Information and stories addressing children.

Sabee AppNearly 200 million people currently live in Nigeria. Out of all the children in the world who are not attending school, one in five of those children live in Nigeria. The statistics of education in Nigeria paint a bleak picture as only 61% of children aged 6-11 attend primary school on a regular basis. Furthermore, in 2018, only 20% of Nigerian adults who finished primary school were literate. However, Nigeria might be turning the corner in education as many educational tech startups focus on facilitating education in Nigeria. Facebook is the latest company to invest in the development of Nigerian education through the Sabee app.

Education in Nigeria

At the moment, Nigeria’s education system suffers from a severe lack of funding. In 2020, Nigeria dedicated only 6.7% of its annual budget to education even though UNESCO recommends that a government should allocate a minimum of 15% of the annual budget toward education. Therefore, Nigeria allocates far less than is recommended.

Although education is free in Nigeria, Nigerian public schools do not have many teachers. In some regions, the teacher-to-student ratio is an astounding 1:73. The schools also lack the vital resources needed to learn and lack quality and clean facilities. There is also insufficient training for teachers in schools. The government does not have established guidelines for hiring teachers, leaving students with inadequately trained instructors. Unqualified staff means the quality of learning severely decreases.

Lastly, terrorism has impacted the learning ability of Nigerian students. Due to the Boko Haram group terrorizing the northern parts of the country, less than half of female students in Northern Nigeria attend school. Furthermore, the ongoing violence has left many schools damaged and destroyed.

The History of the Sabee App

Sabee is an educational app that “aims to connect learners and teachers in online communities to make educational opportunities more accessible.” Facebook aims to develop Sabee as a part of its long-term investment strategy in Africa. Since most people will live in urbanized areas by 2030, and with Africa’s population rising fast, Facebook wants to establish a market in the African region. The platform particularly focuses on Nigeria. This decision is based on studies that estimate that Nigeria will become the second-most populated country by the turn of the century.

The Nigerian word “sabi,” which means “to know,” is the inspiration behind the app’s name, Sabee. The Sabee app will increase access to educational opportunities and bridge the literacy gap in Nigeria. With COVID-19 still affecting many parts of the world without vaccine access, the Sabee app will help many gain access to education remotely. In addition, the Sabee app seeks to address the poor literacy rates of Nigerian women and girls.

Development and Implementation of Sabee

Currently, more than 100 million Nigerians have access to the internet and more than 95% of internet users utilize mobile broadband data. Additionally, 250,000 new internet users in Nigeria were online by the end of 2019. Facebook aims to ensure Sabee works with 2G networks to make it accessible to more people, even those with less advanced internet connections.

As of now, the app is in the testing phase, “with fewer than 100 testers” assessing the app. Facebook plans to develop the app further based on the testers’ feedback and implement another phase of testing before the close of 2021.

Several technology startups and companies such as Facebook are investing in improving the system of education in Nigeria. However, to make a lasting impact, Nigeria must dedicate more of its resources toward ensuring quality education for all youth.

– Matthew Port Louis
Photo:Flickr

Child poverty in ZimbabweThe COVID-19 pandemic tremendously affected the lives of children in Zimbabwe. From food and health insecurities to school shutdowns, the children of this nation are in an economic, health and educational crisis. According to the World Bank, in 2019, 38.3% of  Zimbabwe’s citizens lived in poverty. Moreover, since schools closed down in Zimbabwe due to COVID-19, only 27% of impoverished children continued to engage in education and learning. However, nonprofit organizations such as Makomborero and Save the Children are taking the initiative of tackling child poverty in Zimbabwe amid COVID-19. These nonprofits offer hope for positive change through their praiseworthy work.

Makomborero’s Work

Makomborero focuses on eradicating poverty in Zimbabwe. This organization specifically tailors toward the needs of Zimbabwean children. It allocates the necessary educational resources to enable students to achieve their educational goals and ultimately escape poverty. Makomborero, meaning “blessings” in Shona, provides girls with an opportunity to engage in a mentorship program. The organization also funds the education of 10 students every year through its scholarship program. Recently, the organization built a science laboratory for students. Children got to practice and apply what they learned in a modern lab.

Despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19, Makomborero successfully persevered. This nonprofit organization was able to lift children out of poverty in myriad ways. Makomborero’s team donated “backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, toiletries, stationery, hand sanitizer, masks, solar lamps and food packs” to students on March 20, 2021. Additionally, 80 girls were also given “sustainable sanitary wear” due to Makomborero’s outreach efforts. As of September 2020, the organization’s sponsored students were able to attend in-person classes, thus increasing access to and quality of education.

Save the Children’s Efforts

Save the Children is an international nonprofit organization focused on reducing child poverty in Zimbabwe and other nations amid COVID-19. The nonprofit provides both short-term and long-term solutions. It has served children in Zimbabwe since 1983 by addressing the urgent food, health and educational insecurities nationwide. For example, Save the Children constructed a family tracing and reunification program to ensure the safety of Zimbabwean children. Furthermore, its emergency response program provides highly effective emergency relief aid to all children in Zimbabwe.

In 2020 alone, Save the Children positively impacted the lives of 246,000 children by allocating educational, health and other necessary resources to lift them out of poverty. Moreover, the child sponsorship program attempts to decrease the number of children living in poverty, which is currently more than 3.8 million Zimbabwean children, according to Save the Children.

Positive Progression and Outcomes

Save the Children educated 82,000 Zimbabwean children and lifted 31,000 children from poverty, according to its recorded data from 2020.. In general, approximately one million children are sponsored by U.S. citizens alone through this child sponsorship program. The positive progression of lifting children out of poverty in Zimbabwe, especially amid COVID-19, translates over to the achievements of the Makomborero organization as well.

These organizations address the urgent short-term needs of children in Zimbabwe along with long-term endeavors. The organizations are succeeding in eradicating child poverty in Zimbabwe amid COVID-19. Nonprofit organizations such as Makomborero and Save the Children play essential roles in lifting children out of poverty in Zimbabwe. The positive progression of Zimbabwean children since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic continues because of the applaudable service of organizations.

– Nora Zaim-Sassi
Photo: Flickr

education for street kids in AfghanistanThe issue of providing quality education to children in Afghanistan persists. According to UNICEF, approximately 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are not in school, including more than two million girls. Afghan children face several barriers to education. These include “a shortage of schools and insufficient transportation” as well as a scarcity of qualified teachers. Only 48% of teachers possess the “minimum academic qualifications” to teach. For girls specifically, continued antiquated cultural practices, including child marriage in impoverished areas, continues to serve as a significant hurdle. Securing education for children in Afghanistan is important since education is a proven tool for breaking cycles of poverty. Furthermore, providing education for street kids in Afghanistan is especially important because these children are more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty.

The Plight of Street Children in Afghanistan

The term “street children” refers to children who live and/or work on the streets. In Afghanistan, the number of street kids is rising steadily, with at least 50,000 in the capital of Kabul. Endemic poverty and parental deaths caused by decades of war have forced many children into labor. Some of these children are as young as 3 years old. According to Mahboba’s Promise, an Australian aid organization, street children earn an average of less than $2 a day through menial jobs including collecting garbage and polishing shoes. These meager wages are barely enough to survive on. As such, working on the streets has become synonymous with malnutrition, illnesses and even sexual assault. Ensuring access to education for street kids in Afghanistan is paramount if Afghan children are to break free of cycles of abuse and poverty.

Organizations Providing Education for Street Kids in Afghanistan

While the current status of education in the country and the plight of its street kids is lamentable, the work of several organizations on the ground in providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan suggests that not all hope is lost.

  1. Mahboba’s Promise. Founded by Mahboba Rawi, an Afghan refugee, this organization is committed to rehabilitating street kids in Kabul by placing them in “safe houses.” The safe houses provide the children with well-balanced meals and teach fundamental subjects such as English, math and Islamic studies. Partnering with Architects Without Frontiers, Mahboba’s Promise successfully opened the Hope House in 2007. The Hope House is a shelter for women and children living in poverty that comes fully equipped for educational and recreational facilities while serving as an oasis of safety away from the turbulent streets of Kabul.
  2. Aschiana. Engineer Mohammed Yousef founded Aschiana in 1995. He was spurred to action after witnessing the harsh living and working conditions of street kids in Kabul. At its Day-Care Center, Aschiana provides basic education and vocational training for women and children while offering art-based therapy to help children who may have been traumatized by war, among other initiatives. Aschiana also organizes “mobile library units” to improve literacy and arranges legal aid for children charged with crimes. Today, Aschiana operates in seven provinces in Afghanistan and has impacted the lives of more than 150,000 women and children.
  3. The Noor Foundation. Founder Noor Ramazan was once an Afghan street kid himself. However, he broke free from his family’s cycle of poverty and became a successful businessman. He opened a tour guide service, Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan, in 2015. Recognizing the importance of providing an education for street kids in Afghanistan, Ramazan founded The Noor Foundation early in 2021 with the hope of saving street kids in Mazar-i-Sharif from the fate he managed to escape. At present, Ramazan is concurrently working on two projects. The first, Noor’s Nest, will be a shelter for about 30 street kids. It will have comfortable lodging facilities and staff to support the children’s educational and extracurricular endeavors in a “family-type setting.” The other project, The Noor School, will accommodate up to 200 children. Street kids will receive free tuition and priority access. Ramazan intends to start constructing the school by 2022 and has obtained financial support from 264 Education, a German NGO that reached out to Ramazan after hearing about his aspirations through the popular YouTube channel, Yes Theory.

Looking Ahead

Both local and international organizations have managed to make inroads concerning education in Afghanistan. However, the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country threatens to undermine current and future progress. As the Taliban expands control of the country due to the power vacuum created by the United States, the future of education for Afghan children, especially girls, remains precarious. Without the continued provision of education for street kids in Afghanistan, there is a high risk of child recruitment by the Taliban. In a land rife with volatility and instability, prioritizing the education of children is imperative to equip Afghan children with the knowledge and tools to create a better and brighter future.

Vyas Nageswaran
Photo: Flickr

TrueheartMarried couple Amy and Scott Malin allow people to transform the lives of the poor with just one click. In late June 2021, the couple developed a search engine called Trueheart, enabling individuals to donate merely by surfing on the website. About 80% of the search engine’s proceeds go toward six major nonprofit companies including Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, 4 Paws for Ability, PFLAG National and the Variety Boys & Girls Club.

Why Amy and Scott Malin Created Trueheart

Amy and Scott Malin made it possible to search and donate with Trueheart so that anyone can make an impact worldwide. Because the couple values honesty, they have made a website where people can view what the donations go toward. Inspirational video and image content show the benefits of the proceeds. As a result, this encourages people to click and donate as the donors view the significant influence of others collaborating to change the world.

Also, according to Authority Magazine, Scott stated that he and his wife support utilizing technology in a positive way where people who care about improving society can join forces. In addition, Amy noted that helping the less fortunate is important to their family. For example, the couple helps people by aiding low-income households, donating food to the homeless, cheering up sick children and children without their parents over the holidays and more.

Trueheart’s Celebration

Look To The Stars also reported that, in celebration of Trueheart’s introduction, “Beverly Hills 90210” star and “The Masked Dancer” panel member Brian Austin Green and “Dancing With The Stars” expert performer Sharna Burgess will collaborate to present the #Search4Smiles promotion. This promotion will assist Smile Train in treating babies and kids with cleft lips globally. If this condition does not receive treatment, it can cause challenges with food consumption, breathing, listening and talking. Smile Train has helped to treat over 1.5 million kids with cleft lips worldwide for 21 years. Thus, since people can search and donate free with Trueheart, people can significantly reduce this condition’s global impact.

More About Smile Train

According to the Smile Train website, the company trains and funds healthcare practitioners in more than 70 nations worldwide to help cleft patients at no cost. Babies and children that have clefts require more than merely surgical procedures. It may also be crucial for them to receive help with eating, chewing and speaking. Smile Train provides services for children in low-income areas. For instance, the company’s surgeons can finish a surgery in less than an hour. In addition, dentists are available to provide tooth care for children with cleft lips. Smile Train also supports kids with cleft lips emotionally as the children tend to suffer from scarring, speech impediments, low self-confidence and more. Other celebrities that support the organization include Kylie Jenner, Karrueche Tran, Quincy Brown and Howie Mandel.

Helping People Made Simple

According to Amy Malin, people often think that if they do not have fame or money to spare, that they will not have a significant impact. With support from celebrities, she and Scott Malin have made it possible for anyone to search and donate free with Trueheart. As a final point, Amy stated that many people wish to help change the world and now people can, even in a small way, by clicking and searching on Trueheart via cellular devices, tablets and computers.

– Jannique McDonald
Photo: Flickr

help women in poverty Across the globe, poverty comes in different forms. Over the years, individuals and companies have developed products to help those in poverty. Since poverty disproportionately impacts women, several companies are inventing products that address the specific tribulations of women. Flo, Hemafuse, Embrace and fashionable iodine dots are inventions that aim to help impoverished women across the globe.

4 Empowering Inventions to Help Impoverished Women

  1. Flo: The Reusable Menstrual Kit. Flo is an inexpensive, reusable menstrual kit designed by Mariko Higaki Iwai. The discreet kit allows girls to “wash, dry and carry reusable sanitary pads.” In developing nations such as Kenya, female students miss about five days of education a month due to a lack of access to menstrual products to properly manage their periods. The Flo kit aims to reduce the risk of infections due to inadequate menstrual hygiene and address period poverty to keep girls in school. With girls able to consistently attend school, they are able to acquire the tools and knowledge to rise out of poverty.
  2. Hemafuse: The Blood Recycler. Hemafuse is an affordable syringe-like device that collects and filters blood that can then be used in a blood transfusion. Since developing nations lack a “reliable blood supply” for emergency blood transfusions, Hemafuse serves to reduce preventable deaths due to blood loss. Hemafuse is particularly valuable in “ruptured ectopic pregnancies,” a common occurrence in the developing world. During ectopic pregnancies, a woman “can lose half of her blood volume,” necessitating an emergency blood transfusion that Hemafuse can help facilitate in countries with limited resources. In this way, Hemafuse can save the lives of millions of impoverished women in lower-income countries.
  3. Embrace: The Portable Incubator. One of the leading causes of newborn death is unregulated body temperature, which can lead to a newborn death every 10 seconds. Incubators are designed to address this issue, however, high costs make incubators inaccessible to hospitals that cannot afford the technology. Embrace is an affordable, portable incubator that serves as an alternative to this necessity. The inexpensive incubator is reusable and “does not require stable electricity,” making it ideal for impoverished and remote hospitals with limited resources. The design also “allows for close mother-child interaction” as a mother can hold the newborn instead of placing the baby in a conventional incubator. Embrace has saved the lives of more than 350,000 babies and aims to continue this trend with the goal of saving “one million babies by 2026.” Overall, Embrace reduces mortality rates among children of impoverished women.
  4. Life-Saving Dots: Fashionable Iodine. In India, many women face iodine deficiencies due to a lack of trust in foreign medicine. As a result, “pregnancy complications and fibrocystic breast disease” are not uncommon. The life-saving dot functions not only as a source of iodine for women but also as a bindi. Without having to take medication, women can wear these iodine dots on their foreheads to supplement the nutrients they need to maintain good health.

Overall, these four innovations provide significant support for women in poverty. Through creative and innovative solutions, the world can see more progress in reducing global poverty.

– Maddie Rhodes
Photo: Flickr

Child marriage in MoroccoChild marriage in Morocco is still widely prevalent in 2021, though there are efforts to expand girls’ rights and empower women. A worldwide issue, child marriage is an issue Morocco has long struggled with because of various legal frameworks. But, there is hope for the country’s girls as activists and groups work to reform laws and curb child marriage in Morocco.

Child Marriage and Poverty

There are many reasons why child marriage in Morocco is so prevalent. Most significantly, it is a longstanding cultural tradition as well as a widespread practice in Islam. Once a girl starts menstruating, according to Moroccan society, she has reached “the marriageable age.” Additionally, girls in rural Morocco must preserve their virginity until they become wed. Since the act of reproduction is so signifcant, families marry off their daughters at early ages because it “allows young women to have more children than those married later.”

Child marriage also enforces economic and social stability as marriage comes with money, status and property. Often, these girls come from families suffering in poverty. Because girls get married off early, they miss out on educational opportunities, making them completely dependent on their husbands. Consequently, poverty and illiteracy are driving factors in the girls’ futures, exacerbating cycles of poverty even further.

Moudawana

According to Morocco World News, Morocco’s Family Code, also known as Moudawana, is the root of the problem in permitting child marriage. In 1958, Morocco established Moudawana, a traditional family law that permits practices such as “polygamy and forced marriage.” The traditional family law was the main legal framework responsible for legitimizing forced child marriage.

However, the Family Code was officially reformed in 2004 to raise the minimum marriageable age of girls to 18 and provide more rights to women in marriages. This includes rights to inheritance and the sharing of marital property. While the law still permits polygamy, it is legal only under strict conditions. Activist groups like the Moroccan Women’s Rights Movement have been advocating for these changes to allow more rights to women and girls. Nonetheless, challenges persist.

Looking at the Numbers

According to Reuters, 16% of Moroccan girls younger than the age of 18 marry illegally, despite the revised Family Code law prohibiting this. Since the 2004 reform, the number of underage marriages surged by almost 50% by 2016, though some activists claim this statistic should be higher. Families get around the Moudawana through loopholes in the law, allowing them to marry off their daughters at earlier ages. According to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, in 2019, 98% of requests for marriage to underage girls came from rural regions. This exemplifies the difference in ideology and practice between rural and urban areas as well as how circumstances of poverty increase the likelihood of child marriage.

Hope for the Future

Despite these statistics, there is hope for combating child marriage in Morocco. In 2020, the National Council for Human Rights and the United Nations Population Fund partnered for “a collaborative effort to end child marriage and promote sexual and reproductive health in Morocco.” Through education and awareness, the organizations’ joint missions will ensure poverty is alleviated alongside ending child marriage.

Additionally, the Moroccan organization called Droits & Justice is also working to end child marriage in the country. The organization launched the Combatting Underage Marriage through Legal Awareness (CUMLA) Project in 2014. The initiative educates young girls, parents and entire communities about the severe consequences of child marriage.

By partnering and collaborating with local associations, Droits & Justice hopes to increase local awareness and create large-scale change. With these methods, the organization is hoping to get closer to eradicating child marriage in Morocco. Droits & Justice “has succeeded in educating more than 500 women, including 250 underage girls.” The organization also helped with almost 30 child marriage cases.

Although child marriage has been a longstanding issue in Morocco, legal reform and the efforts of activist groups are encouraging. These are signs that Morocco is approaching a culture free of child marriage, and consequently, a future free of poverty.

– Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Unsplash

Child Poverty In SyriaFor the past decade, Syria has been the center of a brutal civil war. As a result, millions of Syrians face the everyday threats of violence, hunger and disease that wartime poverty brings about. Those most vulnerable to the effects of poverty include Syria’s children. A closer look at child poverty in Syria provides insight into the lives of Syrian children.

10 Facts About Child Poverty in Syria

  1. Roughly six million Syrian children rely on humanitarian assistance. Syrian children are among the most vulnerable groups in the Syrian civil war. The war has affected more than 11.1 million Syrians, almost half of whom are children.
  2. Children are unable to attend school. The civil war greatly fuels child poverty in Syria. As parents struggle to afford to send their children to school, many teachers are unpaid and destitute school buildings are collapsing. Nearly 2.5 million Syrian children are unable to attend school. This number does not include the 750,000 displaced Syrian children in nearby countries who also have no access to education. According to World Vision, the Syrian conflict has “reversed two decades of educational progress.”
  3. More than half of all Syrian children suffer from hunger. An estimated 60% of the nation’s children are suffering from hunger and 28% endure stunting as a consequence of malnutrition. The percentage of Syrian people suffering from food insecurity is currently the highest it has ever been since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. With 6.2 million children currently living in hunger, the numbers are only rising, having increased by roughly 35% from November 2020 to February 2021.
  4. Child labor is increasing. Faced with the threat of extreme child poverty in Syria, many school-aged boys drop out of school to support their families. These boys regularly work in unsafe situations for little pay. The research study “Survey on Child Labour in Agriculture in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon: The Case of Syrian Refugees” provides statistics on Syrian child labor. The 2019 study concluded that about 70% of Syrian refugee “children between 4 and 18 years old” were employed, “with an average age of 12.9 years.” Additionally, about 75% of these children worked in the agricultural sector. In this sector, about 30% of working children have experienced injuries.
  5. Boys are targets for child soldiers. As boys drop out of school to support their families, they are at higher risk of being recruited as child soldiers. With no income to provide for their children, many families resort to sending their young boys for training as child soldiers, believing that it is the best option. In 2021 alone, almost 840 children were recruited as child soldiers, among other roles, with 797 of these children being boys.
  6. Child marriage is rampant. Many families resort to child marriage to solve their economic situations. Sexual abuse of young girls also runs rampant in crowded refugee camps. Desperate to save their daughters from “child trafficking and sexual exploitation” and unable to economically provide for their children, many families arrange marriages for teenage girls. Out of girls aged 15-19, about 3.8% give birth every year.
  7. Weather has significant impacts. Millions of displaced and homeless children in Northwest Syria face brutal winters. Their only shelter from the harsh cold is often a tent or severely damaged and unsafe buildings that serve as emergency shelters. Roughly 75% of all Syrian children killed in 2020 came from this part of the country.
  8. COVID-19 exacerbates poverty: The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated child poverty in Syria. In addition to the 11.1 million Syrians already in need of urgent humanitarian aid, an additional 1.1 million Syrians have found themselves in poverty as a consequence of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also caused the gross domestic product to fall by up to 15% in the nation’s nearby countries, meaning that Syrian refugees seeking refuge in neighboring countries have fallen further into poverty.
  9. Infrastructure is failing. Only 53% of hospitals are currently in service, greatly adding to child poverty in Syria. Since the start of the war, more than 25,000 children have been killed, a number that is only increasing due to limited healthcare services and lack of access to clean water.
  10. Children are vulnerable to diseases. Poor sanitation caused by a lack of infrastructure, resources and clean water makes Syrian children vulnerable to cholera and other diarrheal diseases. The lack of accessible healthcare means many children miss their regular health checkups. Extremely cold weather in the northwest part of Syria also makes children susceptible to pneumonia.

Addressing Child Poverty in Syria

To address the issue of child poverty in Syria, UNICEF has sent humanitarian assistance on the ground. UNICEF’s efforts focus on children’s education, health and sanitation, among other goals. In 2020 alone, UNICEF “screened 2.6 million Syrian children and women for acute malnutrition,” improved water services for 3.2 million people and vaccinated roughly 2.6 million children against polio. UNICEF also “supported 2.2 million children with education services in formal settings.”

While the conflict in Syria continues, vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected. The efforts of UNICEF ensure the protection and well-being of millions of Syrian children, reducing child poverty in Syria.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Unsplash

Oral hygienePeople are often taught to brush and floss their teeth twice a day to prevent cavities or other oral diseases. Some estimates suggest that roughly 60-90% of children around the world and 100% of adults have cavities or another type of dental carie. These seemingly high rates of poor oral hygiene are present almost everywhere. The lack of market infrastructure and limited transportation can make acquiring seemingly simple items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste difficult or impossible in many countries. However, Sweet Bites, the first chewing gum made entirely of xylitol, was created for the sole purpose of providing an easy and affordable way for children and adults to protect their smiles from the debilitating problems associated with tooth decay.

Effects of Poor Oral Hygiene

The term “oral hygiene” can often be misleading. Oral hygiene is not limited to mouth diseases but can negatively affect people’s overall well-being. Potential short-term effects include a buildup of dental plaque, bad breath, breakouts and skin infections. Meanwhile, potential long-term effects include a risk of serious oral inflammation and a depressed immune system as well as tooth decay, cavities, gum disease and tooth loss.

The Science Behind Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that can be harvested from plants and is known to reduce plaque. This would also subsequently decrease the probability of tooth decay. Sweet Bites claims that “chewing xylitol-sweetened gum for five minutes after every meal can protect a person’s mouth from tooth decay, caries and all of the consequences that follow, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Five students from the University of Pennsylvania are the visionaries behind Sweet Bites. Although the health benefits of xylitol are not a new discovery, the young entrepreneurs’ three-pronged plan to help those suffering from tooth decay is admirable.

Sweet Bites Changes Lives

Sweet Bites’ mission is to “Fight Tooth Decay. Educate Children. Empower Students.” The entrepreneurs’ plan to address oral hygiene by selling their pure xylitol gum in stores throughout India’s most impoverished areas. The organization also has representatives traveling to schools, businesses and community events to educate the people of India on the importance of oral hygiene. This includes “health messaging on the wrapper, so each piece reinforces important behaviors, like brushing twice a day.” Lastly, Sweet Bites provides part-time work to local students. This ensures the chewing gum remains distributed by members of the community who understand the magnitude of the issue.

Currently, Sweet Bites is running various funding campaigns and applying for grants to bring their life-saving gum to the people of India at an affordable price. The Sweet Bites health initiative remains limited to India. However, the company’s CEOs are working to secure factory space so that their product can reach people around the world.

Sweet Bites’ Legacy

Sweet Bites has not just created a product but has also created a lifestyle. The company provides people with a product that will keep consumers happy and healthy. The product also teaches people about good oral hygiene habits and their effect on overall well-being. With several major global issues, it is often difficult to recognize seemingly minor issues that can spiral out of control when left unaddressed. Nevertheless, Sweet Bites creates a way to help those in need, which is truly the definition of giving back.

– Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in BulgariaThe impact of COVID-19 globally is undeniable. From Canada to Ukraine, every nation is fighting the virus. Bulgaria is facing a similar battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and poverty. Organizations are fighting to keep both under control while implementing solutions to address the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria and around the world.

The Fight Against COVID-19

Bulgaria’s first COVID-19 case occurred on May 8, 2020, which was later than many of its neighbors. The Bulgarian parliament quickly went into a state of emergency on May 13, 2020, due partially to the weak healthcare system. Discussions about how to balance the economy and COVID-19 precautions soon started. Despite the government’s best efforts, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria was significant.

The Past Against the Present

Bulgaria’s past has contributed to its present state. Bulgaria became its own independent country in 1908, with the occurrence of World War I six years later. The defeat of Bulgaria in World War I saw the loss of 100,000 people. Twenty years afterward, World War II started, resulting in an eventual Soviet invasion. Communism ruled for the next five years.

These events led to economic unrest for several years. Bulgarians boycotted and protested the crisis several times throughout the years, most recently in 2013. The first protests led to Bulgaria joining the European Union but the transition was rough on living standards. Structural reforms in the late 1990s led to faster growth and better living for Bulgarians, with some economic issues in 2008, 2013 and 2014, despite overall improvement. The impact of COVID-19 on Bulgarian poverty has many experts concerned about a possible relapse into economic decline.

The Virus Against the Economy

The negative impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria began when the country’s economy was doing well. COVID-19 dragged the economy into a recession throughout 2020 and 2021. As a result, poverty in Bulgaria in 2021 could increase before it declines. Job losses and poverty have hit young people especially hard. Bulgaria will take time to recover from the economic shock of COVID-19, according to many experts. Alongside high productivity, experts have emphasized several components that Bulgaria must prioritize for its economic recovery:

  • Optimal use of EU money
  • Reopening of businesses
  • Reducing crime rates
  • More job prospects
  • More educational opportunities

Solutions in the Present

Bulgaria’s long-term recovery will take years, but organizations are currently attempting to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on Bulgarian poverty. SOS Children’s Villages prioritizes the well-being of young people who have suffered the most from poverty in Bulgaria.

SOS Children’s Villages dedicates itself to helping lift children and teenagers out of poverty all over the world. The organization has two bases in Bulgaria — the cities of Sofia and Trjavna. Its focus is on strengthening families, improving care in families and providing support for young people. The organization also promotes advocacy and improves emergency programs for unaccompanied refugee children. Reducing the child poverty rate is the overall goal of SOS Children’s Villages in Bulgaria.

Despite the significant impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Bulgaria, organizations like SOS Children’s Villages are providing substantial aid. With the continued commitment of organizations, poverty in Bulgaria will reduce and Bulgaria will find its way to economic recovery,

– Audrey Burran
Photo: Flickr

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