Child Marriage in the Democratic Republic of the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is ranked 19th globally for the percentage of girls who are married before they reach their 18th birthday (37%). A 2017 UNICEF study with this data also showed the DRC ranking ninth highest for the absolute number of child brides, at 1.3 million. These figures tell a story beyond girls marrying young — a narrative of recursive poverty and lack of education. But child marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be beaten. In fact, new programs for female education and community engagement are emerging every day to address this issue.

Identifying the Roots of Child Marriage

There are four main drivers of child marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: poverty, armed conflict, adolescent pregnancy and cultural traditions.

  • Poverty: As of 2018, 72% of the population of the DRC lived in extreme poverty. The practice of child marriage is a key indicator of poverty in a community. When a family gives a daughter away in marriage, they lower their own expenses. They no longer have to feed, clothe or educate the daughter. In addition, the promise of bride price is a motivating factor behind child marriage in the DRC. Bride price is an old tradition practiced in different areas across Africa. Unlike dowry, bride price entails exchanging money or valuable items from the groom’s family to the bride’s family as a record of their marriage. Historically, bride price helped tie two families together and strengthen the community as a whole. Today, it acts more as legal proof of marriage, used to determine the lineage of children or to secure inheritance. Families perceive the promise of wealth as an incentive for early marriage. For girls, however, the chance of receiving an education after early marriage is slim. As a result, girls who marry before the age of 18 in the DRC are less able to earn an income and to lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty.

  • Armed conflict: According to a study done by the U.N., around 200,000 girls and women have experienced sexual violence in the DRC since 1998. Ongoing military conflicts in the eastern DRC, Rwanda and Uganda are part of the cause of this high number. The continued prevalence of armed conflict has led to some young girls being forced to marry perpetrators of sexual violence.

  • Adolescent Pregnancy: Sexual health and education are not widely practiced in DRC, which leads to a lack of contraception and family planning. Early pregnancies can sometimes result in child marriage, as families hope to secure stability for later life. The cultural expectation that women will marry and become mothers leads to low contraception use, which can also contribute to adolescent pregnancies.

  • Cultural Traditions: Underlying all these drivers of child marriage in the DRC, is the cultural belief that girls are inferior to boys. As a result of internalized gender inequality, the global prevalence of child marriage among boys is one-sixth of that among girls. Accordingly, programs designed to oppose child marriage typically emphasize female empowerment and education. One such organization, Debout Fille, was established in 2005 to “defend and protect the rights of girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Empowering Girls

Debout Fille operates across DRC in many rural and urban communities. The organization is working toward “eliminating violence and harmful practices and achieving universal access to education and sexual and reproductive health.” In South Kivu, a region heavily affected by the conflict between Ugandan and Rwandan rebels, Debout Fille is partnering with Women’s WorldWide Web (W4) to fight the cycle of child marriage. Through new “Digital Learning Clubs and Spaces,” girls and young women are learning about reproductive and sexual health. These clubs help girls establish “Girls’ Parliaments,” through which they can engage in community decision-making and political advocacy to oppose child marriage. “Parents’ Schools” are also working to engage and educate parents. Debout Fille is currently training 1,200 girls and local community members. 

About 37% of girls in the DRC marry before reaching their 18th birthday. Poverty, armed conflict, adolescent pregnancy and cultural traditions can all be causes of child marriage. Organizations like Debout Fille are working to decrease child marriage through things like sexual and reproductive health education. While this is just one solution, it is an important step toward using education to end child marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Elizabeth Price
Photo: Pixabay

Tennis in Poverty-Stricken Countries
Around the world, people have always considered tennis to be an aristocratic sport. Although tennis is one of the most popular sports worldwide, many people in poor nations simply do not have the infrastructure to play. However, tennis in poverty-stricken countries is growing in popularity. From post-Soviet European societies to rapidly developing African nations, tennis is spreading to a diverse community of people all over the world, and it is helping catalyze the development of under-resourced areas.

Rising Stars: Tennis in Eastern Europe

One prominent example is the effect that tennis has had in Eastern Europe and the Balkan region. The brutal internal conflict spanning nearly 20 years at the end of the 20th century centered around border disputes and ethnic boundaries between Serbians, Bosnians and Croatians. As war ravaged the former Yugoslavia, tennis became an outlet for many youths to escape the conflict and make a name for themselves. One such youth was a boy named Novak Djokovic, who went on to receive wide regard as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Djokovic, who experienced his transformative years in Belgrade, Serbia during the late 1990s, described growing up with tremendous adversity. Like other tennis players, he sometimes had to play in abandoned swimming pools because the courts experienced bombing. Partially accrediting his later success to this difficult childhood, Djokovic recalled one period from 1999: “We were waking up every single night at 2 or 3 a.m. for two and a half months because of the bombings.” He went on to articulate that “these experiences made me a champion, it made us tougher, made us more hungry for success.”

