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

School Lunches in Peru
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the importance of school lunches in introducing children to nutrition and influencing their health outcomes over time. Although the emphasis on school meals has grown significantly in countries around the world over the last decade, Peru has struggled to make a drastic nutritional transition in comparison to its developed counterparts. However, the nation’s Qali Warma program aims to improve nutritional outcomes through school lunches in Peru.

Peru in Numbers

As of 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) recognizes 22% of Peru’s population as impoverished without access to proper nutrition. Furthermore, of children younger than 5, 13.1% suffer from chronic malnourishment. With a total population of 31 million individuals, these statistics illustrate the severity of inadequate nutrition in Peru.

However, over the years, Peru was able to reduce rates of chronic child malnutrition by 50%, a significant feat for the nation. While statistics on hunger and poverty show improvements over the past 10 years, it is important to recognize that rates of malnutrition differ across regions of Peru. In some rural areas, chronic child malnutrition reaches almost 34%. Furthermore, the rates of child stunting among Indigenous groups have remained the same since 2011. The lack of access to healthy and nutritious foods in Peru is partly responsible for these concerning rates.

Qali Warma Nation School Feeding Program

The lack of access to healthy and nutritious foods in Peru has led to a plethora of health concerns. Among the most pressing issues are anemia and obesity, which both serve as risk factors for other illnesses. The Peruvian government recognizes the concerning rates of anemia and child obesity in its country, leading to the implementation of the Qali Warma school feeding program.

Qali Warma is a social program that the Peruvian government implemented, aimed at increasing the health and nutrition of children through school lunches in Peru. The name Qali Warma originates from the Indigenous Quechua language and translates to “vigorous child.” The meaning behind the name is an ode to the mission of the group — encouraging “healthy eating habits” among the youth of Peru. Qali Warma’s main focus is children in early learning and primary education. However, to benefit Indigenous children in the Peruvian Amazon, the program extends its reach to high school students.

Since its implementation in 2012, the Ministry of Development & Social Inclusion of Peru (MIDIS) has overseen the program along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Initially developed as a three-year-long initiative, the success of the program means Qali Warma will continue until 2022. For the past decade, Qali Warma has provided healthy school lunches in Peru, improving eating habits among children while simultaneously engaging with local communities and providing people with food education.

A Two-pronged Strategy

The program consists of two services working in tandem with each other. The food service entails planning school meal menus and gathering the ingredients and supplies needed to put the meals together. Qali Warma uses specific calculations to ensure it meets the necessary nutritional and caloric requirements for child development. Moreover, the organization takes into account different cultural diets and consumer habits of each area it serves. The educational service component is primarily instructional. Qali Warma promotes “healthy eating habits and hygiene practices among the beneficiary children” while providing technical support and educational outreach to people implementing the food services.

Results and Reach

As Peru continues to invest in programs like Qali Warma, outcomes are proving successful in improving children’s health. By 2019, Qali Warma’s school lunches in Peru benefited more than 4 million children in total. Overall, the government notes an improvement in the overall nutritional state of these children since addressing nutrition with school lunches in Peru. Qali Warma reports that the impacts of school lunches extend far beyond nutrition as children are also more focused in classes and are eager to attend school. Nutrition specialists second this sentiment.

While Peruvian youth have struggled to maintain healthy levels of nutrition, addressing these issues in the places where children spend the most time, like schools, creates a lasting impact. Increasing the nutritional benefits of school lunches in Peru is a crucial first step in addressing malnutrition. However, consistent monitoring and modification are necessary as the program expands to reach more children nationwide.

– Chloé D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

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

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

Conditional cash transfer
Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs serve as poverty reduction tools. The government provides monetary support to individuals with low incomes on the condition that the individuals meet certain requirements. For example, an individual may receive a cash transfer on the condition that he or she keeps his or her child in school and ensures the child receives all necessary child immunizations. The aim of CCTs is to stop the transmission of poverty from generation to generation, which is why conditions, especially related to healthcare and education, are in place. CCTs have shown success as poverty reduction tools in many countries, especially in regions such as Latin America.

Benefits and Criticisms of Conditional Cash Transfers

A benefit of CCTs is that they allow people to use welfare to meet their specific needs. CCTs empower impoverished communities by giving them the choice, through the provision of cash, of how to use aid to best meet their individual needs. Other welfare programs are able to fulfill a specific need, but they also restrict the voice of impoverished communities to choose how to best fulfill their needs.

Another benefit is that giving individuals money is cheaper than providing people with goods. When paying for goods, the government must also pay for the secondary costs associated with the goods, such as storage and transportation. Therefore, direct cash payments are more cost-effective than programs that distribute goods.

A common concern with CCTs is that recipients will spend the money on alcohol and drugs instead of their basic needs. Researchers have conducted studies to learn more about how recipients spend CCT money and results show that most recipients spend the money on meeting their families’ needs.

4 Countries With Successful Conditional Cash Transfer Programs

  1. Brazil’s Bolsa Família. Established in 2003 by Brazil’s former president, Lula da Silva, the program provides 32 reais (about $19) every month for each child in a family with a household income of fewer than 140 reais ($82) in exchange for parents ensuring that their child attends school and regular doctor’s appointments. The government will provide money for up to five children per family. Bolsa Família is the world’s largest CCT program, benefitting 11.1 million families every year. The program has decreased income inequality and poverty in Brazil. Estimates indicate that rates of extreme poverty in Brazil “would be between 33% and 50% higher” if Bolsa Família was not in place. Overall, the program is responsible for decreasing income equality in Brazil by 12%-21%.
  2. Argentina’s Universal Child Allowance for Social Protection (AUH). Beginning in 2009, the program provides money to children from impoverished families. Every month, child beneficiaries receive $55. The government provides 80% of the money to the child monthly and places the remaining 20% into a savings account for the child. In exchange for the money, children must attend school and meet health objectives. The AUH reaches almost four million children, decreasing poverty and increasing childhood well-being in Argentina. In the early years of the program, child poverty decreased by 13.1 percentage points and “12.5% of households receiving the AUH in 2015 were no longer in poverty.”
  3. The Philippines’ Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. Beginning in 2008, the program provides families with grants of P500 ($11) to P1,400 ($32) every month. The grant amount is dependent on the number of children in a household and the grant conditions have ties to education and child health care requirements. A couple of these conditions involve keeping children in school, attending regular pediatric check-ups and females attending check-ups in the case of pregnancy. From the start of the program to 2019, more than 5 million households benefited from Pantawid Pamilyang. The program has “increased the delivery of babies in health facilities by skilled health professionals by 20 percentage points” while raising “elementary school enrollment” among impoverished children by 5% and increasing high school enrollment rates among impoverished children by 7%.
  4. Jamaica’s Program of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH). Since 2002, the Jamaican government has committed to providing cash grants to impoverished families in exchange for children obtaining an attendance rate of 85% or higher in school and on the condition that parents take children younger than 6 years old to doctor’s appointments following a schedule that the Ministry of Health created. PATH benefits 350,000 Jamaicans, improving school attendance and increasing health care visits for children.

The Role of CCTs in Reducing Global Poverty

Conditional cash transfers have gained prominence as a strategy to help impoverished families in real-time while also working to prevent future poverty through the transmission of intergenerational poverty. While CCTs positively impact families in multiple countries, improvements to education and health services must accompany the programs so that children can receive quality education and adequate health care services. Increased participation through CCTs in tandem with improved public services can have a more significant impact on the world’s impoverished than CCTs alone. The combined power of conditional cash transfer programs and public service improvements have the potential to create lasting change globally.

– Anna Ryu
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

Maiti Nepal
Nepal, landlocked between the global superpowers of China and India, is one of the most impoverished countries in South Asia, due in part to poor infrastructure, corruption and natural disasters. Staggering poverty rates and unemployment have created a crisis at the India-Nepal border, a hotspot for human trafficking. Women and girls are especially at risk of sex trafficking, especially girls in rural communities far from the capital city of Kathmandu. Maiti Nepal aims to address the growing issue of human trafficking in Nepal.

Women and Girls at Risk

Women and girls make up about “71% of modern slavery victims” worldwide. Illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and geography all contribute to the human trafficking crisis. Faced with few prospects, many girls are lured into the hands of traffickers with the promise of work and prosperity abroad.

Traffickers transport these girls to urban centers, either to Kathmandu or various cities in India. These girls must work in brothels, massage parlors, dance clubs, circuses and private homes. If the girls are lucky enough to make it back home, they then face additional discrimination and struggle to reintegrate into society.

COVID-19 Worsens the Trafficking Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the risks of human trafficking for girls. As unemployment rises, desperate families are more likely to believe traffickers can provide a better life for their children. In a society that views girls’ education as less important than boys’, extended school closures leave girls at heightened risk of falling victim to trafficking. It is imperative that global actors and the government of Nepal take immediate action to protect girls and women during the pandemic.

Neither India nor Nepal requires documentation for citizens to cross their shared border, allowing traffickers to move people across without detection. Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis has further depleted the resources and ability of anti-trafficking officials to adequately monitor border crossings. Estimates indicate that traffickers move 54 women and girls into India every day.

Maiti Nepal Spearheads Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Anuradha Koirala founded Maiti Nepal in 1993 with the goal of addressing the trafficking of women and children. Named a CNN Hero in 2010, Koirala has devoted the majority of her life to rehabilitating survivors of trafficking and implementing prevention efforts. Maiti Nepal recognizes that without improving conditions in Nepal, trafficking will continue to persist.

Though the Nepali government attempts to monitor the border, women and girls continue to slip through the cracks. Maiti Nepal supplements the government’s efforts to guard the busy border between India and Nepal. Volunteers directly intercept traffickers at the border and safely return the victims to their homes or a transit center. To date, Maiti Nepal has intercepted more than 42,000 girls at the border and convicted 1,620 human traffickers.

Maiti Nepal began as one rehabilitation home to house survivors. Now, its programs include prosecution and legal counseling, transit homes, education sponsorships, job training, advocacy efforts, rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS treatment programs, among others. Maiti has provided rehabilitation services to about 25,000 women and children. The nonprofit spearheads multiple efforts to provide direct aid as well as prevention and advocacy efforts throughout the country.

Looking Ahead

The continued efforts of Maiti Nepal and the Nepali government safeguard impoverished girls and women from the lures of human trafficking. Understanding the links between poverty and human trafficking, a broader focus on poverty reduction can accelerate efforts to combat human trafficking in Nepal.

– Elizabeth Long
Photo: Unsplash

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

Greek Freak For the past several seasons in the NBA, there has been a bright, blinding and rising star who has continued to awe and engage hearts across the world year after year: Giannis Antetokounmpo. But what makes the “Greek Freak” so incredible is not only what he has been able to do on the court, but also his experience and devotion to those off the court and back in his home country of Greece through the AntetokounBros Academy.

The Antetokounmpos’ History

In 2019, Antetokounmpo and his brothers began this basketball academy to support young adults and children from underprivileged socioeconomic groups. The academy provides its participants with the opportunities to get involved with sports and to sometimes just get a hot meal and some rest. As of 2021, the AntetokounBros Academy has helped several hundred kids get onto the basketball court and impacted many more lives through community outreach.

The Antetokounmpos grew up in difficult circumstances as “stateless” Nigerian immigrants in Greece. Since they were young, Giannis and his older brother Thanassis began hawking things like sunglasses on the streets to help their parents pay for living expenses. The family would often go without meals for several days.

These circumstances are not uncommon in Athens and in Greece as a whole. Since the financial crises of the late 2010s, Greece has struggled to bounce back after major economic hits. This has resulted in Greece experiencing the third-highest poverty rate in the European Union. In 2015, the European Parliament reported 45% of children in Greece were living without basic goods and services.

Addressing the Problems

In the light of this hardship, the brothers have stated that they believe basketball brought them where they are today. The community it gave them and the time they spent at basketball camps –which provided paid meals or free clothes– were incredibly helpful for them as they grew up.

Athens is the largest metropolitan area with the densest concentration of people in Greece. It is also the hometown of the Antetokounmpo brothers. As such, the AntetokounBros Academy is a program that promotes community involvement for the youth of Athens to get involved with sports, specifically basketball. A Eurostat study found that “4 in 10” under the age of 17 are at risk of “poverty or social exclusion,” and the situation for the people of Athens specifically is extremely dire.

Over the years, the academy has also come to serve as a community center and help center; it takes in and develops young players and coaching staff from all around Greece, with a particular interest in people from communities that are struggling socioeconomically.

Considering the Impact

The AntetokounBros Academy has set out to inspire charitable work through basketball and outreach in the local community. The academy does everything from hosting food drives to collecting donations worldwide — with help from the Greek Freak himself of course. It hosts tournaments, provides mentoring workshops and scouts talent.

The AntetokounBros Academy has partnered with the Onassis Foundation, Nike, EuroHoops and the NBA to bring about awareness. The organizations also work to show the world the results that such a program can bring to the members of a community while combatting some of the symptoms of poverty.

As Konstantinos Papaloukas, Managing Partner of EuroHoops, an integral partner and benefactor of the academy, said in a statement, “With the Initiative of AntetokounmBros Academy we give opportunities to children to change their lives and fight for their dreams.”

From sharing a pair of basketball shoes with all four of his brothers to becoming a champion and Finals MVP just this last NBA season, the Greek Freak, together with his brothers, understands more than most about the burdens of circumstance and the incredible impact of help in every person’s life.

– John J. Lee
Photo: Unsplash

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