7 FundDavid Beckham is a father, former professional soccer player, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ambassador and a philanthropist. While Beckham played for the Manchester United Football Club he was also supporting UNICEF. In 2005, Beckham was appointed as the new ambassador for UNICEF. The former soccer player is supporting and advocating for the well-being of children globally. In 2015, to commemorate 10 years of supporting UNICEF, UNICEF and Beckham partnered to start the 7 Fund.

The 7 Fund

The 7 Fund aims to empower vulnerable children in nations across the world, including Indonesia, Nepal, Uganda and El Salvador, by addressing issues such as “bullying, violence, child marriage and missed education.” Within the initial three years of its establishment, the 7 Fund had already made a significant difference in children’s lives.

Child Marriage in Nepal

According to the 7 Fund, “Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Asia.” Girls who marry young often drop out of school, leaving them uneducated and unable to break cycles of poverty. The 7 Fund tackles child marriage in Nepal by ensuring that girls receive the support needed to stay in school or return to school to fulfill their full potential. In addition to helping “build life skills” for both boys and girls, the organization also supports the provision of mental health services for these children. Importantly, the 7 Fund educates parents and communities at large on the detrimental impacts of child marriage in order to reduce its prevalence.

The Story of Rashida Khatun

On its website, the 7 Fund showcases the inspiring story of Rashida Khatun, a 14-year-old girl in Nepal. Child marriage is common in Khatun’s community. Despite her yearning to receive an education, she could not due to her family’s impoverished circumstances. Her parents prioritized the education of her three brothers while she and her sisters had to shoulder household chores. Her four older sisters were “married as teenagers” and she was next in line.

Khatun’s world changed when she joined a “UNICEF-supported non-formal education program for girls” in her area, with permission from her father. The nine-month-long Girls’ Access to Education (GATE) program focused on empowering “out-of-school adolescent girls by giving them basic numeracy and literacy lessons and useful life skills.” Khatun told UNICEF Nepal that when she initially started the classes, she was not aware “that children had rights, or that child marriage was a violation of those rights or that it was actually illegal.”

Through the GATE program, Khatun was educated about the dangers of child marriage and decided against it. Khatun and a GATE class facilitator eventually managed to convince her parents to cancel her marriage, allowing her to continue to pursue an education that would one day help her rise out of poverty. The story of Khatun is an illustration of the importance of 7 Fund efforts to address child marriage in Nepal. Roughly 10,000 Nepali girls are now part of “a return to school” program.

Tackling Malnutrition in Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, one out of 13 children dies before reaching the age of 5, mostly due to malnutrition. The 7 Fund looks to reduce child malnutrition in Papua New Guinea through lifesaving programs. In a 2015 press release by UNICEF, Beckham says, “I feel very proud to be in Papua New Guinea to see for the first time how the money raised is helping to keep children healthy and safe, by providing life-saving therapeutic food for children suffering from malnutrition.”

Addressing Bullying in Indonesia

The 7 Fund acknowledges that the effects of bullying can stay with an individual for life. With one in five Indonesian children between 13 and 15 experiencing bullying, the issue is important to address as bullying diminishes self-esteem and negatively impacts mental health. The 7 Fund is supporting anti-bullying initiatives in Indonesian schools, focusing on “training teachers and helping schools put safeguarding plans in place, helping to reduce rates of school dropout and child marriage and creating a safer school environment to enable children to thrive.” Due to these efforts, incidences of bullying have reduced by almost a third.

Prioritizing Girls’ Education in Uganda

Within Uganda, nearly 60% of the girls are unable to go to secondary school due to violence in school and pressure to stay home to help manage the household. To ensure girls stay in or return to school, the 7 Fund is supporting “teacher training and creating protection systems to track and report violence.” The Fund is also focusing on educating parents and communities on the lifelong benefits of girls’ education for both the girls and their families.

Beckham’s 7 Fund is a prime example of using a celebrity platform to make a difference. Overall, the 7 Fund protects and empowers children with the knowledge and tools to rise out of poverty.

– Carolina Reyes 
Photo: Flickr

Mental health awarenessMental health is an issue that, until recently, people shied away from talking about. While it can be a sensitive topic for people, it is one that society needs to talk about. By discussing mental health, people can help raise awareness of the issue. Celebrities are known to have an influence on their fans, so when they speak about a cause they care about, people tend to listen. Here are a few celebrities who are known mental health awareness advocates.

5 Celebrities Advocating for Mental Health Awareness

  1. Demi Lovato. Actor and singer Demi Lovato has frequently spoken about their struggles with mental illness. Lovato has been a mental health activist since 2015 when they revealed they were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Wanting to help others struggling with mental illness, Lovato started the Mental Health Fund, which provides people with free counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic. In society, asking for help can be seen as a weakness. Lovato believes otherwise. In an interview with Deseret News, Lovato said, “The strongest thing someone can do is take that first step in getting help, whatever shape or form that is.” This charity raises money for the Crisis Text Line and crisis counseling options in Canada and the United Kingdom. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the public’s mental health so organizations like these have a significant impact on society.
  2. Kristen Bell. Actress Kristen Bell is a longtime and well-known advocate of mental health awareness. Fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness, Bell believes mental health check-ins should be as common as going to the dentist or doctor. Bell has struggled with depression and has spoken about why mental health screenings should be taken more seriously. There are often stereotypes surrounding depression, but like Bell said in an interview with NAMI, “You can’t tell someone has depression just by looking at them, especially since it’s such an internal battle.” With celebrities like Bell speaking about their own struggles with mental illness, fans will better see that there is no shame in asking for help.
  3. Simone Biles. Simone Biles is the most awarded gymnast in history. The Olympian also has her own battles with mental illness. Biles goes to therapy on a regular basis and takes anxiety medication. These revelations arose after Biles stood up as a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse. Victims of sexual assault have an increased risk of developing PTSD, depression and anxiety. In 2017, Biles partnered with the #BeUnderstood campaign, which advocated for learning disabilities and ADHD awareness during the month of October. Biles has also spoken out about her experience with ADHD.
  4. Chyler Leigh. Chyler Leigh, known for her roles on Grey’s Anatomy and Supergirl, has not shied away from sharing her experiences with bipolar disorder. As the new face for the Be Vocal: Speak Up campaign, Leigh shared her experiences of growing up without a diagnosis. Leigh says that she did not have an environment where she could speak up, so she kept quiet. She also spoke about self-medicating with alcohol and the struggle she went through with getting help. Joining Be Vocal was a way of opening up to the public. By sharing her story, Leigh hoped for people to hear her experience and relate, knowing that they are not alone in feeling that way.
  5. Justin Bieber. In his YouTube docuseries “Seasons,” Justin Bieber gave his fans an inside look at his struggles with addiction and mental health challenges. His addiction to marijuana became so serious that he became dependent on it. He also spoke about his use of stronger substances like MDMA or hallucinogenic mushrooms. Bieber got help and replaced illegal substances with antidepressants. In his efforts to help advocate for mental health, Bieber gave a fan $100,000 to support her career in social work. Part of the donation helped the fan attend grad school while the rest of it went to Active Minds, an organization that raises mental health awareness for college students.

Global Mental Health

Though raising mental health awareness domestically is essential, there are many people without access to proper mental healthcare globally. As of 2016, high-income nations spent around 5% of their health budgets on mental health. For lower-middle-class nations, that number fell to less than 2%. There are fewer trained psychiatrists in developing countries, which makes it hard to address everyone’s illnesses.

In Indonesia, there was one psychiatrist for every 350,000 people. Haiti, a country with roughly 10 million people, has only about “10 licensed psychiatrists.” Without the proper funding, developing countries struggle to make mental health a priority.

Spreading Awareness

Mental health issues are very common in society, but they often do not spark the necessary discussion. Part of this reason is because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Everyone is capable of contributing to mental health awareness. By posting about mental health on social media, donating to mental health organizations or supporting people with resources, an ordinary individual can contribute to improving mental health globally.

– Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

Will and Jada Smith Together BandTogether Band is an organization that raises money for various causes in an innovative and trendy way aimed at persuading younger generations to support issues they care about most. It works toward the United Nations’ 17 global goals to create a more sustainable world by 2030. Recently, Together Band also partnered with Will and Jada Smith.

Together Band

The U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals include no poverty, zero hunger, gender equality, clean energy, equal education, good health, clean water, economic growth, industry innovation, sustainable communities, responsible consumption and production, marine conservation, land conservation, justice, reduced inequalities and partnership.

Each U.N. SDG has an associated color and Together Band produces bracelets of each color. The bracelet color a customer purchases determines which goal their money targets. Together Band directs proceeds to The Freedom Fund, Renewable World, Women Working Worldwide and Power for the People, among others.

Not only do the proceeds go to humanitarian funds but the materials and production of the bracelets are impactful as well. The clasp on each bracelet is repurposed metal derived from seized illegal firearms in Central America. The aim of this sourcing is to end armed violence in conflict-torn countries. The band is made from 100% upcycled plastic found on shores in coastal communities and on remote islands. Finally, formerly trafficked Nepalese artisans use the materials to craft the final product. The jobs created help communities build stable economies.

Together Fund

Together Band created the Together Fund to combat COVID-19. Now, when a customer purchases a bracelet, 50% of the proceeds go to support COVID-19 relief while the other 50% continue to go to the original organizations that the bracelet supported before the pandemic. The organization splits COVID-19 relief funds between the U.N. COVID-19 Solidarity Fund for WHO and Médecins sans Frontières.

Together Band added COVID-19 relief to their initiatives because communities around the globe urgently need accessible healthcare. “It’s important that we act quickly in response to COVID-19 to ensure patients can access the care they need as well as supporting disease prevention and frontline health workers across the globe.”

Partnering With the Will and Jada Smith Foundation

Celebrities Will and Jada Smith created the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation in 1996 in order to make the world “better because we touched it.” The foundation has donated millions of dollars for innovative solutions to the world’s problems. Recently, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation partnered with Together Band to tackle both COVID-19 and racial injustice. Working with WJSFF, Together Fund has expanded to support U.N. Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities and Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Money can be donated to the fund directly from the WJSFF homepage. Half of the proceeds go to additional COVID-19 relief funds such as the World Health Organization, Alight and Doctors Without Borders. The remaining half supports nonprofits that fight racial injustice. They include My Brother’s Keeper, the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

In addition, Will and Jada Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, founded an eco-friendly version of bottled water called Just Water. Just Water customers now have the option to round up their purchases in support of the Together Fund.

Overall, the Smiths are an inspiring example of a celebrity family using their fame to support humanitarian causes and reduce global poverty.

Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Flickr

Ahmad Joudeh and SOS Children's VillagesAhmad Joudeh is a world-renowned ballet dancer and is famous for his performance in Eurovision 2021. His background is less well-known. Growing up in a refugee camp in Syria, Joudeh dreamed of dancing. In 2021, he began volunteering with SOS Children’s Villages, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting children and families in poverty and providing humanitarian assistance where it is needed.

Ahmad Joudeh Growing Up

Ahmad Joudeh grew up with aspirations of dancing since he was young. For much of his young life, he lived in a refugee camp. Joudeh lived in an environment where poverty is the norm. The people around Joudeh were primarily unsupportive of his dancing. However, he defied traditional expectations of men in Syria and would dance in the streets.

Joudeh studied dance at the Enana Dance Theatre for almost a decade from 2006 to 2015. He made his biggest appearance on the world stage in Eurovision 2021. In his free time, Joudeh teaches at the SOS Children’s Villages. Joudeh dances with the children and volunteers to inspire them in the art of dance and help them build confidence to navigate any issues that may arise while living in poverty.

SOS Children’s Villages

SOS Children’s Villages is an international organization with more than 130 “villages” in operation. The organization was founded by Herman Gmeiner in 1949 after witnessing the effects of World War II on local children. Gmeiner developed SOS Children’s Villages with the help of family, friends and generous donors. Since then, Gmeiner’s organization has blossomed to help children on an international scale.

The SOS Children’s Villages help families struggling financially by training parents in skills for workplace environments or counseling families as needed. The organization works one-on-one with children to provide education and health services while advocating at policy levels and providing safe spaces to explore.

Children and Families Using SOS Children’s Villages Services

Since children and families involved with SOS Children’s Villages face financial difficulties, they often do not have the tools or resources to help themselves. As a result, a significant number of SOS Children’s Villages residents rely on education. With volunteers, the organization reaches out within the communities where volunteers operate. The volunteers engage the families and children struggling and provide quality education on life skills.

When SOS Children’s Villages are helping a child or a family, the villages provide a safe space. For hours each day, the families are cared for in a safe environment to foster new habits and skills until each individual or family no longer requires the organization’s services. SOS Children’s Villages operate in areas where poverty is high. For example, in the main village in Syria where Ahmad Joudeh volunteered, the poverty rate reached 80%. The village works with families to ease financial burdens in both the short and long terms.

Building Community

The education provided to parents and children worldwide through this organization helps each person find a good job or mentorship. In addition, with its advocacy work, SOS Children’s Villages helps build protection within communities and in governments to support families in poverty.

Because people born into poverty often do not have access to higher education, they are likely to remain in poverty. In 2018, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) surveyed childhood education, attendance and poverty and found that more than 250 million children globally cannot attend school due to the cost. SOS Children’s Villages provide education to children at no cost to the families to break the cycle of poverty.

Understandably, Ahmad Joudeh knows the strains poverty can have on children. The mental health issues that develop in children living in poverty are most commonly anxiety and depression. So while SOS Children’s Villages operate to ease physical and financial difficulties, Joudeh dances with the children and strives to help them achieve their dreams.

Ahmad Joudeh’s Involvement and His Hopes for the Children

Joudeh has a deep respect for the work of SOS Children’s Villages. For some time, he has taught dancing in the organization’s village in Damascus to help build long-term goals for children. In 2016, Joudeh also did a workshop with the children in the SOS Children’s Village Vicenza. Joudeh dances with the children and guides them to work through their anxieties and constant worries around them. The mental toll on children in poverty in the areas where SOS Children’s Villages operate is devastating.

Joudeh dances with the children step-by-step, providing undivided attention, teaching them to focus on the music and not the world. The safe space he creates through dance grants these children an opportunity to explore and feel free without worries about what the outside world may bring or what challenges await their families. Joudeh dances with the children because his dreams of dance have expanded over the years. The freedom Joudeh finds in dancing is a feeling he hopes to extend to the children in the SOS Children’s Villages.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

TrueheartMarried couple Amy and Scott Malin allow people to transform the lives of the poor with just one click. In late June 2021, the couple developed a search engine called Trueheart, enabling individuals to donate merely by surfing on the website. About 80% of the search engine’s proceeds go toward six major nonprofit companies including Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, 4 Paws for Ability, PFLAG National and the Variety Boys & Girls Club.

Why Amy and Scott Malin Created Trueheart

Amy and Scott Malin made it possible to search and donate with Trueheart so that anyone can make an impact worldwide. Because the couple values honesty, they have made a website where people can view what the donations go toward. Inspirational video and image content show the benefits of the proceeds. As a result, this encourages people to click and donate as the donors view the significant influence of others collaborating to change the world.

Also, according to Authority Magazine, Scott stated that he and his wife support utilizing technology in a positive way where people who care about improving society can join forces. In addition, Amy noted that helping the less fortunate is important to their family. For example, the couple helps people by aiding low-income households, donating food to the homeless, cheering up sick children and children without their parents over the holidays and more.

Trueheart’s Celebration

Look To The Stars also reported that, in celebration of Trueheart’s introduction, “Beverly Hills 90210” star and “The Masked Dancer” panel member Brian Austin Green and “Dancing With The Stars” expert performer Sharna Burgess will collaborate to present the #Search4Smiles promotion. This promotion will assist Smile Train in treating babies and kids with cleft lips globally. If this condition does not receive treatment, it can cause challenges with food consumption, breathing, listening and talking. Smile Train has helped to treat over 1.5 million kids with cleft lips worldwide for 21 years. Thus, since people can search and donate free with Trueheart, people can significantly reduce this condition’s global impact.

More About Smile Train

According to the Smile Train website, the company trains and funds healthcare practitioners in more than 70 nations worldwide to help cleft patients at no cost. Babies and children that have clefts require more than merely surgical procedures. It may also be crucial for them to receive help with eating, chewing and speaking. Smile Train provides services for children in low-income areas. For instance, the company’s surgeons can finish a surgery in less than an hour. In addition, dentists are available to provide tooth care for children with cleft lips. Smile Train also supports kids with cleft lips emotionally as the children tend to suffer from scarring, speech impediments, low self-confidence and more. Other celebrities that support the organization include Kylie Jenner, Karrueche Tran, Quincy Brown and Howie Mandel.

Helping People Made Simple

According to Amy Malin, people often think that if they do not have fame or money to spare, that they will not have a significant impact. With support from celebrities, she and Scott Malin have made it possible for anyone to search and donate free with Trueheart. As a final point, Amy stated that many people wish to help change the world and now people can, even in a small way, by clicking and searching on Trueheart via cellular devices, tablets and computers.

– Jannique McDonald
Photo: Flickr

Ayushmann Khurrana Fights Child Abuse in IndiaViolence and abuse are harsh realities for millions of children in India. More than 40% of the country’s 440 million youth are unprotected and facing traumatic and dangerous situations. According to the Government of India, the frequency of all types of child abuse — physical, emotional and sexual — is exceptionally high. In 2018, the National Crime Records Bureau reported that 109 children face sexual abuse every day. The popular Indian actor Ayushmann Khurrana is working with UNICEF to fight against child abuse in India. 

Contributing Factors

Child abuse in India is often found among the poorer sectors of society, with domestic violence, drug addiction and illiteracy compounding the situation’s complexity. Injury, negligent care, incestuous exploitation and sexual abuse are all examples of child abuse. It can occur in various settings, including the home, schools, orphanages, the streets, the workplace or detention centers. 

More than 150 million girls and 73 million boys below 18 have been coerced into sexual activities, according to a 2007 report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD). The abuse was most prevalent in the homes of children aged 5 to 12, where parents typically perpetrated it. Studies show prolonged exposure to child abuse increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), aggressiveness and emotional and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

India’s Efforts to Combat Abuse

The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) was enacted in 2012 due to a movement spearheaded by the MWCD to combat the threat of child sexual abuse in India. The act made many forms of child sexual abuse punishable by law. It also introduced provisions for the proper passage of justice. For example, authorities must record evidence within 30 days and conduct an investigation within three months. After that, a special court works on the case, usually reaching a judgment in less than two months.

Since the passage of the POCSO Act, the number of child abuse cases brought to trial has risen. This is largely attributed to an increased social awareness of the issue and because several actions are now considered offenses. However, a 2018 report from the National Crime Records Bureau found that abuse is still prevalent, where five cases of child sexual abuse were documented every hour in India.

Ayushmann Khurrana’s Passion to End Child Abuse

Ayushmann Khurrana is a multi-talented Indian actor revered as a generational icon. His work in films such as “Article 15” and “Andhadhun” inspired positive social dialogues. Khurrana is also a father to two children. Khurrana’s children have access to privileges that many Indian children can only hope to enjoy. This insight persuaded Khurrana to become an active voice against child abuse. The actor’s support for the fight against child abuse also derives from his belief that it is both immoral and stoppable.

Ayushmann Khurrana Speaks Out

Nearly one-third of India’s population lives below the poverty line. The poverty rate contributes to the increase in child labor because impoverished families are more likely to send children to work instead of school. And, in certain circumstances, desperate parents will sell children to child traffickers for supplemental income. Ayushmann Khurrana has been outspoken against child labor and encourages others to support a social protection plan for low-income families.

To help reduce child sexual abuse, Ayushmann Khurrana produced a video in endorsement of the POSCO Act. Khurrana’s video encourages people to recognize situations of child sexual abuse and report them to the appropriate authorities.

Ayushmann Khurrana has also been named the celebrity advocate for UNICEF India’s Ending Violence Against Children (EVAC) campaign. There are three main focuses of the EVAC campaign. The first focus of the campaign is to create an atmosphere that enables a multi-sectoral response. Next, the campaign will focus on the structural development of India’s law enforcement, government aid and health systems. Finally, the campaign strives to empower Indian adolescents through social and behavioral changes. UNICEF India anticipates that Khurrana’s involvement will offer empathy, enthusiasm and a prominent voice for every child in the eradication of violence against children.

Ending Child Abuse in India

With the increase in reported cases, India must now strive to reduce the frequency of child abuse. UNICEF India is aiding this with the establishment of child protection programs such as the End Violence Against Children campaign. Ayushmann Khurrana said, “With UNICEF, I look forward to supporting rights of the most vulnerable children, so that they grow up as happier, healthier, educated citizens in nurturing environments free from violence.”

– Tiara Tyson
Photo: Flickr

TusseThe 19-year-old singer Tusse recently represented the country of Sweden at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. Tusse first rose to fame after advancing to the semi-finals of Sweden’s Got Talent and later winning Swedish Idol in 2019. With the song “Voices,” Tusse took 14th place at Eurovision. As a Congolese refugee, Tusse uses his platform to educate and empower young people facing similar challenges as he has.

Tusse’s Journey

Tusse, whose real name is Tousin Michael Chiza, was born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2002. At 5 years old, Tusse and his family fled to a Ugandan refugee camp due to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He left with his aunt, siblings and cousins. The escape effort separated Tusse from his parents. The family spent three years in the refugee camp until Sweden granted them asylum. The family then settled in Kullsbjörken, Sweden, in 2015 when Tusse was 13 years old. Tusse says that retaining his Congolese culture, filled with music and dancing, is what drove him to become a performer and singer, ultimately leading him to the Eurovision stage.

Civil War-Torn Country

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second-largest African country and has faced conflict for decades. The country experienced its second civil war from 1997 to 2003, only a year after the end of the First Congo War. Sometimes called the “African World War” due to the involvement of several neighboring countries, the war claimed close to six million lives directly through the effects of fighting or indirectly through malnutrition, financial despair or disease. Economic and political reasons surrounding the nation’s vast mineral wealth fueled the war.

Despite a peace deal at the war’s conclusion, violent conflict continued in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This conflict was due to poor governance, weak institutions and rising corruption. Armed conflict rose among dozens of rebel groups, consequently affecting and disrupting civilians’ lives. More than 2.1 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, nationally. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest number of internally displaced people at more than five million.

Overall, the conflict has subjected Congolese residents to significant human rights violations, extreme poverty and widespread rape and sexual assault. Efforts from the African Union and the United Nations to help implement sustainable development and defuse tensions have struggled to see success. As a result, most civilians are forced to flee and seek asylum elsewhere.

Sweden’s Relationship with Refugees

Sweden has one of the most generous refugee policies in Europe. Sweden has actively welcomed refugees seeking asylum in the country. However, there has been some domestic pushback to this hospitable policy, particularly in 2015, following the migration crisis when Sweden received more than 160,000 refugees, the most per capita in the European Union. This tension was heightened when many other European countries were unwilling to accept the influx of refugees. As a result, the Swedish government passed a temporary measure limiting refugee rights to the bare minimum of what the country had previously agreed to under international conventions. Despite this, Sweden continues to receive significantly more refugees than the rest of Europe.

Tusse’s Advocacy

Tusse uses his platform and story to empower other young refugees and educate his fans on refugees’ challenges. He works with UNICEF and recently performed at Sweden’s UNICEF Gala. UNICEF utilizes partners on the ground to deliver assistance to displaced families and support children’s needs and rights. Among other projects, the organization provides and distributes hygiene kits, clean water, vaccinations for children and treatments for malnutrition.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported Tusse and two other Eurovision performers with refugee backgrounds prior to the competition. Manizha, a singer representing Russia, fled Tajikistan in 1994, and Ahmad Jodeh, a Dutch ballet dancer, is a Syrian refugee.

Tusse uses his music to share and voice his experiences as a refugee. At Eurovision, he sang “Voices,” which is about “fellowship, freedom and the importance of all voices being heard.” By gracing the Eurovision stage, Tusse brought awareness to the struggles of his home country, the challenges of adjusting to life as a refugee abroad and the resilience of young refugees.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: UNHCR

collaboration among young girlsThe 18-year-old new pop sensation and Disney+ star, Olivia Rodrigo, made a name for herself in the pop music industry. Her song “drivers license” debuted at number one for nine straight weeks. Rodrigo is the first Asian American woman to reach #1 on Apple Music. With more than 13.4 million followers on Instagram, Rodrigo used her platform to advertise her personally designed T-shirt, “Spicy Pisces,” in March 2021. Rodrigo has donated all of the proceeds to a program called Plus1, which in turn, benefits another program called She’s the First (STF). STF supports grassroots organizations that encourage collaboration among young girls and supports girls’ rights.

Plus1, Olivia Rodrigo and She’s the First Collaborate

Plus1 collects money through live concert ticket sales and initiates partnerships with another organization of an artist’s choice. It donates a fraction of money collected from each purchased ticket to the partner organization. Then, the two organizations create a campaign for social media.

The artist’s music tour spotlights the impact of the partnership. Plus1 executes the social media campaign, coordinates volunteers and reports the partnership’s impact on communities. Through this process, fans can continue to contribute to the artist’s selected cause. Plus1 continued to support its partners despite the challenges of the pandemic. After creating the T-shirt, Rodrigo donated all of the proceeds to Plus1 and supported STF despite the restrictions on live events.

Rodrigo’s Donations Actionized at She’s the First (STF)

STF operates on the basis that too many girls are discounted from holding leadership positions, denied the right to an education and forced into marriage. Its goal is to strengthen collaboration among young girls and support girls’ rights. The STF coalition offers funding and training to grassroots organizations that work to educate young girls living in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Additionally, the STF annual conference, otherwise known as Girl’s First Summit, assists adults in gaining knowledge about child protection, designing programs centered around girls and being successful in “feminist mentorship.” Moreover, the girl-led incubator program trains and sponsors young female leaders who have created projects that aim to serve young girls. The girls learn about how to develop an organization and strengthen their leadership from a feminist standpoint.

STF has also launched social media challenges #GirlsGetLoud and She’s a Girl First, which helped to overturn a law that prohibited pregnant girls from going to school in Sierra Leone. The organization reaches approximately 138,000 girls in 26 different countries yearly through campus communities, toolkits, training and partner programs. In the past decade, STF has reached roughly 167,000 girls, more than 100 organizations and 240 practitioners.

Women’s Empowerment

Rodrigo created a personal T-shirt design and used her newly acquired fame to support young girls’ education through Plus1. Many of these girls live in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia. The organization assists music artists in donating financially to an organization of their choice. Rodrigo chose STF, which works toward strengthening collaboration among young girls and lends support to their right to an education. STF supports grassroots organizations that work to educate young girls in more than 11 different countries. STF also assists adults who work with girls daily in designing programs that benefit girls. In addition, STF sponsors young leaders who create projects that aim to serve young girls in communities.

Overall, the efforts of Rodrigo and committed organizations help empower young women, giving them a chance at a life outside of poverty.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Africa Outreach ProjectOn June 26, 2021, actress Charlize Theron held a gathering at Universal Studios during the first showing of the “F9” movie. The event was to promote the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. The occasion featured an outdoor party where celebrities auctioned donations for the foundation. There was also a question and answer session with the actors and producers of the new “Fast and Furious” movie, including Charlize Theron, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, and the film director, Justin Lin. The gala was just one of the ways Theron utilizes her celebrity platform to aid South Africans suffering from HIV.

The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project

Theron created the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project in 2007. The project prevents the spread of HIV by aiding in the healthcare and education of young people. The project’s primary goal is to allow young Africans to have promising futures free from disease and give them an equal chance at life. To further this commitment, the initiative assists other African firms in helping address societal needs by providing university grants to young Africans.

Many solutions exist in the fight against the spread of HIV in South Africa, including education. South African women are less probable to get HIV if they complete university. In this way, providing young people with access to quality education intertwines with the fight against HIV. Accordingly, Theron’s gala directed the donations to helping South Africans receive the necessary education to remain healthy and live productive and fulfilling lives.

The Need for Aid

According to the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, 67% of people infected with HIV reside in South Africa. The organization projects that 26 million people in the area currently live with HIV. In addition, almost 4,600 South Africans are diagnosed with HIV per week. Moreover, South Africa “represents less than 1% of the world’s population” but constitutes 20% of those infected with HIV worldwide.

The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project also states that education in South Africa is plagued with challenges such as school abandonment and limited accessibility to school supplies. As a result, citizens have a tough time finishing school. In fact, nearly 50% of South Africans who begin college leave prior to finishing their studies.

Furthermore, many young students experience the burdens of absent teachers, substance abuse, sexual abuse and early pregnancy on top of being impoverished. Consequently, less than half of students who start the first grade end up graduating from 12th grade. In addition, a lower percentage of these young students are eligible for college. As such, the youth cannot contribute to the region’s economic development, which keeps the region impoverished.

Theron’s 2020 Fundraiser

In August 2020, Theron held a fundraising party similar to this year’s June 2021 gala. The 2020 fundraiser featured a drive-in screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Once again, the proceeds went toward the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project. Theron held the event in the parking lot of the Grove Mall in Los Angeles. However, the party only allowed 90 vehicles due to COVID-19 guidelines and cost $1,000 for two individuals. Attendants remained in their cars and listened in to “the night’s audio” by tuning into 89.1 FM.

Theron has used her celebrity platform to raise awareness about successful approaches to stop the spread of HIV and safeguard those already infected with it. The star’s strategy to encourage donations is very creative and garners much-needed support in the fight against HIV. Through more galas or other creative fundraising avenues, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project will be able to sustain the valuable aid it provides to young Africans by improving access to education and decreasing the risk of HIV.

Jannique McDonald
Photo: Flickr

Celebrities Fight Against the COVID-19 Crisis in IndiaDuring April 2021, COVID-19 cases and deaths started to rise exponentially in India. There were more than 500,000 cases and 300,000 deaths. Because of the rapid increase of cases, Anuradha Palakurthi, an actress and founder of the Vax India Now organization, decided to host a virtual event to raise money to fight against the COVID-19 crisis in India.

The COVID-19 Crisis in India

In September 2020, India braced itself for the pandemic. Cases peaked at 93,000 per day, less than one-third of the daily tallies India reported in April. However, it is believed that India succeeded in achieving herd immunity due to the young population. The median age in India is 27, and only 6.4% of the population is over the age of 65. Due to this, India achieved peace for a while until the second wave hit.

After the first wave, many citizens in India stopped taking safety precautions. Children returned to school, adults returned to their jobs and large weddings and political campaigns became normal again. Because of this lack of precautions, the second wave greatly affected India. Hospitals were overwhelmed with a lack of supplies, space and staff. Moreover, due to the lack of vaccines that the government ordered, only about 4.3% of India was vaccinated. The second wave brought a new variant.

This new variant is called B.1.617, also known as “the double mutant.” The variant targets everyone, including the younger population. This has caused more traffic in hospitals and a larger gap between the number of patients and staff members. Facing panic in the country, Indian American actor Anuradha Palakurthi decided to bring people together to fight against the COVID-19 crisis in India through the power of music and donations.

Singers Supporting India through Vax India Now

Vax India Now hosted a virtual event on July 7, 2021. The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination shortage in India. The live streaming event featured singers from both the U.S. and India. Celebrities like Gloria Estefan, Alan Walker, Josh Groban, Anil Kapoor, Hasan Minhaj and more signed on to attend Vax India Now and made an appearance at the event. The event shed a spotlight on the COVID-19 crisis in India and informed viewers on how they can help save lives.

The Actress Who Started it All

Anuradha Palakurthi, who started a foundation based in New England that supports the promotion of Indian culture, is the organizer of this virtual event. Palakurthi and her husband, Prasanth Palakurthi, proposed doing something truly significant on a worldwide scale to help India. Ultimately, this resulted in the creation of Vax India Now.

From there, the Palakurthis contacted the Giving Back Fund, a national nonprofit organization that encourages and funds nonprofit organizations, corporations and others who want to help the world. Marc Pollick, the founder of the Giving Back Fund, jumped at the opportunity to help fund the event. Vax India Now and the Giving Back Fund are working together to make the event possible and to tell the world about the COVID-19 crisis in India.

The website for Vax India Now offers a place to donate to support the cause. For those interested in alleviating the COVID-19 crisis in India, the websites of organizations like Care India, Project HOPE and UNICEF USA offer multiple ways to get involved in the cause. Hopefully, with the efforts of India’s government, international humanitarian organizations, and Vax India Now, more of India’s population will be vaccinated soon.

– Aahana Goswami
Photo: Flickr