Information and stories on awareness.

Child Trafficking in Kenya Kenya has the highest level of child trafficking in the African region. Kenya received the Tier 2 designation for human trafficking. This ranking refers to countries that are not fully compliant with the standards for eliminating human trafficking but are making efforts toward compliance, as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal bill the U.S Congress passed into law in 2000, defines.

Child Trafficking in Kenya

The cities of  Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa are where trafficking occurs the most. Traffickers traffic children for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation as well as forced labor, forced begging and forced marriage.

The African child trafficking market has become a refined system and it is difficult for authorities to keep up with the scale of the problem. Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) reports that at best, only 2% of trafficked Kenyan children ever make it back home.

With these concerning statistics, it is crucial to bring awareness to these issues and create a judicious plan to put an end to child trafficking in Kenya.

The Vulnerability of Migrants and Refugees

The U.N. Economic Development in Africa Report 2018 notes that migrants, both legal and illegal, from bordering countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan are passing through Kenya in pursuit of better lives in southern Africa as well as Europe and the Americas. Many of these hopeful migrants become victims of exploitation. In Kenya, illegal recruiters make fraudulent offers of employment in the Middle East and Asia to deceive migrants, thus entrapping them, and oftentimes their children, in the trafficking web.

Kenya hosts approximately 470,000 refugees and asylum seekers. These refugees live in camps with limited access to education and livelihood opportunities which makes them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

The Abduction and Sale of Babies

In November 2020, BBC’s Africa Eye investigative journalism program exposed Nairobi’s flourishing black market trade in stolen babies. Children of vulnerable mothers are disappearing and being sold for profit and other mothers are selling their babies for mere survival. This form of illegal child trafficking happens at street clinics and even in plain sight at a major government-run hospital in Nairobi. Many impoverished Kenyans resort to stealing babies in order to sell them for lucrative prices — roughly $460 for a girl and $725 for a boy.

Many young women face challenges such as teen pregnancy. Kenya has one of the highest rates in Africa as 20,828 girls between 10 and 14 years old have become mothers while 24,106 older girls between 15 and 19 years old are either pregnant or mothers already. Some girls are entering sex work to survive which takes them away from school. In Kenya, abortion is illegal except in emergencies. With a lack of reproductive education and awareness of legal options, women may resort to selling their children on the black market.

Lacking Government Response

BBC’s Africa Eye reported that the government has no reports or accurate national surveys on child trafficking in Kenya and agencies are too under-resourced and under-staffed for success in tracking missing children in the black market. The U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report on Kenya noted that NGOs have affiliated with Kenyan authorities to assist with providing services to victims such as medical care, psycho-social counseling, rehabilitation and reintegration support, basic needs, legal aid and transportation. In some cases, NGOs acted alone when the government’s commitments became unresponsive or stagnant.

NGOs and international organizations have also worked with the government to implement regular training for prosecutorial and judicial officials, border guards, police officers and immigration agents on detecting and properly managing child trafficking in Kenya. This project is in response to the Kenyan authority’s tendency to treat victims as criminals and to label trafficking cases as immigration or labor law violations rather than crimes under the anti-trafficking law, thus leading to less stringent sentences for traffickers.

Organizations Addressing Child Trafficking in Kenya

Activist groups and NGOs alike are taking action in combatting the growing black market. From its inception in 2016 to December 2020, Missing Child Kenya has found and reunited 496 children with their families, committed 73 children to government homes for safe care and custody, documented 21 as deceased and is still searching for another 190. This is a total of 780 children in its case files.

Additionally, a Kenyan-based NGO, HAART Kenya has been engaged in anti-human trafficking efforts for 10 years. It has conducted more than 1,500 workshops on trafficking to educate and raise awareness of the issue and has assisted 585 survivors of human trafficking.

Efforts from organizations such as these ensure that child trafficking in Kenya is eradicated once and for all.

Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Russia’s AIDS EpidemicAmid a global pandemic, Russia is fighting a medical war on two fronts; as Russia deals with the spread of COVID-19, Russia’s AIDS epidemic is worsening. As the HIV  infection rate continues to decline in the rest of Europe, the transmission rate of HIV in Russia has been increasing by 10 to 15% yearly. This increase in transmission is comparable to the yearly increase in transmission of HIV in the United States in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Epidemic in Russia

Among other factors, the erosion of effective sexual health education and a rise in the use of opioids has led to a stark increase in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Russia. The epidemic of AIDS in Russia has received little attention from the Russian Government and the international community, partly because of the nation’s social orthodoxy and the stigma surrounding drug use and HIV/AIDS.

The Silent Spread of HIV

A significant number of Russians infected with HIV are those who inject drugs. Roughly 2.3% (1.8 million) of Russian adults inject drugs, making Russia the nation in Eastern Europe with the highest population of those who inject drugs. Due to the stigma associated with drug use as well as the threat of harsh criminal punishment, few drug users who have been affected by HIV seek treatment. A study from the Society for the Study of Addiction found that in St. Petersburg only one in 10 Russians who inject drugs and are living with HIV currently access treatment.

A large part of the stigma surrounding AIDS in Russia comes from the return of traditionalism to the Russian government following the election of Vladamir Putin in 2012 and the strong connection between the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has blocked efforts to instate sex education programs in schools and campaigns to give easier access to safe sex tools like condoms. While methadone is used worldwide to treat opioid addiction to lower the use of drug injection and therefore HIV transmission, the Russian Government has banned methadone. Any person caught supplying methadone faces up to 20 years in prison.

HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Studies conducted during 2020 have shown that Russians living with HIV and AIDS have faced difficulties in accessing treatment. According to UNAIDS, 4% of Russians living with HIV reported missing medical treatment due to the pandemic and roughly 30% of respondents reported that their treatment was somehow impacted by the pandemic.

The same study found that HIV-positive Russians had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at a rate four times higher than HIV-negative Russians. However, HIV-positive Russians were less likely to seek medical attention for COVID-19 despite the high health risks, such as a weaker immune system that can accompany HIV. More Russians are contracting HIV yearly but the stigma of living with HIV is preventing HIV-positive Russians from seeking medical treatment.

Destigmatizing HIV/AIDs in Russia

With little national attention paid to the epidemic of AIDS in Russia, the movement for change has come from individuals looking to give visibility to and destigmatize HIV/AIDS. In 2015, after television news anchor, Pavel Lobkov, announced on-air that he had been living with AIDS since 2003, Russian doctors including Lobkov’s own doctor, saw a surge in people seeking HIV tests and treatment. In a nation where AIDS is highly stigmatized, a national celebrity showing that one can live a normal life with AIDS brought comfort to many Russians living with HIV/AIDS.

More Russians living with HIV/AIDS have made efforts to shed light on Russia’s HIV epidemic and destigmatize HIV to the public as well as in the medical community. Patients in Control, a nongovernmental organization run by two HIV-positive Russians, Tatiana Vinogradova and Andrey Skvortsov, set up posters around St. Petersburg that read “People with HIV are just like you and me,” and encourage HIV-positive Russians to seek antiretroviral treatment. HIV-positive Russians like Skvortsov and Vinogradova are trying to bring national attention to a health crisis that is seldom discussed, hoping to create a national conversation and put pressure on Russian officials to take action on the worsening epidemic.

A Call for Urgent Action

HIV-positive Russians and AIDS activists like Skvortsov have argued that until the Russian Government puts forth an “urgent, full forced response” to Russia’s AIDS epidemic, the rate of transmission will continue to climb. Many Russians on the ground are making public campaigns to destigmatize and normalize living with HIV, hoping to persuade the government to take action.

In 2018 alone, AIDS took the lives of 37,000 people across Russia. As of May 2020, more than 340,000 Russians have died of AIDS. While the social atmosphere of Russia, influenced by Putin’s government and the Orthodox Church, has created a shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding the AIDS epidemic, many HIV-positive Russians hope that the intensity of the epidemic will force the Russian Government to make a concerted effort to address Russia’s AIDS epidemic.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Bipolar Awareness in IndiaIndia is the second-most densely populated nation in the world, with more than 1.3 billion people. Of that number, more than 82 million citizens suffer from bipolar disorder, according to data from 2019. Bipolar disorder in India often goes undiagnosed and untreated for reasons ranging from ancient superstitions to the cost of treatment, but, bipolar awareness in India is steadily progressing.

Bipolar Disorder in India

Improved bipolar awareness in India exemplifies how a concerted effort can reduce stigma and create an affordable and readily available avenue for treatments such as therapy and medication. Indians, mostly women, have been disowned and abandoned by family or a spouse after receiving a bipolar diagnosis. In a country where the consequences of a mental condition are isolation and disconnection, the need for awareness and education is paramount.

A nation that once attributed bipolar disorder to demonic spirits, planetary alignments or a sinful past life, has come extremely far in its understanding of the illness. But, the stigma surrounding the disorder is still prevalent in India, and many, especially those from rural locations, believe bipolar disorder is a choice or an illness reserved for the rich and privileged.

BipolarIndia Organization

One resource improving bipolar awareness in India is the organization BipolarIndia. The community was created in 2013 by Vijay Nallawala, an Indian man that suffers from bipolar disorder, and his mentor and friend, Puneet Bhatnagar. BipolarIndia’s mission is to create an empathetic, judgment-free environment for bipolar people to find information, treatment, and most of all, support from those that can relate to their struggle.

BipolarIndia hosts a National Conference every year on World Bipolar Day to create awareness for the illness and educate residents from all over the country. In 2015, the organization began hosting monthly support meetings for individuals to speak with peers that can understand their struggle. It has also recently developed a way for patients to receive real-time support through the Telegram App when they feel they may need immediate help. Resources such as the Telegram App are invaluable due to the lack of mental health professionals in India.

The Mental Health Care Bill

Data from a 2005 report shows that there are only three psychiatrists per million citizens and only 0.06% of India’s healthcare budget goes toward improving mental healthcare. The Indian Government passed a Mental Health Care Bill in June of 2013 laying out a mission to improve bipolar awareness in India as well as reduce stigma surrounding all mental health issues. The bill has been undergoing revisions and policy modifications based on the guidance given by the Indian Association of Psychiatry.

Efforts to Raise Awareness

The government’s efforts to raise awareness about the complexity of bipolar disorder and the number of Indians that suffer in silence is vital to the disorder being understood. The Indian government aims to provide communities with adequate care and reliable information, leading the nation to a better understanding of a complicated mental disorder.

Bipolar awareness in India has improved with private organizations such as the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) funding research on effective treatments and raising awareness across the globe.

Also fighting for bipolar awareness, Indian celebrities, including Deepika Padukone, Rukh Kahn, Yo Yo Honey Singh and Anushka Sharma, have stepped forward and opened up about their personal battles with bipolar disorder, combatting the stigma surrounding the illness.

The Road Ahead

Bipolar awareness in India has slowly improved but still has a long way to go. If the government aims to change the attitude toward bipolar disorder and improve treatment, a significant investment in research is vital as well as a comprehensive understanding of the disorder.

–  Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

 Address Neglected Tropical DiseasesOn November 12, 2020, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) voted overwhelmingly to adopt a bold set of plans to address the threat of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) throughout the next decade. With this vote, the WHO endorsed a “road map” written by the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases team to address neglected tropical diseases in the world’s most vulnerable regions. The decade-long project aims to establish global programs with international partners, stakeholders and private organizations. These partnerships will work to accomplish an ambitious set of goals that will end the spread of certain neglected tropical diseases and improve the quality of human life in regions susceptible to neglected tropical diseases.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)

Neglected tropical diseases are commonly defined by global health organizations such as the WHO and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as a group of diseases that primarily affect those living in tropical and subtropical climates and disproportionately spread in remote areas or regions afflicted by poverty. Among the 20 diseases that the WHO categorizes as neglected tropical diseases are dengue, rabies, leprosy, intestinal worm and sleeping sickness.

Tropical and subtropical regions include Central America and the northern half of South America in the Western Hemisphere, most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as island nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Many of the countries in this range are developing or impoverished nations. A lack of development and healthcare infrastructure in nations that lie in tropical regions, such as lack of access to clean water and health education, creates a more fertile breeding ground for the spread of dangerous diseases.

The reason that these diseases are considered “neglected” is that regions where neglected tropical diseases cause the most damage are populated by people with little political power or voice, a result of widespread poverty, location and other socioeconomic factors. As such, the spread of these diseases goes largely unnoticed and there is little incentive at the international level to take measures to combat these ailments. Though NTDs do not receive high-profile attention in the larger medical community, the WHO estimates that more than one billion people are affected by NTDs. The WHO sees the urgency to address neglected tropical diseases.

WHO’s 2021-2030 Road Map

The WHO outlined a set of “overarching global targets” that it will pursue over the course of the next decade in work with foreign governments, community organizations and NGOs. These overarching goals, to be accomplished through achieving a number of “cross-cutting targets” are the primary effects the WHO hopes to achieve by 2030:

  1. Reduce number of people requiring treatment for NTDs by 90%. To attain a 90% reduction rate of those requiring treatment for neglected tropical diseases, the WHO altered its approach to disease treatment from a vertical, single disease eradication method to a horizontal, cooperative effort across several countries. This would require 100% access to water supply, greater international investment in healthcare and action at the federal level to collect and report data on infection.
  2. Eliminate at least one NTD in 100 countries. There are a number of neglected tropical diseases that the WHO lists as “targeted for elimination”: human African trypanosomiasis, leprosy and onchocerciasis. In the WHO’s road map, elimination of a disease means complete interruption of transmission, effectively stopping a disease’s spread. For eliminating diseases such as leprosy, the WHO hopes to assist 40 countries to adopt epidermal health strategies in their healthcare systems.
  3. Completely eradicate two NTDs. The two diseases listed as “targeted for eradication” by the WHO are yaws, a chronic skin condition, and dracunculiasis, an infection caused by parasitic worms in unclean water. Both diseases are, according to the WHO, either easily treatable or on the verge of eradication. Dracunculiasis, for which there is currently no vaccine or medical treatment, only affected a reported 54 people in 2019. Yaws is still endemic in 15 nations but can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics.
  4. Reduce by 75% the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to NTDs. The implementation of increased prevention, intervention and treatment can increase the quality of human life in tropical and subtropical countries. This final overarching goal aims to create nationwide efforts to alleviate or eliminate the chronic symptoms of those infected with neglected tropical diseases as well as prevent the further spread of debilitating neglected tropical diseases.

Ending Neglected Diseases

To address neglected tropical diseases, the fulfillment of the goals outlined in the WHO’s road map will require a multilateral and thorough implementation as well as cooperation and leadership from each of the partner countries affected. The WHO seeks to encourage each tropical and subtropical nation to take ownership of their healthcare programs, which will create a sustainable, international network to strengthen global health in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. Putting the fight against neglected tropical diseases in the spotlight as well as dedicating time and resources to taking on these diseases, can remove the “neglected” from neglected tropical diseases and put the global community on a course toward eradicating these diseases.

– Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Struggles of RefugeesFact or fiction, books are a great way to create empathy and understanding of the real-life experiences of other people. An experience that is not uncommon yet unique to each individual who has lived it, is the global refugee struggle. There are many books that tell the stories of refugees and contemporary fiction books are only one example of a genre that can raise awareness through storytelling. Raising awareness about the struggles of refugees through books and literature helps encourage more humanitarian efforts directed at helping refugees.

Kiss the Dust

Published in 1994, this historical fiction book by Elizabeth Laird takes place in 1991. Tara is a 12-year-old Kurdish girl living in Iraq during a time when conflict was high between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Kurds. After her father’s involvement with the Kurdish resistance movement, Tara and her family are forced to flee to Britain, where her whole world changes completely. Though “Kiss the Dust” is more about Tara and her family’s struggles as refugees living in London, there is also a lot of focus on the Kurdish resistance movement in 1991 and the trauma that many experienced because of it. There is also an emphasis on overall trauma from war-ridden areas, something that has lasting effects on refugees.

The Red Pencil

“The Red Pencil” was written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and published in 2014. Inspired by a true story, it revolves around 12-year-old Amina living in Darfur, Sudan, in 2003. She nearly loses everything when her village is attacked, and after, she and her family are forced to find a refugee camp on foot. This book describes the struggles of her journey to the refugee camp in Kamal as well as her struggles while living in the camp. Due to the trauma, Amina stops speaking. Eventually, one of the relief workers gives her a red pencil which she uses to begin her journey of recovery. While describing Amina’s journey, the book also highlights Sudan and its prolonged conflicts and wars, showing how many Sudanese people have been forced to flee their homes throughout the years, making Amina and her family only one of many Sudanese refugees.

The Bone Sparrow

Written by Zana Fraillons and published in 2016, “The Bone Sparrow” follows a young boy named Subhi who was born in an immigration detention center in Australia. His mother and sister were part of the flood of Rohingya refugees who escaped their homeland due to the genocide of their people. Because he spent his entire life behind fences, Subhi struggles to curb his curiosity about the outside world. His only access is through his mother’s stories and his imagination. Eventually, he meets a girl on the other side of the fence who contributes to his journey of freedom, imagination and knowledge about the world. Through Subhi’s struggles, the author illustrates the refugee struggle of not having a place to truly call home. The story also shines a light on the Rohingya genocide and the number of refugees created as a result, a conflict still going on today.

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles

Enaiatollah Akbari was 10 years old when his mother sent him to Pakistan from Afghanistan, to protect him from the Taliban, portraying the many years the Taliban have been creating conflict in areas around Pakistan and Afghanistan. Published in 2010, the novel by Fabio Gada revolves around Akbari’s five-year journey as he travels through Iran, Turkey and Greece, eventually ending up in Italy at the age of 15. Throughout his journey, he encounters many hardships. This story highlights a refugee’s journey of loss and rebuilding.

The Good Braider

Published in 2012 by Terry Farish, this book is about a Sudanese family escaping war in their homeland and eventually ending up in Portland, Maine, a place with a lot of other Sudanese immigrants. The community of Sudanese refugees in the United States portrayed in this book shows the impact of the current and previous conflicts in South Sudan. The main character, Viola, struggles to balance the differences between her Sudanese heritage and the culture of the United States. By portraying Viola’s struggles within a Sudanese immigrant community, this book highlights the communal struggles of refugees and immigrants living in the United States.

The Unique Struggles of Refugees

Though the characters are fictional, all of these stories are based on real-life events that forced thousands of people to flee their homes. From war to genocide, each book highlights a unique yet similar set of events that the characters experience, based on their history, setting and context. These different perspectives not only allow people to empathize with victims of history but also bring more of an understanding about the lives of refugees and encourage more humanitarian efforts to address this global issue.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

HIV in southern AfricaIn 2006, the Duke of Sussex partnered with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to form Sentebale, a charity focused on providing psychosocial support for children and young adults living with HIV in southern Africa. It partners with grassroots organizations in Botswana, Lesotho and Malawi and works to improve adherence to HIV medication programs.

Sentebale

“We teach them that this human immunodeficiency virus does not have to be a death sentence for anyone anymore, that the real enemy we are fighting is stigma and the antiquated attitudes that work against young people coming forward when wanting to take an HIV test,” said Prince Harry in a speech during a dinner for Sentebale in January 2020.

The name Sentebale was chosen by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso. It means “forget me not” in Sesotho, which is Lesotho’s official language. Princess Diana, Prince Harry’s late mother, and Queen ‘Mamohato, Prince Seeiso’s late mother, were both previously involved in work with children who had been affected by HIV/AIDS. The mission of Sentebale is to become the leading organization for psychosocial support for young people and children with HIV in southern Africa.

The Let Youth Lead Program

In recent years, Sentebale has found that social accountability and peer-to-peer support were central tools to bolstering its mission. In March 2017, Sentebale launched the Let Youth Lead program. The program’s objectives are to eventually have all young people in southern Africa know their HIV status, provide and promote peer-to-peer support and help young people to advocate for themselves at the government level. Another goal of the program is to empower these young advocates with the tools to assist their peers and have their voices heard.

“I volunteered because I wanted to help people. I don’t see this as work, I just want to transform people’s lives,” said Pheto Kutmela, a Sentebale Let Youth Lead advocate. Kutmela has been volunteering in Ha Makunyapane, Thaba-Tseka district, where he lives.

These youth advocates have been able to facilitate community dialogues in 30 community councils, where they are able to discuss challenges they have been facing and suggest improvements for going forward. It can typically be difficult for young people to have their voices heard at the governmental level and this program helps create a platform for them to do so, by giving them the tools to engage with policy leaders and address education and health services.

HIV/AIDS Progress in Botswana

Sentebale has overseen some transformative improvements in the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past several years. In Botswana, HIV/AIDS infected less than 500 children under the age of 14 in 2018 and more than 95% of pregnant women living with HIV were receiving treatment.

Sentabale is in the process of developing a five-year strategy for the organization. In January 2020, it hosted an “initial workshop” to hear the voices of young people and children so that it can shape the organization’s future vision around their feedback. Looking forward to 2021, with a few adaptations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sentebale will continue to prioritize its commitment toward empowering youth who HIV in southern Africa has affected.

– Katherine Musgrave
Photo: Flickr

The Secret Truth of Mental Health in Colombia Colombia is home to some of the most unyielding forms of violence, such as assassinations, assaults and homicides. Significant acts of violence and conflict were first introduced during the La Violencia period. This occurred in 1948 when territorial and civil issues rose between property owners and poor farmers. Historically, violence has been a prevalent theme in Colombia and has heavily impacted many families and communities. Colombia’s low mental health rates increase in rural areas due to trauma, substance abuse and gang violence. Colombia has the largest population in the world of expatriates by an armed conflict, which can have a significant influence on the population’s mental stability. This article will discuss the silent truth about mental health in Colombia.

Trauma Causes Indefinite Effects

According to a scientific research report, the displacement process can cause “physical and psychological consequences associated with exposures to harm and loss during disasters and complex emergencies.” Crime and acts of violence predominantly occur in rural areas; however, the removal then requires significant adjustments to urban areas. Internally displaced individuals are often victims of armed conflict, so they are often removed from their own homes. These adjustments can increase the chances of mental disorders such as “depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.”

According to a study, anxiety disorders are prominent in victims who have experienced more vile acts of violence. Even so, side effects and symptoms begin to deplete after nearly five years. Individuals also experience more side effects if they have suffered trauma due to the actual act or witnessing of violence, rather than the loss of a loved one. Furthermore, pursuing or witnessing violent actions causes behavioral issues. These events induce physiological trauma, which then affects others directly or indirectly.

Substance Abuse Takes Full Control

There are many factors as to why individuals experience mental health issues. However, a pattern has developed among the type of issues between genders. According to a psychological survey inducted in Colombia, women experience a significant increase in depression, while men experience increased alcohol addiction due to violent behavior or witnessing violent acts. In terms of the drug market economy, Colombia is well known for supplying cocaine internationally. However, on average, alcohol is the most popular drug of choice, beginning at the age of 14, which leads to the vulnerability of alcohol abuse.

The continuous rise in drug addiction can lead to a lack of financial stability, which thus leads to poverty. In 2018, the poverty rate was 27.8%, a 0.09% decrease from 2016. The lack of finances can lead to more stress on individuals, which exacerbates mental health conditions and proves that the silent truth about mental health in Colombia has a continuous domino effect.

The Aftermath of Gang Violence

Violent gangs are a prominent vessel for drug transportation within Colombia and according to the United Nations, they have displaced over 800 people due to drug trafficking. After the repercussions of La Violencia in 1948, a peace treaty emerged. Nonetheless, it caused many Colombian natives to break apart into two political groups: paramilitary and guerrillas — both involved in drug trafficking. Gangs are the primary group engaging in drug trafficking and members typically acquire deadly weapons for many purposes. Moreover, weapons can cause years of psychological trauma for gang violence victims.

Street crimes such as robberies are currently the most predominant type of crimes in Colombia. However, gang members usually commit these criminal acts and increase the crime rate countrywide. Although crime rates increase for multiple reasons, including gang activity, Colombia’s government must take further action. The government must take measures to ensure that no more citizens fall victim to gang violence or the aftermath. The consequences of these experiences cause mental disorders for those involved in criminal acts and those associated with individuals involved.

Addressing the Issue

Although there has been a low rate of conflict in Columbia currently, according to a research report, 8 million people have been internally displaced since 1985. The Children of the Andes Foundation is working towards offering more basic rights and a positive environment for children suffering from exposer to violence. The organization was founded on the belief that every at-risk child should have the opportunity to better themselves.  The foundation offers a home to “62 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 18.”

Furthermore, many health institutes have developed in Colombia to combat mental health disorders in hope of decreasing acts of violence. Nevertheless, until their government develops a solution for the ongoing violence, the silent truth about mental health in Colombia will remain.

–  Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Landmine-Free WorldThe threat of stepping on landmines understandably leaves communities in fear of utilizing valuable farmland, traveling freely to school or rebuilding after conflict. Landmines affect impoverished communities significantly more than others as it is often the poor who are pushed into these dangerous areas. A landmine-free world is the goal of several organizations.

Landmine Policies and Campaigns

In 1997, the problems associated with landmines rose to international attention when Princess Diana walked through a minefield in Angola. Shortly after, the Ottawa Treaty was signed by 122 countries. As the most exhaustive measure for prohibiting landmines and the trade and clearance of them, the treaty has since led to clearance in 33 countries and the destruction of 51 million stockpiled landmines. Still, 58 countries remained contaminated, which is the fact that sparked the Landmine Free 2025 campaign. As of 2020, countless charities continue to work toward a world where no one has to live under the fear that a single step could kill them. Organizations and programs have formed to help make the world a landmine-free place to live.

The HALO Trust

Working across 26 territories and countries, this once small charity has grown into a top landmine-clearing organization since its founding three decades ago. HALO’s history began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1988 when troops were pulled out of Afghanistan leaving behind explosives that killed thousands of refugees. Guy Willoughby, Colin Mitchell and Susan Mitchell saw the devastation unfolding in Kabul and established HALO to clear landmines and allow humanitarian aid to access the region.

Through its partnerships, HALO has greatly expanded its capacity to make the world landmine-free. The organization creates jobs in the communities it works in and provides skill-building opportunities for women through projects like 100 Women in Demining in Angola, a program that trains and employs all-women clearance teams. Likewise, concerned with landmines’ ecological impact, HALO works with partners to rehabilitate habitats such as the Okavango Delta. Clearing the southwest minefields in Angola, it supports National Geographic’s Okavango Wilderness Project, which will protect the headwaters that provide water for hundreds of thousands of Africans.

In the 2019/2020 fiscal year, HALO cleared 11,200 hectares of land, a 28% increase from the previous year. An example of the organization’s dedication is the clearance of the Site of the Baptism of Christ on the River Jordan. In April 2020, after four years of work, worshippers were able to return to this holy site for the first time in 50 years. HALO does much more than clear mines, it enriches the lives of communities and allows for healing after violent conflict.

Mines Advisory Group (MAG)

MAG is the response to horrific first-hand experiences witnessed by British Army engineer, Rea McGrath, during his NGO service in Afghanistan. As a promise to a young boy who had been “absolutely shattered” by a Soviet-laid mine, McGrath founded MAG in 1989 to educate the world about landmine issues and mobilize governments to respond. It is renowned as the first landmine-clearing organization to create community liaisons as a way of understanding levels of contamination.

The devastating truth is that almost half of all victims of landmines are children. To combat this, MAG provides educational sessions for children, to teach them how to recognize mines, what to do in emergencies and alert them of the areas of contamination. Beyond that, MAG continuously supports those injured by mines, like Minga who was blinded and dismembered at the age of six. Now a paid intern, she explains that teaching risk education classes, “made me feel important in our community.”

Across 68 countries, MAG has helped 19 million people to date. The organization actively responds to crises such as the 2009 conflict in Gaza and the ISIS/ Daesh Insurgency of 2014. In 2019 alone, MAG cleared 101,031 landmines and unexploded devices, which released 9,711 hectares of land. MAG’s work shows the organization’s commitment to a landmine-free world.

Odyssey2025 Project

Not a charity, but a one-of-a-kind project with the goal to accelerate landmine clearance through the use of drones, innovative survey methods and low-cost, accessible technology. Odyssey2025 is intended to compensate for the timely process of scoping minefields by enabling teams to initially fly drones over hazardous areas.

Recently awarded a million-dollar prize for its humanitarian work in Chad, the project was applauded for its breakthroughs in infrared data that enabled teams to locate over 2,500 buried landmines, a feat never before accomplished with drones. To achieve a landmine-free world by 2025, Odyssey2025 intends to continue capacity building in order to export its projects to other countries.

– Anastasia Clausen
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in KenyaIt is estimated that 11.5 million, or one in every four Kenyans, have experienced mental illness. Common mental health issues in Kenya include disorders due to substance abuse, neurotic and personality disorders, as well as dementia. However, the country has limited resources for those struggling with mental health issues. As of 2015, there were only around 12 neurologists and 100 psychiatrists in Kenya. Furthermore, mental health-related stigma decreases the accessibility of care since it can lead to discrimination. Greater awareness of mental health issues as well as providing more resources for those suffering from mental illnesses and disorders can aid in increasing the quality of life of those struggling with mental health issues in Kenya.

Mental Health Care Project

In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders and Board on Global Health created a demonstration project with the goal of improving the state of mental health in Kenya. The project focused on mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders in Kenya, specifically alcohol abuse, depression and epilepsy because of the high burden of these conditions. The project addresses the limitations of Kenya’s healthcare infrastructure, lack of availability of medication and data in regard to MNS disorders. Additionally, the project emphasizes the potential benefits of incorporating traditional and faith healers (TFHs) into the Kenyan healthcare system. Kenyans who struggle with mental illness often rely on TFHs for care because of their wide accessibility. Because TFHs are viewed with acceptance among communities, the project encourages the collaboration between TFHs and healthcare practitioners.

Mental Health Stigma

Kenyans living with mental disorders often experience stigma on multiple levels. Stereotypes surrounding those with mental illnesses lead to public stigma, especially since many people associate mental illnesses with evil. Furthermore, those struggling with mental disorders may internalize others’ negative perceptions of them, impacting how they view themselves and their overall quality of life since it can lead to loneliness and isolation. Stigma is a factor preventing Kenyans from receiving efficient treatment. Therefore, greater public education on mental disorders and providing more resources for treatment can improve the lives of those living with mental disorders in Kenya. A better understanding of mental health in Kenya will aid in the destigmatizing of mental disorders, leading to effective treatment.

Kenya’s  Mental Health Response

In 2005, in collaboration with WHO, Kenya created a program to implement mental health into the country’s healthcare system. This was done by training healthcare staff across the country. The outcome of the project proved the possibility of educating healthcare workers through courses in mental health.

Furthermore, in 2014, Kenya presented the Mental Health Bill, which proposed providing resources for those with mental illnesses, including treatment, care and rehabilitation. The law has yet to be enacted. If implemented, the legislation aims to address the inequality in mental healthcare and to ensure greater accessibility of mental health services in Kenya.

Despite the strides taken by the Kenyan Government to address mental health, it is necessary to further these efforts in order to improve the overall healthcare system. Greater awareness of mental illnesses and how they can be treated is imperative to advance mental healthcare in Kenya.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Data Literacy
Since 2015, Nepal has been on the rise from a period of political turmoil. The country faced social unrest, economic instability and a shift to a three-tiered government. After a difficult transition, Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015 and held elections for government members. These democratic changes brought Nepal some peace as well as hope for a better and more consistent future. One key element of a Nepali future hinges on data literacy.

Nepal’s new government aims to achieve the status of a middle-income country by 2030. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that all members of society are able to access and properly use data. Citizens need to have data literacy to inform decision-making, create developmental opportunities and much more.

What is the Power of Open Data?

Prioritizing the collection and making official statistics accessible to the population is essential in boosting policymaking and delivering public services. Professionals possessing data literacy can use data to change these systems in evidence-based ways that better serve the population. For example, education or sanitation fields can improve with a greater understanding of how they currently function within the country. If Nepal wants to transition to a middle-income country by 2030, data collection and analytics will be essential to making evidence-based fiscal decisions.

The public in Nepal has had access to government data since 2007. However, reports state a limited public understanding of how to request such information. There is also a widespread “culture of secrecy” in regard to public data. Another barrier to accessing open data is internet speed and access to an internet connection in private households.

What is Nepal Doing to Encourage Data Literacy?

Nepal launched the Open Data Awareness Program in 2017. It aims to bring awareness to Nepali youth about data literacy, as these youth are the future generation of leaders and policymakers for the country. The program strived to raise awareness through training sessions at colleges and youth organizations. The program then culminated in a hackathon event where youth from all over Nepal collaborated in data-oriented problem-solving.

In 2019, the World Bank worked with Nepal to create a 100-hour Data Literacy Program. The first phase of the program involved 40-hour in-person training on data literacy. During the second phase, program participants trained people in their community using the information learned in the first phase. The third phase was another in-person training, this time 60 hours, involving participants from various diverse Nepali organizations. This training also covered data literacy topics such as python, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Later that year, the World Bank, Asia Foundation and UKAID collaborated to organize a two-day Solve-a-thon at the Kathmandu University School of Management. This event provided a platform for professionals with backgrounds in programming, research, development and data science to collaborate on data projects to further development in Nepal. These participants worked in teams on different projects that tackled issues such as air pollution, gender equality and tourism. The program held open debates on complex issues and how to use data to find efficient and effective solutions. Youth and professionals were able to come up with interesting prototypes from the Solve-a-thon. Two creations were a chatbot that tracks Nepal’s air quality and a dashboard that monitors tourist flow.

Data Literacy During the Pandemic and Beyond

In most recent news, the Nepal Data Literacy Community on Facebook that emerged from the Data Literacy Programs in 2019, decided to tackle COVID-19, by providing the correct information using open data as its resource. The community came up with initiatives to inform the population as well as collect and spread COVID-19 crisis management information. Its initiatives aim to remove language barriers on information, investigate the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, make data on COVID-19 publicly available and analyze global media trends around divisive pandemic narratives.

Other initiatives have also come together to launch Open Nepal, a community knowledge hub. The group produces, shares and uses data to further development in Nepal. The site is a diverse platform for organizations and individuals to share their experiences and bridge the gap in data literacy. Open Nepal involves the public and private sectors to make sure no one is left behind in the fight for Nepali development.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr