alternative spring break
Mid-March is coming. This is a special time of year that college students around America know as Spring Break. For many people, the words “Spring Break” trigger images of a wild party of hooligans drinking as if it were the end of the world, moshing about in an endless sea of lacrosse shirts and Oakley glasses. Many students will spend their spring breaks doing just that in Panama City, Daytona, and most of the state of South Carolina, but more and more students are doing something else during their week off.

The idea of an “alternative spring break” has been around for quite some time. These are usually programs that allow students to spend their week away from school helping victims of disasters and poverty around the country and the world. Many of these programs are led by local churches and other faith-based organizations and more and more student-run groups are being started to create rewarding, safe, and productive opportunities for American college students to volunteer their time. Hundreds of students are already helping rebuild homes and clear debris from Superstorm Sandy on the Jersey Coast while more will soon be on their way. Other groups have organized trips to help in schools and community centers around the Americas.

Alternative spring breaks became very popular after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the trend doesn’t look like it will be going away anytime soon. Seeing the nation’s young students getting involved in efforts to help the poor in our country and abroad is a fantastic sight, and is something to be thankful for. Volunteers in a multitude of organizations around the world continue to take all the little steps that make a real difference, and their importance cannot be understated.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: CBS
Photo: University of Pennsylvania

Students and faculty at the University of Bristol are actively making many necessary pharmaceuticals more available to people living in the developing world. The university created its’ own “equitable access policy” act in order to help create affordable medicine and drugs that will be more accessible to patients suffering curable diseases throughout the world.

Any drugs that are produced using the University of Bristol are entered into this program and the result is a giant difference in prices, making them more realistically available to many people who would otherwise not be able to afford their medicines. Hopefully, other universities will create similar policies and contribute to making needed medicine more accessible. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that limited access to medicine is responsible for about 18 million deaths every year. The ability to get needed medicine at a lower price could save lives while also allowing people in the developing world to hold on to more of their disposable income, letting that money move in and out of local economies. While some programs have already been established to provide HIV/AIDS related medication at lower prices, people suffering from other diseases have not yet been able to receive such aid.

Affordable medicine and treatment are important anywhere, but they are especially important in the developing world. More reasonably priced medicine may be able help many people who have to choose between buying their medicine or food for their family. It may be just a small step now, but if such programs spread to other universities, they could make a great impact in helping the world’s poor.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: Medsin
Photo: Photo Dictionary

Ending World Hunger Demanded By BritonsBritish politicians, including MP Andrew Stunell, are pushing the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron to focus more on ending world hunger. Stunell and others have begun making their voices heard by supporting causes like the Enough Food for Everyone initiative.

The U.K., like the United States, committed to giving 0.7% of its national income as international aid. Politicians and citizens in the U.K. continue to stress the importance of keeping that promise. As Britain prepares to host the Hunger Summit this June, at the same time as the G8 Summit, the nation has been paying increased attention to the issue of world hunger and the U.K.’s roll in fighting hunger as well as the many causes of hunger and malnutrition. The most obvious result of hunger and malnutrition is death, yet severe hunger has many other results such as malnutrition that may lead to developmental and growth problems and is also linked to infertility, as outlined in a Yale study on hunger and childbirth.

With enough food being produced each year to feed the world population and yet people are still going hungry, there is reason enough to be upset. As politicians and citizens alike in the U.K. push their representatives to work more towards ending world hunger, we should remember to do the same here at home and ask our elected representatives to do more in the fight against global hunger. Contact your representatives in Congress today.

– Kevin Sullivan

Sources: Mancunian Matters, Yale Scientific
Photo: The Telegraph

Aid to Haiti: What Lessons Can We Learn?A controversy with foreign aid does not always relate to misuse but the reality of the numbers and figures after the aid is delivered. A popular example of this has been the $9 billion in donations made to the Haitian government since the 2010 earthquake.

Last week, National Public Radio (npr) interviewed Jonathan Katz, the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. This new book focuses on the damages to both the Haitian government and its people due to communication issues, lack of coordination, and the general failure of donor countries to follow-through on their promises.

After reading the interview, it is important to keep in mind that foreign aid is not a waste. There have been thousands and thousands of completely successful large-scale and small-scale transactions and projects throughout the centuries. Governments, however, need to really sit down and review their policies. In this review, one would hope they would seriously consider making more use of direct aid. As Katz briefly touches on in his interview, there is the uncommon but possible option of paying victims of the earthquake (or any crisis) and removing the middleman. Perhaps not handing them a band of cash exactly, but focusing the energy and time spent on drafting contracts, debt relief plans, and the such to send volunteers and individuals who are willing and passionate about making small but immediate and tangible changes, such as Syrian-American Omar Chamma has been doing in Syria.

The transcript of the interview follows:

Aid pledged to Haiti — $9.3 billion worth from 2010 to 2012 — is about a third of all global health aid donated in 2012. What happened to the money that was supposed to go to Haiti?

Katz: Money did what money tends to do in most foreign aid situations. That is, rather than being a model in which a rich country gives a poor country a big bag of cash and says, “Here spend this on fixing things up from whatever the latest crisis was,” what actually happens is that very little of the money actually leaves the donor countries. First of all, you’ve got billions of dollars that are promised but just never delivered. You’ve got billions of dollars more that were sort of creative accounting. Donor nations say they’re providing debt relief, yet those debts were never realistically going to be paid back. So some of the money is sort of fictive.

So how much actually made it into Haiti?

Even among the real money, if you look at what was labeled as humanitarian relief, in the months right after the quake, that amounts to about $2.5 billion.
Ninety-three percent of that money either went to United Nations agencies or international nongovernmental organizations, or it never left the donor government.
So you had the Pentagon writing bills to the State Department to get reimbursed for having sent troops down to respond to the disaster.
If we’re talking about reconstruction, it’s really a misnomer to think that relief aid was necessarily going to have the effect of rebuilding a country in any shape or form.

So what was that money spent on?

Band-Aids. Literally bandages. Short-term relief. Tarps to put over your head. Food to fill emergency gaps in supply.
But food gets eaten. Tarps wear out. Band-Aids get pulled off. And ultimately, all that money is spent, but people aren’t left with anything durable.When you hear about all these billions of dollars [in aid donations], the imagination is that they’re going to go and rebuild the country after the earthquake. They were never intended to do so and, lo and behold, they didn’t.

There are often complaints after big disasters about waste and inefficiencies. Was the Haiti earthquake different from any other international disaster or is this typical?

What is interesting about Haiti is the extremes.
There are lots of places that have weak governments, but Haiti’s government is weak in a special way. It’s the product of so many years of aid going around the government and international efforts to undermine the government. Presidents being overthrown and flown out on U.S. Air Force planes and then reinstalled and then overthrown again. That left the Haitian government in such a weakened state.
Then the disaster itself was also so much more extreme. It was so concentrated. It hit the capital city. Whether your estimates for a death toll is in the 80,000 range or closer to the government’s estimate of 316,000 — in a city of 2.5 million people — it’s just an extraordinary number.
It was an incredibly horrific disaster. It hit the country right at its heart and destroyed a government that was already weakened.
But beyond that, the attitude that so many foreign aid groups have regarding Haiti is that you can basically come in and do whatever you want. So there was no accountability, no coordination.
People were just running around doing what they thought was best or what they thought was best for them. And it really created a mess.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: npr

Grasshoppers are the Food of the FutureCould this be your next meal? It may have to be; grasshoppers are the food of the future.

Overpopulation is a real concern for the planet and for “quality of life standards” for every person on the planet. It is estimated that the global population will reach 8 to 10 billion in the next few decades, and with this, a whole new way of life will have to be adopted to meet our needs.

A major transition will have to occur in regards to the food we eat and how food is grown, managed and distributed. Current habits will not be able to keep pace with growing demands. One thing that will have to be downsized is the cattle industry. It is simply not sustainable and efficient for feeding beef to more and more people, and its environmental effects will become even more of a liability.

The solution? Farming and harvesting insects. It takes very little water and transport fuel compared to livestock, grains and even vegetables. It is also far more efficient than raising cattle. One hundred pounds of feed produces 10 pounds of beef. The same amount of feed would produce more than four times that amount in crickets. They are high in protein, iron and calcium, making them a logical food choice; it is already utilized in many regions of the world.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The Borgen Project,
Photo Source:


What Would an HIV Cure Mean for the World's Poor?On March 3rd, doctors announced that they had “functionally cured” a Mississippi child born with HIV of the virus. A functional cure means that a patient has tested negative for the virus. In this case, the child no longer needs HIV medication and is very unlikely to pass the virus on to others.

Doctors have already achieved a 98-99% success rate in the US in preventing the passage of HIV from pregnant mothers to their newborn children. This is accomplished through aggressive retroviral drug treatment during pregnancy and continued treatment of the newborn after birth.

