Information and news on advocacy.

Fight Against Homelessness in Italy
Italy is located along the Mediterranean coastline. The European country has a population of more than 60 million people with an average of 95 million tourists visiting every year. What many are not aware of is that immigrants, women and children are especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness in Italy. The fight against homelessness in Italy has become a more prominent issue. Police began fining homeless people in the street for not following the lockdown measures that the country implemented. Thus, the Italian Federation of Organizations for Homeless People has appealed for greater leniency from the state.

The organization wrote, “They cannot stay at home because they do not have a home. There is an economic sanction which they cannot pay, and they have to go to the magistrate. They are not on the street for fun.”

Historical Context of Homelessness in Italy

Though worsened by the pandemic, homelessness in Italy has long been an issue. Italy is a developed nation with a GDP that expectations have determined will be around $1920 billion in 2021. However, homelessness has worsened due to the economic crisis. In 2016, homelessness impacted 50,724 people in Italy. Since 2013, this number has increased by roughly 3,000. Furthermore, 5.1 million people were living in extreme poverty in 2017. Due to its geographical location, Italy receives an influx of immigrants. As a result, 58% of Italy’s impoverished population are immigrants. In 2017, 117,153 people arrived in Italy by ship. About 67% of these migrants use Caritas, a counseling service offering advice regarding homelessness. Homelessness impacts the region of Lombardia in northern Italy the most. According to Italian Caritas, there is an increase in youth homelessness as well.

The Good News

There are various organizations that are striving to fight homelessness in Italy. For example, the Baobab Experience is an organization that previously aimed to find shelter for 120 people who slept in Piazzale Spadolini (Tiburtina Station) and has continued to provide hospitality for the homeless population in Rome. Additionally, it has advocated that the homeless receive health checks, beginning with migrants who do not have residency permits. Many of these migrants avoid hospitals in fear of detainment, so this would allow them to check their health without those consequences.

The Baobab Experience emerged in 2015 as a result of a migratory emergency when 35,000 migrants passed through Baobab, located in Via Cupa, Rome. More than 70,000 people have passed through the camps that the organization has since established. Thanks to private donations, the Baobab Experience also supports individuals with medical and legal assistance. Furthermore, the organization provides water, food, clothing and an opportunity for leisure. Many of the migrants travel through Italy to reach other countries, however, others are asylum seekers, often must wait in the streets for months before any legal practice can begin.

Further Efforts

Other NGOs such as Asgi, Naga, Magistratura Democratica and Fondazione Migrantes have called on the government to protect vulnerable migrants and homeless people. The organizations argue that these people lack sufficient protection from COVID-19 and protecting them will improve public health. Additionally, the NGOs have requested authorities shut down large migrant reception centers, enable access to the international protection system, accept homeless people into appropriate facilities and create alternatives to detention centers.

Although the fight against homelessness in Italy remains a serious problem, especially for marginalized groups such as migrants, women and children, NGOs and similar organizations keep the government accountable and provide hope for all of those impacted. By supporting such organizations that positively impact the lives of thousands, we can all contribute to eliminating homelessness in Italy.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality Issues in Moldova
Massive advancements in the quest for gender equality have filled the Modern Era. In the early 20th century, suffrage was pivotal in allowing women to obtain the right to vote. No-fault divorce, maternity leave, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act served to further advance the position of women. Around the world, these acts and ones like it have served to acknowledge and reform many factors limiting women’s role in society.

Need for Change

Despite many of these advances, a great deal more progress is necessary. Women are far more likely to be victims of sexual, spousal and physical abuse than men. Additionally, women still make approximately 60% of what their male counterparts earn per hour. If one acknowledges gender inequality now more than ever, why is gender equality progress so difficult to achieve? The answer may lie in the many problems the Republic of Moldova has seen. Specifically, the state of gender inequality in Moldova epitomizes that of countries gender inequality plagues, due to its deep-seated history of gender prejudice, as well as the limited effectiveness of implementing gender-based reforms.

Current Reform Efforts

Gender equality issues in Moldova have long struggled under the reign of communism. As a former member of the Soviet Union, the nation faced many limitations on expanding its people’s liberties and its economy. As a result of regressive economic situations, much of Moldova’s social culture relies on predicated, traditional gender roles. This makes the achievement of gender equality difficult, as society expects women to remain in their traditional gender roles.

