their sanitary and water efforts.

Support My School does not just help get clean water and working toilets into school, it also builds awareness on just how important water and sanitation are too many aspects of life, including education, utilizes whole communities to find solutions for the schools, and raises money through donations from stakeholders, corporations, and the general public. The program believes that improved sanitation and the provision of other basic amenities will make schools and students happier, healthier, and more active.

As of today, Support My School has raised 13.6 crore, which is equivalent to 2.495 million dollars.  272 schools in India have been revitalized. And over 43,000 students have reaped the benefits of the campaign.

– Angela Hooks


Sources: Support My School, Coca-Cola India

How Quinoa Can Lead to Nutritional SecurityFebruary 20th marked the beginning of the International Year of Quinoa, a project designed to raise awareness of the benefits of quinoa and its ability to bring nutritional security. The project was launched by the United Nations and the Andean Community of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru to help reach the Millenium Development Goal of reducing world hunger to a half by 2015.

Quinoa contains essential amino acids and vitamins, yet has no gluten. It is easy to grow because of its adaptability to different environments – thriving in below-freezing temperatures, as well as altitudes way above sea level. Thus, cultivating quinoa in areas with arid farming conditions and high malnutrition rates is both a possible and effective way to help combat global poverty and improve the standard of living in many countries. During the project’s launch, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon commented that the International Year of Quinoa will act as “a catalyst for learning about the potential of quinoa for food and nutrition security, for reducing poverty.”

Bringing awareness to the value of quinoa worldwide is beneficial not just to the fight against global hunger and poverty, but to quinoa farmers as well. As the price of quinoa rises due to its increased popularity with large companies, farmers that cultivate quinoa will experience higher incomes.

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: NY Times

US AID Working to Further Education in PakistanAs part of a larger effort to further education in Pakistan, USAID has awarded scholarships to 150 students of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). The students are enrolled for either the two-year Associate Degree in Education program or the four-year Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education program and are candidates the teachers who will go on to educate Pakistani youth. This is an important part of USAID’s collaboration with the Government of Pakistan in the larger Teacher Education Project. The project, which is slated to run for five years, includes an updated and standardized curriculum in 22 Pakistani universities and 75 teacher colleges.

The USAID Mission Director, Jock Conly, and the Prime Minister of AJK presented the awards, where Conly said that the scholarships are representative of the U.S. government’s committed effort to helping solidify the state of education and prosperity in Pakistan and to help create a “Roshan Pakistan.” He went on to confirm that the US hopes to help raise the bar of Pakistani education by supporting “better prepared teachers.”

USAID hopes that the program will create a much higher standard of education throughout the country. They aspire to hand out over 1,900 scholarships throughout the duration of the program. The U.S. gives more than $110 million to support education in Pakistan annually.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Pakistan Today