The “us” he refers to is his cadre of fellow Eastern European tennis players from war-torn or poverty-stricken countries in the 1990s. The Serbs took the tennis world by storm in the 2000s, dominating both men’s and women’s tours. Janko Tipsarević, Filip Krajinović, Nenad Zimonjic, Jelena Janković and Ana Ivanović are just a few examples. The popularity of tennis radiated from the war-torn Balkan nations northward to poor post-Soviet states like Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics, and even to Russia. All of these countries now have players in the top 100 world rankings.

Progress On and Off the Courts

Though one cannot overlook the impact of the sport on world rankings, tennis has also helped develop and unify struggling nations. Extracurricular programs and character development among children are just a few positive side-effects of tennis. Indeed, following the conflict at the end of the 20th century, Balkan nations have seen relative progression and development. This formula of development through tennis also appears in other regions of the world.

Africa suffers from many circumstances similar to the Balkans such as poverty, despair and ethnic conflict. Tennis in poor countries in Africa can offer incremental progress toward building strong young people for the future and mending broken societies. Many organizations share this vision. Tennis in Africa, a nonprofit organization, is trying to kickstart tennis infrastructure in Ghana and other nations to help build not only technical tennis skills but also life skills to bring families out of extreme poverty. In July 2018, locals received a tennis clinic in Ghana well. Organizations like Tennis in Africa provide year-round training for impoverished youth on the continent, helping cultivate the seeds of growth and development in an underprivileged area of the world.

Working in conjunction with other support efforts, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) development fund has its sights set on the African continent too. Being the central governing body of tennis, the ITF raised its budget by 12% to a total of $11.3 million in 2019. The ITF works to give underprivileged athletes financial support in traveling and making a living through tennis, while also covering other areas of development like coaching, facilities and administration to underprivileged communities. In addition to these organizations, some of the most successful tennis players in the world, like Rafael Nadal, are using tennis as a means of an education — both physical and emotional — all over the world. In one such project that the Rafa Nadal Foundation conducted, underprivileged youth in India received access to tennis and education through Nadal Educational Tennis School (NETS). NETS aims to alleviate extreme poverty in Anantapur, India by enrolling over 200 disadvantaged children each year. NETS is just one example of how tennis can be a positive societal force to spur progress, especially for future generations.

Hope for Tennis Players Worldwide

Though tennis has traditionally been a sport of privilege and wealth, the modern game is seeing many new faces from disadvantaged parts of the world. Especially for young people, tennis in poverty-stricken countries offers a unique opportunity for character development, as well as building healthy physical habits. Beginning with Eastern Europe, tennis has had an overwhelmingly positive social influence, helping nations recover from economic, social and political upheaval. There is no reason why the sport should not receive extension into underdeveloped nations across the world, providing a vehicle to help lift people out of extreme poverty.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in KenyaPoverty in Kenya is on the decline. Between 2005-06 and 2015-16, the percentage of Kenyans living under the international poverty line (characterized in 2011 as US$1.90 per day) decreased from 46.8% to 36.1%. Kenyan poverty is currently decreasing by 1% yearly, a rate which is ahead of some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Still, the rate of poverty reduction in Kenya falls short of most nations in the lower-middle-income range.

The majority of impoverished Kenyans are concentrated in the rural, northeastern regions of the country. In Kenya, only 72% of homes have access to viable drinking water. This is 4% above the average in the Sub-Sahara, but below countries like Ghana and Rwanda. In 2015 records showed 84% of Kenya’s population over 14 years of age were literate. This constitutes an 11% increase from Kenya’s 2005 literacy statistics.

While overall poverty in Kenya is decreasing, there is still much to be done. Here are three of the many organizations creating change in Kenya and SSA more broadly:

The Boma Project

In their mission statement, The Boma Project states that they “[empower] women in the drylands of Africa to establish sustainable livelihoods, build resilient families, graduate from extreme poverty and catalyze change in their rural communities.” The Boma Project creates triads of women and provides them with financial support in order to begin and grow their business. They also provide these women two years of mentorship. Currently, 159,684 women and children have been supported through The Boma Project.

Daate Inyakh of northern Kenya lives in an area with little access to water and often fought to feed herself and her six girls. In 2014, Inyakh was put into contact with The Boma Project. This gave her the opportunity through training and financial aid to start her own business. Inyakh’s triad is now in charge of their own shop and she is in the process of learning to read.

The Makuyu Education Initiative (MEI)

MEI is a very small non-profit founded in 2011 that operates in Makuyu, Kenya. The organization provides children of the ultra-poor in this region with the opportunity to “escape the vicious cycle of poverty by fighting malnutrition and other obstacles that can deter them from reaching their full potential.” MEI provides a home for any children in the program, many of whom are orphaned. They provide these children with holistic support educationally and through healthcare and consistent meals. MEI relies on volunteers and donations in order to accomplish its important work.

African Childrens Haven

African Childrens Haven protects some of Kenya’s, Ethiopia’s and Tanzania’s most impoverished children and their families. Primarily, the organization takes care of orphaned children who lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. This organization’s work focuses on girls. African Childrens Haven supports these children by providing scholarships, regular meals and sexual education. They also works to prevent child marriage and sex trafficking. The organization provides its services to over 700 children.

These three organizations are a few among many addressing the multifaceted reality of poverty in Kenya. Engagement and donation to causes like these provide anyone with a tangible avenue to help make the difference.

Clara Collins
Photo: Flickr

TikTok in Africa
TikTok, the popular video-sharing social media platform, has taken a unique approach to enter the African market by empowering young Africans to take a stance as influencers. Many users on the site share short entertaining videos of themselves or friends singing and dancing along to popular songs. They can connect to others based on shared viewing interests. Some users of TikTok in Africa have decided to take things a step further and use the platform to share their support for certain ideas or causes.

TikTok for Good

One way the company encourages activism on its platform is through the TikTok for Good program, where users receive encouragement to share hashtags across the site that promote causes they are passionate about. “TikTok wants to inspire and encourage a new generation to have a positive impact on the planet and those around them,” the company wrote in a statement on its website. By uploading videos with a hashtag that represents a specific cause or campaign, users can become influencers and advocates and continue to share videos within the trend.

Some of the most successful TikTok for Good trends in the past have been #PetBff and #CreateForACause. #PetBff celebrated International Homeless Animals’ Day in 2019 in partnership with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). TikTok encouraged users to share videos of their pets, and for every video that it posted from Aug. 19 to Aug. 22, 2019, the company donated $1 to the ASPCA. According to the TikTok website, the trend had over 490,000 videos created and raised $75,000, the company’s maximum pledge amount. Similarly, #CreateForACause encouraged users to use special holiday filters in their videos in support of DoSomething.org, a completely youth-led nonprofit organization that advocates for social change; Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit organization in support of animal welfare and Oceana, an international ocean conservation advocacy group. TikTok pledged a $2 million donation to the charities during the campaign.

#DanceforChange Inspires Advocacy

A popular advocacy trend on TikTok in Africa has been the #DanceforChange challenge in partnership with the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). IFAD is a Rome-based U.N. agency that works to encourage individuals, companies and countries around the world to invest in more sustainable agriculture in order to improve food security across the globe. According to its website, IFAD has given $20.9 billion in loans and grants towards 1,069 sustainable agriculture projects that it has supported in partnership with 125 governments. In total, it has reached approximately 483 million people around the world with its programs.

The #DanceforChange challenge encourages users to post dancing content to the site with the hashtag. The videos act as a virtual petition that IFAD uses in support of greater investment in sustainable agriculture across rural African communities. “IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience,” the organization said in a statement on its website.

Sherrie Silver, IFAD’s advocate for rural youth and an MTV award-winning choreographer, partnered with the popular African recording artist Mr Eazi to highlight the TikTok campaign in the hopes of inspiring more African youth to take action using the site. “We are dancing to capture the world’s attention and to share a message with young people everywhere: our generation can end global hunger, but only if our leaders invest more in agriculture and the next generation of young farmers,” Silver said in an interview with IFAD.

The #DanceforChange challenge goes further than other TikTok for Good trends by both offering African youth a space to showcase its talents and giving them the opportunity to advocate for themselves and their communities to a global audience. The platform allows users of TikTok in Africa to catch the rest of the world’s attention and ask for help addressing issues like hunger and inefficient agricultural practices that they still face in poverty.

TikTok in Africa

The Chinese-based company quickly gained popularity in the United States and across Europe, though TikTok is now focusing on the African market. Along with the #DanceforChange challenge, TikTok has begun moving some company operations into Africa. For example, in 2018 TikTok partnered with Nairobi Garage, a co-working space in Nairobi that offers meeting rooms, club space and private offices, to offer educational sessions on creating content and safe practices while using the platform. The company also began hiring local staff for TikTok in Africa throughout Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in order to both provide jobs within each country’s business sector and connect to the local African market from within.

By moving TikTok into Africa, the company has been able to offer formal employment opportunities at its new office spaces, which in turn helps to reduce poverty levels in those countries as incomes and quality of life increases. Additionally, TikTok is able to create a more inclusive audience as African creators and influencers join the platform to share their culture.

TikTok in Africa continues to make a positive impact both within the country and across the globe by connecting people from impoverished backgrounds to the same creative spaces the rest of the world is able to access. Not only does the app inspire users around the world to advocate for development in Africa, but it also empowers youth within Africa to take their own action to fight hunger because they have a chance for others to hear and see them.

Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr

Youth Unemployment in Africa
The growth in the African economy has been steadily increasing overall. However, the vast majority of the increase in jobs is not going to the youth. During a study from 2000 to 2008, only 22% of all employed people were 25 and younger. In 2019, the youth unemployment rose to 11.58% in Sub-Saharan Africa since a dip in 2008.

Youth unemployment rates in Africa are currently at 10.64% and are the lowest they have been in the past 20 years. This improved economy could allow all generations to obtain employment opportunities. Young generations often cannot afford to not work, yet 51% of young women and 43% of young men in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have employment. The young generations in Africa are also becoming more educated with secondary education completion. Many expect that this higher education should rise over 10% in the next 20 years. Despite these statistics, youth unemployment could maintain low rates in the upcoming years.

What is the Digital Economy?

The digital economy is the way that people make money via online platforms, websites, companies and other outlets. The digital economy has transformed in recent years; now, many government services commonly use it and it is one of the main methods to sell products and services around the world. The digital marketplace includes more than just the use of the internet, but other technological tools.

With the invention of the internet and increased technological advances, there have been multitudes of positive impacts on individuals across the globe. There is a tremendous impact on even the most impoverished lives in Africa.

Digital Jobs Africa

Digital Jobs Africa is a project by the Rockefeller Foundation, that people know for its commitment to “promoting the well-being of humanity throughout the world.” One approach organizations are taking to make an impact on the impoverished persons in Africa is by providing support through funding and training for ICT based employment. African impoverished youth have the highest unemployment rates but are in an extremely accessible position. These youth can utilize the opportunities in digital employment to provide substantial support for the communities and families.

Jobs in the informal sector have shown lower wages than formal wages as some have witnessed in Zambia and Ghana. Digital jobs that can be short-term project-based work or a long-term salary position in information technology fields provide significant financial opportunity. Additionally, previously marginalized groups of young workers can step out of the $2-a-day earnings, which is extreme poverty. If technology companies employ African youth, there is potential to halt the continued marginalization of hard-working youth in Africa. The jobs could begin changing the way various industries view youth.

5 Digital Opportunities within the Digital Economy in Africa

  1. Impact Sourcing: Impact sourcing is directly employing those with limited opportunities, i.e. those with high rates of marginalization in the industry.  
  2. Online Work: Online work is another opportunity that can be team-based or individual to complete tasks or projects.
  3. Local Content Innovation: Local content innovation revolves around new technology creation in software engineering, application development, and filling unique local demands for businesses and consumers.
  4. E-Public Goods: E-Public Goods is the idea of using the internet-based application to facilitate higher accessibility and rates of use in government focuses like health, education or agriculture.
  5. E-entrepreneurship: Some are also exploring e-entrepreneurship. These opportunities involve launching a service or product through the training and education that people obtained in IT or technology.

There is vast potential for youth in Africa to gain an education or training in fields of technology. These digital economy opportunities could profoundly impact the unemployment rates in Africa if companies employ African youth.

– Cassiday Moriarity
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Poverty in GuineaGuinea is a small, impoverished West African country that has been featured in the news due to the 2015 Ebola outbreak. The virus strained the nation’s already struggling economy. Despite this, the disease did not affect the average life expectancy. Still, Guinea faces many issues that are harmful to life expectancy. Here are nine facts about life expectancy in Guinea that reflect these concerns.

9 Facts about Life Expectancy in Guinea

  1. The average life expectancy is only 59.8 years with 59.4 for men and 60.4 for women. Guinea ranks about average when compared with its West African neighbors. For instance, Sierra Leone is among the lowest at only 54 years in 2017, while Ghana is among the highest at 63 years. 
  2. Guinea’s life expectancy has increased steadily over time since 1960 with a slight dip in the early 2000s. Despite the fatal impact of Ebola on individuals and communities, the virus did not affect the course of growth for the average life expectancy in Guinea. 
  3. The country has extremely high infant and maternal mortality rates. In 2015, the maternal mortality rate was one of the worst in the world with 549 deaths per 100,000 live births. The infant mortality rate was 60.3 per 1,000 live births in 2016.
  4. About 55 percent of Guinea’s citizens live below the poverty line. This is thought to be due to the prolonged political instability since the nation’s founding in 1974. Furthermore, while 90 percent of the country’s exports come from mining, few such jobs are available; Guinea employs only 2.5 percent in this sector. 
  5. Approximately 24.4 percent of children face chronic malnourishment due to widespread poverty. During the 2018-19 school year, The World Food Programme provided hot school meals to 131,895 children in 896 schools in addition to take-home rations to 12,155 girls who are in their final year of school.
  6. About 14 million people in Guinea experience year-round transmissions of malaria and 25 percent of hospitalizations among children under 5 can be attributed to the disease. USAID support through the President’s Malaria Initiative aims to reduce the malaria mortality rate by 50 percent in Guinea as well as other sub-Saharan African countries. 
  7. Only half of the country’s population has access to public health care services. Access to health services (under 30 minutes) is 38.9 percent with a rate of use of 18.6 percent. This makes Guinea especially vulnerable to pandemics such as the recent Ebola virus. A major hurdle for the country will be expanding health coverage nationwide by strengthening the delivery of such services.
  8. In rural regions, 142 out of every thousand children die each year. This is because rural regions in particular lack clean water, access to health services and a proper sanitation system. Of those living below the poverty line, 80 percent live in rural areas. U.N. and NGO assistance makes up 26.9 percent of all expenditure on health
  9. USAID’s Health Finance and Governance project is working with Guinea’s Ministry of Health to improve transparency and accountability in the delivery of health services. Such methods include better responses to crises such as the 2015 Ebola outbreak. 

These nine facts about life expectancy in Guinea reflect that the nation still has much to improve on before life expectancy reaches the levels seen in western countries. To reduce high mortality rates from tropical diseases such as malaria, better access to health care is a must. Fortunately, some of the funding from the President’s Malaria Initiative is tackling some of these issues.

– Caleb Steven Carr
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Africa's Sahel RegionThe Sahel region of Africa has been described as “the long strip of arid land along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.” The Sahel is comprised of parts of various countries, including but not limited to Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan and the Northern tip of Nigeria. Due to geography, climate and violent conflict, the region’s perpetual plight with poverty has deep roots. Here are 10 facts about poverty in Africa’s Sahel region and initiatives that are helping the region find solutions.

10 Facts About Poverty in Africa’s Sahel Region

  1. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world. The country of Chad experiences the highest number with 85 deaths per 1000 births. Niger and Mali see 81 and 69 deaths respectively.
  2. The Sahel struggles with education as well. Epidemiologist Simon Hay created a detailed map that displays years of education and sex disparity in years of education across African countries. Mali and Chad rank especially low. Chad has a literacy rate of about 22 percent. For men, the rate of 31 percent is almost double that of women at almost 14 percent. In Mali, the literacy rate is around 33 with 45 percent for men and 22 percent for women.
  3. The Sahel is one of the most youthful regions in the world. At least 65 percent of the population is below 25 years of age. This makes education and child healthcare even more crucial to the region’s development. As a result, the U.N. Support Plan for the Sahel specifically prioritizes youth empowerment. The plan’s goal is “to scale up efforts to accelerate prosperity and sustainable peace” in 10 targeted countries in the region.
  4. The Sahel region receives limited annual rainfall and experiences frequent droughts. This poses enormous obstacles to poverty reduction and food security. Severe droughts that have occurred between 1970 and 1993 have caused major losses in agricultural production and livestock, according to UNEP.
  5. In 2012, more than 18 million people living in the Sahel region experienced severe food insecurity due to the region’s third drought in a decade. This came after the region’s previous food crises in 2008 and 2010. In 2014, the Sahel region received $274 million in humanitarian aid from USAID to help mitigate its agricultural and food insecurity crises. WFP provided food for 5 to 6 million people monthly through its nutrition and food security program.
  6. Desertification and deforestation have long threatened the region. Abject poverty has led farmers and herders to cut down forests, overgraze livestock and overcrop land. According to the FAO, more than 80 percent of the Sahel’s land has been degraded. Nora Berrahmouni, a forestry officer for drylands at FAO, says, “It’s a battle against time because dryland forests are disappearing and climate change is really happening.” In 2012, FAO programs assisted more than 5.2 million people in crop production and soil and water conservation.
  7. To reverse land degradation, the FAO is working on the ground in multiple countries in the Sahel region. One program trains villagers on how to prepare farmland and how to choose, collect and sow seeds. According to Berrahmouni, the FAO is also implementing traditional techniques such as planting trees and crops together. This helps the land regain its fertility and reduce the chance of drought. To combat desertification, the African Union began the Great Green Wall project in 2007. The goal of the project is to create a plant barrier along the Sahel that is 8,000 km long and 15 km wide.
  8. Violence is affecting more people than ever recently in the Sahel. This could lead to an “unprecedented” humanitarian crisis, according to the U.N. The area where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet is considered the Sahel’s epicenter of violent activity where jihadists have “stoked inter-communal fighting.” More than 1,200 civilians have been targeted and killed here in 2019. To defend the region against violence, the U.N. and France have deployed thousands of troops while the U.S. and EU have “funded joint military operations by five Sahel countries.”
  9. Due to violence and desertification, displacement is occurring at alarming rates. About 4.2 million people are displaced across the Sahel.” This displacement is straining communities that are already scarce with resources and worsening the food insecurity crisis.
  10. Recently, the Sahel region has been experiencing rapid population growth. Though fertility rates are decreasing, the average number of children per woman is more than five. Predictions say the population in Nigeria will be 733 million by 2100. Naturally, this will come with an increase in poverty in Africa’s Sahel region. Every minute, the number of Nigerians living in poverty increases by six.

While the Sahel has seen its struggles with healthcare, education, food insecurity, land degradation and violent conflict, many believe the future is bright. The World Bank says many of the region’s natural resources remain untapped. The U.N. says the Sahel can potentially be “one of the richest regions in the world with abundant human, cultural and natural resources.” These 10 facts about poverty in Africa’s Sahel region reveal why, despite desperate conditions, progress could be on the horizon.

Adam Bentz
Photo: Flickr


In the poorer regions of Africa, children are unable to go to school. Developing and post-conflict countries struggle to obtain basic necessities and are sometimes unable to provide children with an education. The result of this is an illiterate generation that will eventually turn to violence in revolt against their continued dependence on aid. MindLeaps is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that seeks to break that cycle, and in fact had successes, by offering these children dance lessons.

The Situation

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 32 percent of the youth do not receive an education and are illiterate. Usually, people blame this on a lack of access to schooling; however, this claim is inaccurate. MindLeaps discovered that the underlying causes are unstable homes and living conditions, education fees while schools propose free education and even apathy towards children. In some cases, children who do have the means to attend school drop out before completing their education, believing employment and a bright future for themselves is impossible. This belief stems from their lack of a supportive home life and struggles for basic necessities, as well as the influence of crime, prostitution and drugs of the elder generations. Aware of this, MindLeaps saves children by reaching out to them with a means to improve their academic situation through dance lessons.

The Program

Studies showed that dancing and movement are important in the development of learning skills, creativity and self-esteem, as well as the improvement of memory and cognitive thinking. With this research, MindLeaps developed a dance curriculum for at-risk youths in Africa, focusing on both cognitive and non-cognitive skills that they would not have developed otherwise. Students who graduated from MindLeaps have in fact shown significant cognitive and behavioral development in functions such as memorization, language, discipline and teamwork. Once dancing strengthens their minds, the children are then able to move on academically, earning sponsorships and scholarships from the organization and the dance instructors.

The Misty Copeland Scholarship

One of these instructors is Misty Copeland, a well-renowned American ballerina who came from poverty, as well. Copeland works with MindLeaps as an advisor, ambassador and dance teacher, as well as participating in their scholarship program, the International Artists Fund. In 2015, she traveled to Rwanda to help MindLeaps launch its girls’ program and established the Misty Copeland Scholarship, which provides a top dance student the opportunity to attend boarding school. Three years later, Misty returned to Rwanda and found that a student who had received that scholarship, a boy named Ali, had gone to achieve major academic success.

MindLeaps’ Achievements

Ali was not the only one to achieve success through MindLeaps. In January 2017, the organization reintegrated over 50 students into formal education in Rwanda. In March of that same year, more than half of those students ranked in the top 10 positions of their respective classes. MindLeaps’ dance lessons saved more than 600 at-risk children from illiteracy and potentially violent futures in 2017 alone. More than 3,500 children have completed the MindLeaps’ program across six different countries since 2014. The organization has seen a 0 percent drop-out rate for students whom it helped move on to formal education.

In short, Mindleaps saves children in slums and homeless children in underground tunnels thanks to dance lessons. Dance lessons offers them an opportunity to lead a life away from poverty. Developing their cognitive skills and earning their educations, enables these children to help and provide for their families, which in turn spares the next generation from illiteracy and hardship.

– Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Youth Empowerment Programs in AfricaBy 2050, Africa’s child population is projected to reach one billion, which would be the largest among the other continents. Already, the median age in Africa has shifted to 18 years old and increased the labor force substantially. The Center for Strategic and International Study released a report highlighting just how much of an impact the youth of Africa can have on the continent’s economic growth. With these trends in mind, a number of organizations are finding new and creative ways to increase youth empowerment in Africa today.

Here are three programs centered around youth empowerment in Africa.

3 Youth Empowerment Programs in Africa

  1. Young African Leaders Initiative
    The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is one of the programs created by USAID to empower young people across the world. This 2010 U.S. initiative focuses on providing Africans with resources to bolster development. These young people receive support regarding leadership skills and entrepreneurship opportunities in Regional Leadership Centers in sub-Saharan Africa. The four regional centers are located in higher education institutions and primarily target young people between the ages of 18 and 35. For example, one center located at the University of South Africa School of Business Leadership serves Swaziland, Zambia, South Africa and Madagascar. These regional centers help foster entrepreneurship and create opportunities for cross-border collaboration.The program also offers a fellowship for young Africans to study at a U.S. university and further develop their skills to become young leaders. The Mandela Washington Fellowship selects young people from 48 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to create a diverse group of fellows learning about topics surrounding business, civic engagement or public management.

    One of the most important parts of this program is the large network for young Africans to connect with each other across the continent. With online resources and regional centers in all parts of sub-Saharan Africa, every day, more young people are gaining access to information about professional development and entrepreneurship, creating a strong foundation for long-term youth empowerment in Africa.

  2. Young Africa
    In 1988, Young Africa International was founded in the Netherlands. With a goal to empower young Africans with employability and entrepreneurship skills, the program utilizes a network of independent and local affiliations to run activities in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia.A majority of the funding goes to creating training centers to hire youth across these countries. It also allows local entrepreneurs to run their businesses in a successful environment. By establishing local nonprofits in these youth centers, it promotes local businesses while also giving youth the opportunity to explore career fields, develop new skills and learn lessons about the working environment.

    Targeted to the 15 to 25 age group, Young Africa also provides 43 courses to people in the program. These courses include vocational education in technical, agricultural and commercial skills. Young Africa also focuses heavily on life skills training to help empower young people to make healthy choices and grow their self-confidence so they can make a positive impact on their community.

    The overall impact of the organization can be seen by its milestones. In 2017, there were 1,980 vocational graduates from the program. Sixty-nine percent of them are now employed or self-employed. Overall, there have been 36,894 graduates from the vocational program and their incomes increased significantly. In Namibia alone, the participant’s average daily income increased from $15.30 a day to $40.

  3. International Youth Foundation
    For 30 years, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) has prepared young women and men to take control of their futures by focusing on a combination of education, employment, entrepreneurship and social innovation.Zimbabwe:Works is an example of a program focusing on employment for marginalized groups, especially women. Using the Passport to Success curriculum, the program teaches life skills to increase self-esteem, promote teamwork and motivate young people to engage in their communities. Certain partners and entrepreneurs also assist the process by providing business courses and access to microloans and related programs. Roughly 80 percent of interns with this program have transitioned to full-time employment with various companies. Also, almost 7 out of 10 women in the targeted group received financial literacy training.

    This program is just one of many examples of youth empowerment programs in Africa led by IYF. Across 14 countries, various programs introduce young people to healthier lifestyles and brighter futures.

– Sydney Blakeney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How Technology is Improving Africa
Africa is the poorest continent in the world with every second person living below the poverty line. From extreme hunger to illnesses and to insufficient agricultural infrastructure, Africa’s population is suffering. Fortunately, groups of researchers and people are continuously creating solutions to change these conditions. Here are four inventions that show how technology is improving Africa.

NEWgenerator Sanitation Systems

Since 2002, a group of researchers at the University of South Florida have been working on a new type of wastewater treatment system that will address sanitation issues in poor countries. They invented the NEWgenerator, which is a solar-powered generator that turns wastewater into recyclable clean water, nutrients and energy. Waste from the toilet enters the tank and it treats the water in a manner that is similar to a coffee filter. As a result, chlorinated water releases that people can use to flush the toilet and irrigate for agricultural purposes. The breakdown of organic material in the waste produces biogas, a form of energy. Lastly, this method releases nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the waste that people can use as fertilizer for agricultural purposes.

The NEWgenerator stays inside a container that batteries power, allowing the unit to be completely self-sustainable. Solar power and biogas from the waste power these batteries, making this device completely independent. The NEWgenerator received initial testing at a school in South India, where the invention succeeded in recycling thousands of gallons of water for 100 people per day. In 2016, the NEWgenerator’s lead professor, Daniel Yeh, earned a $1.14 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to install an improved version in Durban, South Africa. The generators will connect to Community Ablution Blocks (CABs), facilities comprised of toilets and showers. This will multiply the NEWgenerator’s ability to produce water by 10 times and serve up to 1,000 people per day. The research group is currently working on this installation and its dedication illuminates how technology is improving Africa.

SafariSeat Wheelchairs

One in 200 people in East Africa has a disability that affects their mobility, forcing them to remain in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. Janna created SafariSeat and a small group of designers who wanted to help people regain their independence and livelihoods. It is a new wheelchair design that can navigate rough terrain found in South Africa and other developing countries. It works through a lever system, where the person can pump hand levers to control the wheelchair’s speed and power. SafariSeat’s goal is to implement an open-source toolkit in developing countries where the blueprints are free and the resources necessary to build these wheelchairs come from bicycle components at a low cost for local workshops. An open-source toolkit has three components that contribute to its success: the use of diagrams for building purposes, a communication network and a design portal where people can submit ideas for improvement.

In the past two years, SafariSeat set up two workshops, one in Kenya and one in Tanzania. It initially produced the first 50 wheelchairs in Kenya and the first 150 wheelchairs in Tanzania. After these successes, it implemented the SafariSeat Outreach program, which is a team that identifies people with disabilities in Kenya who live in isolation and need SafariSeats. Currently, the founders are working on building a third workshop in Uganda in hopes of expanding their reach and number of wheelchairs. Their ultimate goal is to broaden their impact on the rest of the world, specifically to countries undergoing wars.

Mazzi Cans

Africa has five times as many dairy cows compared to the United States with a total of about 49 million cows. Millions of farmers rely on cow’s milk as their income and source of nutrition for their families. However, if milk does not receive proper handling or storage during the time people transport it to markets, it can develop harmful bacteria that cause illnesses. Since milk contains important nutrients, vitamins, calories and minerals that can fulfill healthy dietary needs, it is necessary for farmers to be able to safely transport their milk. Mazzi is the answer to this problem. It is a 10-liter container system that makes it more efficient for the collection and transportation process. It provides a milking funnel over a durable container stronger than normal Jerry cans and its shape makes it easy to clean, preventing bacteria or soil from accumulating in the container.

Mazzi emerged by partnering with the Global Good, an organization that works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Intellectual Ventures. Currently, Mazzi is available in Kenya and Ethiopia, with the goal of expanding to Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. It will continue working on making this product more cost-affordable for small farmers.

Lucky Iron Fish

Another technology that is improving Africa is the Lucky Iron Fish which a group of researchers in a Canadian university created in response to the 2 billion people suffering iron deficiency. Iron is a crucial nutrient that helps blood transport oxygen from the lungs to the body. Without a sufficient amount of iron, people experience fatigue, weakness, lack of concentration, shortness of breath and headaches. People can put the Lucky Iron Fish in the pot or pan in which the food is cooking, releasing 6 to 8 milligrams of iron that the food absorbs. This is about 40 percent of a person’s daily iron intake levels. With the return of iron to a child’s diet, they can focus better in school, leading to higher performance results. For working persons, their improved concentration gives them a chance to earn higher incomes.

Once someone buys an Iron Lucky Fish, the organization contributes an equal amount into its Impact Fund. The company uses its Impact Fund to donate Lucky Iron Fish to developing countries and improve educational resources in communities. Women and men receive training to deliver Lucky Iron Fish within these countries and raise awareness about how to solve iron deficiency. In 2018, 54,000 people around the world received a Lucky Iron Fish. Many people (5,175) in Benin, a country in West Africa, were among these individuals. Currently, the organization is looking for more partnerships with NGOs to expand its impact from 88 countries to the rest of the world.

New technology is proving to be one of the crucial answers helping Africa out of extreme poverty with the dedication of numerous research groups and motivated people. These four inventions show how technology is improving Africa each year.

Jane Burgan
Photo: Flickr