MEND seamstresses
After being abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 13, Grace survived two years in the Northern Ugandan bush before she was able to escape. Today, Grace, among 22 other formerly abducted women, are employed as seamstresses by an organization known as Mend.

Since 1987, Kony’s army has abducted over 30,000 children, forcing them to become soldiers in his army or wives to his soldiers.

Grace, among thousands of other women, suffered the physical, emotional, and mental pain of being held captive by these men. Although the seamstresses were fortunate to escape, many were ostracized by friends and family upon return due to involvement with the rebels. In order to address these issues and work through traumatization, all of the women employed by Mend received three months of counseling and tailoring training through Invisible Children.

The Invisible Children is an organization that began in 2006 as an initiative to end the LRA conflict in Uganda. In addition to establishing numerous campaigns that rehabilitate and educate formerly abducted people, Invisible Children formed Mend as a social enterprise in 2009 in order to give women employment opportunities and create awareness around circumstances in Uganda.

As their Mother’s Day promotion, Mend seamstresses created beautiful limited edition clutches for women to receive on Mother’s Day. The clutches are a thoughtful gift for a mother that supports a mother in need.

In addition to clutches, MEND seamstresses, like Grace, also sew purses, handbags, and laptop sleeves all specifically designed by the Mend design team. Mend products range anywhere from $35 to $300. “It is an immense responsibility,” designer Juan-David Quinnones shared, “to make something that will last, add value to people’s lives, and tell an amazing story.” As Quinnones refers to, each bag shares a message from the woman who created it through a tag that has her picture and story on it.

When asked “Where did you get that great bag,” customers have the opportunity to share not only where their bag is from, but also who made it and why. Exchanges like these, thanks to Mend’s dedication, has transformed consumerism into a form of activism.

“One of our bottom lines is the growth of our seamstresses in all aspects of their lives,” professed Mend director Chris Sarette. In addition to the employment opportunity, Mend provides their seamstresses with a full-time social worker, literacy classes, and financial meetings to help the women grow holistically, for themselves and their families.

The Invisible Children Shop

– Heather Klosterman

Sources: Mend
Photo: MPc Magazine 

The history of human rights violations against Somali citizens by their government under the rule of Siad Barre contributed to an overthrow that forced him to flee in 1991. The subsequent power vacuum led to the Somali civil war that continues to rage on to this day. For over 23 years, Somalia has been ravaged by human rights abuses, war crimes and the lack of a developed justice system to deal with these issues.

The main players at this moment are the Islamic backed forces, al-Shabaab, and the pro-government forces, the Federal Republic of Somalia, Ethiopian troops and African Union troops operating under the African Union Mission to Somalia. While the faces have changed throughout the 23 year conflict, the main points of contention  remain the same.

The Islamic forces wish for the country to become an Islamic state ruled under Sharia law, while government forces aim for the country to follow through with the constitution that founded the federal republic in 2012. Major human rights violations are committed on both sides of the Civil War, limiting positive change in the country.

Human rights violations include indiscriminate attacks against civilians, displacement of persons, restrictions on humanitarian aid, rape, recruitment and use of child soldiers, unlawful killings and torture by armed groups and armed piracy off the Somali coast. Various treaties including the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights forbid the indiscriminate use of force against civilians. According to Amnesty International, “all parties to the conflict use mortars and heavy weapons in areas populated or frequented by civilians, killing and injuring thousands of people, many of which are women and children under the age of 14.”

The killings not only affect those being killed, but they also the education of the Somalis. A report by Amnesty International states that, “in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, many schools have closed down as students and teachers fear being injured and killed on their way to school.” These indiscriminate killings by forces on both sides will lead to the further destruction of the country and its future. The Somalis need to continue their education in order to push the country towards a better path.

The topic of child soldiers has gained popularity in the last few years due to campaigns such as “Kony 2012.” The use of child soldiers is not limited to Uganda, however, and Somalia is a prime example of the horrible atrocities that occur while using them. According to a January 2013 Human Rights Watch report, “al-Shabaab has increasingly targeted children for recruitment, forced marriage, and rape, and has attacked teachers and schools.”

However, government forces have also used child soldiers, as described later in the same article. “In July 2012, the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] signed a plan of action against child recruitment; yet the same month, 15 children were identified among a group of new recruits sent to a European Union-funded training in Uganda.” Abuses are occurring on on both sides of the conflict, and further action may need to be taken by outside parties.

The problems with human rights violations occurring in Somalia do not seem to be getting any better. Unfortunately, humanitarian access to those who need aid is limited at the moment because of restrictions from allies to the conflict, diversion of aid and insecurity. The few humanitarian workers still in the country are being targeted, further limiting access to much needed aid.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Global Post

china's soldiers
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the largest army in the world, recently released a report on the physical well-being of its troops. The study, published in the PLA’s official newspaper, reported that China’s soldiers have gotten physically bigger in recent years, growing .8 inches taller and two inches larger around the waist in the last 20 years.

While this increase in size has caused some problems with army equipment, experts are celebrating the news and attributing better nutrition in China for the growth.

Malnutrition has long been a problem in China, especially in rural areas. Poor Chinese soldiers were traditionally more likely to be malnourished and underweight. As China modernized, so did its military, which was forced to design its own military technology due to trade sanctions.

The equipment created during this period, however, is based on a now-outdated body type. Rifle butts are proving too short for soldier’s arms; tanks are becoming more crowded by the bigger average bodies of soldiers.

The United States military is experiencing similar problems, but it is largely due to higher obesity rates.

The size increase in both the U.S. and China is related to development. As China has modernized and become a wealthier nation, the Chinese population, including China’s soldiers, have become more nourished. In the case of the U.S., as nations move from middle-income to high-income status, obesity rates tend to increase.

Experts warn that as the nation continues to develop, China may be headed on the path towards an obesity problem.

According to the World Health Organization, only 5 percent of Chinese people are obese, but that figure can jump to 20 percent in certain parts of the country. Furthermore, 45 percent of Chinese men and 32 percent of women are overweight.

Youth in urban areas are those particularly represented in the increased obesity rates, with wealthier people having higher obesity rates than those with less money. This economic link to obesity is the opposite of many nations such as the U.S.

Along with greater wealth, access to fast food and better nutrition, placing less emphasis on physical activities starting in childhood is contributing to the average size increase of Chinese people.

Athena Foong of University of Southern California’s Institute for Global Health explains, “The only way people look at the way you advance in life [in China] is getting a better education so you can get a better job, and sports is not considered a job.”

Despite rising obesity rates, many Chinese people are also still going hungry. In China, there are roughly 12.7 million children with stunted physical growth caused by chronic nutritional deficiency in the first 1,000 days of life. In low-income, rural parts of the country, 10 percent of children under the age of 5 have stunted growth.

While these figures are concerning, they have also been steadily declining in recent decades. In 1987, 22 percent of Chinese people were underweight. This number decreased to 12 percent by 1992.

Improvements in the health of Chinese people have many causes including economic advances, better access to clean water, increased distribution of food and better health facilities and resources.

China’s rapid development has brought better health and nutrition to its populace, but as long as childhood malnutrition and obesity rates persist and rise, the nation will be combating development-related public health issues.

– Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: The Washington Post, Telegraph, UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization, US-China Today, National Geographic, Financial Times
Photo: Growing Taller

These three African men have used their horrific childhoods as fuel for activism to heal and prevent the abuse of future children.

Ishmael Beah – Author and UN Ambassador

During Sierra Leone’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002, 12-year-old Beah became separated from his family and wandered the country with a group of other children. The group stumbled across a battalion of anti-rebel soldiers and the children were taken in and taught to kill.

Beah was rescued by UNICEF after living as a soldier for two years, and was taken to a rehab center where he struggled for eight months to remember who he was before the war. When he was 17, Beah was adopted by a member of UNICEF as a means to get out of Sierra Leone and attend school.

It was during his time at Oberlin College in Ohio that he wrote “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” which Beah claims he never meant to publish, but wrote to “find a way to give the human context that was missing in the way the issue of child soldiers were discussed.” His book has become a best-seller, and Beah has recently released his second book, “Radiance of Tomorrow.”

Beah is now a UN ambassador for children affected by war, and he travels with UNICEF to work with former-child soldiers. He remembers what it was like to suddenly find himself expected to be a kid again, and he wants former child-soldiers to know that they have options – that they can choose to live a life devoid of war.

Ricky Anywar Richard – Founder of Friends of Orphans (FRO)

At 14, Ricky was forced to watch as his entire family was corralled into their house, locked in, and burned alive. He was then bound into a service of slavery for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of northern Uganda where he regularly witnessed torture, rape, and murder.

He was one of the few who managed to escape and, after obtaining his degree, he set up Friends of Orphans (FRO), an organization that works to reintegrate former child-soldiers back into village life and provide them with the therapy and education necessary to become peaceful members of society. So far, the organization has helped 25,000 children attend school and learn a trade.

The organization also educates those with HIV/AIDs on how to deal with their disease and prevent further transmission. They have distributed over 100,000 condoms since beginning the program.

FRO has been awarded the John Templeton Foundation ‘Freedom Award’ and Ricky was awarded the ‘World of Children Humanitarian Award’ for his tireless work to provide a life for those who’ve had theirs stolen by war.

Emmanuel Jal – Musician, Activist & Founder of Gua Africa

Growing up in south Sudan, Jal was 7 when his father left to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), his mother was killed by soldiers and he saw his aunt raped. He was promised an education in Ethiopia as part of a group of kids, but upon arrival they were forced to become soldiers of the SPLA.

After nearly five years living as a soldier, Jal was rescued by British aid worker Emma McCune, who smuggled him into Kenya. When McCune was killed, Jal completed his education and now makes it his life’s work to share his story and is an advocate for the Make Poverty History campaign, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the Control Arms campaign.

Jal has made a name for himself as a recording artist, releasing the album ‘War Child’ as well as a film and autobiographical book both under the same name. He travels the world speaking on the global issues that have played a hand in his life, and he’s most recently appeared at the TED Global Conference in Oxford.

Jal stresses that education is the only way to move forward and prevent further genocides, and has founded Gua Africa, a foundation to educate children. After being disappointed with the level of donations he recently embarked to eat only one meal a day, something he says is regular for the people in his country, and he donates the unspent money to his own organization.

-Lydia Caswell

Sources: CNN, Gariwo , Friends of Orphans , Huffington Post , Emmanuel Jal, Gua Africa
Photo: Tallawah Magazine