Mongolia's Childbirth PracticesIn recent years, the nomadic population of Mongolia has seen negative impacts from environmental changes. Extreme winters have killed off much of their livestock, resulting in widespread food insecurity. As younger generations become less interested in agricultural jobs, fewer opportunities lie in the rural region of Mongolia. Due to these factors, healthcare accessibility has become limited. Healthcare has affected Mongolia’s childbirth practices significantly. However, improvements in healthcare are on the horizon for Mongolia’s people. In recent years, Rotary Club member Julie Dockrill has trained mothers and healthcare providers in Mongolia, improving education regarding childbirth. Dockrill’s work is critical for women living without access to hospitals. With progress such as Dockrill’s education initiative, maternal and infant mortality rates are beginning to decrease.

Poverty in Mongolia

Mongolia has made significant economic and social improvements over the past few decades. Since 1991, its GDP tripled and the maternal death rate decreased by 87%. Poverty reduction rates vary widely across the country, with rural areas seeing the greatest change. From 2016 to 2018, poverty declined by 5%, whereas urban areas remained unchanged. This is due to increased prices for livestock and no wage growth in urban areas. Cities have also faced heavy air pollution and tripled rates of respiratory illnesses over the last 10 years.

Additionally, COVID-19 has posed a major risk for Mongolian citizens. Overall, the pandemic caused the economy to shrink by 7%. Other factors that worsen poverty are extreme weather conditions, lack of sanitation and food insecurity. With a small population of 3 million, those living as nomads face great difficulty accessing healthcare and other services.

The History of Mongolian Nomads

Nomadic herders make up 25% of the Mongolian population. Nomads live in traditional Mongolian housing districts called gers — portable round tents. These gers exist all over the plains and mountains of Mongolia. However, environmental challenges have hit these gers harshly. The average temperature since 1940 has risen 2.2 degrees Celsius, which is significantly greater than the world average temperature change of 0.85 degrees Celsius. There is also less rain, making ponds and rivers dry up. Herds of livestock and horses have a difficult time finding water and cooling off in the warmer months, because of their thick fur that keeps them warm in -40 degree Celsius winters. Consequently, cities draw young adults away from nomadic life, with easier access to healthcare and education.

Mongolia’s Childbirth Practices

In rural areas, limited access to hospitals and doctors makes childbirth risky. In 1995, the U.S. State Department sponsored a medical team from Tripler Army Medical Center to a hospital in Mongolia for training. They observed dim lighting, physicians reusing gloves and aprons between patients, limited supplies of IV fluids and use of anesthesia without proper safety checks. There was also almost no equipment for natal care and mothers after giving birth.

As a result, many women in the 1990s gave birth at home, which had the potential to be traumatizing if they had a difficult labor. Since then, there have been significant improvements in Mongolia’s childbirth practices. The Mongolian government began reform movements that opened maternity waiting homes across the country. Expecting mothers from nomadic areas can visit these facilities if their pregnancy is high-risk. This way, women can be closer to hospitals in case of an emergency. It is now standard for healthcare providers to encourage women to visit one of the prenatal clinics two weeks before their due date. Online information and telehealth also provide access to reproductive health information. Success is evident. From 1990 to 2019, infant mortality rates have decreased from 77 per 1,000 births to 13.4 deaths.

The Rotary Club’s Work

Julie Dockrill is a midwife and childbirth educator from New Zealand. In 2013, the Rotary Club of Waimate asked if she could join them in a project training medical workers to improve childbirth practices in Mongolia. A major thing she noticed was that mothers only received basic care information. Thus, Dockrill held training classes for pregnant women using baby dolls and anatomical models, expanding on the knowledge displayed in traditional pamphlets.

In Mongolia, people often treat labor as a quick process, which can lead to complications. Dockrill explained to her training class that medical professionals should not rush labor and that they should treat the procedure with care. The class led to immense success, influencing the Rotary team and Dockrill to continue through 2015 and 2016. Additional phases of the project included a Mongolian midwife shadowing Dockrill in New Zealand, training over 300 healthcare workers in Mongolia and bringing medical supplies.

In 2018, the team returned to Mongolia to provide healthcare and education to rural communities. Dockrill also wrote an updated training manual that covered immunizations, pain relief, diet and doctoral instructions. As a result, the Mongolian Ministry of Health endorsed and adopted the manual. In 2019, Nepal adopted the text as well. Mothers must now take childbirth education classes and receive more advanced resources for childbirth services.

The Future for Mongolia

Mongolia’s reduction of maternal and infant mortality rates over the last 30 years has led to decreased poverty rates in the country. One of the major steps to reducing poverty currently in place is focusing on the rural communities of Mongolia. Access to healthcare is one of the main ways to improve Mongolia’s childbirth practices. With progress like Dockrill’s work and the Tripler Army Medical Center, further progress in eliminating poverty is clearly in motion.

– Madeleine Proffer
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

Eliminating Childhood Poverty
Compassion International is a child-advocacy ministry that pairs people with children living in areas of extreme poverty in order to release those children from all of poverty’s aspects. What makes the organization so unique is its strict focus on children, with the hopes of eliminating poverty in their lives by the time they reach adulthood. Its impact has been massive with a high success rate: children in its programs are 75% more likely to become leaders in their communities and 40% more likely to finish secondary education. Moreover, they are more likely to spend thousands of hours in safe programs. The organization that is garnering recent attention from professional athletes has been working toward eliminating childhood poverty for years.

How Compassion International Began

Rev. Everett Swanson founded Compassion International. He was troubled by the masses of war orphans he saw living on the streets in South Korea. Another morning, Rev. Swanson saw city workers throwing rags into the backs of trucks, which turned out to be the frozen bodies of the orphans on the street. When Rev. Swanson returned to the United States, he told people of what he saw and encouraged them to donate so they could sponsor the orphans and work toward eliminating childhood poverty. Within 10 years, Compassion International helped 108 orphanages and homes in South Korea by donating funds to purchase rice and fuel.

Compassion International’s Mission

The nonprofit uses a ministry-based program in order to release children from poverty. This includes helping with child development, which the organization believes will provide the children with the skills to succeed. Compassion International’s programs begin as early as when the child is in the womb, aiming to eradicate poverty from their lives by young adulthood. Primarily, the work it does is through child sponsorship, but it has implemented initiatives that help babies and mothers in order to develop future leaders and meet critical needs as well.

The Fill the Stadium Initiative

Compassion International works with thousands of churches in 25 countries across the globe. One initiative it is running in the United States currently is the Fill the Stadium initiative. Due to COVID-19, 70,000 children and their families who are in Compassion Programs are in extreme poverty. Athletes such as Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum and Jaccob Slavin have donated and joined the leadership team, encouraging fans to donate if able. The recommended donation amount is $500, around the same price as a game-day experience for a group of four. About $500 provides a year’s worth of essential food, nutritional supplements, hygiene essentials and medical screenings for COVID-19 for a family and their children. So far, the Fill the Stadium Initiative has “filled” 47,587 seats to provide essential care and support for these families in crisis, raising $23 million from athletes and national leaders. Due to COVID-19, a halt to in-person sporting events has occurred. The hope is that the money a family would spend on a game would go toward those in need instead.

Former Quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals and team member for the initiative, Carson Palmer pledged to donate $300,000 and challenged others to match his donation. “This is an incredible opportunity for American families to help children who are in dire straits and truly fighting for their lives,” said Palmer in an interview with Fill the Stadium.

A Look into Compassion International’s Impact

In 2020, Compassion International surpassed $1 billion for the first time in the history of the ministry. That year alone, Compassion International served 2.2 million children across 8,000 frontline partners. Since 1952, the sponsorship programs have impacted the lives of over 4.2 million children.

Because of the work of Compassion International, partners across the world have obtained access to hygiene kits, lifesaving surgeries, academic scholarships, classes, bathrooms, emergency food and water, electricity and countless other life-saving services. The organization will continue to strive toward eliminating childhood poverty, and especially aiding children the pandemic has hit hard.

– Jai Phillips
Photo: Flickr

Sugira MuryangoAround the world, the effects of poverty negatively impact childhood development in more than 200 million children. Child development outcomes play a key part in a country’s advancement and the state of the economy. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “Children living in compounded adversity face increased risks of poor child development outcomes and emotional and behavioral problems that can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and violence.” However, in 2016, the implementation of an innovative home-visiting intervention program in Rwanda called Sugira Muryango is fighting to break these cycles.

Violence and Intergenerational Poverty

In past studies, social programs aimed toward child development have been more focused on mothers of the households. However, the developers of Sugira Muryango (researchers at Boston College’s School of Social Work and the nonprofit FXB Rwanda) chose to implement this program to focus more on the father’s role within the household and child’s life.

Rwanda is a key place to evaluate this program due to the persistent household violence and gender roles within Rwandan society. Traditionally, Rwandan society has held few expectations for fathers within the household. However, a positive male figure plays an important role in a child’s developmental outcomes.

The data of some surveys taken in Rwanda by Promundo and the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre on masculinity and gender-based violence convey shocking truths. The surveys reported that 73% of men and 82% of women agreed with the statement, “a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home” and 44% of men and 54% of women agreed that “a woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together.” Lastly, 45% of men saw their dads beat their moms in childhood and 38% of those men became violent toward their own partners in adulthood. Men who witnessed violence at home as children were more likely to perpetuate it, indicating that children emulate behavior, both positive and negative.

Methods Used in the Sugira Muryango Program

As a response to this violence, Sugira Muryango was implemented as a home-visiting intervention program that targets the poorest households with young children (aged between 6 months and 26 months) in Rwanda. The program offers coaching to caregivers of the household in order to teach parents, specifically fathers, positive caregiving practices, nutrition skills, hygiene skills and basic involvement.

The program uses methods of home visits and caregiving coaching in order to improve family relations. The family-based model aims to encourage responsive and positive interactions as well as discourage violence and harsh punishment. In providing this coaching through these methods, it is possible to improve not only parent-child relations but also child development outcomes. With these improved outcomes, Rwanda should see improvements as the children reach adulthood and in breaking the cyclical poverty which should then improve Rwanda’s general development as a country. 

The Impacts of the Program in Rwanda

Not only did the results of the program aid in the decrease of violence within Rwandan homes but it also helped improve mental health rates among Rwandan fathers. Furthermore, reports indicate changes in parents’ behaviors towards the child, including responsive care and play, dietary diversity, care-seeking for child health problems and reduced family violence.

Potential Global Impacts

The Sugira Muryango program is playing an important role in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty within Rwanda. Although the lasting effects of this program need to be studied as the children grow, the immediate effects have aided in reducing violence and improving family relationships. If integrated into other low to middle-income communities and countries, the overall effects should be promising in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty on a global scale.

– Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

The United Kingdom is known for being a popular city for tourists with sites, such as Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace. However, what may not be as well-known is the fact that the UK struggles with a significant class difference. It has an ever-widening gap between the poor and the affluent, which leads to high rates of poverty in the UK, specifically for children.

Child Poverty

Child poverty is one of the most notable effects of overall poverty in the UK. This poverty crisis struck Britain hard in 1999. Its child poverty proportion became the highest out of all of the western European countries.

In 2016-17, poverty impacted nearly 30% of children — 4.1 million — in the UK. In the following year — 2018-19, the number of children in poverty in the UK increased by 100,000. The trend is on an upward spike rather than its 2003 downward rate when child poverty was made a priority. Poverty in the UK needs to be addressed, especially among the youth. It leads to increased hardships in life from education to mental and physical health to employment and so much more.

Use of the Film Industry

Films produce major results in ending poverty. The film industry has positively impacted poverty in the UK in many ways. For one, the film industry creates many job opportunities. In 2009, the core UK film industry created or impacted nearly 100,000 jobs relating to film production, sales and tourism. Furthermore, portrayals of the UK in films contribute heavily to tourism and yearly account for about £1.9 billion. That brings the total UK film industry contribution in 2009 to raising the GDP by more than £4.5 billion.

The improved economy can be a promising solution for aiding the UK’s children out of poverty. The country can use the funds to help out the struggling citizens, focusing specifically on the poor. In this way, films pose as a promising solution for poverty aid in other countries as well.

“Poor Kids”

The amount of money and the impact the film industry has on the UK is astounding and a promising solution for poverty. However, the impact one film made for children in poverty is even more remarkable.

The film, “Poor Kids,” has made great strides toward improving the lives of impoverished UK children. The film illustrates the living situations of three families in poverty through the lens of the children. Courtney (age 8), Paige (age 10) and Sam (age 11) give detailed and heart-wrenching accounts of their experiences growing up in poverty. The film received much acclaim. It was a Broadcast Best Documentary Nominee, a Learning on Screen Nominee, a Televisual Bulldog Best Documentary Nominee and received the Chicago Film Festival Gold Plaque for Social and Political Documentary in 2012.

Films awards aside, “Poor Kids” sparked change in the community. Make Lunch is a program that began after Poor Kids debuted as a direct result of the film. The program contributes free meals to children during the times when school is not in session and when children could potentially go for a long period without food. In the summer of 2012, as many as 13 lunch kitchens were providing the free lunches.

And That’s A Wrap

The effects of poverty in the UK are prevalent, notably in the large number of impoverished children. The worsening situation provides a sense of sorrow to the country, but a solution presents itself. Films not only contribute to the wealth of a country, but they provide jobs as well. Both of these aspects could be potential resources to utilize when fighting poverty.

Additionally, films bring about emotion, and that creates change. The inspiration that “Poor Kids” ignited contributed to a charity that helps the children in poverty. With results, such as the Make Lunch program, films can yield great benefits for poverty in the UK and the world.

Hailee Shores
Photo: Flickr

human milk banksBreastfeeding is the most effective way to maximize infant health and provide the best possible start in life for babies, showing that the common phrase ‘breast is best’ rings true. Not only is breast milk the ideal food for infants but it is also the number one way to ensure their health and survival. Human milk banks allow infants access to neccesary breast milk.

Why Breast is Best

Breast milk provides all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs during the first months of its life, including important antibodies that can help fight many deadly childhood diseases like acute respiratory infections and diarrhea. Additionally, the preparation of breast milk does not require access to clean water or sanitation (unlike formula) and is cost-free and widely accessible for parents. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued supplementation until 2 years of age. All the benefits of breastfeeding pay off as children who are breastfed have more than six times the chance at surviving than non-breastfed children. They often score higher on intelligence tests, maintain healthier weights and get sick less. In fact, successful breastfeeding of children aged 0-2 has the potential to prevent 13% of all childhood deaths under 5 years old in countries experiencing extreme poverty.

Trouble breastfeeding can be due to a wide range of problems, like cleft palate, low milk supply, trouble latching, malnutrition, disease or lack of support and counseling before, during and after pregnancy. In Kenya, 362 mothers die for every 100,000 live births, leaving many babies without easy access to breastmilk. When infants do not receive the nutrients they need, it is hard for them to survive and thrive.

Human Milk Banks

Human milk banks provide safe and lifesaving breast milk to babies who are unable to nurse from their own mothers. Generous donors provide the breast milk. The donors are screened, the donations are processed and pasteurized, and then, the lifesaving breast milk is redistributed to help babies in need. Children in this category include prematurely born infants, orphans or cases where a mother is unable to provide breast milk. This effective system makes sure that babies safely can get milk that will help them reach their potential. WHO recommends that in cases where babies are unable to nurse from their mothers, donor milk can be utilized, indicating that donated breast milk is safe and effective for babies who need it.

The Pumwani Maternity Hospital

The Technical Working Group decided on Pumwani Maternity Hospital as the first to provide Kenya with a breast milk bank. This hospital is innovative in terms of neonatal care, promoting skin-to-skin (Kangaroo Mother Care) contact, and providing breastfeeding education to parents. In Kenya, the rate of acceptance for breastfeeding is low. One concern with this project was whether mothers would consider breast milk donation an option. Luckily, researchers from PATH have reported that locals are warming up to the idea of the bank, which bodes well for the future of the program.

As of October 2019, the Pumwani Maternity Hospital reported delivering lifesaving breast milk from over 400 donors to 75 infants, a marked success. As a result, the Ministry of Health (MOH) included a recommendation for donated human breast milk to Kenya’s newborn care guidelines. Annually, donor milk has the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve widespread access to breast milk for all infants, Pumwani Maternity Hospital is a great example of what can be accomplished with human breast milk banks.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Christian Organizations Making a DifferenceMany faith-based organizations are committed to enacting humanitarian work throughout the world. Following the example of Jesus Christ, Christians commit themselves to assisting the most vulnerable populations around the globe. Historically, Christians have helped people around the world who need humanitarian aid and are often forgotten by mainstream organizations. Here are three Christian organizations making a difference to know about.

Three Christian Organizations Making A Difference

  1. Compassion International: Established in 1952, Compassion International is a Christ-centered organization whose main objective is to assist vulnerable children in need. According to its website, this organization takes a “holistic approach to child development” by assisting impoverished children in a variety of areas, from spiritual to economic development. The organization does not view child development as an instantaneous solution but rather a long-term commitment that requires perseverance. Compassion International works with “local churches in 25 countries around the world” to complete its work. It also founded the Child Sponsor Program, allowing donors to sponsor a child for $38 a month. Even such a small donation makes a huge difference in a child’s life thanks to Compassion International. Children supported by the program “are up to 75% more likely to become leaders in their communities” and around 80% are “more likely to graduate college.” In 2019, the sponsorship program connected 2.1 million children with sponsors. This hands-on assistance gives children hope for a future beyond their current circumstances.
  2. Samaritan’s Purse: Inspired by Jesus’ parable about the good Samaritan, Samaritan’s Purse is committed to assisting the poor, sick and suffering around the world. The organization effects change through the broad range of ministry projects that it conducts. Specifically, through its International Crisis Response, Samaritan’s Purse assists people impacted by natural disasters. This program provides food kits and installs community filtration systems to people in need. Crucially, these filtration systems can impact up to 2,500 people, by purifying up to 10,000 gallons of water. The organization also equips these impacted communities with medical teams and transitional shelters. Individuals may work with Samaritan’s Purse through hands-on volunteering or by creating a fundraising campaign.
  3. Cure International: Founded in 1986 by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harrison, Cure International bases its organization on Jesus’ teaching that the last will be the first. The organization dedicates its work to healing children with disabilities, whose home countries often treat them as the “last.” Cure International established its first hospital in Kenya in 1996, and since then it has established a presence in 14 more countries around the world. These “hospitals have performed more than 213,800 procedures” to treat disorders, such as clubfoot and spina bifida. Anyone can contribute to support Cure International and its work by donating just $39 a month.

These three Christian organizations exemplify the Bible quote, “Faith without works is dead.” As such, these Christian organizations making a difference demonstrate the significant impact that comes from putting one’s faith into action.

Kira Lucas
Photo: Flickr

Project PrakashMore than one million children in developing countries are blind. The majority of these children live in rural India, where more than six million people are blind. However, most hospitals in India do not possess specialty care for children who are blind. For children who do have access to special services, transportation acts as a significant obstacle to getting treatment. Many rural children also often do not know that their condition is reversible and cannot afford treatment. Pawan Sinha, a professor at M.I.T. and a father himself, hypothesized that most of the children suffering could have their vision restored. He founded Project Prakash to make his idea into a reality.

Blindness and Poverty

In rural areas, a lack of knowledge about blindness means that blind children are often subject to lifelong stigma. Some people, for example, may believe that blind children possess demons. Parents often turn to someone who is not in the medical field to perform a ritual to rid them of their evil spirits.

Importantly, if children do not receive medical treatment early on, their condition can get worse with age. This deprives them of education and puts them at a higher risk of dying young. Furthermore, blind girls often face a high risk of sexual abuse. Blind children in rural India may also never have the opportunity to escape poverty, as they are unlikely to find future job opportunities if they reach adulthood.

Project Prakash: A Solution

Project Prakash provides free treatment to any child who needs it. It operates in many hospitals throughout India to provide non-surgical intervention for blind children. This type of treatment may include glasses or an eye patch. For children who do require surgical treatment, the organization works with the Charity Eye Hospital in Delhi to treat cataracts, congenital infections and misaligned eyes. Most importantly, the entire process of treatment, transportation, hospital stay, surgery and recovery costs nothing for the child or their family.

Project Prakash’s work also extends beyond treatment itself. Instead of letting children go after they receive medical intervention, the organization helps them throughout the recovery process. Sinha understands that blind children regaining vision do not immediately have perfect sight; much like a baby, it is a process. Children’s vision is often blurred at first, and it takes time to make out finer details.

Over 40 weeks, children learn how to use their new sense through a variety of tests. The full scale of the tests range from the sensitivity of vision, shape matching, identifying different colors, detection of facial features and recognizing objects. Once the child can process multiple pieces of visual information at once, their vision improves.

Research

The effects of Project Prakash’s work go beyond the children themselves. The hospital where children receive surgery also operates as a research facility to study neurology and vision. By providing such an intensive process for children to learn how to use their vision, the organization can learn a lot about the brain’s ability to learn and adapt.

The organization’s findings challenge the theory developed by David H. Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel that the connection between brain stimulation and visual information forms during a particular developmental period. They theorized that if a child does not go through this stage, they will never be able to adapt later in life. However, Sinha proved that teenagers with various congenital conditions were able to recover their eyesight after never having seen before. He therefore determined that people learn to see through experience. This valuable information makes it more likely that other blind children can receive treatment, knowing that it will help them see no matter their age.

The Future of Project Prakash

Project Prakash’s mission may soon extend beyond blindness. Its research could provide insight into other developmental disorders caused by genetics or the harsh conditions of poverty. Overall, the organization’s findings open up the possibility that these factors’ negative effect on the brain may be reversible, like blindness.

So far, Project Prakash has treated 2,000 children in underserved communities in rural India. More than half have received surgical treatment to restore their vision. By doing so, the organization is helping children live longer, better lives with more opportunities for the future.

Zoe Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

hunger in malaysiaMalaysia is a small country located in Southeast Asia, known for its fast-growing economy and great ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. However, like many nations, Malaysian citizens face persistent challenges when it comes to issues of poverty: specifically hunger and malnourishment. Here are 7 facts about hunger in Malaysia.

7 Facts about Hunger in Malaysia

  1. Hunger Level: As recorded in the 2019 Global Hunger Index, out of the 117 qualifying countries Malaysia ranks 57thand endures a moderate hunger level.
  2. Malnourishment and Causes: Though Malaysia has been able to drastically reduce the country’s poverty rate, malnutrition is still a major issue in Malaysia. Malnutrition is an imbalance in a person’s energy or nutrient consumption. The condition is not always as obvious as one would presume. It is common in many South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures for daily diets to be quite starch-heavy; this is common as most of the meals consist of rice in some way. Though this allows people to feel full, a diet that is heavily reliant upon starch doesn’t include the nutrients needed for a truly healthy lifestyle. According to nutritionist André Rhoen, one possible solution is making healthy food more affordable to the underprivileged through food fortification.
  3. Child Hunger: Poverty and malnutrition in Malaysia have a severe long-term impact on children. 23% of children aged four are stunted, with 22% underweight and 32% wasting, or thinner than the average. In a study surveying 16 low-cost Public Housing Projects in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the research found that 22% of children under five experienced stunted growth, which is double the global rate.
  4. Poverty and Prices: Despite having a comparatively higher GDP to other nations struggling with hunger issues, the people in Malaysia experience higher rates of malnourishment and impaired growth. 12% of children in Malaysia eat fewer than three meals a day and 97% of households reported that they felt that the cost of food was too high and it hindered their ability to prepare healthy meals for their children.
  5. Fighting Hunger: Several Malaysian NGOs are doing the work to combat poverty and hunger in the country. One of these organizations is Rise Against Hunger Malaysia, which strives to provide food and aid to vulnerable communities in Malaysia. Since its inception in 1998, they have implemented many anti-hunger and anti-poverty initiatives. These include their meal packaging program and several sustainable community development projects. As of July 2020, they have packaged 12,866,000 meals in Malaysia. Furthermore, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals include a plan to eradicate hunger and poverty in countries such as Malaysia by the year 2030.
  6. Progress: Though these problems still exist, Malaysia has made a lot of progress in the last few decades. In 1970 half of all Malaysian households were poor; in just 15 years Malaysia more than halved the absolute poverty rate. This trend has managed to continue in the last few decades; only 5.1% of households were considered to be poor in 2002.
  7. The Lost Food Project: A major way Malaysia is slowly making progress regarding food poverty is through The Lost Food Project (TLFP). TLFP is working to build a sustainable future by “rescuing ‘lost’ food and finding it a new home with people who need it most” within the country. They are a volunteer-run organization that provides people in vulnerable communities in Malaysia with surplus food; their goal is not only eliminating hunger in Malaysia but putting an end to food waste as well.

Hunger and malnutrition are still major crises in Malaysia that disproportionately affect the poor: particularly children. However, despite these challenges, the country has done a remarkable job of increasing the standard of living for its citizens. With possible policy implementations such as universal childcare allowance and reassessing the Poverty Line Income, the future looks hopeful.

– Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Pixabay

Breaking the Poverty Cycle by Early Childhood Development

Insufficient early childhood development is an epidemic in the developing world. It is the engine that propels the cycle of poverty. According to the World Bank, 250 million children around the globe are at risk of not reaching their full potential due to poverty as well as physical and cognitive stunting. Of note, only half of all 3-to-6-year-olds around the world have access to primary school. The Global Partnership for Education reports that there are over 175 million children not enrolled in pre-primary education worldwide. When it comes to breaking the poverty cycle, early childhood development cannot be ignored.

According to a Wyoming Scholars Repository report, childhood poverty can change the structure of a developing brain, potentially impacting the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus and neurotransmitter. This means that a child’s attention, inhibition, emotional regulation, motivation, planning and decision-making skills are all at risk of not reaching their full potential. The same report found that low socioeconomic status is responsible for around 20 percent of the variance in childhood IQ.

Furthermore, according to the Childhood Poverty Policy and Research Centre, approximately 1 billion children will be growing up with stunted mental development by 2020. This is why early childhood development is the key to breaking the poverty cycle.

Two Components of Early Childhood Development

There are two main components of early childhood development that many impoverished children lack which are essential to brain development. The first is education and stimulation. According to UNICEF, early childhood education builds cognitive and language skills, increases social competence and supports emotional development. Early childhood stimulation and care boost the brain’s capacity to function by sparking neural connections across multiple regions of the brain. According to the World Bank, a 20-year study of children in Jamaica showed that early stimulation interventions for infants and toddlers increased their future earnings by 25 percent. In addition, a World Bank Group analysis in 12 countries found that children involved in early education are more likely to be employed in high-skill jobs as adults.

The second component is health and nutrition. Sufficient early childhood health begins with prenatal care. The Wyoming Scholars Repository reports that deficiencies in nutrients such as folate, choline, B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and iron are commonly noted in pregnant women living in poverty. These deficiencies can increase the risk of defects such as oral-facial clefts, spina bifida and stunting in eye and brain development.

According to the Childhood Poverty Policy and Research Centre, childhood malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies also increase a child’s vulnerability to diseases both in childhood and adulthood, which greatly decreases the likelihood of breaking the poverty cycle. Some gains can be made in adulthood to combat the consequences of insufficient early childhood development, but many effects, especially those related to cognitive development, are irreversible. Mitigating the stunting of children in poverty is crucial to reducing global poverty. According to the World Bank, children in a long-term study in Guatemala who suffered from stunting were much more likely to break the poverty cycle and earned up to 50 percent higher wages in adulthood.

Economic Benefits of Early Childhood Development

Research shows that investing in early childhood development has economic benefits at an individual and societal level. A RAND Corporation analysis found that targeted early interventions like education, health services, parent skill training and child abuse recognition create positive economic and societal outcomes such as:

  • Improvements in educational process and outcomes for the child
  • Increased economic self-sufficiency, initially for the parent and later for the child, through greater labor force participation, higher income and lower welfare usage
  • Reduced criminal activity
  • Improvements in health-related indicators, such as child abuse, maternal reproductive health and maternal substance abuse

Early childhood development proves to be a cost-efficient investment. According to the World Bank, for every $1 invested, there is a return of between $6 and $17. A report conducted by the Copenhagen Consensus and the Indian Consensus Prioritization Project found that implementing cash incentives to increase enrollment in pre-school education and passing policies to improve the quality of pre-school both show positive benefit-to-cost ratios.

Liberia is a good example of a country that has taken notice of the value of the investment in early childhood development.

In 2010, Liberia’s Ministry of Education implemented the Education Sector Plan for 2010-2020 with a grant from the Global Partnership for Education. The plan committed to cross-sectoral efforts around early childhood development and the expansion of access to pre-primary education. In 2011 the government established the Bureau for Early Childhood Education and approved its National Inter-Sectoral Policy on Early Childhood Development.

However, according to the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Early Childhood Development Community Education and Awareness Programme (ECDCEAP) passed in 2012 has been the most effective in raising awareness about the importance of early childhood development. The program trains mental health professionals, pre-school teachers on childhood development knowledge and health workers and midwives to provide proper support to pregnant women and new mothers. There has yet to be a formal analysis of the ECDCEAP. However, the Bernard van Leer Foundation states that anecdotal evidence suggests an improvement in the comprehension and action surrounding early childhood development.

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a non-governmental organization that focuses on bringing education and early childhood development to the developing world. The organization has invested $270 million in early childhood education in 35 countries and two-thirds of the organization’s grants in 2018 included support for early childhood care and education. According to a GPE report, enrollment in pre-primary education doubled from 2002 to 2016 in the countries partnering with the organization.

Early childhood development is the key to breaking the poverty cycle. It gets the root cause of poverty’s cyclical behavior. Although organizations like The Global Partnership for Education are making large strides, early childhood development is not as recognized as it should be for reducing poverty. According to the same GPE report, 40 percent of countries with data allocate less than 2 percent of their education budget to early childhood education and less than one percent of global aid is invested in pre-primary education. To end the cycle of poverty, early childhood development needs to move up the hierarchy of foreign aid, government expenditure and international focus.

Zach Brown
Photo: Flickr