Information and stories addressing children.

This article is no longer available. Visit the following links for related articles:

Whenever conflict or disaster hits a particular region of the world, one of the logistical challenges which must first be overcome is getting aid to every person that needs it in the shortest amount of time.

For this reason, aid agencies are piloting new access technologies to provide innovative solutions to old problems. Here are five promising ideas that are already being tested in different parts of the world:

The first is a digital school in a box. In order to create an environment where children have access to quality learning anytime and anywhere, UNICEF is piloting the “Digital School in a Box”. Sixty schools in Uganda, with about 100 and 200 children, have been given a pack containing a solar-powered laptop with a speaker, a projector, a document camera and Internet connectivity.

The objective is to connect children in rural schools and health centers to outside learning networks and tools. The kit can also be used to connect rural communities to health resources, emergency information, and entertainment.

Mobile phones to monitor food insecurity are second. In areas where roads have been badly damaged, information concerning food availability can be hard to gather. To solve this problem, the UN World Food Programme has typically conducted face-to-face surveys to collect information on how many people lack access to food, who they are, and where they live.

Since this requires a considerable amount of time and resources, the agency is now using SMS polls to monitor food insecurity through simple questions concerning meal patterns. The solution is being piloted in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will soon be tested in Somalia as well.

Third is to use mobile phones to find missing children. In order to speed up the process of reuniting children with their parents after a conflict or disaster, UNICEF is piloting RapidFTR, an open-source mobile phone application. The result of a master’s thesis, the innovation allows aid workers to quickly upload the child’s vital information and photograph to a central database that can be accessed by other UN agencies and NGOs.

With the help of humanitarian workers that have authorized access to the database, parents can verify if their missing children have been registered. Uganda Red Cross and Save the Children are currently testing the application in eastern Uganda, where many people from the Democratic Republic of Congo have sought refuge.

3-D printing spare parts is fourth innovation to help get aid to disaster hit communities. Although the cost of 3-D printing are still high, global experts are considering the possibilities of using this technology to provide disaster-hit areas in the developing world with access to things like irrigation pipes, farming tools, water pumps, wind turbine blades, spare parts for machinery, and health aids.

Since the digital model of any of these objects – which typically require significant time and money to be imported – could be downloaded and printed out, usually in thin layers of plastic at a time, innovators believe that low-cost 3-D printing could have many uses in the developing world. Last May, global experts met in Italy to discuss the implications of this technology for sustainable development.

The fifth and last innovation is the standardized data collection for feeding programs. In order to provide feeding programs with a standardized method for data collection that can be used for admissions and discharges, specialized software called Minimum Reporting Package has been devised.

Now in use by Save the Children UK, WFP, and Concern Worldwide, the innovation allows agencies to better monitor the efficacy of Supplementary Feeding Programs, as well as quickly deliver standardized information to donors and governments in times of crisis.

-Nayomi Chibana

Sources: IRIN, Humanitarian Innovation Fund, World Food Programme
Photo: The Virtual Underground

With children in the United States heading back to school over the next few weeks, it can be difficult to imagine that one million children are being denied the chance to not only return to school, but to even remain in their homes.

Syria has made headlines in recent days with the current UN investigation of whether chemical warfare has been used against citizens. And with millions of people, almost 50% of which are children, fleeing their homes and livelihoods for the safety of surrounding countries just to stay alive, the education of their children has been placed to the side for the time being.

While 1 million Syrian children are being forced to flee with or without their families, another 2 million are estimated to be displaced within the country itself. Like the rest, they are unable to get an education. The longer they have to stay away from school and the older they get, the less likely it is that they will make it back to finish their education.

In an article from the Christian Science Monitor Antonia Guterres, UN High Commissioner, states, “The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures.” The children are part of what is being called the “lost generation”.

Even if the conflicts end in Syria, without an education the current generation will be hard-pressed to make any real changes or return stability to the country. These children are also suffering from the trauma of witnessing war up close and experiencing things no person should have to experience.

Jana Mason, a UNHCR senior adviser told Huffington Post, “It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that … when Syria is peaceful enough in the future and people start returning home, we’ll have a generation [of people] who are undereducated and traumatized. The future for Syria is very distressing.” The poverty and conflict will therefore continue in a vicious cycle, affecting more and more people as time goes one.

Those living in the refugee camps are going without food, water, or medical attention. Children born in the camps are often lacking a birth certificate and are considered “stateless” as a result. There have been reports of child labor, child marriage, and sex trafficking throughout the refugee areas. Parents have to be more concerned with these immediate issues that affect whether a child will live, die, or have a home, than with less obviously substantial things like schooling.

For many the problem comes more from the inability to provide transportation to school, supplies, or lunches even though there is free schooling offered in the area they have fled to.

Initially the citizens of the countries they are fleeing to, like Jordan, were opening their doors and doing whatever they could to assist those escaping the war. But, as with many things, over time the welcome has cooled off and people are finding help less frequently. Schools are packed and running double shifts, hospitals are denying people entry, and medicine, food, and water are becoming scarce.

UNICEF is begging that the developed countries of the world come to the aid of these children. The UN states that only 38% of the necessary $3 billion to help the refugees has been funded so far. This is being described as the largest humanitarian effort of all time, and still there is not enough being done. The children of Syria deserve the chance to continue their education and live peacefully.

– Chelsea Evans

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, CBS
Photo: The Guardian

On December 17th, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly backed the recommendation of the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth that August 12th be declared the International Youth Day (IYD). The support came from the UN in its resolution 54/120, which outlines policies and programs regarding international youth. Today, the hardships and opportunities facing the youth of the world are a central development issue.

The present number of young people in developing countries is the highest it has been in our world’s history. The UN estimates that the world population, already high at 7.2 billion in mid-2013, is expected to increase by nearly one billion people within the next twelve years. Much of the overall increase in populations is predicted to take place in high-fertility countries, particularly in Africa, as well as other countries with large populations including Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, India, and the U.S. Currently the majority of poorer regions’ population is extremely young, with children under age 15 making up 26% of the total population, and youth aged 15 to 24 accounting for an additional 17%.

Because the number of youth in developing countries is at an all time high, countries will be posed with the challenge of providing education and employment to large numbers of children and youth. The enormous social, political, and development challenges this issue presents is prompting the creation of specific youth development programmes in many countries, both developed and under-developed.

The annual celebration of the International Youth Day (IYD), therefore, plays a significant role in raising awareness around the globe on the issues facing our youth. It further sparks discussion and reflection on ways to address the problems effectively.

This year’s International Youth Day is titled “Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward”. In the area of migration, youth are recognized as one of the most mobile social groups. According the UN, the number of international migrants aged 15 to 24 reached 27 million by mid-2010, accounting for 10 percent of all international migrants. Despite this, very little is known about the challenges and opportunities faced by these young migrants and other youth affected by migration.

There are many reasons why young people leave their home country such as fleeing prosecution or escaping economic hardships. While migration can lead to the opportunities people are searching for, it can also pose serious risks. Poverty, unsanitary, and over-crowded living spaces are common for migrants. Many also experience the challenge of finding decent and regular employment, particularly when exploitation and discrimination are present. Young women in particular face the threat sexual abuse and exploitation. Because of this, it is important that awareness is raised about the living conditions and experiences of these young people, and the role that youth programs and organizations can have in the lives of young migrants and young men and women in general. International Youth Day was declared to serve that very need.

Ali Warlich

Sources: All Africa, UNFPA
Photo: Caritas

According to the Hunger Project, a non-profit organization that works to end global hunger, “malnutrition occurs when the variety or quality of food is insufficient to support proper development and health.”

Roughly 15 percent of babies born in developing countries are of low birth weight due to maternal malnutrition, and even those born at a healthy weight are at risk for malnutrition due to insufficient breastfeeding. Malnutrition causes one-third of global child deaths, perpetuated as undernourished women give birth in low-resource settings.

When a malnourished woman gives birth to a low-birth weight baby that has already been affected by her mother’s malnourishment, the child will suffer from a compromised immune system and will most likely stay malnourished, even when she reaches reproductive age. Her child, too, will be born malnourished, and the cycle of malnourishment will continue.

Seeking to break the cycle of malnourishment, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada is developing a daily microencapsulated micronutrient powder through its affiliate SickKids.

Called “Prenatal Sprinkles,” this powder contains iron, folic acid and calcium. Pregnant and lactating women in poor areas can simply sprinkle their food with this supplement in order to combat malnutrition.

Prenatal Sprinkles will help to combat anemia during pregnancy, which often leads to premature birth, and preeclampsia associated with hypertension, which often causes maternal and fetal death.

Prenatal Sprinkles can potentially lower maternal hypertensive disease related mortality by 20 percent and preterm birth by 24 percent. Previously, supplements could not contain both iron and calcium due to poor absorption, but Prenatal Sprinkles contain differential time-release nutrients that increase iron and calcium absorption and prevent calcium-iron interaction. They also have a smooth texture and a pleasant flavor, making them palatable for malnourished women.

