31 bits
Currently, 80 percent of the world population lives on less than $10 a day. Needless to say, this is a time where the global poverty rate, although at the lowest it has ever been, is still in desperate need of improvement. The estimated unemployment rate as of 2017 was 7.9 percent, a 0.4 percent increase from 2016.

Fortunately, there are organizations and companies such as 31 Bits that are striving to combat the current unemployment dilemma that is actively contributing to global poverty. Starting its journey selling jewelry at local school events and craft fairs, nearly a decade later, 31 Bits is a thriving company composed of strong women whose success has been driven by their desire to help struggling and poor artisans in providing them with dignified job opportunities all throughout the world.

How 31 Bits Came to Be

The young women who started 31 Bits were college students by day while learning about marketing and international development at night. They had no background in business whatsoever; however, they did not allow this obstacle to hinder them. After returning from a life-changing trip to Uganda in college, International Director and Founder Kallie Dovel met many women, most who were single moms without jobs or an education that were the same age as herself.

Although they lacked an education, Kallie was instantly drawn to their exceptional skills and resourcefulness; they were making jewelry out of old posters. Bringing a box of jewelry back home, she was able to sell all that she had to her friends with ease.

Kallie was hit with the realization that with the skills that these women possessed, they needed a market – this is how 31 Bits has come to flourish. Producing products that are thoughtfully designed and ethically made, the mission statement of 31 Bits is, “We use fashion and design to drive positive change in the world by providing artisans with dignified opportunities and inspiring customers to live meaningful lives.”

How 31 Bits is Carrying Out its Mission

Actively defying cruel sweatshops where the worker is not paid fairly and is treated poorly, 31 Bits puts the treatment of its artisans at the forefront. The workshops contain quality materials and the necessary protective supplies, and the organization’s goal is to ensure that each artisan is able to make a sustainable monthly salary so that they are able to provide for their families.

31 Bits sells jewelry, bags, home décor, ceramics, textiles and more. Its brass jewelry is crafted by hand in Bali and its beads are also handmade in Uganda. Its website explains the religious reasoning behind the name 31 Bits, saying, “We called the company 31 Bits because Proverbs 31 describes a diligent woman providing and caring for her family using her gifts and talents. Oh, and the ‘bits’ comes from our original and bestselling jewelry that uses beads made out of ‘bits’ of paper!”

Combating Poverty and Assisting Artists

Because 31 Bits recognizes that there are many countries that suffer from corruption and a poor infrastructure which, as a result, limits many from access to the global market, it works to actively decrease the poverty rate for these countries while sustaining a family atmosphere and preserving tradition. “We’ve been able to take age-old practices and give them a modern twist,” the company explains. “Through 31 Bits, [artisans] now have a place to sell their meaningful work and tell stories of their heritage.”

Artisans who work with 31 Bits also receive health care and treatment, counseling, financial education and more. 31 Bits is not only combating the vast amount of global poverty that millions are attempting to grapple with, it is also promoting and encouraging these artisans to pursue their dreams.

– Angelina Gillispie
Photo: Flickr

Art Therapy for Syrian Refugees

Non-governmental organizations around the world have been using art therapy for Syrian refugees as a way to deal with trauma.

One of the non-governmental organizations using art therapy for Syrian refugees is Global Humanitaria, based in Spain. According to HuffPost, the organization has partnered with Bader Medical Center in Jordan to help Syrian refugees create artwork. These art pieces will be displayed in Madrid and Barcelona and sold online. The proceeds from these will support the artists.

More than the monetary value, therapy using the arts helps Syrian refugees express the horrors that they have experienced in Syria. According to Al Jazeera, many of the Syrian children are too young to verbalize what they went through. Others are too traumatized to talk about the things that they have seen. Art therapy for Syrian refugees gives children a nonverbal way to work through their thoughts.

Many Syrian children draw things that they have witnessed. These things often include bombs, severed limbs and tanks. Other children draw happier pictures to signify a happier outlook.

Art therapy for Syrians seeking refuge also gives children an opportunity to talk about their trauma on their own terms. According to Al Jazeera, Syrian children often become belligerent or withdrawn when asked about the situations that they have faced. Art helps them process these experiences.

Syrian refugees experience many of difficulties beyond escaping from the country. Several of the children at the Bader Medical Center have lost limbs, for example. Others must deal with a lack of education, employment and permanent housing.

In spite of the benefits of art therapy for Syrians seeking refuge, there is not much of funding for it. Al Jazeera discusses how little non-governmental organizations receive for art therapy. A lack of funds leads to not having enough patient time to make a long-lasting improvement.

This being said, even short-term art therapy for Syrian refugees has had a positive influence on the refugees exposed to it.

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

Documentaries About Poverty
Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu can be a means to unproductive and endless binge-watching. However, they can also be an instrument of political and social change. Documentary films can be some of the highest quality filmmaking out there, as well as a great tool for nonprofit organizations. Documentaries about poverty can cover almost any issue, discussing topics of hunger, health, education and more. Below are eight documentaries about poverty that are definitely worth watching.

8 Influential Documentaries about Poverty

  1. Poverty, Inc.: This film examines and critiques the ways that good intentions from nonprofits and charity organizations can actually end up hurting the communities they wish to help. Some of these strategies include the Western attitude of patronizing developing countries and flooding a nation with handouts and thereby hurting its economy. Poverty, Inc. points out the flaws in certain forms of aid and how organizations and governments can fix them.
  2. Why Poverty?: This is actually a series of eight documentaries about poverty that are available for streaming on the PBS website. Broadly speaking, the series asks why poverty still exists for over a billion people around the world. The episodes aim for awareness, examining the causes of poverty and looking for solutions.
  3. We Feed the World: This film depicts the disparity between the amount of food available in the developing world with how much they produce and eventually waste in those same nations.
  4. Thought for Food: One of the shorter documentaries about poverty, this film also focuses on hunger. It tells the stories of students who created solutions for large food security problems. Consequently, it can give the viewer some ideas on how to fight hunger with their own skills.
  5. Girl Rising: This documentary looks at the stories of nine different girls in Asia, South America and Africa and how they used their education to overcome obstacles. Celebrities narrated this film without sounding patronizing. Overall, Girl Rising illustrates the power of education in desperate circumstances through messages of inspiration and triumph.
  6. Sewing Hope: While movements such as “Kony 2012” examined the plight of boys in Uganda forced to become child soldiers, this documentary looks at what happened to young girls and the quest to improve their lives. Many girls were taken as sex slaves and returned to their communities with their captors’ children. The documentary also examines Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe’s mission to give these women independence through vocational training like sewing and tailoring.
  7. On the Way to School: This documentary inspects the greater global issue of education through a closer look at four personal stories in India, Morocco, Patagonia and Kenya. It is thus a great film to raise awareness about the things the Western world takes for granted in education.
  8. Bending the Arc: This brand new documentary tells the story of the organization Partners in Health. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival this past January and is one to keep an eye out for.

Ellen Ray

Photo: Flickr

Learning in EnglandIt has been increasingly difficult for young people to access arts and culture. School art provisions are declining rapidly. The total estimated cost spent in England and Wales on educational art services for 2016/2017 is projected to fall another 13 percent from 2015.

As a result, there has been a decline in English children becoming involved in art subjects, a reduction in art teaching hours and fewer art teachers employed in schools. Informal programs have also suffered due to local authority cuts.

The Cultural Learning Alliance (CLA) exists to address these issues. The alliance is a collective voice working to ensure that all children have meaningful access to cultural programs. Its goals are to advocate for a coherent national strategy for cultural learning, to unite the education, youth and cultural sectors, to showcase projects and demonstrate why cultural learning is so important.

The CLA first published the Imagine Nation report in 2011 to set the agenda for a national conversation about the value of cultural learning. The following statistics were included in the 2017 version of the report and outline the benefits of cultural learning:

  • Participation in structured arts activities can increase cognitive abilities by 17 percent.
  • Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to graduate. These students are also 20 percent more likely to vote as young adults.
  • Studying art subjects increases the likelihood of students maintaining employment.
  • People who take part in the arts are 38 percent more likely to report good health.
  • Employability of students who study arts subjects is higher.

David Puttnam, the chairman of the CLA, has described the report as a wake-up call to boost cultural learning in England. “It is essential that access to arts is a right and not a privilege,” he says.

Similarly, Michelle Obama has stated that “Arts education…is the air many of these kids breathe. It’s how we get kids excited about getting up and going to school in the morning. It’s how we get them to take ownership of their future.”

The Imagine Nation report has resulted in a “call to arms” to boost cultural learning in England. According to the report, “we must act now to ensure that the next generation is given all the tools it needs to build a stronger, healthier society.”

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Art Responds to the Refugee Crisis in A World Not OursThe Syrian refugee crisis receives enormous amounts of news coverage and is often a source of debate as a political and humanitarian issue. Still, for people removed from the situation it can be difficult to truly comprehend the severity of the situation. This is where art can serve as a way to engage a wider audience and explain the issues on a human level as opposed to politically and statistically.

In the past couple of years, there have been many notable art exhibitions dedicated to the refugee crisis. Most recently the exhibit A World Not Ours has received a significant amount of attention.

A World Not Ours is an exhibition backed by the Schwarz Foundation and curated by Katerina Gregos at the Art Space Pythagorion in the Greek Island of Samos. Greece is currently home to 57,000 refugees. A diverse group of artists illustrates the hardships and trauma of refugee life, hoping to create a greater understanding of the crisis and empathy for those 21 million refugees.

Lebanese artist Ninar Esber created a two-hour live performance piece, The Blind Lighthouse. A woman’s face is completely covered as she stands on top of a lighthouse facing the sea. The lights on the structure are very dim but the audience is encouraged to approach. However, once they approach, she turns away. It is an attempt to demonstrate the treacherous and unpredictable voyage refugees must take when they leave their country. The Schwarz Foundation states the performance “encourages us to reflect upon our relations with those on the ‘other’ side.”

Another artist featured is Tanja Boukal, who originates from Austria. She exhibited the photo collage Memories of Travels and Dreams which consists of a collection of items the artist found on her trip from Kuşadas, Turkey to Samos, Greece. She compares the trips between tourists and refugees. Though they are going to the same destinations, the trips are vastly different. Tourist buys a $40 ferry ticket in which they are offered varied amenities. A stark contrast from the $1500 refugees must pay to travel on a small, overcrowded and usually faulty boats.

Other artists include Yannis Behrakis, Róza El-Hassan, Mahdi Fleifel, Marina Gioti, Sallie Latch and many others.

Curator Gregos says “while exhibitions like these do not solve the problem, they do keep it alive in our minds and maintain public awareness so that the necessary debate continues. What is needed, ultimately, is empathy, the ability to consider the question ‘what if this were me? How would I react then?”

It is worthwhile to view the artwork presented in A World Not Ours because it offers an emotive perspective on the refugee crisis.

Karla Umanzor

Photo: Flickr