Currently, Moldova’s gender equality efforts have appeared to be keeping up with those of other countries. In 2006, the government passed the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In 2016, the Republic of Moldova executed the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda which attempted to provide social and economic freedom to all human beings. Additionally, it adopted Law No. 71, which introduced paid paternity leave of 14 days and banned the use of sexist imagery and rhetoric in advertisements. Furthermore, it promoted the empowerment of womens’ status in politics at the national and local levels as well as introduced a minimum 40% Parliament gender requirement in order to enact decision and electoral college processes.

Is it Enough?

Despite the implementation of these and similar protocols, the work is far from complete regarding solving gender equality issues in Moldova. Many of the changes are protocols and they do not reflect immediate, or even effective action towards gender reformation.

Flaws in gender equality within Moldova’s government exemplified the need for further action. Gender equality in Moldova is incredibly hard to achieve when there is a huge limitation on Moldovan womens’ political power, as they possess only a fraction of representation in government in comparison to their male counterparts.

Additionally, despite the passing of these legislations years ago, Moldova still ranks 23rd in countries with the highest gender gap. This gap is so pervasive that women still experience prejudice in the form of severe wage differences, segregation of economic level, finite aid for childcare and unequal partner support for childcare.

Moldova also has a continued issue with domestic violence towards women. A family study on violence against women found that 63% of women suffered from violent partners. The study also showed that one out of 10 women experienced some form of economic violence.

A Hopeful Future for Women

While much more work is necessary, hope exists for gender equality in Moldova. While many countries around the world have yet to seriously acknowledge or even pass legislation toward the issue of gender equality, the aforementioned legal efforts show a much more profound commitment to its cause. Furthermore, there have been sizable steps in executing the issue of gender equality. Parliament, though not yet at 40%, has reached 25.7% representation and 36% in local municipalities. Moreover, Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Oleg Tulea, suggests the decrease in maternal mortality rate and successful birth rates were a result of a decrease in female-directed violence.

Outside intervention has also played a role in assisting women who experience violence. For instance, the U.S. NGO Global Rights for Women taught and created manual addressing how to approach cases of domestic violence. In addition, the document covers other issues, like gender gaps, human trafficking and overall advancement. Recently, Moldova elected the country’s first female president. Maia Sandu won an impressive 57% of the vote and stands as a staunch Europeanist. This also serves as a dramatic change to the isolationist policies, previously popular in Moldova.

The path to solving gender equality issues in Moldova is a long and formidable process. However, with recent successes, the idea of profound advancement is no longer just a dream, but an ever-evolving reality.

James Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

Thai Fishing Industry
In recent weeks, Thailand experienced a new wave of COVID-19 cases originating from a large seafood market near Bangkok. The Prime Minister of Thailand wasted no time in blaming the outbreak on human smuggling networks and illegal immigrants. Most of those working at this particular market are from neighboring Myanmar. This ongoing outbreak brings Thailand’s fishing industry back into focus. The industry faces international pressure to address findings of horrific working conditions, unfair wages and forced labor. This article discusses the importance of the Thai fishing industry, the human rights abuses uncovered in recent years and what some are doing to address these issues.

Thai Fishing Industry

The Thai fishing industry exports more than $6 billion worth of products annually and employs more than 800,000 people. It is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter and the world’s leading exporter of shrimp. The industry came under fire in the E.U. in 2014 due to reports uncovering widespread forced labor, worker abuses and environmental degradation in the industry.

Burmese immigrants represent a majority of those working in the Thai fishing industry, followed by a smaller percentage of Thais, Cambodians and Laotians. Workers on fishing vessels are exclusively men, while men and women each work in the seafood processing sector. There is a mixture of regular and irregular workers, which makes ascertaining the true number of immigrants in the fishing industry difficult. About 3 million labor migrants legally live in Thailand and an estimated two million more are undocumented.

Poor Working Conditions

Working conditions on Thai fishing vessels are notoriously challenging. In multiple reports, workers discuss working 18-20 hour days with inadequate food, water and medical supplies. Between 14% and 18% of migrants report being victims of forced labor. Among these victims of human trafficking, over half report seeing a coworker killed in front of them. Threats from employers and beatings are common, along with working at sea for years at a time without being allowed to leave the vessel. These conditions affect all nationalities in the Thai fishing industry, but undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable to mistreatment.

Solutions

Although much work is necessary to address issues in the Thai fishing industry, Thailand has been largely receptive to suggestions that organizations such as the ILO and other national and international human rights NGOs have made. The government has improved legal frameworks and compliance measures for fishing companies. Additionally, wages have increased and housing conditions are improving, according to respondents in a recent ILO survey released in 2020.

Specific laws that have gone into place include the elimination of recruitment fees that workers pay, banning the practice of employers withholding identity documents from workers and banning child labor in the fishing industry. Going forward, regional compliance will be essential in enforcing these legal frameworks. Thailand is attempting to set that precedent in the ASEAN region. In response, the E.U. lifted its “yellow card” rating for the industry and continues to accept seafood imports.

The Labor Protection Network

For more than 15 years, the Labor Protection Network (LPN) has been spearheading efforts to clean up the Thai fishing industry. LPN conducts direct action raids on illegal fishing boats, provides short- and long-term shelter for victims and educates children in its centers. Additionally, LPN has brought international attention to the industry through its advocacy campaigns. A notable part of these efforts is the appearance of co-founder Patima Tungpuchayakul in the documentary “Ghost Fleet.” In 2017, Tungpuchayakul received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in human rights.

Each year, LPN also provides legal assistance to more than 3,000 migrants. It provides assistance in Thai, Burmese, Khmer or Lao, depending on migrants’ needs. Victims of human trafficking in Thailand have a right to government protection and legal assistance. LPN plays a crucial role in identifying victims of human trafficking that grants these protections, as the Thai authorities sometimes struggle to identify victims through its enforcement procedures.

Through the work of the government, LPN and other NGOs, the Thai fishing industry is improving its standards to meet international demands. With this spotlight on the human rights issues involved in the industry, funding and monitoring remain critical to building on current progress.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in The Dominican Republic
HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic is on the agenda of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and HIV/AIDS has been the focus of the Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections 2016-2021. The goal of the plan is to end HIV/AIDS in many regions of the Americas, including the Dominican Republic, by 2030.

From 2010 to 2019, HIV cases have reduced to 13 a year and the number of deaths has gone down by 4,000 over the years. Female sex workers are a portion of the population the epidemic affects; they accounted for 37% of new infections in 2019. Less than 30% of individuals do not know they have an infection and about one-third receive a late diagnosis. Over 200,000 were getting antiretroviral treatment in 2019.

HIV Diagnosis Decline

HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic has seen an advancement in health through more testing and the option of antiretroviral treatments. The options of PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis, have contributed to the decline of infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in the success of the decline of HIV/AIDS.

The pandemic is changing the social landscape and interaction of people through social distancing measures. Access to medical personnel has also experienced strain because of rising and new COVID-19 infections. When comparing 2019 to the current pandemic, the diagnosis of HIV has reduced by the thousands in the Dominican Republic. According to PAHO, “Self-testing is a key strategy for reaching the U.N. goal of having 90% of people with HIV know their status.”

PrEP and PEP

PrEP and PEP are two types of antiretroviral treatments that people can use to prevent HIV transmission. Individuals can take the antiretroviral treatment PrEP before HIV infection and it is available through two brands. Meanwhile, one can take PEP after an HIV infection and must take more than one medication. The CDC suggests that individuals consult with a doctor for more information. While both treatments are important, PEP offers more because sexual assault victims can use PEP or those who had a workplace accident. Advisories state that one should take PEP within three days of a dire situation and complete treatment within a month. Both treatments are highly effective with PrEP reducing HIV transmission from sex by 90% and PEP reducing risk by 80%.

HIV Self-Testing Market

The HIV self-testing market looks promising on a global scale especially with  HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. Globally, there is a necessity and high demand for rapid diagnosis of HIV in many regions including Latin America. Self-testing is a better alternative because one can do it privately and it is less risky because it will prevent exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. The self-testing market will grow more between 2020 and 2025. Self-testing will experience a great impact through government investments in healthcare worldwide. The HIV self-testing kit collects samples through blood, saliva and urine. In HIV testing, blood samples provide the most accurate read. According to MarketWatch, “The self-testing market in Latin America is anticipated to reach a value of 51.24 million USD in the year 2025.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. However, despite HIV/AIDS’ prevalence, antiretroviral treatments and opportunities to self-test should result in improvements.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

Way to Support Albania
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Albania increased from 12.33% to 12.81%. As thousands of Albanian people have entered poverty, UNICEF Albania and other humanitarian organizations are leading the way to support Albania during these trying times.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Albania started its COVID-19 response on March 9, 2020, by helping the Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD). The ReLOaD program helps update projects that deliver hygiene packages to vulnerable households. It also supports Albanian farmers with seeds and Albanian children with online learning materials. Support has reached 11 areas from Tirana to Lezhë, Albania. The UNDP even created an International Romani Day campaign where approximately 1,150 Albanian households received food and hygiene packages in April 2020.

UNICEF Albania

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Albania works to protect child rights with government and organization partners. Through programs supporting social and child protection, education and early childhood development, UNICEF Albania has three priorities: respecting child rights while implementing social inclusion through maintaining family access to the Albanian justice system, reforming the social care system and keeping children in school with NGO support.

In April 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Albania supported a child protection organization statement about how thousands of children can receive protection from violence. This can occur through phone helplines, temporary shelters and professional workforces in Albania. In response to the call to action, child protection helplines underwent initiation in June 2020 through UNICEF and The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPIHA) support.

Educational Support in Albania

World Vision Albania and Kosovo Education and Youth Technical Advisor Brisida Jahaj told The Borgen Project that, “There was a huge challenge with families in poorer households.” This is because the families do not have the IT equipment or the internet for children to continue their education in Albania. The Ministry of Education in Albania found that 10,000 children lost educational resources over COVID-19.

Regarding education, UNICEF Albania has partnered and supported the Akademi.al online learning platform since 2019. Plans intend to implement it online and on television for all students by 2021. Funding from UNICEF and support from the Ministry of Education in Albania gave Akademi.al the opportunity to put approximately 1,100 lessons online for students taking Matura exams in Albania. Jahaj describes the platform as a “backup plan that if we go into the third level scenario,” wherein Albanian schools shut down in 2021.

In August 2020, UNICEF Albania worked to combat poverty due to COVID-19 by initiating its first Albanian cash transfer program to approximately 1,700 vulnerable families in Shkodër, Korçë and Durrës, Albania.

UNICEF Albania and the World Health Organization (WHO) also established an online training program to teach professionals about Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and how to implement support to vulnerable populations during emergencies from May to July 2020. The eight module training course helps professionals master how to support mental health and psychosocial issues during emergencies. Approximately 230 frontline professionals obtained certification by September 2020.

Red Cross and World Vision

Albania experienced a series of earthquakes on November 26, 2019, which impacted approximately 200,000 Albanians. The Albania Red Cross responded to the earthquakes by sending 160 volunteers and providing 4,500 shelter relief packages to families who lost homes. The Albanian Red Cross received a 2020 Coca-Cola Company $100,000 grant in the wake of the pandemic to give community food aid and medical equipment to Albanian hospitals.

The Qatar Red Crescent Society partnered with the Albanian Red Cross to provide food package relief to 700 vulnerable families as a way to support Albania. Following the initial response, the Albanian Red Cross collaborated with Better Shelter. A total of 52 Better Shelters underwent construction in Durrës, Krujë, Laç, Shijak and Tirana, Albania, while home reconstruction continues through 2021.

World Vision Albania also helped with the earthquake response in Durrës, Lezhë, Kamëz and Kurbin, Albania by giving food and hygiene aid to 1,019 families and materials to help 27 families with home reconstruction. Jahaj told The Borgen Project that food and hygiene aid will continue in 2021 as World Vision and other humanitarian organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF provide “a lot of the masks and hand sanitizers for the schools” in Albania.

Where is Albania Now?

As of 2021, several humanitarian organizations are working to protect children and vulnerable individuals from the impact of the Albanian earthquakes and COVID-19 on the ground and online. Jahaj explained how World Vision Albania utilizes the Building Secure Livelihoods economic development program to help alleviate poverty while helping parents provide for their children from 2019 until 2023.

On all fronts, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and the Albanian Red Cross responded to Albanian communities. By providing everything from medical care, earthquake shelter, child protection and online learning directly to families, these organizations have found a way to support Albania. As of January 2021, humanitarian organizations continue to work on home reconstruction, mental health support and flood response. Furthermore, Albania acquired 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to distribute in 2021.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

Eliminating Childhood Poverty
Compassion International is a child-advocacy ministry that pairs people with children living in areas of extreme poverty in order to release those children from all of poverty’s aspects. What makes the organization so unique is its strict focus on children, with the hopes of eliminating poverty in their lives by the time they reach adulthood. Its impact has been massive with a high success rate: children in its programs are 75% more likely to become leaders in their communities and 40% more likely to finish secondary education. Moreover, they are more likely to spend thousands of hours in safe programs. The organization that is garnering recent attention from professional athletes has been working toward eliminating childhood poverty for years.

How Compassion International Began

Rev. Everett Swanson founded Compassion International. He was troubled by the masses of war orphans he saw living on the streets in South Korea. Another morning, Rev. Swanson saw city workers throwing rags into the backs of trucks, which turned out to be the frozen bodies of the orphans on the street. When Rev. Swanson returned to the United States, he told people of what he saw and encouraged them to donate so they could sponsor the orphans and work toward eliminating childhood poverty. Within 10 years, Compassion International helped 108 orphanages and homes in South Korea by donating funds to purchase rice and fuel.

Compassion International’s Mission

The nonprofit uses a ministry-based program in order to release children from poverty. This includes helping with child development, which the organization believes will provide the children with the skills to succeed. Compassion International’s programs begin as early as when the child is in the womb, aiming to eradicate poverty from their lives by young adulthood. Primarily, the work it does is through child sponsorship, but it has implemented initiatives that help babies and mothers in order to develop future leaders and meet critical needs as well.

The Fill the Stadium Initiative

Compassion International works with thousands of churches in 25 countries across the globe. One initiative it is running in the United States currently is the Fill the Stadium initiative. Due to COVID-19, 70,000 children and their families who are in Compassion Programs are in extreme poverty. Athletes such as Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum and Jaccob Slavin have donated and joined the leadership team, encouraging fans to donate if able. The recommended donation amount is $500, around the same price as a game-day experience for a group of four. About $500 provides a year’s worth of essential food, nutritional supplements, hygiene essentials and medical screenings for COVID-19 for a family and their children. So far, the Fill the Stadium Initiative has “filled” 47,587 seats to provide essential care and support for these families in crisis, raising $23 million from athletes and national leaders. Due to COVID-19, a halt to in-person sporting events has occurred. The hope is that the money a family would spend on a game would go toward those in need instead.

Former Quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals and team member for the initiative, Carson Palmer pledged to donate $300,000 and challenged others to match his donation. “This is an incredible opportunity for American families to help children who are in dire straits and truly fighting for their lives,” said Palmer in an interview with Fill the Stadium.

A Look into Compassion International’s Impact

In 2020, Compassion International surpassed $1 billion for the first time in the history of the ministry. That year alone, Compassion International served 2.2 million children across 8,000 frontline partners. Since 1952, the sponsorship programs have impacted the lives of over 4.2 million children.

Because of the work of Compassion International, partners across the world have obtained access to hygiene kits, lifesaving surgeries, academic scholarships, classes, bathrooms, emergency food and water, electricity and countless other life-saving services. The organization will continue to strive toward eliminating childhood poverty, and especially aiding children the pandemic has hit hard.

– Jai Phillips
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Colombia
Many often ignore the marginalization of the elderly in benighted areas of the world in favor of other more current events. This is a phenomenon affecting almost every developing nation. The increase in life expectancy around the world does not necessarily mean that people are living better quality lives, especially in countries without sufficient resources to care for their elderly population. Below is some information about elderly poverty in Colombia.

The Current Situation

Colombia is a country of roughly 50 million people and a growing elderly population. However, it only has 80 geriatric centers to attend to its senior demographic. Furthermore, only 28% of the total senior population in Colombia can access a center specializing in their medical needs. According to the Medical Department of La Sabana University, the remaining 72% of elders cannot access proper medical attention or a trained caregiver. Most of this demographic inhabits isolated rural areas where access to specialized centers is quite distant. Elderly poverty is an underlying issue in Colombia, and very few organizations have committed themselves to the improvement of this situation.

Impact on Income

Poverty not only impacts Colombia’s senior population medically but also financially. In fact, around 59% of people over 60 rely solely on the pension system and have no stable income source. The elderly poverty rate in Colombia has reached the second-highest in the region, behind Paraguay, almost doubling the Latin American average. Currently, it is the nation with the third-largest elderly population without an income. Furthermore, social and familial networks are not strong enough to care for their elderly, as the aging citizenry becomes a burden for their families and immediate circle. Because only 4% of citizens over 60 years old have a pension and their own source of income, most of them rely on their descendants to care for them. However, given that 9.8% of seniors live by themselves, some do not have familial ties that support them.

Even though the alarming data on elderly poverty is bleak, it informs governments on where to address the issue. They must attempt to invigorate the quality of senior life and provide easy access to pensions. In addition, the government must work to strengthen the geriatric medical sector’s training and outreach. When trying to solve this structural issue, families and communities must also enter into consideration. They are essential to providing elderly support, ultimately decreasing the chance that anyone over 60 feels burdensome

Colombia’s Actions

Colombia is following the example of Spain and Mexico in including its aging population in socio-economic life. It has employed and trained seniors to perform tasks and activities in sectors such as tourism, culture and entertainment, granting them a stable income and bettering living standards. Additionally, it is also increasing seniors’ quality of life as they stop feeling obsolete. Responsible government spending regarding the elderly and the civilian population’s inclusivity towards its aging citizens must accompany this “longevity revolution.” For example, Bogotá City Council created the Municipal Elderly Council back in 2015, a community-based organization focused on advising the Mayor’s office matters impacting seniors. The council represents the elderly; it has been a successful platform in promoting dialogue and advocacy for senior civil society.

Foundational Efforts to Combat Elderly Poverty Issues

Currently, two prominent organizations working to diminish elderly poverty in Colombia are the British NGO HelpAge and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). They are joining efforts to provide the elderly living in rural areas with humanitarian aid and psychosocial help from gerontology professionals. Both organizations have a commitment to working on-site in Colombia, in regions like Nariño and Valle, where armed conflict displaced over 400 seniors. HelpAge and AECID also provide legal aid to elders seeking to be indemnified because of their displacement.

Both foundations work hand-in-hand with Paz y Bien (Peace & Righteousness), a Colombian NGO in charge of aiding displaced elderly populations in precarious situations. Together, they discovered that householder mothers were willing to earn extra income by taking care of their communities’ elderly. Thus the foundations provided women proper training to care for seniors, not only to grant them basic medical attention but also to keep them company in a new community. This model benefits both parties, as they are able to form new societal ties. So far, this joint project has yielded excellent results over the last six years.

Many often ignore elderly poverty in Colombia to prioritize other issues, such as ending the six-year ongoing armed conflict. With the pension system’s flaws, it is crucial for civil society to keep taking action. With efforts to attend to elderly poverty in Colombia, the future is promising, as emerging projects create a more dignified life for seniors.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

all-girls Afghan roboticsAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stretch across the globe, all areas of the world have been impacted in various capacities and have been approaching the virus in numerous ways. With growing numbers and many hospitals at full capacity, innovation and new technology become a much-needed crutch. In early March of 2020, the virus began to spread in Afghanistan and the cases steadily increased to almost 1,000 new cases in early June. As of December 2020, Afghanistan had more than 50,000 confirmed cases. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) had been providing personal protective equipment to Afghanistan since February 2020, there was still a strain on doctors and nurses who lacked sufficient resources to treat patients. An all-girls Afghan robotics team aims to reduce the strain on the healthcare system with a ventilator prototype.

The Afghan Dreamers

In June 2020, the demand for oxygen was higher than the supply and many doctors and hospitals expressed concerns about both costs and scarcity. An all-girls Afghan robotics team saw the severity of this issue and took action to attempt to combat this shortage and fight against COVID-19.

The “Afghan Dreamers” are a robotics team from Afghanistan comprised of all girls between the ages of 14 and 17. The group has reached impressive heights including winning a silver medal in 2017 for “courageous achievement” in an international robotics competition called the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in Washington D.C. In light of the pandemic and increasing ventilator prices, the Afghan Dreamers decided to utilize their skills to design effective and more low-cost ventilators to combat the lack of affordable oxygen in Afghanistan.

Ventilator Prototype

One prototype they produced was based on a model from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and another utilized car parts. The gear-based model based on designs from MIT is low-tech, meaning that it can be duplicated from machine parts that are more easily sourced and widely available. The team’s ventilator designs are estimated to cost around 200 to 300 dollars, which is a 99% decrease from the original cost of $30,000. If the prototype does get approved, the ventilators will be used for emergency cases when there are no alternatives.

Car Parts for Ventilator Model

The Afghan Dreamers faced many obstacles during the course of the building process. While in the middle of a pandemic, the girls were also fasting during the month of Ramadan. In addition, they also had to look for
ways to source materials efficiently and effectively, which led them to look at car parts as Toyota Corollas are a common car driven in Afghanistan. Despite these potential barriers, the all-girls Afghan robotics team was determined to continue researching and problem-solving all while trying to keep themselves safe and healthy.

The Afghan Dreamers: Breaking Barriers

In Afghanistan, as many as 85% of girls do not receive a proper education. Due to many cultural barriers and stigmas, girls typically do not engage in endeavors as ambitious as the Afghan Dreamers. The all-girls Afghan robotics team has changed the narrative for many girls and hope to continue to help others and achieve more in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic crippled many across the world, it certainly served as a large source of motivation and inspiration for the Afghan Dreamers.

– Grace Wang
Photo: Flickr

Fight for Girls' Education
Jana Amin has taken great strides to fight for girls’ education. She researched a societal issue and suggested solutions for a school project when she was 13 years old. She decided to write about girls’ lack of access to education. Thus, she contacted Heya Masr, a nonprofit that organizes local educational and empowerment workshops for girls. Then, Amin hired a videographer to film her with Heya Masr’s students. Finally, she created an online fundraising campaign and raised more than $6,000 for the cause.

“We were going to visit family in Egypt anyway,” Amin told The Borgen Project. “And I thought to myself, I’m doing this work anyway. Why not use this as an opportunity to create tangible change?”

This was her first foray into activism. The 17-year-old Egyptian-American has given a TEDx talk, spoken about gender equality on a United Nations panel and curated an exhibit at the American University in Cairo. She advocates changing Western perceptions of Muslim women and wants to fight for girls’ education.

Changing Western Perceptions of Muslim Women

This was Amin’s first time formally conducting advocacy. However, she already had some experience. She lived in Egypt until she was around 10 years old when her family moved to Boston. Her activism began through one-on-one interactions with Bostonians about her life as a Muslim girl.

“On a daily basis, I was asked questions about if Egyptian girls could drive, if my mother could drive, if I was allowed to go to school in Egypt,” Amin said. “And it was all these misconceptions about Islam, the faith, about Middle Eastern culture, and more generally about women in the Middle East, about women in Islam. And so I think that’s how I first initially got pushed towards activism.”

Her desire to fix misconceptions about Muslim women led her to give a TEDx talk, where she spoke about how Western media often portrayed Muslim women as victims of oppression. She suggested that amplifying Muslim women’s voices would change this singular narrative.

Additionally, Amin curated an exhibit at the American University in Cairo. The exhibit featured Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, the first wife of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the shah of Iran. Furthermore, the exhibit focused on the differences in how the Western and Egyptian press depicted Princess Fawzia. While Western media portrayed the princess as a helpless political pawn. Egyptian press depicted her as a humanitarian, champion of girls’ education and representation of the modern woman. Amin presented her research to bring awareness to Princess Fawzia’s accomplishments and to give other young Muslim women a powerful role model.

Fighting for Girls’ Education

Jana Amin continues to fight for girls’ education in many different ways. She recently spoke on a United Nations panel about how governments can tailor their policies to specifically address gender disparities.

“We often think that change in somebody’s life or change on a meaningful level requires so much,” Amin told The Borgen Project. “Something so simple as giving someone an education can do so much for their life.”

On her 17th birthday, Amin invited and interviewed 17 experts in female education and empowerment. She streamed this digital event “#17for17: Advocating for Girls’ Education” for many to view. The speakers included prominent writers, artists, activists and humanitarians.

Collateral Repair Project

As one of her ongoing projects, she also volunteers with a nonprofit organization called Collateral Repair Project to directly support women’s education efforts in the Middle East. Collateral Repair Project (CRP) is a nonprofit organization based in Amman, Jordan. It supports refugees living in Jordan through educational and female empowerment workshops and basic needs assistance.

Jana Amin discovered Collateral Repair Project during a school trip to the Middle East in her freshman year of high school. She was struck by its SuperGirls workshops, which provide young female refugees with a space to express their feelings, overcome trauma and speak up for themselves.

