Divided Congress a Threat to Foreign AidJohn Kerry, in one of his first official speeches as Secretary of State, declared that diplomacy is key to securing the nation’s economic well-being, and urged Americans and legislators alike to avoid isolationism simply because of a down economy. Kerry pinned the blame for a lack of support for foreign aid on a divided Congress, saying that “the greatest challenge to America’s foreign policy today is in the hands, not of diplomats, but of policymakers in Congress.”

As a budget-cut-inducing sequester looms, Congress must come to an agreement on the national debt and budget – which includes funding for foreign aid and diplomacy programs, many of which have been the target of proposed cuts by conservatives. Kerry said that it is more important now than ever for America to have financial stability in order to set an example through diplomacy for developing countries. He went on to argue that diplomacy strengthens our economy at home by providing economic markets abroad for US exports, which negates the initial cost of government-sponsored foreign aid and international development ventures.

Kerry cited the success of the Marshall Plan in post-World War II Berlin, and asserted that the United States would have to stay relevant in the global arena in order to keep up with rising economic super powers like China and India.

Kerry gave additional real-world examples in support of foreign aid, including increased exports to Vietnam in the last decade, and the high number of former aid recipients who now import US goods. Learn more about how the US economy depends on participating in foreign aid here.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Telegraph

Teenager Helps Residents of a Garbage DumpWhile most teenage girls her age are reluctant to take out the trash, Courtney Quigley is begging her parents to return to Guatemala City to help the poverty-stricken residents of a garbage dump there. In the past, Courtney has worked with Potter House, a nonprofit which helps the 11,000 people living in the garbage dump. Out of that population, 6,500 are children.

According to the Lake Zurich Patch, Courtney first fell in love with Guatemala when she was nine and her family took a trip to build playgrounds with Kids Around the World, an organization whose primary goal is to provide safe play equipment for children who find it difficult to be “just a kid.” Courtney describes the garbage dump as being 40 acres filled with trash and yet the children somehow manage to stay positive and in high spirits.

While her family has been on other mission trips, Courtney has fallen in love with Guatemala. She was able to return in 2011, meeting a family of seven who lived in a 9 x 10 shack. One of the children, a 15-year-old girl, was pregnant and Courtney decided that something needed to be done to help improve their living condition.

To help, Courtney and her friends are hosting a “Hope’s in Style” fashion show fundraiser on February 24 at the Garlands Center in Barrington, Illinois.

Although she is now living in the United States, the memory of the children in Guatemala still remains vivid in her mind.

“There is nothing here that is hopeful, but when you shake hands, hug, and talk to people, they are so full of hope, so full of faith,” Courtney said. Their determination to make the best of their situation is what inspires her to keep moving forward.

 – Pete Grapentien

Source: Lake Zurich Patch

Flooding Disaster in MozambiqueThe nation of Mozambique experienced one of the worst floods in recent history due to extremely high amounts of rainfall throughout the month of January. Flooding in Mozambique damaged the province of Gaza. Over 250,000 have been affected by the floods, with 150,000 people forced out of their homes in the province and over 100 killed.

While the victims of flooding in Mozambique are dealing with destroyed homes and families, the natural disaster has been exacerbated by the outbreak of cholera. There have been over 250 cases so far, fortunately, no cases have proved fatal. Mozambique has experienced problems with cholera for years, so their response has been effective thus far. However, the potential for more flooding means that they must remain vigilant.

The complete rebuilding effort is estimated to cost over $30 million, according to The Humanitarian Country Team in Mozambique, an organization comprised of NGO and UN officials. UNICEF itself seeks $6.8 million from this fund to pay for projects to improve the welfare of children and those around them, like building clean water pumps and constructing new homes.

According to Jesper Morch of UNICEF, “emergency supplies and funding has been depleted…we urgently need additional funds if we are to help many children and families recover.”

Jake Simon

Sources: news24, UNICEF, Al Jazeera
Photo: Times Live

Genetically Modified Crops Proposed For Food Security in India
In the wake of harsh criticisms for his recent comments, Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar again reiterated his support for field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops as a possible solution for food security in India. In his address to the ICAR general meeting, Pawar remarked that due to constraints on limited access to natural resources, “[India does] not have any option but to achieve major [breakthroughs] in productivity to ensure food security of 1.2 billion-plus population.”

Genetically Modified crops – with the exception of Bt cotton – have been a controversial subject in India for some time. However, recent actions taken by the Indian Parliament proposing the banning of all GM field tests prompted Pawar to take a stronger position in the matter, arguing that the prospects of future food security in India are dim without them. Pawar wrote to all chief ministers, outlining the possible deployment of an investigative team of scientists in order to determine the efficacy of GM crops in India.

India has been dealing with hunger problems for generations and without any sort of intervention, will be dealing with even worse problems in the future. However, GM crops – despite their understandable concerns – provide a reason to be optimistic based upon their ability to withstand harsh climates and unfavorable soil conditions. Furthermore, by exploring all options on the table, scientists hope to find an answer to the imperative question of food security in India.

Brian Turner

Source: Zee News
Photo: The Times of India

US AID to Detoxify Da Nang Airport
Earlier this week, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that they will be initiating a program to detoxify Da Nang Airport of any remaining dioxin.

Da Nang Airport, located in the largest city in central Vietnam, has a long military history and was used as a US military airbase for a period of years during the Vietnam War. Dioxin is a highly toxic substance that was used in Agent Orange – used by the US military as a defoliant during the war. Da Nang was a storage and handling facility for Agent Orange, and the airport was previously identified as one of three dioxins “hot spots” throughout Vietnam.

Locals who live near the airport were tested by the Hatfield Consultants Company in 2006, and the tests confirmed that 24 of the 62 residents tested positive for dioxin contamination. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxin contamination has been linked to numerous types of cancers, impairment of the nervous system and reproductive system, and diabetes.  A local villager, whose husband succumbed to cancer in 2008, said, “On days when it floods dark, contaminated water from lakes on the airport’s ground flows into my land that is used for vegetable cultivation.” The plants then die, she continued, although the stems are still used for food.

USAID has been collaborating with the Vietnamese government and several other agencies for the detoxification project, which will run through 2016. The company TerraTherm will use the In-Pile Thermal Desorption process to rid approximately 73,000 cubic meters of airport soil of dioxin. This process uses the long-term heating of soil in above-ground structures to rid the soil of contaminants. The technique has been used successfully on various other decontamination projects.

With well over 1 million passengers annually passing through Da Nang Airport, USAID’s efforts to eradicate dioxin will be beneficial for the expansion of the airport and especially for the health of the local inhabitants.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Tuoi Tre News

Red Nose Day Turns 25March 15 will mark the 25th anniversary of the charity organization Comic Relief’s Biannual Red Nose Day. The event, which began in the UK in 1988, is an all-day affair that showcases British comedians performing telethon-style with the ultimate goal of raising money for poverty reduction in Africa. Since the first event, the organization has raised 660 million pounds for the cause.

What now appears to the public as a well-rehearsed and professional telethon was once a much more amateur affair with the most earnest of the organizers and performers of Red Nose Day holding it together. British talk show host and comedian Jonathan Ross recalls one mix-up from the early years when Welsh comedian Griff Rhys Jones began a comedic bit with his trademark enthusiasm only to realize that he was supposed to be presenting a tragic event. Despite moments of confusion, the event was a wild success and continues to be an important national event to this day.

The organization does not simply raise money to be passed on to indiscriminate sources. Walking through the halls of a Comic Relief-assisted school in Accra, Ross was impressed by the real-world impact that a little money collected from thousands of people can make. He recognized the importance of the school to the community in helping the children gain a solid education to escape poverty.  When faced with the reality of the effect that the charity money makes, it is obvious that the school is more than just a place to collect impressive donation statistics or take riveting photos for a catalog. It is an institution that means a great deal to the community.

Ross admits that the idea of using comedy to highlight the tragedy, as in the staggering poverty in Africa, is a risky way to raise awareness. Regardless, the performers and the organization have built a large following in the early years that has only grown since then. At the least, Red Nose Day is a bright and cheery way to bring awareness to global poverty on the international stage.

Sean Morales

Source: The Guardian

North Korean Prison Camps Uncovered Using Google Earth
Using new Google Earth images, analysts and human rights groups have uncovered visual proof of several prison camps operating in the oppressive North Korean state. Long an unconfirmed and secret program that the country continually denied as foreign propaganda, the regime’s prison camps are now verifiable through high-definition satellite imagery.

The UN has been encouraged by rights groups to investigate the situation that has persisted for nearly 50 years, as there are thought to be nearly 200,000 political and civilian prisoners held in a series of camps – many detained as punishment for attempting to flee North Korea in search of food or work, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission.

With the release of the latest satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth, a newly constructed prison camp can be seen in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, that did not exist when the last images were released in 2006, according to the North Korean Economy Watch website. Analysts were able to determine such details as a 13-mile-long fence, with two checkpoints and six guard posts, and a seemingly nonoperational coal mine.

Reports of conditions inside North Korea’s prison camps have been few and far between, as very few prisoners have ever escaped alive, with little chance of ever leaving the prison at all once they are in. The accounts of life inside, where perceived “enemies” of the regime and three generations of their family can become imprisoned for the rest of their lives, are extremely harrowing. Such stories include prisoners “forced to to survive by eating rats and picking corn kernels out of animal waste.”

Other such conditions include abuse, torture, sexual violence, and disease; analysts suspect that nearly 40 percent of prisoners die of starvation and malnourishment, while those who survive are worked to death in harsh conditions for up to 16 hours per day. Prisoners who attempt to escape and are caught face execution.

The role of Google Earth has played a large part in the increased amount of knowledge that rights groups have available on the prison system. Former prisoners have, with the improvement in imagery that is now high-definition, been able to work with analysts in pinpointing the exact features of the prison camps that they were in, including their barracks and camp execution grounds.

Although the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, stated that steps are needed in order to take stronger action against the regime, she also acknowledged that the UN had hoped that the change in leadership would improve the human rights situation in the country. Ms. Pillay stated that the UN will look into creating an international investigation into the North Korean prison camps system since it is clear that the situation is not improving.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Telegraph

 


Filmed in 2012, ‘Open Heart’ documents the journey of eight patients going through surgery at the Salam Center in Khartoum, Sudan. Salam is Africa’s only state-of-the-art, free-of-charge cardiac hospital offering children’s heart surgery and has been operating since 2007.

‘Open Heart’ follows Dr. Gino Strada, a surgeon at Salam and features Angelique Tuyishimere, the six-year-old daughter of a Rawandan farmer. Close to a third of the patients at Salam are under 14 making children’s heart surgery a common occurence at Salam.

Salam employs four cardiac surgeons  and is set up for 1,500 operations per year. However, due to funding issues, last year only 600 patients were operated on. Dr. Strada is forward about admitting the need in Africa is more than Salam can aid, but is still very happy with the progress that has been made and optimistic about the future.

Now, Davidson and the doctors – Rusingiza and Strada – will be attending the Oscars. If passport and visa issues are resolved, six-year-old Angelique and her dad will also be attending. Although he stands the chance of being honored at the Oscars, documentarian Kief Davidson still has not lost sight of the original problem being addressed – the lack of affordable healthcare in Africa, especially concerning the preventable diseases fought at Salam.

– Pete Grapentien

Source ABC News

The Link Between Volunteering and Happiness Levels in the ElderlyFor many seniors, the act of volunteering at a local mission or community outreach center is simply a chance to give back to those less fortunate than themselves. However, based upon the results of a recent study, seniors might also want to consider the little known correlation between altruism, helping, volunteering, and happiness levels that result as an added bonus to their commitment to serve.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio conducted a longitudinal study in which they followed a group of 585 community living seniors over the course of three years. During the study, the research participants’ psychosocial well-being outcomes were measured in two waves; this included life satisfaction, positive effects, negative effects, and depressive symptoms. The results of the study – though expected – was nevertheless important in regards to quantifying the positive outcomes of certain behaviors in the elderly population. Subsequently, evidence emerged that overwhelming supported the link between seniors exhibiting higher traits of altruism, informal helping, and volunteering and happiness levels.
This research is great news for national and community service and can act as even more of an incentive for seniors to get involved in organizations such as The Borgen Project for the long term benefits of increased volunteering and happiness levels. Simply stated, by giving a little of their time and/or financial resources whenever possible, retired seniors can help win the war on global poverty.
Brian Turner

Source: Journal of Aging and Health
Photo: New York State Senate

Human Development Report Has Good News

After the longest time of a Northern-dominated global economy, the Global South seems to be catching up. This year’s United Nations Development Program’s annual report has some incredible news: lots of livelihoods have improved and are continuing to move in the right direction in terms of development. The Human Development Report suggests that 40 countries are doing better economically and socially. According to The Yemen Times, these improving nations aren’t solely the “economic tigers” of the world, such as China, and Brazil; they also include Turkey, Mexico, South Africa and several more.

The good news is that countries that were once considered “backward” are rising up to the plate, demanding that their voices be heard. Such a shift in global development and human well-being tips the scale for the dominating countries, mainly the United States, member nations of the European Union, and Japan, which have always set and controlled policies.

The UNDP collected measurements of income, literacy levels, gender rights, and longevity to form this year’s rankings, and the results evinced sustainable success and growth: “a fifth of the nations surveyed – all in the developing world – did better than expected.” Although sub-Saharan African countries did not do so well as to be included in this “rise of the South” phenomena, and there is clearly much more to be done, this year’s results are evidence that much good is being generated nonetheless. There is hope that more work will continue to result in greater improvements.

– Leen Abdallah

Source: Yemen Times
Photo: Static