Biggest Global Issues
Hundreds of millions of people around the world experience insufficient living conditions due to environmental factors, displacement, disease, poverty or some combination of the four. Here is a list of the biggest global issues that plague humankind.

The Biggest Global Issues Facing Mankind

1. Food and Malnutrition

  • Food and nutrition are essential for just about every life form on the planet, especially humankind. Although countries such as China, India, Brazil and the United States produce vast amounts of food for the world, about one in nine people will not eat enough food today. Malnourishment leads to the inability of about 795 million people to lead active and healthy lives around the globe.

  • Malnutrition leads to poor health and can stunt development in education and employment. According to The Food Aid Foundation, 66 million school-aged children will go to school hungry today. Consistent hunger in schools is linked to a lack of concentration.

  • World hunger has decreased by about 219 million people within the past two decades. It is through the innovative and ambitious work of organizations like the World Food Programme, in partnership with governments and communities, that the world can fill empty stomachs and provide communities with the resources to fill their own stomachs without aid, overtime.

  • The World Food Programme provides the Home Grown School Feeding Programme to counter the effects of consistent hunger in schools. One model of the  Home Grown School Feeding Programme in Kenya provides school meals to over 600 million schoolchildren. The organization purchases the meals from local farmers which helps boost Kenya’s agriculture-dependent economy. Constant meals in school serve as an incentive for poor families to send their children to school every day and enhance the quality of children’s education by reducing hunger.

2. Access to Clean Water

  • Water covers about 70 percent of planet Earth. Inadequate water supply, water supply access and lack of sanitation kill millions of people annually. Used for drinking and hygiene practices, lack of water sanitation is a leading cause of child mortality around the world.

  • Two days of the year educate the world about one of the biggest global issues facing humankind: the global water crisis. World Water Day and World Toilet Day are reminders that 700 million people around the globe could be facing displacement due to decreased access to fresh water by 2030. Severe droughts are a major reason for displacement. When there is no more water for drinking or for crops and livestock, people must leave their homes in search of a place where there is an adequate supply of water.

  • Within the past two decades, the percentage of countries without basic sanitation services decreased by 17 percent. Forty countries are on track to receive universal basic sanitation services by the year 2030. In the meantime, 88 countries are progressing too slowly in their sanitation advancements and 24 countries are decreasing in their advances toward universal sanitation coverage.

  • The Water Project is committed to providing safe water to Africa. It builds wells and dams to provide access to safe water. The project also delivers improved technology for more sanitary toilets that keep flies away. The Water Project provides and monitors 157 water projects in Sierra Leone including wells, dams and sanitary toilets. The Water Project builds these projects in schools and communities in the Port Loko region of Sierra Leone, serving some 7,000 Sierra Leoneans. The Water Project’s save water initiative impacts over 40,000 people on the continent of Africa.

3. Refugee Crisis

  • The refugee crisis is one of the biggest global issues facing humankind today. Refugees are seeking asylum from persecution, conflict and violence. A grand total of 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their home countries. Some 54 percent of those displaced are children.

  • Developing countries host a third of the world’s refugees. Many refugees reside in the neighboring countries of those they left behind. Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon lead the world in hosting refugees.

  • Asylum seekers from Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan continuously flee ongoing persecution, conflict and violence in their home countries. More recently, four million Venezuelans have fled their home country, 460 thousand of whom are seeking asylum in Spain, Central America and North America.

  • Venezuelans are fleeing dire political unrest and hyperinflation. Shortages in food, water, electricity and medicine also afflict the country. The Red Cross now provides at least $60 million worth of aid to Venezuela, reaching at least 650,000 Venezuelans. The World Vision Organization delivers aid to Venezuelan refugees in Venezuela’s neighboring countries. For example, in Colombia, World Vision provides economic empowerment, education, food and health essentials to some 40,000 refugees.

4. AIDS Epidemic

  • Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a longstanding global issue. With at least 36.9 million AIDS or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) infections around the world, the disease is one of the biggest global issues facing humankind. Since 2004, AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by over half. In 2004, almost two million people worldwide died of AIDS-related illnesses, compared to 940,000 in 2017.

  • Organizations like the International AIDS Society, UNAIDS, Kaiser Family Foundation and PEPFAR are dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. These organizations help to ensure that infected people have access to treatment and the opportunity to live healthy lives. Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are 14 times more likely to contract HIV than boys. The DREAM initiative by PEPFAR and partners prioritizes the safety of AGYW against new HIV infections. PEPFAR is reaching at least 144,000 AGYW in Kenya, one country where HIV infections are most prevalent.