After Amin returned to Massachusetts, she volunteered with Collateral Repair Project. She met with refugees over Skype to help them practice conversational English. After three years, she also began teaching English over Zoom. However, the lessons were unreliable due to Wi-Fi issues and Amin began to doubt whether the lessons were useful. Yet after about four weeks, a Yemeni woman lined up her four children in front of a camera, who recited basic English phrases that Amin had taught their mother.

Amin said the experience reminded her that “you educate one woman and she has the ability to educate her family and in turn her community.”

The Power of Activism

Amin believes that she has a responsibility to create positive change in her community. To many people, fearlessness propels Amin’s activism. This courage is evident when she cold-called Michelle Obama. While preparing for her “#17for17” birthday event, she called and messaged the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance to ask if Michelle Obama could speak at her event. Although Amin did not expect to succeed, the program’s representatives responded within 24 hours to say that Michelle Obama was busy that day. However, its executive director, Tiffany Drake, was willing to be a speaker. She was delighted to discover she is not alone in the fight for girls’ education.

“I think we do the craziest things when we don’t hold ourselves back,” she said.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Courtesy of Jana Amin

Nanotechnology is Alleviating PovertyIn its most basic sense, the concepts behind nanotechnology were formulated by acclaimed physicist Richard Feynman in 1959. Over the past four decades, nanotechnology has made significant advancements and research is expanding as costs are falling. Because of these innovations, nanotechnology is alleviating poverty worldwide.

Using Nanosensors for Water Management in Agriculture

Whether mechanical or chemical, nanosensors use tools to detect minor changes in chemical composition and relay information to change the dynamics of whatever they are monitoring. Nanosensors use artificial intelligence and computing to make adjustments as soon as any predicaments arise. Because of their sensitivity and small scale, nanosensors can detect problems well before other outdated instruments.

In a study for sustainable agriculture, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) asserts nanotechnology is alleviating poverty issues such as food insecurity. The OECD study concluded that nanosensors effectively detect changes in moisture across fields of crops. They then automatically adjust the disbursement of water and eliminate water waste while preventing crop losses. Farm machines outfitted with nanosensors detect moisture levels in different crops and suggest better-suited areas for specific crops allowing farmers to change planting patterns or change water allocations to other land plots.

Nanofiltration Membranes Provide Clean Drinking Water

Access to clean water is a crisis that many developing countries face. Usually, the first issue dealt with when fighting poverty is economic development so regulations are not often in place to protect against pollution. In some countries, scarcity of clean groundwater becomes problematic too. However, nanotechnology is alleviating poverty in these areas by providing clean drinking water.

Ghana was the center of a study on the effectiveness of nanofiltration membranes conducted by the International Water Association (IWA) and members of the Indian Institute of Science. The IWA chose to test Ghana’s groundwater due to the high level of pollutants present. During the study, it tested the levels of contaminants, bacteria and natural materials that render water non-potable before and after utilizing nanofiltration membranes.

The results of the IWA study were impressive. Not only did the study determine that nanofiltration reduces pollutants to potable levels, but executed efficiently enough, rural areas could produce enough water for more than 100 households. Ultimately, the conclusion was that nanofiltration was a low-cost solution for drinking water access and production in impoverished rural regions worldwide.

Nanotechnology to Fight Infectious Disease

Most original concepts of nanotechnology’s usefulness focused on medical care. The World Health Organization (WHO) has long been fond of utilizing nanotechnology in health care and fighting infectious diseases. The WHO now recognizes that nanotechnology is alleviating poverty in developing nations through scientific medical breakthroughs.

The first need for nanotechnology to address in developing countries is the diagnosis of disease. Nanobiotechnology allows for an inexpensive option to find multiple dangerous microbes using a single test. These technologies have improved over time and are being used in developing nations to detect most viral and bacterial infections, including tuberculosis.

The COVID-19 vaccine development shows the importance of nanotechnology in the prevention of disease too. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a nanocarrier system designed to activate the immune system to fight COVID-19 by assisting antibody production. The distribution of the vaccine to developing nations is now underway.

The Future of Nanotechnology for Poverty Reduction

Nanotechnology is alleviating poverty in developing nations, and with continued scientific inquiry and advancements in nanotechnology, new applications for poverty reduction will improve. Nanotechnology’s cost-effectiveness and versatility make it one of the most viable technologies to assist in the struggle against poverty.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr