OneProsper International
With the pressing global issue of world poverty, one can find hope for meaningful change in the work done by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). One particular NGO making its mark in the fight against poverty is OneProsper International, a Canadian-based organization working toward solving poverty and improving rates of illiteracy among females in India, particularly in the impoverished Thar Desert. Here is how OneProsper International is working to reduce poverty in the Thar Desert.

OneProsper International’s Founding

In 2019, 20.8% of India’s population lived below the poverty line. Taking the headcount ratio of poverty into account, one can note that India has made great strides in reducing this ratio since 1973 when poverty stood at 54.9%. Despite progress, this rate of poverty is still notably high. With hundreds of millions of people still living in poverty, OneProsper saw a chance for meaningful change.

Founder Raju Agarwal from Ottawa, Canada, first came up with the idea to start OneProsper International on a trip to India where he was able to observe the extreme poverty and education problems firsthand. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Agarwal described a visit to India in his early 20s. He said that “a girl approached me holding a baby. I asked the girl why she was not going to school. She answered that she would love to go to school but did not have the opportunity.” Agarwal was moved.

Unsatisfied by several unfulfilling jobs at companies, some years ago he came across the book “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” by John Wood. Drawing inspiration from the book, he saw a clear path and purpose, subsequently taking action to begin the nonprofit now known as OneProsper International.

The Importance of Girls’ Education

Since this initial experience, Agarwal has grown OneProsper into a meaningful and thriving organization that now works to reduce poverty in India with a special focus on promoting education for girls. Agarwal recognizes the importance of education as a tool to break the cycle of poverty. Through education, girls are able to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to access stable and higher-paying, skilled jobs. With a stable income, girls are then able to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Studies show that girls who attend school are less susceptible to child marriage and early motherhood. Educated mothers are also more likely to prioritize the education of their children, creating a ripple effect of benefits across the nation.

A Holistic Approach

OneProsper adopts a holistic strategy to address the barriers to girls’ education in India. The program outlines seven key steps, each resolving an obstacle:

  1. Time. In the Thar Desert, young girls “spend up to seven hours a day collecting water.” OneProsper constructs “rainwater harvesting tanks” to allow the girls to use this time to gain an education at school.
  2. Clean Water. Without access to clean water, waterborne diseases run rampant with disproportionate impacts on children. OneProsper provides households in the Thar Desert with bio-sand filters “to turn harvested water into clean, potable water.”
  3. Respect. Cultural norms in India often perpetuate gender inequality, fostering the societal belief that females as less valuable than males. To show the importance and value of women, OneProsper engraves mothers’ names on each water tank to teach girls that women are indeed important and deserving of respect.
  4. Nutrition. OneProsper offers “seeds and farm training” so households can cultivate their own nutritious food.
  5. Costs of Schooling. OneProsper pays the primary and secondary costs of schooling, such as school fees, attire and other essential school resources.
  6. Transportation. To address distance and transport barriers, each girl receives a bicycle to get to school in a shorter time than walking would allow.
  7. Income. OneProsper helps farming families increase their incomes by improving their agricultural output through the construction of farming dikes in fields.

The organization’s website expresses that 100% of donations go toward supporting the people in the Thar Desert and directly funding girls’ education. Through this strategy, 260 Indian girls are able to receive an education and 130 families are receiving support to rise out of poverty.

English Learning Buddy Program

The English Learning Buddy (ELB) program consists of English-speaking volunteers virtually meeting with Indian girls from low-income families to teach them English. In this 10-week-long program, partners meet weekly and read from a children’s book, working to develop the Indian student’s English skills. Learning English gives these girls a chance to advance in their education, potentially internationally, thus breaking the cycle of poverty and opening them up to opportunities for success and prosperity.

The Future

When discussing future goals, Agarwal says he plans to continue to expand OneProsper International through events and fundraisers. He stated that “My goal is to engage students in fundraising. For example, organizing a soccer tournament, festival or fundraising event planned and led by students. Students would help to raise funds to sponsor girls in India. Afterward, students will receive videos showing how their giving is making a meaningful impact.”

Through the efforts of OneProsper International, the most disadvantaged girls in India are able to gain an education and an opportunity to bring themselves and their families out of poverty. Through its continued work, poverty in the Thar Desert should reduce.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Lebanon
Children living in Lebanon have been experiencing the full impact of the weakened economy in the country. Due to the Beirut explosion and the collapse of the Lebanese pound, child poverty has been on the rise in Lebanon. Child’s education, health and protection have become difficult to acquire.