  • Although there is currently no cure, UNAIDS has a Sustainable Development Goal of bringing the number of new HIV infections down to zero by the year 2030. The Kaiser Family Foundation conducts research and analyzes data regarding U.S. AIDS policy and funding, both domestic and globally. It serves as a source of information about AIDS and other global health issues for U.S. policymakers and the media.

5. Eradicating Poverty

  • Poverty is the lack of income necessary to access basic everyday needs and/or living below a specific country’s standard of living. Living in poverty can result in malnutrition,  poor health, fewer opportunities for education and increased illness. With an estimated 783 million people living in poverty, eradicating poverty is one of the biggest global issues facing humankind.

  • Malnutrition, contaminated water, the refugee crisis and the AIDS epidemic all contain some aspects of poverty. Organizations like the United Nations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focus on sustainable development strategies to alleviate global poverty. The number of people living in poverty has decreased by half, thanks to the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals have lifted at least one billion people out of extreme poverty within the last two decades.

  • The Gates Foundation is proving that poverty can be ameliorated through Agricultural Transformation. Increasing a country’s food production can counter malnutrition and boost the country’s economy by increasing farmer’s crop productivity. Poverty in Ethiopia has decreased by at least 45 percent since the Gates Foundation first started investing in agricultural development there in 2006. Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, is witnessing an overall increase in its economy.

With the help of innovative organizations partnered with governments, the world is implementing practical techniques to help eliminate hunger, water scarcity, AIDS/HIV and poverty from the list of the biggest global issues facing humankind. Eliminating these problems will improve the living conditions of millions of people around the world, including refugees and internally displaced people.

– Rebekah Askew
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Cuba
Ever since the small Caribbean nation of Cuba became a nation in 1902, corruption at all levels of its society has plagued it. From the face of the nation to the small-time citizen, corruption impacts almost every person in Cuba.

Cuba has suffered over a century of corrupt government officials, businessmen and everyday citizens taking advantage of the already impoverished nation. Cuba has formed policies in an attempt to stop the trends that so many are familiar with, but the country needs to do more. Here are 10 facts about corruption in Cuba including its history and what the country is doing to combat it.

10 Facts About Corruption in Cuba

  1. It was not until the presidency of Jose Miguel Gomes in 1909 that Cuba experienced major public corruption. He earned the nickname of The Shark because of his involvement in several government corruption scandals that became public. The second president of Cuba and his supporters were guilty of embezzlement of funds.
  2. In 1952, Fulgencio Batista and the army led a military coup on the sitting president, Carlos Prio Socarras. Batista subsequently became president and led a corrupt dictatorship that would make millions off of profiteering from foreign investors’ illegal gambling and even criminal organizations. Batista received 30 percent of profits from Cuban casinos and hotels owned by the gangster, Meyer Lansky, alone.
  3. After six years of corruption and exploitation under the dictatorship of Batista, the Cuban people had enough. Fidel Castro led his revolutionary forces to depose Batista from power on January 1, 1959. The style of government that Castro installed did not fix the problem of corruption; it only changed those in charge.
  4. Corrupt officials take bribes from the few foreign companies in Cuba in exchange for lucrative contracts. An incident like this led to the arrest of the Canadian CEO of the Tokmakjian Group in 2011. Cy Tokmakjian was guilty of giving gifts to Cuban officials in exchange for government contracts for his Ontario, Canada-based transportation company.
  5. The police in Cuba often search the vehicles and homes of the Cuban people, and instead of charging individuals with a particular crime, they seek bribes to gain profit for their time. The police have the power to stop and question any citizen and carry out search and seizure operations without a warrant. Officially, in order to search someone’s home, police need a warrant, however, they still confiscate goods without these warrants.
  6.  State employees steal and sell state goods on the black market. As much as 20 percent of goods are stolen and distributed around the country. The Cuban government provides most of the goods for the people; items become very scarce or not seen at all as a result of the overwhelming theft. For example, people have a difficult time locating construction materials, such as paint wood and cement, because people steal them frequently.
  7. The practice of sociolisomo is widespread in the Cuban government and top positions of power. Sociolisomo translates to partner-ism and is the reciprocal exchange of favors by individuals. Those in power and control of the state-run resources often let people gain access to these resources via bribes or some other form of material compensation. For example, hospitals give people preferential treatment if they can supply the hospital with scarce material items, such as pens and paper, or provide other services to the hospital.
  8. Today, Cuba is progressing in the right direction when it comes to corruption. Transparency International has ranked Cuba at 47 out of 100; this is up from the country’s lowest of 35 in 2006. One hundred means that a country is completely free of corruption and zero means the country is very corrupt. Transparency International has ranked Cuba 61 on the list of 180 countries.
  9. When Raul Castro took power in 2008, he promised to crack down on corruption in all of Cuba. In 2009, he created the Office of the Comptroller General, which was tasked with auditing companies and state-run institutions. This was meant to bring to light and put in check the levels of corruption that have run rampant in the highest levels of government for decades. Recently, the office discovered in 2018 Cuba’s economy suffered millions of dollars worth of damage. Investigations found that 369 public enterprises were to blame for corruption including a lack of control of accounts and breach of payments. The office determined that 1,427 people were responsible.
  10. In 2001, the government of Cuba created the Ministry for Auditing and Control to help combat corruption in Cuba. Through auditing and inspections of the Cuban Civil Aviation Institute in 2011, the Cuban government was able to discover millions of dollars in the home of Rogelio Acevedo. The investigation found that Acevedo was leasing state airplanes off the official books and keeping the money for himself.

Despite a long history of corruption in Cuba, the new leadership is taking steps to combat corruption on the island nation. Corruption in Cuba still exists today but data shows that the country is heading in the right direction. Only time will tell if the newly implemented policies will have a positive impact on the Cuban people.

– Sam Bostwick
Photo: Flickr

Wasted Medical Supplies
The United States generates over two million tons of wasted medical supplies each year. Facilities do not use many of these supplies such as unexpired medical supplies and equipment. People even throw away completely usable, albeit expired medical supplies. This surplus exists because of hospital cleaning policies, infection prevention guidelines and changes in vendors. Additionally, because equipment must always be ready, replacements are always in order. As such, in the U.K., medical facilities replace equipment before the old versions are out of commission. Waste ranges from medicine to operating gowns, all the way to hospital beds and wheelchairs. Beyond consumables like medicine and one-time supplies like syringes, the need to replace before equipment is sub-optimal leaves a margin for waste on big-ticket items like MRIs.

Many hospitals have dumped their garbage from the reception and operating rooms along with usable medical surplus into incinerators. Although this burning is a source of many pollutants, it is still common practice in many developing countries.

This issue of medical supply waste intertwines deeply with a lack of access to medical equipment in the developing world. While developed countries live in a world of sterile excess, developing countries and remote villages with little access to suitable equipment to meet their needs suffer.

How Does this Waste Relate to Poverty?

People view access to the level of health care service in the developed world as the standard rather than a privilege. In places of poverty like Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, facilities are in desperate need of supplies and equipment to treat patients in their region.

Inadequate provisions leave patients on the floor or in out-of-date hospital beds paired with another patient. In the DRC, rape is a common weapon of war. The U.N. Human Rights Security Council passed a resolution that described the problem as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” Many of the patients at the doorstep of Burhinyi Central Hospital are suffering from rape-related ailments. Some examples are HIV/AIDS, fistulas, bladder and intestinal damage and infections. Without the necessary equipment to handle such cases, impoverished areas, which are already more prone to injury and disease, deteriorate.

How Can it be Fixed?

Again, the issue of wasted medical supplies id deeply connected to poverty. In fact, they are complementary. The solution lies in moving the surplus from areas of excess to people in need. This reduces the waste in developed countries by giving supplies to hospitals that need them. Therefore, one can convert wasted medical supplies to usable surplus.

There are many NGOs like Medshare and Supplies Over Seas (SOS) that follow this process. These nonprofits operate based on collecting, sorting and sending the usable medical surplus to hospitals in need.

SOS has a container shipment program that sends cargo containers filled with medical supplies. These containers would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. A typical container contains six to eight tons. Its medical contents value conservatively at $150,000-$350,000. Since 2014, SOS has shipped containers to 20 countries in need.

A volunteer at Medshare outlined her experience working with surplus medical supplies, saying that, “It was shocking how much waste there actually was. Warehouses full of totally usable stuff all ready to be thrown away.” She added, “[she] sorted through things like syringes and gauze packets which were all put into huge containers for hospitals that need it. It feels like a difference is being made.”

Stop Wasting and Start Donating

Wasted medical supplies and impoverished areas without access to proper medical equipment are issues that people can resolve simultaneously by salvaging usable supplies and equipment that were ready to go to landfill and sending them to communities in need. Regarding medical waste and poverty, the best solutions occur when those who have more give to those who have less.

– Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

Culture Affects Poverty
Poverty is a universal issue. It affects people of every nation, religion and culture. Though global inequality has been decreasing in recent decades, many countries still stand at an advantage over others, and in many cases, are in a better position to help.

It is difficult to guarantee effectiveness in a foreign country by virtue of it being foreign. The way the government or people behave will differ. Even the general mindset toward poverty can vary—and these are important differences to note. Culture impacts poverty’s manifestation and means of escape.

These cultural differences continue to exist on an international scale. Culture affects poverty both directly in the way it interacts with poverty, and indirectly, with the conditions that stimulate or prevent poverty. Many of the critical factors focus on a culture’s standard for family structure.

Children are More Likely to Live in Poverty

Children are most likely to live in poverty. If approached per capita, children below 11-years-old in developing countries are nearly 10 percent more likely to live in poverty than the international average. In contrast, the elderly are 10 percent less likely to live in poverty.

There are similar numbers across the globe. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where the poverty rate averages 54.6 percent, children between six and 11-years-old are 62.7 percent likely to live in poverty, while those of 65-years-old stands at 47.9 percent.

The Middle East and Northern Africa have the lowest rates of child poverty. Mirza Izmagilov Makhmutov, former Minister of Education of Tatarstan, describes Eastern culture as being more family-oriented with a focus on upholding history and tradition, compared to Western culture, which places emphasis on science and the individual. Though she describes this rule as unattractive to most young people, it may hold ground in lessening child and elderly poverty in the Middle East.

This is not to dismiss economic factors. Poverty rates drop with even moderate economies of scale—that is, the more production in a country, the more efficiently its society runs. Countries with economies of scale tend to have fewer children in a household.

Single Parents are at a Disadvantage

Though it is difficult to isolate the causes of single parents’ likeliness to live in poverty, as they are often closely entangled with a lesser education and intergenerational poverty, single parents are more likely to live in poverty than their married or cohabiting counterparts. In the U.K., a child’s likelihood of being in the bottom quintile of income is 21 percent for married parents, 31 percent for cohabiting families and 81 percent for single parents.

While the U.K’.s rate of single parents has grown over the last few decades, as the gap in poverty between single and married parents decreases, people still largely look down on single parenthood in Asia.

Globally in 2012, 13.7 percent of children below 15 lived in single-parent households. In Japan and Korea, 12.3 percent and 8.9 percent of children respectively lived in single-parent households, compared to in the U.K. and the U.S., with a respective 20.7 percent and 16.7 percent.

On average, 15 percent of children in Japan live in poverty. For children of single mothers, this increases to 55 percent. Yukiko Tokumaru, who runs Child Action Poverty Osaka, a non-governmental organization, describes Japan as having a culture that places women below men, making it difficult for a woman to have a job after a child.

Yasuko Kawabe, who runs the Nishinari Kids Dining Hall in Osaka, describes the children as needing more than food when they come to her center. At school, the children often find themselves isolated from their peers because their peers consider them to be from a “bad house.” Mothers, too, do not receive pressure to look wealthy at the Hall. According to Junko Terauchi, head of the Osaka Social Welfare Promotional Council, there is massive pressure on single or poor mothers, with women going so far as to hide separations from their partners from friends and coworkers.

Though hope often feels far away for these Japanese women, change seems to be on the horizon. Japanese President Abe Shinzo aims to provide work for women, especially those returning to the workforce after giving birth. Daycare centers in Osaka and other cities offer free meals and playtime for children.

Globally, there is increasing aid for single parents, and there is decreasing global inequality. Culture and wealth gradually exchange. There are no clear-cut means of determining if any culture is more effective at dealing with poverty than another. Rather, culture affects poverty by determining the behavior of poverty in a nation. Culture affects poverty on many levels—in determining government support, in the way it changes the standard family structure and in wealthy treatment of the poor.

– Katie Hwang
Photo: Flickr

Goonj
Goonj is a non-governmental organization working in various parts of India. It aims to share unused and unrequired materials from urban households with people living in rural areas to fulfill their needs. The organization believes that countries and economies can use urban discard to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the poor.

The organization works across 23 states in India with 250 partner groups. It has offices with 150 full-time people and thousands of volunteers. The organization receives about 80-100 tonnes of material each month and turns it into material that people can productively use in the remote and impoverished areas of the country. In its latest annual report for 2017 to 2018, Goonj highlights that it has been able to reach over 3,600 villages in India and has dealt with more than 4,000 tonnes of material.

Various Initiatives

Goonj has performed various activities in different fields of work from 2017 to 2018. Some of its highlights include sanitation activities where it repurposed basic essentials like clothes and utility items into materials for women to use during menstruation. In addition to this, its initiative, Not just a Piece of Cloth, also aims to break the culture of shame and silence around menstruation. It turns these cloths into biodegradable clothes for women to use. When people from urban areas contribute their cotton bed sheets, curtains and shirts, the organization turns them into cloth pads for women in rural areas. It also holds gatherings for women to talk openly about the issue of menstruation, which many still consider a stigma in Indian society.

In the field of education, Goonj’s initiative School to School works towards using urban school material to address gaps in the rural education systems in India. Goonj was able to share 39,416 school kits to over 2,100 schools and 1,200 educational setups in villages. In addition, children in rural areas learn value for their belongings as they take up various educational and behavioral change activities which reward them these school kits. Not only does this initiative provide the poor with resources for education, but it also teaches them values.

Other areas of work that the organization focuses on are road repairs, disaster relief and health that it can perform with the excess raw materials it receives. Its initiative Cloth for Work works on rural developmental activities while Raahat provides disaster relief. Meanwhile, Green, an in-house brand, creates items from the last bits of materials it receives. These are also extremely successful ventures and have impacted a large population of the country.

Awards and Recognition

Goonj has received various awards for the work it does all over India. In 2012, NASA and the U.S. State Department chose it as a Game-Changing Innovation and in the same year, Forbes magazine listed Anshu Gupta, Goonj’s founder, as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs. In recognition of its important work, Goonj has received the Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project by the Global Development Fund and continues to impact the country to build sustainability and impact the rural population.

– Isha Akshita Mahajan
Photo: Flickr

Venezuelans Fleeing
As the beneficiary of the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela was once the wealthiest nation in Latin America. However, in 2014, the economy began to collapse. The Bolivar, its currency, has gone into free fall, leaving millions unable to afford even the most basic necessities. According to Bloomberg’s Café con leche index, a cup of coffee today costs the same as 1,800 cups in January 2018. As food and health care become more difficult to come by, many Venezuelans are faced with the decision of struggling to get by or fleeing the country.

Why Flee?

Every day, thousands of Venezuelans leave their country in search of safety and stability, many of them arriving in Colombia. The International Rescue Committee has been supporting families in need in Cúcuta, a border city, since April 2018.

Venezuela is millions in debt while the only commodity that the country relies on is oil. Unfortunately, the value of oil has plummeted. In 2014, the price of oil was about $100 a barrel. Then several countries started to pump too much oil as new drilling technology could dredge up what was previously inaccessible, but businesses globally were not buying more gasoline. Too much oil caused the global price to drop to $26 in 2016. Today the price hovers around $50, which means that Venezuela’s income has been cut in half.

At the same time, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s hostility towards foreign business has created a corporate exodus. Companies such as United, General Motors and Pepsi have left entirely and unemployment in Venezuela could reach 25 percent this year. To try and keep up, Maduro has raised the minimum wage three times in 2019 in order to provide a little short-term relief to the poor. Currently, the minimum wage is at 18,000 bolivars per month, which is around $6.70 U.S.

How Many Venezuelans Have Left?

According to the U.N., more than three million people have already left Venezuela since the crisis began, and that number is increasing at a rapid rate. Approximately one million people, several lacking official documentation, have gone to neighboring Colombia. However, Peru is the second most popular destination country for Venezuelan refugees, with over 500,000. Ecuador follows, with over 220,000, Argentina with over 130,000, Chile with over 100,000 and Brazil with 85,000 immigrants.

By the end of 2019, the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country should reach 5.3 million. Nearly 300,000 children have fled the homes and lives they once knew, and approximately 10 percent of the country’s total population has already left.

The Way Out

The majority of those fleeing Venezuela do so on foot, and the road begins close to Cúcuta. Many people pay smugglers to use a trocha, which is an illegal border crossing through a river. On the Colombian side of the border has become a huge open-air market for all the things that people cannot get in Venezuela anymore. Vendors advertise medicines and cigarettes, candy and phone minutes for people to call home.

Sadly, some do not make the journey on foot. In Cúcuta, the temperature can hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit. However, on other parts of the route, the road climbs to 10,000 feet above sea level and temperature can drop below freezing. Walking this route takes approximately 32 days. The mountain pass, La Nevera, translates to the Refrigerator. Aid groups and residents have opened their homes and set up shelters along the path. However, the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country has surpassed the number of shelters available along the way, making space for only the lucky few.

The Impact

The emotional wellbeing of children who have fled Venezuela is of high concern. Sometimes traveling alone, boys and girls disrupt their education and are in great danger of falling behind in school and never catching up again. On the contrary, some parents leave their children behind when they leave the country. These children often gain material benefits from their parents’ migration, because sending hard currency to relatives provides greater access to food, medicine and other lacking necessities.

Furthermore, tensions between Venezuelans fleeing the country and citizens of other countries is often high. Colombia has had to reach out to the international community for help in dealing with the influx of migrants. Hospitals and elementary schools in Cúcuta have been overwhelmed, and administrators complain about the central government’s failure to reimburse them for the cost of caring for migrants. The national government has suspended the issuance of temporary visas, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, has promised $30 million in assistance.

In Ecuador, anti-immigrant sentiments reached a highpoint when a Venezuelan allegedly stabbed to death his pregnant Ecuadorian girlfriend, Diana Ramirez Reyes, in front of police and scared residents of the city of Ibarra. Since then, President Lenin Moreno decreed a tougher immigration policy that requires incoming Venezuelans to present a document certifying they had a clean criminal record in Venezuela. However, such documents are costly to obtain in Venezuela.

Similarly, Peru and Chileans have developed hesitation toward Venezuelans fleeing the country. People cannot renew work permits in Peru and as of 2018, the country decided to stop issuing them. A recent survey in Chile found that many natives disapprove of the number of immigrants coming in. Seventy-five percent of those responding to the survey thought that the number of immigrants was excessive.

Who is Helping?

Since April 2018, the IRC has been working in Cúcuta supporting Venezuelans and vulnerable Colombians with specialized services for women and children, cash assistance and health care. Aid organizations and families are also working to help immigrants along the route. The Colombian Red Cross has a small aid station on the outskirts of Pamplona, a city in Colombia’s Norte de Santander region.

The U.S. government has also helped by providing about $200 million in humanitarian aid to address the crisis in the region. Most of this money has gone to Colombia as do the majority of Venezuelans fleeing the country.

UNICEF has appealed for $69.5 million to meet the needs of uprooted children from Venezuela and those living in host and transit communities across the LAC region. It is working with national and local governments, host communities and partners to ensure access to safe drinking water, sanitation, protection, education and health services for Venezuelans fleeing the country.

– Grace Arnold
Photo: Flickr

 

EdTech in India
Education Technology, also known as EdTech, is a current driving force for major improvements to education in India. The information and communication technology placed in school systems throughout the country helps bring outside knowledge to classrooms that would have been previously inaccessible. Edtech has recently dropped in pricing, making the equipment and technology easily accessible in less developed areas and easier to implement in impoverished schools.

Four Key Facts About India’s Educational System

  1. India has one of the largest populations of school-age children, with an estimated 270 million children between the ages of 5 to 17.
  2. The country has four main levels for education: pre-primary from ages 3 to 6, primary from ages 6 to 10, secondary from ages 11 to 17 and tertiary from ages 18 to 22.
  3. Children must attend school from ages 6 to 13.
  4. School systems have seen a major increase in student enrollment in recent years, with a 15.37 percent increase of total gross enrollment in secondary education between 2009 and 2016.

While enrollment has increased, education in India is still behind with teaching methods and test scores. Many students test poorly in math and reading skills and teaching quality decreases in rural areas. In 2015, the mean achievement scores for math at a national level for rural areas was 247, while the urban score was 256. Urban areas also scored 19 points higher in English, with a mean score of 263. With less access to teachers and educational materials, the rural school systems face more deficits than urban areas.

Education technology is a relatively new concept for foreign countries, but the benefits to technology-infused classrooms are well known. Below are three benefits of increasing EdTech usage in Indian school systems.

Three Benefits of Increasing EdTech Usage in Indian Schools

  1. EdTech Bridges the Gap Between Rural and Urban Education: EdTech incorporates text, audio and video to teach and elaborate on classroom subjects. This technology fills in knowledge gaps when teachers are absent or less educated with certain materials. The language in these materials is also more streamlined, making topics easier to understand for a multitude of students. Video lessons make classes more consistent in all schools, eliminating the variation of teaching materials around the country. These programs also make student data more accessible to teachers, with some methods collecting and compiling data on student progress for teachers to be able to track progress and note areas that need improvement.
  2. EdTech Programs Emphasize Specialized and Individual Learning Plans: Education in India has previously been less effective at aiding students individually; through the implementation of EdTech, schools are better able to cater to students’ needs and adapt specific programs to better suit individual learning styles. Mindspark, an Indian based company that delves into education through videos, games and questions, is working to pique students’ interest in non-traditional ways. The software takes the basic values of comprehension for each student and adapts lesson plans to better fit their needs. The company recently worked with over 600 students in Delhi, citing increases in understanding of math and Hindi.
  3. EdTech Forms a Collaborative Space for Education: As more teachers begin to incorporate the newer technologies into the classroom, lesson plans will become more consistent in each region. Teachers will also be able to share effective teaching strategies using newer technology to benefit classrooms with less access to EdTech. This technology also makes information about students’ success more accessible to parents. Automated messaging to parents regarding progress can increase test scores for students overall.

While Edtech is benefitting education in India, foreign investments heavily fund the current ventures. Further development into education technology would require extensive partnership with the government, but some are taking steps to bring more technology into Indian classrooms. Prices for tablets and computers have decreased in recent years, making these educational programs more accessible to the multitudes. Many state-run schools have some access to these newer programs, and India is making more strides towards providing EdTech for students in all regions.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr

symphony for peruJuan Diego Flórez is a highly-recognized, award-winning Peruvian tenor, who has sung on the most coveted stages, including Covent Garden and Milan’s La Scala. He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and in 2011, he started Symphony for Peru. The foundation offers music classes and activities for children in low-income families, giving them a chance to develop their talent, teach them values through the arts and pull them away from at-risk situations.

The Need for Creativity

After struggling in the 80s and 90s with terrorism, hyperinflation and corruption, Peru started recovering and achieving steady economic growth from the beginning of 2005 to 2013. Poverty rates decreased and the stable economy gave Peruvians hope of improving their quality of life. This growth, however, has not been able to translate into proper educational or social development. Although it no longer stands in the last place of the PISA rankings, there is still much work to be done. With this in mind, Flórez stepped in and decided to help in the best way he knew: through music.

Juan Diego Flórez created Symphony for Peru, or Sinfonía por el Perú in Spanish, in 2011 to promote musical education in Peru’s most distant and poorest communities, throughout Coastal, Andean and Amazon regions. Flórez used the structure of the Venezuelan government’s music program as inspiration for Symphony for Peru; José Antonio Abreu created this program, who linked musical skills as a route to improve social and personal development.

Music to Peru’s Ears

Symphony for Peru aims to help children in low-income communities. The organization provides music education not only for children to develop their creative skills, but also to provide a different form of entertainment or hobby, taking them away from the risks of the streets, including drugs, crime and teenage pregnancy, and into the classroom.

As it is spread out throughout the country, the Symphony for Peru created different core groups of around 400 and 600 children who participate in either choirs, orchestras or jazz bands. It also works to have two luthier workshops, where children can practice instrument development by learning how to build and tune their own instruments. Another important aspect of the organization is their main Symphony Orchestra, which performs a couple of times per year and has recently recorded and released its own Christmas album.

Perhaps the most innovative way to show the results of the work Symphony for Peru is doing is by letting the children speak for themselves. Students in the organization can show their improvement and talent with patrons and the general audience in free concerts that Flórez organized. These often happen in July, Peru’s independence month.

An Impact through Music

More than 8,000 children have developed their skills as part of the program, and as a result, perseverance and efficacy at school has improved, as well as their behavior and ability to focus in the classroom. Additionally, the organization has proven to be a useful and more productive way for children to spend their time, and the levels of both psychological and physical abuse in the families of students have drastically decreased.

There is no doubt that Flórez is one of Peru’s most important cultural ambassadors. His talent and work ethic lead him to the top, and music critics compare him to some of the best opera tenors in the world like Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. His greatest gift, though, may not be his musical talent, but his selflessness and generosity, as well as his will to give back to his country and share his skills with the people who need it the most.

– Luciana Schreier
Photo: Flickr

Combating Global Corruption
Cosponsored by six congressmen, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) re-introduced the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 on May 2, 2019. The bill requires the Department of State to rank countries into three tiers by how the country complies with the anti-corruption standards established in section four of the bill. This bill previously died in the 115th Congress. However, the 2019 re-introduction has already proven to be more successful. In mid-July 2019, the Senate placed the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 on its legislative calendar.

Cosponsor Sen. Young says, “I am proud of this bipartisan effort to combat corruption around the world by standing with the world’s most vulnerable and holding those in power responsible for their actions.” Global corruption is a direct threat to democracy, economic growth, national and international security. It increases global poverty, violates human rights and threatens peace and security.

Corruption and Global Poverty

Bribery negatively impacts literacy rates and access to adequate health and sanitation services. Eight times more women die during childbirth in places where over 60 percent of the population report paying bribes compared to countries with rates below 30 percent. Bribery significantly increases the costs of services like education and health care while decreasing a family’s disposable income. For example, in Mexico, the average poor family spends one-third of its income on bribes. Some families must use the income meant for school or dinner to pay a bribe to local law enforcement.

Corruption and Human Rights

Article six of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

However, UNICEF reports that every five seconds, a child under the age of 15 dies of generally preventable causes. Over five million of these deaths occur before the age of five due to lack of water, sanitation, proper nutrition and basic health services. Impoverished families living in corrupt communities often do not have access to these services. Therefore, they suffer from higher rates of child mortality. Children are 84 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday in Angola, the sixth most corrupt country in the world, than Luxembourg, the 10th least corrupt country. Corruption denies children their right to life.