In the United States, about 0.3% of the population, or 1.1 million people, is living with HIV/AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 5% of the population is living with HIV/AIDS. That’s 22.5 million people: the combined population of Iowa and New York states.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the virus is particularly widespread among women and children. There, 387,500 children under the age of 14 were receiving anti-HIV drug treatment in 2010. The number of children who needed treatment but weren’t receiving it was estimated to be about 2 million. While African HIV infection rates have been dropping over the last decade as a result of better health care and education, the virus remains an epidemic.

What would an HIV cure mean for the world’s poor? Being able to cure babies and children of the virus, as well as stopping the spread of HIV from mothers to children, would eliminate the majority of new cases in sub-Saharan Africa. Curing newborns of HIV worldwide would mean a significant decrease in infant and child mortality, and healthier and easier lives for families. It would also eliminate the need for a lifetime of costly anti-viral drugs for those children cured.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: Guardian, Avert, CDC

Can Charter Cities Help Eliminate Poverty?When many of us imagine utopias, we may have flashbacks to our 7th-grade reading assignment of Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Paul Romer, however, has created a ‘concept’ over the past few years that leaves all imagined futuristic cities in the dark. Romer’s concept or “start-up” cities don’t actually possess any futuristic characteristics. They revolve around three basic principles: an independent watchdog, the influence of an external legal framework, and business investors. The product of these will “help drive economic growth…and reduce poverty and enhance development”.

Cities such as the ones Romer has tried to establish around the world were somewhat common during the period of industrial growth in the western world. When new factories would pop up, communities were built around them providing homes, schools, and other institutions for the workers. Romer, however, stresses that his cities are nothing like these. “A city built solely by a private business will just become a modern company town — a corporate city, not a charter city”.

His latest attempt was in Honduras. In partnership with the U.S. investment group MGK, Romer was hoping to create a city that would lure in businesses to revitalize the city and provide jobs. President Profirio Lobo Sosa cooperated, thereby facilitating the process of creating the city. However, in the fall of 2013, major issues began to rise. There was a lack of a solid independent ‘big brother’ for the city. There was no way the city was going to exist alone alongside the corruption in the Honduran government. Aside from that, the Honduran Supreme Court overturned the law that would create the charter city. Romer left the project in September with the investment group shortly abandoning it 2 months later.

Why did this project fail? Was it the concept or the lack of requirements that were being met? Paul soon found out that perhaps his venture’s foundation was too broad. Creating a city out of almost nothing (“Rome wasn’t built in a day” they say) requires confidence from numerous sources, especially given the participants required for charter cities. Of course, the external countries need to provide revenue and training, but if they do not trust the government of the country they are working with, the projects will fail.

Perhaps Honduras was not ready for a charter city. Charter cities have to be in countries that are ready for change; whose governments are willing to take on a drastic idea and let it redefine their communities. Countries such as those affected by the Arab Spring.

Tunisia and Morocco, where Romer is currently expanding his ideas to, have few preexisting symptoms that would make charter cities such a good fit for them. For one, they have a large population of unemployed and consequently agitated, youth. Their political leaders are desperate for a change both politically and economically, something charter cities can achieve.

There are those however who believe Romer’s approach is too complex and can create more problems than it solves. Michael Strong of MGK sees the involvement of the outside countries as too much. He believes that the charter city’s country should focus on developing a relationship with the private investors of the city and keep all affairs internal.

All in all, the use of charter cities offers a novice approach to create semi-autonomous patches of peace and economic success within countries that are slowly trying to reinvent themselves whether it’s out of political upheaval or recession. Even though there are some projects that have not had too much success such as the Georgian city of Lazika, the energy and thought put into building these cities, whether from scratch or renewing a fallen one, will not go wasted and unnoticed.

– Deena Dulgerian

Photo:The Economist

The Risks of International Relief and DevelopmentDr. Arthur Keys, founder and CEO of International Relief and Development, has given out $3 billion in aid in his career. Because the places that need aid most are also often the most violent and conflicted, he has flown in personally to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan to help ensure the money reaches the right people. Keys founded IRD in 1998 and it has grown to be one of the largest U.S. non-profit agencies. Before that, he worked for the United Church of Christ’s Board for Homeland Ministries in the United States. He believes his lifelong commitment to helping people through his religious organizations has sparked his dedication to international aid.

Keys got his start on an international level in Mumbai. He supported the poor of Mumbai in their conflict with outsider interests that attempted to turn their land into expensive commercial high rises. His group provided latrines and helped the citizens to retain their property rights. Now, the situation in Mumbai is much better. The outside interests, including the World Bank, have learned that they must work with local community groups rather than strictly local government to do what’s best for the region.

Currently, International Relief and Development specialize in helping communities around the world that are recovering from conflict or natural disasters. The 4.000 staff members, 90% of whom are hired locally, develop community stabilization, infrastructure, health, agriculture, democracy and governance, relief and logistics. Only a tenth of the donation dollars they receive goes to overhead and the rest supports impoverished communities directly. In Iraq, for example, his teams worked on renovating schools, sanitation systems and water systems as well as job training.

The main goal of International Relief and Development in any of the areas where it operates is stabilization, which means getting things back to normal. Members strive to achieve this goal by working with local community groups to ensure that the people’s best interests are prioritized. Despite the constant dangers of the job, IRD continues to take on projects in potentially risky areas. This follows the spirit of founder Arthur Keys and his commitment to helping the less fortunate around the world under any circumstances.

– Sean Morales

Source: Huffington Post
Photo: NPR

Beyoncé is Helping Girls Run the WorldWho runs the world? According to a very popular song of Beyoncé’s, girls do.

And now to show just how much she believes that Beyoncé has partnered with the clothing brand Gucci, as well as famous superstars such as Salma Hayek, Adrianna Huffington, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Jada Pinket-Smith to start a campaign called Chime for Change. The Chime for Change Campaign is, as written by’s Sarah Karmali, an initiative that aims to raise funds for and awareness about supporting the projects of girls and women worldwide “through sharing ‘powerful stories’ about inspiring females.”

By sharing different women’s stories, the Chime for Change Campaign wants to strengthen and unite all the voices speaking out for women and girls across the globe with hopes of, as stated on TED (a nonprofit that brings together thinkers, philanthropists, and doers), “raising an alarm and drawing attention where there is work to be done – with a focus on Education, Health and Justice.”

The campaign – thought up by Salma Hayek and Gucci Creative Director, Frida Giannini – will feature a series of ten films that highlight the power of technology and tell inspiring stories of women across the world. Each film will be narrated by Hayek and will feature new music by Beyoncé. The first film has already been released and in it, Salma Hayek praises the advent of technology for helping connect women and girls in ways that were previously unimaginable. The video goes on to show how change that creates equality for women, gives girls everywhere the opportunity to go to school and provides women access to the care they need is occurring and necessary for improving not only communities but the whole world.

The optimistic message of the video, as well as celebrity appearances (both Salma Hayek and Beyoncé appear in the first video), is encouraging, not only to the future success of the campaign but also to the importance of what technology can do. It shows how technology can connect people everywhere and bring attention to empowering stories across the globe.

Click here to watch the first video.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: Huffington Post, TED
Photo: Chime for Change

Nigeria's Progress Harming the PoorNigerian top officials have pledged to make Nigeria the region’s – or more ambitiously, Africa’s – leading business center. The progress that Nigeria has made in recent years is hard to miss and it is harming the poor. Last week, former President Bill Clinton traveled to Nigeria to help unveil the Eko Atlantic City, reclaimed land that, a recent New York Times article says, has been built up into a “Dubai-style shopping and housing development built out into the Atlantic Ocean.” Nigeria reclaiming this land means big things for its economy and will provide a lot of job opportunities for local community members. Clinton even praised the Eko Atlantic City project for being a destination hotspot for global investment.

However, there is an ugly side to Nigeria’s progress that is going unnoticed as this push for progress in Nigeria is actually displacing and harming the poor. In Lagos, the government’s vision for progress plowed over hundreds of wooden dwellings in the slum of Badia East, leveling it in 6 hours. This left thousands of Nigeria’s poorest residents without homes and without hope. The land on which people’s homes sat were seen as areas of prime real estate or areas where improvement and money could be made. In the future, new homes will be built on the land. Yet, the chances of the displaced being able to afford these homes are basically nonexistent, according to the Lagos State Commissioner for Housing.

Within 6 hours, thousands were displaced, many saying “they were [only] given 20 minutes, at most, to pack up their belongings” and leave, according to the New York Times article. In the wake of uplifting global development, it is important to remember that, despite progress, there will always be those who live on the fringes of society whose livelihoods must be taken into account when designing the frameworks of the future.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: NY Times, All Africa
Photo: Habitants