The Hospital for Sick Children is partnering with companies in the private sector in order to finance the production of Prenatal Sprinkles, but the projected cost of mass production is very low for the supplement.

Though Prenatal Sprinkles are not yet in wide circulation, they offer a simple and cost effective solution to malnutrition, a problem that cannot be solved by food aid alone.

Katie Bandera

Sources: Sprinkles (R) 60mg Fe for Pregnant and Lactating Women, Issues: Malnutrition
Photo: Girls’ Globe

Laughter is fr universal language, and comedy is a much broader medium, than given credit for. Laughing is disarming, warm, enjoyable, and can help unite people. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that comedy can also connect and rally people to fight intractable problems. Humor can indeed be a powerful weapon against the scourge of something like global poverty and the absences of technology and education in communities. This is the very idea behind Comic Relief, an organization operating in the United Kingdom and abroad that stands up to poverty.

Existing officially as both a company and charity in the UK, Comic Relief began in 1985 during Christmas season at a Sudanese refugee camp. Renowned and well-meaning British comedians hoped to raise awareness of the Sudanese plight and the Ethiopian famine going on. The success of that first event spawned more live comedic appearances in Sudan and gave way to Red Nose Day in 1988, which brought much needed attention and money to the region that went directly to relief. Since that time, Comic Relief has grown in size and scope, spreading laughter and awareness of numerous other initiatives.

One of those other initiatives is Send My Friend to School (, a nonprofit movement in the UK working to make the Millennium Development Goal of education for all children a reality by 2015. A member of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), the initiative boasts UK membership of over 10,000 schools and youth groups. Another initiative Comic Relief supports is the intrepid See Africa Differently ( campaign, aimed at changing the world’s perception of the continent and sharing stories of real people there that aren’t covered in major news. For example, the London art scene has recently been enthralled with the works of West African artists.

A very personal and striking account of Comic Relief in action is the story of teen sisters Hazel and Hiayisani in Tembisa, South Africa. Orphaned after their mother’s sudden illness and death, older sister Hazel was now in the position of caring for herself and her sister. Poor and completely exposed to the worst of society, they were at risk of being split up by Social Services, falling into a life of crime or the world of sexual slavery. However, after finding the Bishop Simeon Trust, a Comic Relief partner in Tembisa, the girls were able to join other orphans. They now receive a stipend and care packages from the trust to live on, free education, and enjoy time at the Bishop Simeon facility with other teenagers.

Comic Relief is best known for its initial and ongoing fundraiser, Red Nose Day. Happening every few years, this international event is celebrated mainly in the UK and Africa. For those who participate, the objective is to put on a red nose and be ridiculous. Proceeds from the event go directly to initiatives like the ones mentioned above, aimed at education and the changing of negative international typecasts.

Comic Relief has shown that maybe laughter is the best medicine for social ails.

David Smith
Sources: Comic Relief –History, Send My Friend –About, West African Art Pops Up in London, Comic Relief –Hazel and Hiayisani, Africa, Red Nose Day –What Is It?
Photo: BBC


In Yemen, the custom of early marriage just met a vocal challenger.

Going viral last week was a video of 11-year-old Nada al-Ahdal ranting about her parents’ decision to forcibly marry her off to a much older man. “What have the children done wrong? Why do you marry them off like that?” she asks the camera. Her powerful words have touched a delicate nerve amongst Yemenis, some of whom have upheld and continue to practice the custom of early marriange for generations. According to a 2006 joint report by the Ministry of Public Health and Population, the Pan-Arab Project for Family Health and UNICEF, this tradition is still widely practiced: 52% of Yemeni women and girls are married by the time they turn 18.

The recent video highlights Yemen’s history of early marriage laws and the government’s and society’s unwillingness to modernize conceptions of marriage. In 1994, the official age for lawful marriage stood at 15. Five years later, the law was abolished on religious grounds, eliminating a minimum age for early marriage. A brief legislative effort in 2009 to amend the situation was ultimately stalled and aborted, despite that fact that Yemen is party to multiple international treaties that require married couples to be at least 18 years old. Overall, the issue remains to be addressed, leaving countless children susceptible to premature marriage and the social and economic disadvantages that come with it.

Interviews with Yemeni girls and women reveal troubling facts. In rural areas, some girls were married off at the age of 8. Once married, women often have little power in their marriages which can also mean they have limited control over the timing and spacing of children, which increases the risk of reproductive health problems. Early marriage also diminishes the chance that wives will return to school to complete their education, putting them at a distinct social and economic disadvantage. Verbal and physical abuse against women is also prevalent in early marriages in Yemen.

In some ways, Nada al-Ahdal’s words do not just refute the practice of robbing girls of their childhood and sexual purity; they also underline the crucial “cycle of poverty and early marriage” that plagues tens of millions of women around the world. Poverty and early marriage tend to be mutually reinforcing phenomena: girls born into poverty are more likely to have mothers who ‘transmit intergenerational poverty’ and lack social assets and networks. In addition, early marriages greatly increase the chance that young girls will live in poverty. The cycle, parallel to the strong customary tradition of early marriage most prevalent in rural areas, reinforces young women’s roles as undereducated child-bearers with limited social networks.

Nada al-Ahdal eloquently defends her decision to flee from arranged marriage. But behind her words lies Yemen’s ugly reality of women’s disempowerment and its central role in the country’s greater puzzle of poverty reduction and economic growth. As one of the poorest nations on earth and a hotbed of terrorist activity, poverty in Yemen has resulted in a globally destabilizing situation. Instituting a minimum age for marriage could be a key policy for addressing women’s inequality and poverty. In doing so, Yemen would have a more solid foundation for development and more human capital to support its economy.

– Zach Crawford

Sources: BBC, Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), Human Rights Watch, Save the Children’s “Champions for Children” report, Washington Post
Photo: Washington Post

‘The world sends us garbage. We send back music,” said Favio Chávez, the conductor of the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra.

The Cateura Dump, in the Bañado Sur area along the Paraguay River, is surrounded by seven neighborhoods. 2,500 families live in these neighborhoods, and the majority rely on the landfill to survive, sorting through the 1,500 tons of waste delivered daily and reusing whatever can be found. Poverty has forced many children to work with their families instead of attending school, resulting in inadequate education and a low level of literacy. The area also faces frequent flooding, as well as problems with sanitation and clean drinking water. It is from these troubled beginnings that the Landfill Harmonic originated.

Whilst working in the area, Favio Chávez, an ecological technician decided to teach music to some of the children. Chávez had previously trained as a musician and initially used his own instruments to give lessons. But he soon had too many students and not enough instruments. It was then that the idea to create instruments from recycled materials first struck him. The result was “Los Reciclados” (the Recycled Orchestra) was born using oil cans and scavenged wood, forks and kitchen utensils to create orchestral instruments.

Since its beginnings, the Recycled Orchestra has toured the world, performing in Argentina, Brazil, and Germany, and will be the subject of an upcoming documentary, “Landfill Harmonic.” And while the orchestra may have been created to “educate the world and raise awareness,” as Chávez says, the profound impact on individual lives is very apparent. Chavez continues, “…even though these students are in extreme poverty, they can also contribute to society. They deserve an opportunity.”

One of the orchestral members stated, “My life would be worthless without music.” For children living in poverty, and in an environment where the potential for education and advancement is slim, being given the opportunity to study music and travel the world can be invaluable.

“People realize that we shouldn’t throw away trash carelessly,” Chávez says. “Well, we shouldn’t throw away people either.”

– David Wilson 

Sources: Time, Notes on the Road, UNICEF
Photo: MSNBC Media

The issue of poverty in South Sudan is very complex, however, the organization Plan International is adamant that a key component to poverty reduction is concentrating on decreasing poverty among young people in the country. A 2009 Southern Sudan Household Survey disclosed that 50.6% of the population survives on less than $2 a day. In addition to income limitations, poverty also brings a lack of healthcare, food, sanitation, and clean water.

In order to improve these conditions, Nigal Champman, the Chief Executive Director of Plan International, suggests focusing on children as a financially small investment. He explained, “We all know that young people can play an important role in national development if provided with the right tools, the learning and capacity to employ those tools, and a supportive environment in which to use them.” However, these children can just as easily continue to live in the poverty cycle if they are not provided with education, healthcare or proper nutrition.

The organization has invested $30 million in South Sudan since 2006 and is planning on providing another $30 million in the next three years. Plan International will utilize this money by working with government officials to implement policies meant to keep children in school. Other ways Plan International contributes to the reduction of poverty in South Sudan is through food and clean water distribution, supporting agricultural developments, peacekeeping programs, and providing access to health services.

In a country where 50% of the population is young children or adolescents, about 60% of the poor belong to this demographic. In addition to the previously mentioned disadvantages, these young people also struggle because many are orphans of parents who have AIDS or victims of conflict or child labor. While South Sudan may be a convoluted situation, organizations like Plan International are working to ensure that poverty is a thing of the past by investing in children, who are our future.

– Mary Penn

Sources: All Africa, Youth Policy
Photo: Doctors without Borders