On Wednesday, U.N. officials and diplomats reported that a peace deal could be signed this month and end two decades of conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The resurging violence in the Congo has forced communities from Rwanda and Uganda to periodically relocate for nearly 20 years. Last May, Red Cross Workers registered close to 3,000 displaced people in one week.

A lasting peace deal between the Congolese government and the rebels would save these communities from further displacement.

African leaders did not sign the deal last week because of a dispute over the command of a newly created regional force that will fight armed groups operating in the eastern Congo.

Herve Ladsous, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping said the brigade would be under the same command as the regular United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission’s (MONUSCO) troops. The regular MONUSCO troops conduct patrols and support the Congolese security forces

South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique; 3 out of 15 member states in the South African Development Community (SADC), argue the enforcement brigade should have its own command separate from MONUSCO. The diplomats of these three countries note the failure of MONUSCO’s current command in the 11-day occupation of the eastern city Goma by M23 rebels.

Ladsous said on Tuesday that all key countries seem ready to sign the deal. He did not state when or where it would be finalized, though discussions have considered mid-February in Africa. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon may be present.

If approved by the U.N. Security Council, the deal would include a three-pronged mandate to prevent the growth of armed groups in the eastern Congo and to disarm them.  Unmanned surveillance drones would also track armed militias that are difficult to detect.

U.N. officials said that the creation of an enforcement brigade and the drones within a peacekeeping mission is new for the United Nations. But, U.N. officials insist that an increase in U.N. military activity is not enough to end the fighting without a signed peace agreement between Kinshasa and its neighbors in eastern Congo.

Promisingly, the Congolese government has been negotiating with the M23 rebels, and last week the rebels said they wanted to sign a peace deal with Kinshasa by the end of February.

Kasey Beduhn

Sources: Reuters, allAfrica
Photo: Press TV


Nobel laureate and anti-apartheid icon Archbishop, Desmond Tutu; former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland; and social activist Ela Bhatt will work together to eradicate the high rates of child marriage in Bihar, India.

Their initiative, Girls Not Bridges, has connected 80 civil society organizations based throughout the world.

Bhatt drew several conclusions after speaking with local people about child marriage. “We have discussed with all including women, children and youths about child marriage, all of them described it a bad practice,” Bhatt said.

Robinson said the local opposition to child marriage was beneficial for the development of their campaign against child marriage. “It is a positive development to encourage people to join the campaign,” Robinson said.

Internationally, approximately 10 million girls are married before turning 18 each year. If this rate does not slow, 100 million girls under 18 will be married by 2020.

In Bihar, girls are typically married off at a young age. Most are unable, as well as unprepared, to have children of their own. Early marriages result in early childbearing, resulting in frequently premature and underweight infants. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are also common.

Moreover, girls who marry young often don’t receive an education. This is a detriment to the Millennium Development Goal of attaining universal education.

In Bihar, UNICEF works to ensure that girls are educated. For instance, Nari Gunjan, one of UNICEF’s partners in education, with the help of Sister Sudha Varghese, started a learning center in India. This learning center provided many girls with access to education that they were previously denied.

Several of these girls were able to write their own autobiographical essays from the education they had received at the centre. Rinku Kumari wrote about her early marriages and lack of education. Her father married her to a boy from a neighboring village when she was only 15 years old.

“I was keen to study right from my childhood but there was no opportunity.  It was only when a Nari Gunjan centre opened in my village that I joined it with the permission of my father,” Rinku wrote.

However, Kumari’s husband did not allow her to attend school for long. “Though my mother-in-law allowed me to attend classes at the centre, my husband stopped me from going there.  He threatened to break my legs if I disobeyed him,” Rinku wrote.

Buna Devi was 13 years old when she was married off. “When I went to the Centre, my neighbors would comment, “Look at this old woman with two children.  She is going to study now, at this age!”  I never replied to them but silently pursued my goal,” she wrote.

Hopefully, Girls Not Bridges will help UNICEF ensure that girls like Rinku and Buna aren’t married off so young, but instead are able to receive an education.

Kasey Beduhn

Source: UNICEF, rediff News
Photo: Thoughtful India

rwanda-hospital

1994 marked the end of genocide in Rwanda and the beginning of an effort to rebuild a country that was dismantled by genocide. Now, almost two decades later, Rwanda has become a story of evident progress.

In the last two decades, Rwanda has seen tremendous social and economic improvement. The percentage of the population living below the poverty line has sharply decreased from 78 percent in 1994 to 45 percent in 2013. The gross domestic product of Rwanda has more than tripled. Average life expectancy has doubled from 28 years to 56 years of age. Maternal mortality has decreased by 60 percent. The chance of a child under 5 dying has decreased by 70 percent. 99 percent of primary-school-age children are in school.

How has this happened?

According to a research study conducted by Partners in Health that was recently published in the British Medical Journal, improved health care has been the Rwandan answer.

Cameron Nutt, a member of the Partners in Health research team, stated, “The Rwandan government has attacked the deadliest diseases in the most vulnerable parts of the population”. It has subsidized the prices of many medicines and made it possible for nearly 98 percent of the population to have health insurance and access to preventative care, such as mosquito nets and vaccines. Rwandan leaders have taken a proactive approach to ensure the advancement of its health care system. The country has successfully utilized Western aid to train Rwandans in medical fields and improve the way in which major diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, are treated.

For Rwanda, health care has meant vast amounts of change and improvement. Health care has equated for fewer people living below the poverty line, more people living longer, and more people being able to work and contribute to their country. Health care has resulted in successful development.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: NY Times, The Dartmouth

Photo Source: PHR

30-Hour-Famine-Campaign-in-Kaohsiung
From February 2nd to 3rd, over 50,000 Taiwanese attended the 30-hour famine campaign in Kaohsiung (a province of Taiwan). This was part of a larger 30-hour famine campaign, the 30 Hour Famine Hero Rally, run by “World Vision Taiwan.” It was the 24th year of this campaign, and it has been growing in strength as the years have passed.

World Vision Taiwan is part of World Vision: 30 Hour Famine, a global campaign to raise awareness of world hunger. The 30-hour famine is a worldwide experience that students, as well as anyone else, take part in once a year.

Participants gathered together and did not eat solid food for 30 hours, in order to experience what it feels like to live in poverty with scarce or no food. The 30-hour famine campaign in Kaohsiung, just like all of the 30-hour famine campaigns, had two parts: raising awareness about world hunger and fundraising for the hungry.

In the past twenty years, the 30-hour famine campaign in Kaohsiung is one event that has helped lower world hunger. The rate of hungry children has dropped by 50%. The goal of this rally was to raise $13.5 million U.S. dollars to help eradicate poverty and hunger not only in Taiwan but worldwide.

The donations do far more in disaster areas than they ever could do in countries like the United States. World Vision uses the donations to feed children and families in high-risk areas, but also teaches them how to overcome hunger on their own, and provides them with the proper tools to do it. Anyone can take part in a 30-hour famine, or host their own.

Visit the 30 Hour Famine website to learn how to host your own fasting event for the sake of world hunger.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: Gospel Herald, World Vision Taiwan
Photo: Want China Times

Social-Impact-Bond-Model-of-International-Aid
The Social Impact Bond model of international aid is a relatively new way of helping foreign countries; many call it a “pay for success” model. Social Impact Bonds, or SIBs, are based on outcomes, rather than intentions. Despite the name, they do not fit the average definition of a “bond,” which would imply those receiving the investors’ money are obligated to return it no matter what happens. Rather, in a nutshell, the independent investors will only get their money back (plus interest) if the program succeeds. The social impact bond model of international aid is meant to be a preventative course of action to benefit society; only those programs that have the most chance of success will be funded.

Due to the existence of private investors, the social impact bond model of international aid does not threaten public funds or rely on the United States (or any other country’s) federal budget. SIBs could also provide a huge benefit to foreign aid if the right programs exist. Rather than merely expecting those wealthy enough to donate their cash to these causes, they are investing in them, and like any other investment, there is a chance of failure. Still, if they invest wisely, not only will they reap the rewards, but so will those who have received help from the various nonprofits.

Although there are certain flaws to SIBs, because not all programs will be able to gather funding (such as pilot programs, because they have not proved they can be successful), it certainly would help in some cases. Moreover, it will protect the U.S. budget and, if successful, will benefit a large number of people across the globe, including investors in the U.S.

Instiglio is an example of a nonprofit organization that deals primarily with social impact bonds.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: McKinsey, US News
Photo: Tech

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