Peace and Security

Transparency International’s report “Corruption as a Threat to Stability and Peace” found that corruption fuels conflict and instability. Consequently, more than half of the 20 most corrupt countries have experienced violent conflict. Iraq and Venezuela have violent death rates above 40 per 100,000 individuals.

Further, one of the most profitable forms of corruption is human trafficking. UNICEF estimates that human traffickers generate $32 billion by smuggling approximately 21 million victims each year. Human trafficking occurs in unstable environments where corrupt officials allow criminal activity to persist. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that addressing human trafficking and combating global corruption together will generate better results.

Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019

The Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 will establish a three-tiered system of countries by their level of corruption and efforts to combat injustices.

  1. Tier one includes countries complying with the minimum standards stated in section four of the bill.
  2. Tier two includes countries attempting to comply with the minimum standards in section four but are not succeeding at the level of a tier-one country.
  3. Tier three includes countries to which the government is making little, to no effort to comply with the minimum standards in section four.

The minimum standards set expectations about national legislation and punishments to deter and eventually eliminate, the corruption inside a country’s borders. The second part of the Combating Global Corruption Act sets forth a procedure to conduct risk assessments, create mitigation strategies and investigate allegations of misappropriated foreign assistance funds to increase the transparency and accountability for how the U.S. provides foreign assistance to tier-three countries.

Sen. Cardin has four points of focus:

  1. Fighting corruption must become a national security priority.
  2. The U.S. government must coordinate efforts across agencies.
  3. The U.S. must improve oversight of its own foreign assistance and promote transparency.
  4. The U.S. can increase financial support for anti-corruption work by using seized resources and assets.

According to Sen. Cardin, the Combating Global Corruption Act of 2019 “recognizes the importance of combating corruption as a hurdle to achieving peace, prosperity and human rights around the world.”

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Using Art for Healing
Barely two years after its liberation from ISIS, Iraq is still harboring battle wounds. Everyone lost something, whether it was a home, business, family member or friend. A British Journal of Psychiatry study found that over 45 percent of child soldiers for ISIS in Northern Iraq who are between the ages of eight and 14 suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD. USAID has been funding art and music projects that bring people together and beautify the country as part of a national healing process.

In recent years, billions of dollars have gone to rebuilding infrastructure and ensuring that Iraquis meet their basic needs. To supplement the reconstruction of cities, some organizations have focused on healing the social rifts that emerged during the occupation.

The Benefits of the Arts

Iraq became liberated in 2017 from a three-year reign of terror under ISIS, and physical reconstruction in the war-torn country has been slow. However, many recognize that repairing buildings and paving streets will not undo all of the damage. The violence has torn the social fabric of Iraq to shreds. Reporter Alice Su from The Atlantic wrote in 2018, “Even if Mosul is rebuilt… lingering distrust and ongoing sectarian and ethnic violence may doom Iraq’s post-ISIS future.” People must heal this pervasive distrust before Iraq can achieve stability.

To encourage reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and the ethnic minorities, USAID offers support for art and music projects that local organizations initiated. Research has indicated the positive qualities of creative engagement to decrease anxiety, stress and mood changes, and this makes art medicinal to damaged societies like those that have recently experienced war.

Art and Music in Iraq

The Karim Wasfi Center for Creativity runs orchestras for Iraqi youth and introduced the first music program for the country’s orphans and displaced.  Its founder, Karim Wasfi, conducted the Peace Through Arts Farabi Orchestra during a USAID-sponsored concert in Mosul last October 2018.  This performance was the first classical music concert to take place in Mosul since the liberation from ISIS.

Another project was with a Yezidi youth group to paint over ISIS propaganda graffiti in the streets of communities near Sinjar. The youth volunteers replaced hateful messages with those promoting peace and education. Not only was this a healing activity for the nearly 200 youth who participated in the painting, but residents will now walk by these uplifting murals on a daily basis.

USAID emphasizes supporting projects that use art and music to promote messages of peace, like the work in Sinjar. Using art for healing in war-torn Iraq is gaining traction with Iraqi locals, as well as in other regions of the Middle East. Syrian Kurdish artist Ferhad Khalil organized an art symposium in Raqqa, Syria, to celebrate liberation from ISIS, and the World Monuments Fund has a school in Jordan to train refugees in conservation stonemasonry.

Art has the power to move people. Harnessing that power, the U.S. is funding more projects that are using art for healing in war-torn Iraq. A violin or a paintbrush may be able to combat terrorism, ethnic hatred and fear in countries facing political strife.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr