The Action Foundation
Close to 1 million people with some form of disability live in Kenya. They are at a greater risk of living in poverty. Women and adolescent girls with disabilities are even more at risk of poverty, as well as gender-based violence. Maria Omare founded The Action Foundation (TAF) in Kenya, a grassroots nonprofit organization, because she noticed a need for disability awareness, education that caters to children with disabilities in low-income areas and support for the caregivers of children and adolescents with disabilities. The Action Foundation is paving the way for inclusivity and resiliency. It is minimizing disparities in children and adolescents with disabilities and their caregivers through three programs.

The TUNZA Program

The TUNZA program offers support to caregivers of children and adolescents with disabilities. It also provides necessary skills and resources to caregivers. In Kibera, where the center is located, many families live in extreme poverty. They do not have the resources or finances to care for a child with a disability.

Earlier in 2021, The Action Foundation in Kenya launched an inclusive early childhood care education map and referral directory. This tool helps caregivers find and utilize therapy services at little to no cost. This can play a vital role in helping children with disabilities have a better quality of life.

The TUNZA program also brings awareness and education about disabilities because many Kenyans believe that children born with a disability are cursed, bewitched or a bad omen. A survey found that 45% of mothers who have a child with a disability are “pressured to give up and or kill their child.” Other mothers experience coercion to leave their children at an institution. The statistics are even more staggering in rural areas in Kenya.

The IBUKA Program

Many people are taking notice of The Action Foundation’s advocacy efforts and amplifying the organization’s voice, such as Michelle Obama and Google. Michelle Obama publicly highlighted The Action Foundation’s work in teaching girls with disabilities STEM-oriented education, such as robotics and coding, as a partnership with the Girls Opportunity Alliance.

Women and girls with disabilities in Kenya are more likely to face poverty, discrimination and denial of basic needs. Ibuka in Swahili means “emerge” or “rise,” and that is the aspiration of the IBUKA program.

One of the ways the program combats negative stereotypes of women and girls with disabilities and offers them hope is through mentorship and education. It teaches the women and girls the skills necessary, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and vocational training, so that they can play an active role in the workforce. Women with disabilities are less likely to face poverty, discrimination, exploitation and violence when they are able to work or run their own businesses.

Somesha

Children with disabilities in Kenya are unlikely to attend school due to a lack of accessibility. Also, “less than one in four children with a disability had access to any services.” Many families cannot afford special services for their children as the average monthly income per person is $39, and women in Kibera make 42% less than men.

The SOMESHA program aims to offer accessibility and inclusive education for children with disabilities. It fits the learning to the unique needs of each child. The SOMESHA program created a mobile-based application that improves literacy and promotes inclusivity. It is an interactive application for both caregivers and children. The application was especially helpful during the pandemic when Kenyans could not socialize in large groups.

The heartbeat of The Action Foundation in Kenya is in the people. Maria Omare, the center’s staff and volunteers, the caregivers and the children are what makes the organization thrive. The people of Kenya have historically looked down on people with disabilities as inferior, bewitched and helpless. However, Maria Omare and her team are changing the narrative. They are offering hope and resources to families who have a child with a disability.

– Amy Helmendach
Photo: Unsplash

Marcus Rashford's Campaign
Many know Marcus Rashford for his role on the soccer field as a player for the famous Manchester United team. However, Rashford is also an activist in the fight against child poverty in the United Kingdom. With 22% of people and 30% of children in Britain living in poverty, this is an important issue, especially with the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Coming from a background of poverty himself, Rashford’s campaign has been a passionate voice for the impoverished youth.

Combating Hunger Among Children

One of Rashford’s most significant passions is combating child hunger. In June 2020, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the soccer star launched a campaign asking the government to continue using food vouchers for students during summer vacations. For many impoverished children, school lunches are a necessary resource to receive proper daily nutrition. Marcus Rashford’s campaign provided vouchers to underprivileged families, allowing children and families to access school lunches and groceries during the summer. Additionally, he raised £20 million with FareShare, a U.K. organization that has provided 131.9 million meals to charities and vulnerable people.

The public has shown fantastic support for Marcus Rashford’s campaign. During his initial campaign, the government rejected his ideas. However, the people rallied in his support, causing the government to backtrack, providing 1.3 million students with meal vouchers for a six-week summer break period. His October 2020 petition calling for the government to extend free school meals to other vacations and expand eligibility garnered over 500,000 signatures. Although this request was not successful, local businesses followed with their support, even businesses that the pandemic hit hard. Additionally, Rashford used his Twitter account, with more than 3.5 million followers, as a directory of food banks, providing valuable information for those the government denied food.

Educational Resources

Along with his work against child food poverty, Rashford has also worked to provide underprivileged children with educational resources. Rashford has said he only started reading at age 17 because his family never had the budget for it. After learning that over 380,000 children in the U.K. never owned a book of their own, Rashford sought to change that. In the fall of 2020, he launched a book club with Macmillian’s Children’s Books that provide the books to children. Through Marcus Rashford’s campaign, thousands of children now have access to a new hobby that they have previously viewed as a privilege.

In May 2021, the Sunday Times Giving List notably recognized Rashford as the youngest person to top their list of British philanthropists. This accolade was due to Rashford’s generous donations to various food, poverty and community charities. The soccer player has raised over £20 million in donations, putting his “Giving Index” rating at 125%; his wealth is £16 million. Due to the additional waves of COVID-19, there is a high demand for donations.

Marcus Rashford has proven himself to be a valuable contributor both on and off the field. Through his hard work and dedication, millions of children across the U.K. have had access to food and books. With his substantial passion, Rashford shows no signs of slowing down in his philanthropic efforts.

– Carly Johnson
Photo: Unsplash

samis-project-how-children-in-morocco-are-breaking-cyclical-poverty
Children in Morocco have turned tragedy into new beginnings. Sami’s Project, named after a young Moroccan student who died of cancer, has mobilized thousands of students across Morocco to plant fruit trees in rural communities. Since 2011, Moroccan children have planted 35,000 trees across the country through Sami’s Project, while gaining agricultural management skills. Centered in the rural province Essaouira, the project aims to supply students with the resources and curriculum necessary to plant and manage fruit trees and botanical gardens. In 2018 alone, 19,000 children were mobilized to plant trees across 23 provinces in Morocco. The goal of the project is not simply to reforest Morocco. The group also works towards a larger impact on national poverty reduction.

Decreasing Food Insecurity in Rural Communities

By planting fruit trees, the project directly benefits food security in rural provinces. Over the last two decades, Morocco has drastically reduced the prevalence of multidimensional poverty from 58.9% in 1998 to 3.6% in 2021. Within that last 3.6%, 80% of those still living in poverty live in rural communities. By planting fruit trees in rural communities, the organization directly increases food supplies to populations that poverty most impacts.

Planting fruit trees in these communities has economic and ecological benefits, outside of food production. By improving native biodiversity through fruit tree planting, the project works to decrease soil erosion in arid regions. This has the potential to increase the amount of arable land in rural agricultural communities. In Morocco, 80% of agricultural land is currently at threat of desertification. Planting trees and increasing green spaces improve the resiliency of land and slow the process of desertification. According to Sustainable Food Trust, more than half of the active workforce in Morocco works in agriculture. Therefore, Sami’s Project works towards protecting both job security and food production.

Future Building Through Youth Outreach

Auxilary to providing fruit trees, Sami’s Project also provides teachers in rural Morocco with a curriculum that teaches sustainable nursery management. The project gives teachers the ability to equip their students with organic certification training, product management skills and hands-on business development skills.

Through the project, children build and manage fruit tree nurseries and botanical gardens. By developing these skills through a sustainable and organic curriculum, the children build a base for becoming more competitive agriculturalists. The project then sells the food it produces to the local communities, simultaneously increasing local food security and bringing in revenue for the schools, according to High Atlas Foundation.

Improving Education Infrastructure

Finally, the organization uses the funds to improve school infrastructure. Sami’s Project funds clean drinking water systems and improves sanitation infrastructure. Through the project, clean water systems and bathrooms have undergone construction in 12 schools in rural Morocco, as High Atlas Foundation reported. The goal is to increase access to education for children in Morocco and ensure students have basic living conditions while at school.

By equipping teachers and students with fruit trees, Sami’s project has increased food security for rural communities. It has improved education infrastructure and given children in Morocco the skills to grow into agriculturalists.

– Aiden Smith
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Syria
In June 2021, the United Nations released its yearly 2020 report on children in armed conflict, confirming the ongoing recruitment of children by various Syrian militant groups. These groups include the Syrian National Army, the Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and other Syrian armed opposition groups. By June 2021, militant groups recruited almost 840 children to work as child soldiers in Syria, among other roles, meaning child soldier numbers will likely increase by the end of the year.

Child Soldiers in Syria

With conflict raging since 2011, these groups turn to child populations to manage their shortage of combatants. By exploiting children in impoverished communities, groups use adults and other child victims to coerce and manipulate children into joining the armed forces. The child soldiers in Syria become spies, combatants and checkpoint guards, among other roles, enduring sexual exploitation and harsh military punishments. By using children as combatants, these groups continue to violate international laws with few repercussions.

Syrian Democratic Forces

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has a long history as a critical perpetrator of recruiting child soldiers in Syria. In 2019, the SDF signed a United Nations Action Plan intending to prevent the use of child soldiers, making it appear as though the SDF was attempting to adhere to international law. Under this plan, anyone younger than the age of 18 would be unable to join the SDF.

However, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center reported that the SDF continues to recruit young boys and girls, some as young as age 11. Additionally, a U.N. report in April 2021 explains that the SDF and its branches are responsible for about 35% of confirmed child recruitments in Northern Syria.

Due to the United Nations Action Plan and international pressure, the SDF is increasingly reuniting recruited children with their families, but only after those specific families put constant pressure on the SDF. Since the creation of the SDF’s Child Protection Office, families have complained about the issue of child soldier recruitment 150 times. However, as of March 2021, the SDF has only demobilized 50 children. In December 2020, the SDF held a press conference, reuniting 16-year-old S. Jam Harran and 15-year-old G. Muhyiddin with their families.

Law No. 21 – Child Rights Law

On Aug. 15, 2021, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad presented Law No. 21 to regulate child rights and welfare throughout the country. The law prohibits the practice of trafficking children, including the use of child soldiers in Syria. The government will take action in response to reports of such practices but does not mention specifics in this regard. While this legislation seems like a significant step in the right direction, many groups, such as the Syrian Accountability and Justice Center, are skeptical about the law’s true ability to end the militant groups’ use of child soldiers. This is due to the existence of a vast number of groups that recruit children, including the Syrian government.

Addressing the Issue of Child Soldiers

Despite the skeptics, the new Syrian legislation on child rights and welfare is a promising step for children throughout the country. Enforcing these new laws nationally will take time, but various groups are working to alleviate the current child soldier situation until then.

UNICEF is responsible for aiding more than 8,700 children following their release from armed forces globally through counseling, education, medical services and safe living arrangements. These rehabilitation and poverty-fighting efforts allow for proper healing from trauma, allowing these children to become functioning members of society. Additionally, UNICEF specifically aids Syrian children, thus impacting communities directly by assisting in medical care, education and improving living situations.

In reducing the number of child soldiers in Syria, the investment by wealthy nations through humanitarian aid may be the most powerful tool as those countries could positively influence local dynamics by helping to lift populations out of extreme poverty. Armed groups have a more difficult time recruiting educated children from stable environments. Nonprofits like Save the Children work to aid impoverished child populations. Save the Children establishes programs and services for families to develop economic stability, preventing child exploitation by increasing the standard of living.

Because children are one of the most at-risk populations, militant groups often use them to sustain extreme military operations through indoctrination and community approval. With emerging Syrian legislation and organizations tackling the issue of child soldiers in Syria, the future of Syrian child welfare could be moving in a positive direction. These efforts combined with international advocacy and education on the issue of child use by armed forces could significantly change the lives of children in Syria.

– Hannah Eliason
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Mali
Mali is a country where human trafficking is widespread, according to the U.S. State Department. This suggests that the government of the western African country is failing to achieve the bare minimum for abolishing the practice. Instead, Mali has increased some of its prevention efforts — at least since 2017. Mali is not overlooking trafficking, according to many observers. In fact, the government is attempting to stop human trafficking in Mali.

The Situation in Mali

Despite its ranking, the Malian government is making strides to remedy its human trafficking conundrum. These initiatives include educating judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers on human trafficking, as well as issuing a directive prohibiting minors from entering military installations.

Further actions aimed at combating human trafficking include government collaboration with international groups such as the Fodé and Yeguine Network for Action, and the Ministry of Women, Children and Families. In addition, the government has concentrated efforts amending an old anti-trafficking law as recently as 2019.

Mali’s justice minister has issued an order requiring judicial officials to give priority to cases brought under the original statute. Due to the absence of an integrated process to gather anti-trafficking statistics, law enforcement material previously was fragmentary and thereby challenging to access. The 2019 amendment sought to establish a unified strategy for data collection.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 42% of its total population living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t help, as a recession dropped Mali’s gross domestic product by nearly 2%. Additionally, nearly seven in 10 adults in Mali cannot read or write, indicating a scarcity of education.

The Correlation Between Malian Poverty and Human Trafficking

Mali has been beset by instability and violence since a 2012 military coup d’état and the capture of the northern territory. The country remains in a state of desperation due to its economic and social crises. The financial insecurity has made it simple — as many observers viewed — to fall victim to human trafficking practices.

Mali falls short of meeting the minimal benchmarks for the abolition of human trafficking. As a result, human traffickers can continue to exploit both internal and international victims. Many of these migrants are fleeing crisis zones in Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

Mali is a supplier, route and destination country for international trafficking, according to the State Department. Lured to Mali with assurances of high-paying jobs, organizations, which include violent fundamentalists like Al-Qaeda “affiliates” abduct many of them. Job seekers also labor to “pay off” fictitious debts that the organizations that invited them to the country in the first place tell them they owe.

Why Mali?

Despite its poverty, Mali is rich in gold and oil. Yet, to benefit from those resources, Mali needs miners. This attracts refugees, women and children, who traffickers could ultimately coerce. Juvenile prostitution and child sex trafficking are common at mining sites. In fact, more than 12% of sex workers at these locations are as young as 15 and as old as 19, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

A disproportionate number of males work in certain mines, exposing them to the most heinous types of child labor, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse. “Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude or married off,” Gillian Triggs, the Refugee Agency’s assistant high commissioner for protection, told Reuters in December 2020.

Assistance to Mali

There are many human trafficking solutions, yet they are difficult to implement. Global attention and vigorous effort to alleviate Mali’s exploited and trafficked workers dilemma remain in initial phases. While the U.N., the State Department and a number of non-governmental organizations said they are aware of trafficking issues in Mali, the magnitude and precise volume of trafficking and coerced laborers continue to remain unclear.

To help with these issues, the Roman Catholic Church-affiliated Caritas Mali has assembled an international team to build an initiative alongside the International Catholic Migration Commission,  providing underprivileged individuals and children with alternative income and skill development opportunities.

Mali’s education system is deficient, and this new initiative may make fewer people desire to work in deplorable conditions. Many believe that human trafficking thrives on the instability that poverty creates. Thus, eliminating poverty could then, in turn, mitigate trafficking problems.

Many groups are attempting to assist those in poverty in Mali including Action Against Hunger. To date, it has helped more than 400,000 people gain access to nutrition and health programs, food security programs and sanitation programs. Another organization providing aid is the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace, which collaborates with the U.N. World Food Program to deliver financial assistance and meals to families that dislocation, violence, environmental catastrophes and other crises have impacted.

Save the Children is another organization helping nearly 1.5 million Malian children in 2020 by giving food and protection. The organization says it effectively raised 232,000 children out of poverty.

The work of Save the Children, Action Against Hunger and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Food for Peace are helping reduce the symptoms of poverty such as food insecurity and poor sanitation. These efforts should subsequently reduce people’s vulnerability and eliminate human trafficking in Mali.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Flickr

War Child
Two filmmakers founded War Child in 1993 after observing the violence that children endured during periods of war. The organization describes itself as “the only specialist charity for children affected by conflict.” With the slogan, “A world where no child’s life is torn apart by war,” War Child works to address the realities children face during war and provide them with prompt support, safety and coping mechanisms. The organization shows children from Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic that there is more to life than the destructive nature of war.

War Child’s Work

Since the traumatic impacts of conflict and violence on children, War Child takes an approach to help children through four key areas: protection, education, livelihoods and advocacy. Armed groups tear children from their families through false promises of education or money while abducting others. This can leave these children with severe and lifelong psychological problems. The organization’s support includes “setting up children’s helplines,” strengthening child justice systems, “rehabilitating and reintegrating former child soldiers” as well as reuniting children with parents.

More than 75 million children ages 3 to 18 are not in school in 35 countries experiencing war. War Child aims to address this problem in multiple ways, including providing children with early childhood education programs and initiating Education in Emergencies initiatives. The organization also provides teachers with training to best support learners in conflict-ridden environments. By incorporating play into learning programs, the organization attempts to remedy trauma. These initiatives give children a sense of normalcy during a period of time in their lives where chaos surrounds them.

The organization also recognizes the need to provide children with humanitarian aid to address their basic human needs. The organization provides cash assistance to communities for people to use according to “their own priorities and preferences.” To strengthen economic resilience, the organization assists people in securing employment or establishing businesses “by providing them with technical, business and life skills, establishing group-based saving schemes and providing small grants making the best out of existing market opportunities. ”

In many crisis-prone countries, agriculture plays an important role. As such, War Child created Peace Gardens. Peace Gardens allow children to develop agricultural skills while increasing food security as crop produce can provide nutritious school meals for children.

Sam Smith’s Role in War Child

Sam Smith’s global impact extends far beyond his role as a singer-songwriter. Smith became War Child’s Global Ambassador in 2017 after conversing with a child in Jordan who, as Smith put it, “said something that will stay with me forever.”

Smith subsequently took to his social media pages, urging his fans to support War Child. For his 26th birthday, in 2018, Smith asked that his friends, family and fans make donations to War Child instead of buying him birthday gifts. After releasing his hit single “Too Good at Goodbyes,” in 2020, he launched a four-city mini-concert tour, with all profits from the ticket sales going toward supporting War Child.

War ravages land and people, however, children face disproportionate impacts of war. Through the efforts of War Child, children living in conflict-riddled lands can look toward a brighter tomorrow.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: PxHere

Human trafficking in Albania
Albania experienced greater prosperity than it ever had during its years as a Soviet satellite state, with its national income and standard of living skyrocketing as the country industrialized and urbanized. When the communist government lost power following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, political instability, government-backed pyramid schemes and civil war caused an economic disaster. As a result, many of Albania’s desperate poor, particularly women and children, became vulnerable to human traffickers, who significantly expanded their operations.

The Situation in Contemporary Albania

The Albanian government and the National Coalition of Anti-Trafficking Shelters identified 81 potential trafficking victims, with an additional five victims officially recognized in 2020. Of the 85 total victims, 58 were children and 62 were female. These figures are lower than in 2019, when there were 96 potential victims and seven confirmed victims, 80 of whom were female and 67 were minors. However, the number of victims is likely higher, and prosecutors did not convict any traffickers in 2020, whereas they did in 2019.

To compare, the state identified 134 total victims from 2005 through 2006, following the introduction of its first action plan for “trafficking in persons. Among the victims were 123 women, 77 children and 112 Albanians. In 2005, there were 49 convictions, and in 2006, there were 56. The country’s ability to identify victims has certainly improved, yet the complexity of trafficking cases has increased over the years, making convictions more difficult.

A Tier 2 source country, traffickers smuggle more people out of Albania than they bring in. The primary destinations of trafficked individuals are countries neighboring Albania such as Greece and Italy, as well as Western European countries like the United Kingdom, which had about 600 Albanian potential victims in 2015. In all, the number of Albanian victims abroad could be in the thousands. The Albanian government must fully comply with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to become a Tier 1 country, the highest and best tier. Albania has held a Tier 2 position for many years because it continues to make significant efforts to meet the Act’s standards.

The Link Between Trafficking and Poverty

Human traffickers are most likely to prey on the poor and those living in rural areas because the poor are frequently desperate for work and people living in rural areas are more isolated than city dwellers. Women, children and migrants are also traffickers’ most common prey since they tend to be easier to entice and hold captive while engaging in sexual acts with the former two is in higher demand than with adult men. Though they are not prime targets, traffickers hold men captive as well, typically forcing them to perform farm or factory work in nearby Balkan countries.

In 2016, 33.90% of the population lived on less than $5.50 per day, compared to more than 55% in 2002. Similarly, the proportion of the population living in rural areas has decreased since the expansion of trafficking in Albania, from around 60% in the 1990s and early 2000s to 37.89% in 2021. Thus, the target demographic of human traffickers is shrinking.

Examining the Targets of Traffickers

Traffickers force children to sell small items on the street and beg for money, especially during tourist season, when traffickers know tourists are more vulnerable to these practices. Their captors make these children hand over most or all of the money they earn. Traffickers also solicit minors for the purpose of sex. The traffickers tend to force children of ethnic minorities and migrant groups such as the Romani into seasonal work. Stigmas against the Romani make them vulnerable to traffickers, less identifiable as victims and less likely to receive support.

Traffickers entice poor women to work as prostitutes by posting false job ads and posing as wealthy boyfriends. These women keep little to none of the money they earn, leaving them only with the trauma of their experiences. Captive women work in nail salons, factories and as domestic servants when not performing sex work. The attitudes of men toward women are also a component in women being targets.

Transiting migrants heading to Western Europe from Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, are additional targets of human traffickers in Albania. The language barrier, the fact they are in an unfamiliar country and their desire to reach a wealthy nation make migrants susceptible to traffickers looking to exploit them.

The Albanian Government’s Response

The government is doing little to resolve law enforcement’s limited ability to screen and identify potential victims from migrant groups, children and sex workers. The Border and Migration Police have few interpreters, yet people speaking dozens of languages other than Albanian cross the border regularly. This language barrier exacerbates the difficulty of identifying and helping trafficking victims.

The lack of specialized experience prosecuting trafficking cases results in prosecutors convicting few criminals for human trafficking-related crimes. Instead, they often either convict the accused of a lesser crime, or the accused goes free. Furthermore, government employees are allegedly complicit in various human trafficking crimes. If true, corruption is contributing to human trafficking in Albania. The government claimed it would conduct an investigation but is not yet prosecuting anyone.

Government Investments to Reduce Trafficking

The government invested 29.3 million leks, the equivalent of $291,980, to the government-run specialized shelter for human trafficking victims. This is a massive increase to the 20.9 million leks or $208,270, it spent in 2019. While the government decided to reduce the funds it allocates to the salaries of support staff at NGO shelters, it spent more on food support. Delays in funding periodically undermined the efforts of shelters, however.

Additionally, the government moved 4.6 million leks ($45,840) to a fund of seized criminal assets designed for victims of human trafficking in Albania. The offices of the National Employment Services offered job priority to 60 of these victims. The government has also provided vocational training to 20 officially recognized victims and offered temporary residence permits to foreign victims.

Ending Human Trafficking in Albania

After the fall of the communist government, traffickers exploited the turmoil to expand their illegal trade, enriching themselves at the expense of their victims. However, the plague of human trafficking has undergone mitigation due to increased combined efforts of the Albanian government and NGOs. To eradicate human trafficking in Albania, the government must establish more robust social programs for the poor, expand job opportunities and improve access to support services; especially for people in rural areas. The government also needs to improve its screening of targeted groups, better train police in identification and prosecutors in dealing with trafficking cases, put greater emphasis on reintegration and fund NGO-run shelters consistently.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in The Gambia
Child poverty in the Gambia is a rampant issue throughout the country. While the smallest country in West Africa, the Gambia’s rising poverty and food insecurity cause significant concern for children’s future safety and health. Despite the attempts to encourage positive change, 48% of the 2.1 million people living in the Gambia live in poverty, and 10.3% of the children suffer from acute malnutrition, with a more significant number being food insecure.

COVID-19 and Poverty

Globally, COVID-19 has struck economies and the healthcare systems of every nation, regardless of size or wealth. Though COVID-19 indiscriminately targeted the world’s populations, the healthcare system’s integrity and economic power were essential in protecting and supporting a nation’s citizens. In August 2020, households with insufficient food intake rose to 22% from 20% in July 2020, with the World Food Programme (WFP) attributing those changes to the pandemic. COVID-19 has more than doubled the quarterly increase of acute malnutrition at 5.6%, impacting approximately 58,177 children.

On top of increasing food insecurity, COVID-19 causes an increase in child poverty in the Gambia as employment decreases and the nation’s food supply decreases. The combining factors in the past two years add to the previous instability in the Gambia that included high rates of poverty and malnutrition.

Child Labor and Abuse

In the Gambia, child labor is a common occurrence, and even child prostitution remains a significant issue within the country. According to the U.S. Department of Labor and the United Nations, minors’ commercial exploitation and trafficking in the Gambia contributes to the illegal sex tourism business. This form of labor is illegal while enforcement and allegations fail to eliminate the reoccurring allegations. Without a robust justice system and significant improvement in entrepreneurship in the Gambia, illegal and horrifying child abuse will likely continue with minimal justice for the victims.

Besides the concerning presence of child prostitution, children ages 5 to 14 are working at a rate of 22.6%, and children attending school while working are at 21.7%. Typical fields of child labor are farming, mining, scavenging or street begging. While the child labor forms are nowhere near the complete list of potential labor fields, the necessity and use of children in the positions reflect the high rates of child poverty in the Gambia.

Education and Poverty

As with any nation, there is a direct association between poverty and education, especially with commonplace child labor. Although there have been slight improvements in education, such as 78% enrollment in primary schools, retention remains a significant issue for Gambian children. Of the 65.5% of students that complete primary school education, only 45.8% enter a lower secondary school and only 29.2% reach an upper secondary school education. The primary concern is approximately 20% of school-age children never enter the education system, reflecting a significant piece of the population unable to reach full economic potential.

Education is an essential aspect of youth in many emerging economies, as it allows individuals to enter specific and unique aspects of the global market. Without education, it can be challenging to improve socioeconomic status or advance development within one’s country. The combined rates of child education and child labor reflect the loss in economic potential and the inability to decrease poverty in the Gambia internally. Child poverty in the Gambia will continue without increasing the assistance to build up the education system and enforce ratified child labor laws. The factors of food insecurity, child poverty and weak systems to combat social issues contribute to the estimation that Gambian children only reach 40% of their full potential.

Looking Ahead

In an attempt to reduce child poverty in the Gambia, NGOs are providing supplies and monetary support to ensure safety, health and education. Child Aid Gambia is one organization that is supporting children, with multiple programs, including Bakoteh Rubbish Dump or Feeding Programmes. The Bakoteh Rubbish Dump spans over one kilometer in each direction and sits in the district of the busy township Serekunda. This dump is one of the largest and most toxic in the Gambia and Child Aid Gambia found children between 4 years old and older scavenging for metal and scraps to sell in the location. The Bakoteh Rubbish Dump Program works to reintegrate the children scavenging the dump back into local schools to ensure their education.

With the high rates of food scarcity, the Feeding Programmes assist the poorest communities by providing high-quality food for families and those suffering from malnutrition, especially with shorter rainy seasons in recent years causing massive drought. The care packages act as lifelines for communities experiencing drought or economic losses stagnating development. Without organizations such as Child Aid Gambia, there would be higher food insecurity and poverty levels throughout the nation. To end child poverty in the Gambia, NGOs and government organizations need to increase support for systemic change for education and ground-level support for food-insecure and impoverished children.

– Mikey Redding
Photo: Flickr

Empowering Children in Turkey
Approximately 5.6 million children under age 15 in Turkey live in poverty. To combat that dire statistic, there are several Turkish non-governmental organizations (NGOs) empowering children in Turkey despite their poverty and their refugee status.

A large percentage of those in poverty are Turkey’s significant Syrian refugee population. With around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Turkey hosts the world’s largest Syrian refugee population. More than 71% of Syrian refugees live in moderate or extreme poverty. Further, about 50% of  Syrian refugees living in Turkey are under 18 years old.

Luckily, several organizations target these Syrian refugees and other impoverished Turkish children to empower them to succeed in gaining the education, skills and confidence they need to thrive as Turkish adults. Here are overviews of three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) empowering children in Turkey.

Darussafaka Society

Founded in 1863, Darussafaka Society initially sought to provide equal educational opportunities for talented and impoverished Turkish children who had lost their fathers. The Society supports fifth graders through high school seniors who qualify with an entrance exam at Darussafaka schools. In 2012, the Society broadened its mission to include children who lost mothers as well as children who lost their fathers.

The Darussafaka Society provides a full scholarship and board to Darussafaka boarding schools. On top of fully-covered tuition and board, the Darussafaka Society covers the costs of clothing, food and other living accommodations to support qualified students as well as their guardians.

Today, 1,000 children in Turkey benefit from the Darussafaka Society. Darussafaka schools and the Darussafaka Society open doors to a world-class education. Darussafaka alumni include some of Turkey’s renowned mathematicians, artists, entertainers, financiers and government officials. Also, the schools take no state funding, truly reflecting equal opportunity for education.

Lab4Future

In 2020, Telecoms Sans Frontiere launched Lab4Future for Syrian refugee children in Gaziantep. The program offers free workshops on basic digital literacy for students ages 6 to 17. Through the workshops that Labs4Future provided, refugee children gain the basic knowledge to enter schools and acclimated to Turkish society. Each workshop focuses on different skills and opens up more opportunities for the children.

Lab4Future recognizes the trauma and exploitation refugees face; therefore, its approach centers on the well-being and comfort of the children, not only their education. It promotes self-determination and critical thinking while simultaneously offering four workshops: Computing and Internet, Programming and Robotics and Electricity and Fabrication.

The Computing and Internet workshop covers the basic information necessary to use and understand computers and tablets, such as emailing, surfing the internet or interpreting fake news. The Programming and Robotics workshop aims to introduce programming in an engaging way. Meanwhile, the Electricity workshop teaches basic principles of circuitry and allows students to apply experiments to real-world situations and the Fabrication workshop provides students access to digital fabrication tools.

Association in Support of Contemporary Living

The Association in Support of Contemporary Living, the third of the featured NGOs empowering children in Turkey, focuses on financial support for quality education. This organization raises money to fund a wide variety of scholarships and grants to support children, youth and university-age adults. During the past 30 years, the Association in Support of Contemporary Living has funded over 37,000 scholarships for university students and almost 90,000 scholarships for girls in secondary school and high school. Importantly, the scholarships for girls support gender equity which, in turn, contributes to eliminating poverty in Turkey.

Beyond direct financial support, the Association in Support of Contemporary Living has built two high schools, six preschools, 32 village schools and one university education center. This is the much-needed educational infrastructure for students in poverty. While the Association for Contemporary Living has created numerous other supports, just these few examples reflect the immense positive impact this organization has on Turkish youth.

Empowering Children in Turkey

Globally, children face the catastrophic consequences of the adult world, and poverty remains one of those catastrophes. In Turkey, poverty for children is a significant issue, especially for refugees fleeing the circumstances of their home countries. Organizations including the three NGOs featured above provide significant support for the children living in poverty. Ultimately, they also support a pathway for students to become more capable individuals in modern society.

Though these NGOs provide essential resources and basic skills to support individuals, the fight to end poverty and improve children’s lives must come with enormous change, such as advocacy for governmental policy changes that further combat poverty and ensure education. However, these three NGOs empowering children in Turkey lay the groundwork to advocate for change and positively impact people’s lives.

– Mikey Redding
Photo: Flickr

Emotional Support Programs Save Lives in Low-Income Communities
Emotional support programs for children and pregnant women in low-income communities can improve participants’ mental and physical health. Daily challenges of living below the poverty line often result in high-stress levels that can lead to a variety of health complications in children, pregnant women and babies. Emotional support programs save lives in low-income communities by reducing stress and resultant health issues.

The Benefits for Pregnant Women and Babies

Emotional support groups for pregnant women can make impactful differences in their lifestyles and health. A study by psychologist Greg Miller found that pregnant women who took part in a support group called Centering Pregnancy had less inflammation in their placentas than pregnant women who received standard prenatal care. Inflammation within the placenta can restrict the flow of nutrients, oxygen and blood from mother to child, potentially leading to health complications. Within Centering Pregnancy, pregnant women received guidance on nutrition, stress management and parenting. As a result, they had lower stress levels and less inflammation in their placentas, allowing them to have more relaxed and healthy pregnancies.

Groups like Centering Pregnancy can be particularly valuable in low-income communities where women experience high-stress levels from everyday challenges linked to poverty. For example, a study that a teaching hospital in Lahore, Pakistan conducted found that during their pregnancies, 25% of women in the antenatal clinic experienced depression and 34.5% experienced anxiety. In developing countries like Pakistan, emotional support programs save lives by improving pregnant women’s health and, in turn, the health of their babies.

The Benefits for Children

According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, conditions with links to poverty, such as “‘overcrowding, noise, substandard housing, separation from parent(s), exposure to violence, [and] family turmoil’” can have toxic effects on the developing human brain, just like drug abuse and alcoholism. Cortisol, a hormone that helps manage stress, can be overly abundant in children who grow up in poverty, which can lead to stunted brain development over time. As a solution, mentorship programs for children in low-income communities can improve kids’ emotional and physical wellbeing. A study by Miller and fellow Psychologist Edith Chen found that a single supportive, high-quality relationship with someone like a teacher, friend or mentor can substantially minimize a child’s risk of cardiovascular disease in a low-income community. Mentorship programs help children relieve stress and resolve social conflicts, potentially leading to fewer long-term health concerns.

Organizations at Work

Mental health organizations work across the globe to help people of every age improve their mental, emotional and sometimes even physical health. For example, United for Global Mental Health is an international organization that began in 2017 to improve mental health around the world, including in Pakistan, Nigeria, France, Canada and Japan. The website provides an extensive list of international mental health resources, including organizations that specifically focus on supporting children. United for Global Mental Health’s goal is to improve mental health globally and make mental health resources accessible to everyone, despite socioeconomic status. The organization works alongside partners such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to advocate for rights, financing, systems and educational resources that improve mental health around the world.

Organizations like Mothers2Mothers (M2M) also work to help pregnant women and new mothers to achieve the best mental and physical health possible in developing countries. M2M began in 2001 when South Africa was facing a record number of HIV infections. The organization employs women with HIV in nine African countries, including Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, to work as Mentor Mothers. Mentor Mothers are community health workers who serve women and adolescents in 10 countries across Africa by providing support, education and medical services. M2M has created more than 11,000 jobs for women with HIV and has provided over 13.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa with crucial health services. The organization models how emotional support programs save lives in developing countries.

Spread around the world with a variety of causes, emotional support programs save lives by relieving stress and the health complications that result from it. People experiencing poverty often experience heightened levels of stress, so emotional support programs can be particularly useful to people in low-income areas.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Pixabay