The Deterioration of the Economy

Lebanon has struggled with its economy for a while due to its reliance on foreign imports and the limited exports coming from its country. As of 2021, Lebanon has failed to see economic growth, but the government is continuing to borrow money from other countries.

In addition, Lebanon’s government consists of 18 politicians of different religious denominations, such as Christian and Muslim. Because of this, Lebanon is susceptible to interference from other countries. As a result, Lebanon has become “one of the world’s largest debt burdens as a result of years of inefficiency, waste and corruption,” according to Reuters.

Moreover, in October 2019, the Lebanese pound began to lose its value due to the shortage of foreign currency in their commercial banks. This caused high-interest rates, leading to the emergence of a black market. Because there is an absence of taxes on the transactions and the government is not aware of the activity happening in the black market, this harms the economy.

While Lebanon was struggling economically, an explosion in Beirut worsened its situation. For instance, on August 4, 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in agricultural fertilizers and bombs, exploded throughout the city of Beirut. Due to this, the air filled with dust, causing concern about the toxins people were consuming in the air.

Unfortunately, the explosion killed 140, wounded 5,000 and displaced 300,000. Of those 300,000, 100,000 of them were children, as UNICEF reported.

About Child Poverty in Lebanon

Due to the deterioration of the economy, Lebanon’s poverty rate has doubled from 42% to 82% between 2019 to 2021. As a result, many families cannot afford basic necessities for their children because of inflation, thus increasing child poverty in Lebanon. These families face shortages of food, water and electricity in their homes. Under these circumstances, many children have no choice but to skip meals, according to the OWP.

In addition, “34% of children were not able to receive necessary primary health care,” the OWP reported. In fact, many families need to access water through private providers at a cost because water from public works is insufficient to drink.

Child poverty in Lebanon leads to children living in conditions where they cannot grow and thrive. As economic inequality increases, children become susceptible to child marriage, trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Education in Lebanon

Additionally, many children do not have the option to attend school anymore because of the Beirut explosion. Unfortunately, the explosion damaged 163 schools, leaving children struggling to obtain an education through other means.

Due to the lack of technology and internet connectivity, many children cannot participate in remote learning activities. As families endure the hardships brought upon by the explosion, families are resorting to  “sending their children to work in often dangerous and hazardous conditions, marrying off their daughters or selling their belongings,” said UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, Yukie Mokuo.

To avoid child marriages and selling their belongings, children need to work. Many of them work in agriculture, metalworking or factories under inhumane conditions. Addressing child poverty in Lebanon, the government signed the ILO’s Convention on Child Labor, but it failed to become a law.

Save the Children

Lebanese children are receiving help from various organizations, such as Save the Children. Save the Children believes that children are the most vulnerable when disaster strikes, so it created an organization that focused on protecting them and giving them a chance at a new beginning.

Specifically, it is asking for donations to achieve its goals to improve the lives of Lebanese children. Some of the organization’s goals for child poverty in Lebanon are to increase the quality of education, restore schools and install water, sanitation and hygiene resources for the children to access.

Lastly, it hopes to protect Lebanese children from “psychological stress, neglect, violence, and abuse.” By doing this, Save the Children hopes to show the Lebanese children that they have the right to obtain these basic needs for a better future.

UNICEF

UNICEF has also been aiding children in Lebanon by providing Lebanese families with children with cash grants in the form of U.S. dollars, aiming to help 70,000 children in need. This is an effort to remove children from working and avoid skipping meals.

To add, UNICEF “is also providing mental health support and psychological first aid to children who are engaged in child labor, those who have experienced or are at risk of violence,” as stated on its website.

As a result, the children will have the ability to think for themselves and gain confidence and self-esteem. Similar to Save the Children, UNICEF has spent $6.9 million to help repair Lebanon’s water systems, aiding children’s health. The organization is continuing to reach more vulnerable children and their families, offering them support in any way it can.

With the increasing poverty rate in Lebanon, living conditions are becoming unbearable for many Lebanese children. Fortunately, Save the Children and UNICEF are assisting Lebanon, providing education measures, health services and protection for Lebanese children.

– Kayla De Alba
Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

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

Julian Lennon’s White Feather Foundation: Improving Children's Literacy Rates
Julian Lennon, a well-known singer, songwriter and filmmaker, is also a philanthropist who created the White Feather Foundation (TWFF). Lennon founded TWFF in 2007, and the organization addresses humanitarian issues. Recently, the World Literacy Foundation announced that Lennon and his Foundation would be honored for work done to improve children’s literacy rates, especially in still-developing nations and among those who cannot afford an education.

Julian Lennon’s Path to The Foundation

The Foundation’s ideals, and its name, come from the same source: Julian Lennon’s father, John Lennon. A white feather is typically a symbol of peace and goodwill. Before his death, John Lennon told his son that one day he would receive a message as a white feather, and it would be a way of letting Julian know that his father was at peace.

Then on tour in Australia, Julian met with a tribe of aboriginals, the Mirning tribe, and they asked for his help to tell the story of their tribe. As an offering, they presented him with a white feather, and Lennon recognized it as a symbol of peace. Inspired and motivated, he helped the tribe create a documentary to tell their history, with all proceeds going to the tribe. From there, the White Feather Foundation was born.

About The White Feather Foundation

The White Feather Foundation promotes and funds clean water projects, efforts dedicated to improving child literacy rates and work to address humanitarian issues across the globe. Lennon has authored several books, the proceeds of many going to help the foundation or the programs it runs. Money that Lennon’s work acquires helps fund TWFF. The organization is entirely nonprofit and is a non-government organization as well.

TWFF has countless projects running. As of October 2021, it had programs including a clean water project in Cameroon and a campaign for earthquake relief in Nepal. In addition, TWFF continuously has applications for Cynthia Lennon’s Scholarship for Girls.

Improved Children’s Education

The Cynthia Lennon Scholarship for Girls is awarded based on location and need. Lennon established the scholarship in 2015 after the passing of Cynthia Lennon, his mother. Julian added the Cynthia Lennon Scholarship to the Foundation’s recurring programs to honor her memory.

As a result of the scholarship, TWFF has sent almost 40 girls to school since 2015. Working with different projects, the scholarship aims to fulfill “educational support” for girls. It has covered housing, uniforms, textbooks and transportation. It funds all years of high school or continued education for each girl. This scholarship has worked to improve female child literacy rates since 2015.

 Improving Girls’ Education and Literacy Rates

In Kenya, children receive free primary and secondary education, but economic costs weigh down the ability to attend secondary school, potentially in costs like textbooks. Moreover, girls have historically been disadvantaged in completing their education, which has been particularly notable during the pandemic. In Kenya, girls can face challenges from pregnancy to sexual violence, damaging educational prospects as a consequence.

TWFF has begun funding girls’ educations in Kenya, working to further a growing trend regarding the gender gap in schools. Between 2015-2020, the female population in schools surpassed the male population. Between 2000-2018, the youth literacy rates have improved, especially in closing the gender gap.

In 2007, girls’ childhood literacy rates stood at 81.6% and boys’ at 82.3%. In 2014, the rates were 86.1% and 86.6% respectively. Then, in 2018, a few years into the funding provided by TWFF, the rates grew to 88.1% and 87.6% respectively.

The World Literacy Foundation Award

As recognition for efforts toward improvements in child literacy and education across the globe, the World Literacy Foundation (TWLF) honored Julian Lennon and TWFF with the World Literacy Award. The Award works to “[p]ut a spotlight on people and organizations who are doing exemplary and innovative work in the literacy sector.”

This award comes from a panel of 16 judges, who deemed Lennon’s work crucial and worthy of recognition. One judge, Lord Julian Fellows, stated that “Literacy is the ticket to learning, opportunity, and empowerment.”

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Developed nations are witnessing a steep decline in labor union participation. Labor unions are organized groups of workers who negotiate decisions concerning their working conditions. From 1985 to 2017, union membership declined by 13%. Several factors have contributed to this decline, however, labor unions are important as they play a role in reducing poverty across the world.

The Decline in Labor Unions

The recent trend toward globalization has admittedly fostered business competitiveness. However, this threatens labor unions due to the belief that unionization can harm a company’s ability to compete internationally. This belief stems from the strong negotiating power of unions, forcing companies to pay and treat their workers well, which many international companies do not have to do. In addition, organizational and technological changes have threatened union longevity. The final contributing factor is the decline of the manufacturing sector, a sector that is more likely to support unionization than other industries.

Along with the organizational factors contributing to the decrease in labor unions, the societal understanding of the value of labor unions is also decreasing. In part due to mass propaganda campaigns and anti-labor advertising unleashed by businesses in the last three decades, there is a growing sentiment that these organizations are no longer useful or necessary. This sentiment poses a direct threat to workers throughout the world as these organizations play an important role in poverty reduction.

Decrease in Economic Inequality

Labor unions play an important role in decreasing economic inequality. Unions provide people with the power to negotiate, which in turn, strengthens the middle class and increases salaries for blue-collar workers. Unions give power to people in lower positions in companies so they can negotiate and work for better wages. Unionized workers are typically able to raise their wages by 20% through negotiation.

White-collar workers do not reap the same benefits and labor unions play an important role in stopping runaway incomes for people at the top. This gives power to the middle class and reduces the power of the top 1%. Not only do higher wages for blue-collar workers support the workers themselves but they also boost economic mobility for future generations. By empowering workers to collectively bargain for higher wages, labor unions have played a vital role in the rise of the middle class.

Healthcare

Because members of labor unions can negotiate better benefits, they are 30% more likely to have healthcare benefits than non-union workers. Additionally, these healthcare benefits are typically higher quality than baseline coverage. On average, unionized workers are more likely to have health plans, including dental and vision care. Quality health insurance plays an important role in reducing the risk of poverty. The CDC finds that workers who possess and utilize health plans are more productive. Increased productivity among workers provides a foundation for educational and workplace success.

Along with increasing productivity, quality healthcare can reduce the risk of medical debt-induced poverty. Medical coverage for working adults can also cover the worker’s children. This is important as children who have medical coverage are less likely to develop chronic health conditions. Through family care, labor unions provide workers and their families the resources necessary to remain in good health, achieve success and protect their futures.

Work-Life Balance

Labor unions provide workers with the chance to negotiate better working conditions, including more paid time off. Unionized workers have 26.6% more vacation time on average than non-unionized workers. This time off is important for a work-life balance, overall longevity and family time. Children who spend quality time with their parents are more likely to be physically healthy and are less likely to partake in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. Furthermore, these children are more likely to stay in school and achieve academic success, helping them secure well-paying jobs in the future. By supporting a work-life balance, labor unions ensure that households have a pathway out of poverty.

In these ways, labor unions play a vital role in reducing poverty. By increasing wages, strengthening the middle class, providing healthcare access and facilitating quality family time, labor unions can help people break cycles of poverty.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in FijiFiji is an archipelago or chain of islands. Many tourists worldwide know its remote beaches as a tropical paradise. While Fiji’s geography makes it a popular vacation spot for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tony Hawk, its geography has adverse effects on the children living there. However, organizations are taking steps to combat child poverty in Fiji.

Child Poverty in Fiji

Child poverty in Fiji is widespread throughout its rural areas. The United Nations released a report that displays rural child poverty rates at 40.92%, almost double urban rates of 22.22%. The extent of the discrepancy between those living in rural and urban areas is clear. There is a similar difference in the ages of those experiencing poverty in Fiji. The United Nations report highlights that 32.1% of children younger than the age of 14 experience poverty.

Poverty in Fiji has an unparalleled effect on young children in rural areas. This has led to a stunting rate tallied at 7.5% among infants and young children in 2004. Infants and young children are not the only ones affected by malnourishment as 22% of adolescents in Fiji were underweight as of 2005.

The Effects of Geography on Child Poverty in Fiji

In Fiji, there is a clear connection between poverty, geography and education. Fiji’s remote location impacts the price of uniforms, books and transportation. Although education is free up to the second level, the secondary costs of education present additional barriers for children living in poverty.

Even if rural Fijian families scrape together money for their children’s education, underdeveloped road and sea transportation prevent easy accessibility. Children often have to travel through three or more towns on foot to reach the nearest school.

Furthermore, children do not receive consistent protection against violations and abuse. Many children work as domestic servants and face domestic or sexual violence. Authorities underreport these conditions, and oftentimes, local authorities dismiss the crimes with little supervision from the country’s federal policing system.

Solutions to Child Poverty in Fiji

Many efforts are in place to help combat child poverty in Fiji. Several Fijian children in poverty reside in rural areas where the lack of access to quality education perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Understanding this issue, the Australian High Commissioner administered the Australian Direct Aid Program. The program seeks to help improve educational opportunities for these children. This project gifts items like new furniture, library books, water tanks and dormitory renovations that provide better education resources to students in rural Fiji.

Similarly, help from volunteer groups such as the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross and student initiatives, such as Rustic Pathways, greatly impacts these Fijian communities. For example, the Peace Corps states that close to 90% of the communities improved in livelihood security and sanitation.

Another significant step in combating child poverty in Fiji occurred when Fiji joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership. The partnership made access to clean water a constitutional right. This led to 70.1% of Fijian households having access to clean water. Increased access to clean water means children can go to school and receive an education instead of spending time collecting water for the home.

Moreover, the World Bank has approved the Fiji Transport Infrastructure Investment Project. It awarded the Fijian government $50 million to make improvements to land and sea infrastructure. The expected outcome is easier and safer travel, which in turn, allows children facing poverty in rural areas of Fiji better access to education.

The Future of Poverty in Fiji

Fiji’s geography negatively influences impoverished children within its borders. Through improvements to the education system, increased sanitation, access to clean water and better infrastructure, children facing poverty in Fiji have a greater opportunity to attend and complete school. Through education, children are able to break cycles of poverty.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

Canada’s Childcare FacilitiesOn April 19, 2021, the Canadian Government announced a new budget that includes increased support for Canada’s childcare facilities. The proposed financial support would reduce the average cost of childcare, granting the greatest benefit to Canada’s most economically vulnerable families. Though arranged by the federal government, the changes were advocated for by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Child Care Now.

Government Promises

The government’s commitment to increasing childcare affordability is part of a newly proposed budget written to address the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new budget would allot $30 billion to childcare spending over the next five years.

The goal of the sizable expenditure is to nationally reduce the cost of childcare to an average of just $10 per day by 2025. If passed, federal money would be used in conjunction with provincial funding to subsidize Canada’s childcare facilities, thereby lowering the cost to parents. A portion of the $30 billion would also go toward improving the quality and accessibility of Canada’s childcare facilities.

Presently, costs for childcare vary widely across Canada. In Quebec’s cities, the monthly cost of childcare is less than $200 due to an initiative passed in 1997 that standardized childcare costs. Outside of Quebec, the average monthly cost can range anywhere from $451 in Winnipeg to more than $1,500 in Toronto. The high prices are burdensome for all Canadians, but particularly so for the nation’s impoverished communities.

Child Care, Poverty and the Pandemic

Though not the pandemic’s most obvious impact, a lack of affordable childcare has strained Canada’s economy over the past year. Some of the strain stems from Canada’s childcare facilities and schools being closed to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, many working parents, particularly mothers, have had to take care of children instead of working.

The pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on women and mothers is reflected in Canada’s 2020 labor statistics, which show that women have exited the workforce at higher rates than men. In fact, the number of men in Canada’s workforce has increased by more than 60,000, while the female workforce has shrunk by at least 20,000.

Impact on Mothers

A large proportion of the women impacted by job losses are low-income mothers. A review of labor statistics found that among mothers ages 25 to 54 who had children younger than 12 years old, the mothers making less than $1,200 per week accounted for most jobs lost within that maternal demographic. Mothers in that group who made more than $1,200 per week actually increased representation in the workforce by almost 12%.

The same report also shows that mothers left the workforce at higher rates than other Canadian women in 2020. For instance, among women ages 25 to 54 who make between $500 and $799 per week, there was an almost 34% decrease in employment among mothers compared to a 21% decrease among women without children. This trend holds true for other earning brackets below $1,200.

While not all job loss among Canadian women can be attributed to maternal responsibilities, motherhood has clearly been a contributing factor for many women who have lost jobs during the pandemic. The fact is particularly true for low-income mothers who are least likely to have a job that will allow them to work from home. Without access to affordable childcare, mothers will continue to remain stuck between joblessness and caring for their children. The new Canadian budget and its advocates aim to solve this bind.

Child Care Now

One of the NGOs that gave support to the new budgetary spending on childcare was Child Care Now. Child Care Now is a Canadian nonprofit organization founded in 1982. The organization advocates for increased government spending on public and nonprofit childcare facilities. The nonprofit’s membership is made up of parents, childcare professionals and all parties concerned with the availability of accessible, affordable and safe childcare. Among the most pressing goals is the expansion of public childcare options throughout Canada.

On February 19, 2021, Child Care Now submitted a budgetary consultation to the Federal Ministry of Finance. In this consultation, Child Care Now made a case for increased federal spending on Canadian childcare, both in response to the impacts of COVID-19 and as an investment in the future of Canada’s childcare system.

Among the recommendations made by Child Care Now is the allotment of $2 billion in emergency spending to bolster Canada’s childcare facilities as well as the allocation of an additional $10 billion over the next three years to increase the access and affordability of public and nonprofit childcare options. When the government announced $30 billion in new spending on childcare, the response from Child Care Now was enthusiastic.

The Road Ahead

While the new budget still needs to be passed by the Canadian House of Commons, Canada’s investment in affordable childcare shows that the government is committed to the well-being of Canadian families. Should the budget pass into law, it will undoubtedly benefit the low-income mothers who have suffered the brunt of the pandemics’ economic hardships.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr