Child Homelessness in Cameroon
A violent civil crisis over regional separatism, known as the Anglophone Crisis or Cameroonian Civil War, has decimated the Central African nation of Cameroon since 2017. One of the most disheartening consequences of the conflict is the extreme number of homeless children. As of 2019, Cameroon had over 900,000 internally displaced people, 51% of whom were children. Child homelessness in Cameroon has been a serious problem for many years, but the government has redoubled its efforts to combat housing shortages and population displacement.

Street Children

Homeless or impermanently housed “street children” are a growing problem in the urban centers of many developing countries. In Cameroon, where about 37.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, street children have been a prominent humanitarian concern for years. The escalation of the Anglophone crisis has produced significant increases in the number of children fending for themselves on the streets of Cameroon’s cities. In the past 10 years, the number of street children increased from around 1,000 to over 10,000.

A study that researchers at the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal conducted found that most street children in Cameroon subsist on less than $0.85 USD per day. Many street children rely on begging, drug use and sex work to survive their harsh conditions. Less than 1% of the street children who the researchers surveyed considered the public’s attitude toward them to be supportive. These children are dangerously vulnerable, especially in active war zones. Conflict-induced devastation is one of the most significant causes of child homelessness in Cameroon.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Cameroon, worsening conditions for all citizens but hitting street children especially hard. Urban centers are less sanitary and more harmful than ever before, something that the homeless and under-housed feel most keenly. Over 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred in Cameroon and over 600 deaths.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated the worst impacts of the Anglophone Crisis. As the global health crisis distracted the international community, both the military and armed separatist groups enacted more violence on civilians. This behavior endangers civilians directly but also causes many to flee their homes out of fear for their safety, increasing the number of Cameroon’s homeless dramatically. This surge in displaced individuals also stretches Cameroon’s already thin resources even more direly, worsening conditions for those already homeless.

Though the pandemic has increased the instability of living conditions for those on the streets, it has also given Cameroon’s government a stronger incentive to house street children, accelerating existing plans to provide housing to those who violence or poverty have displaced.

Initiatives to House Street Children

Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs is partnering with the Ministry of Health to house and support thousands of street children while screening them for COVID-19 in the process. It began clearing the streets in April 2020, with plans to find housing for 3,000 street children in the near future.

The children will either return to their families or enter housing or job training programs to develop skills like cooking and sewing. Regardless of their specifics, this program will provide shelter, safety and opportunities to thousands of street children. This initiative will house not only displaced or abandoned children but also orphans and children who are seeking asylum from nearby countries.

Street Child, a U.K. charity, is also working in Cameroon to help provide protection and education for homeless children. The organization emerged in 2008 and operates by partnering with local organizations in areas with high rates of child homelessness to make education more accessible. Street Child has helped over 330,000 children go to school. Now the initiative is working with local organizations and the Cameroonian government to help provide COVID-19 relief, and developing specific programs to improve the wellbeing of children who the conflict has directly affected. Street Child focuses on expanding access to education and alleviating the symptoms of child homelessness in Cameroon.

– Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

solar microgridsThe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) helped establish three solar microgrids in rural Yemeni communities. Earlier this year, the British charity Ashden honored the scheme as one of 11 recipients of its prestigious Ashden Awards. These annual awards recognize initiatives whose efforts to deliver sustainable energy have produced important social and economic advantages.

Solving a Fuel Shortage and Economic Crisis

Yemen’s energy infrastructure cannot transport power to rural towns and villages. Thus, many of these communities depend upon highly-polluting diesel generators. However, longstanding conflict and crippling embargoes have made fossil fuels scarce and expensive. Moreover, oil prices have fluctuated in recent years, and poverty has skyrocketed. This crisis has affected approximately three-quarters of Yemen’s population. Current estimates indicate that more than two out of five households have been deprived of their primary source of income. It’s also been found that women are more acutely impacted than men.

Now, the energy situation is shifting. The UNDP has provided funding and support to three different groups of entrepreneurs that own and operate solar microgrids. The three are located in Abs in the district of Bani Qais in the northwest and in Lahij Governate in the south. Their stations provide clean, sustainable energy to local residents and at a much lower price. The solar microgrids charge only $0.02 per hour as opposed to the $0.42 per hour that diesel costs.

Such savings for households and businesses have greatly impacted the local economies. Not only can people work after sunset, they also possess more disposable income. According to Al Jazeera, approximately 2,100 people have been able to save money and put it toward creating their own small businesses. These include services for welding, sewing, grocery stores and other shops. So far, a total of 10,000 Yemenis have benefitted from the energy provided by the three solar microgrids.

Empowering New Leaders in Business

The entrepreneurs who founded and now run the microgrid facilities in Bani Qais and Lahij Governate are young men. However, the power station in Abs is completely owned and operated by women. These Abs women receive training in necessary technical skills and study business and finance.

Some expected the scheme to fail due to the sophisticated knowledge it required and the relative inexperience of the facilities’ operators. Well, one year has passed, and the solar microgrids are running at full capacity. The project thus offers a valuable model for creating jobs in a country where civil war has shattered the economy and hobbled basic infrastructure.

Specifically for the women in Abs, though, a steady income and the ability to provide a much-needed service have increased their self-confidence. These women can feed their families and use the university educations they each worked for to a great extent. As the station’s director explained, their work has even earned them the respect and admiration of those who used to ridicule them for taking on what was once considered a man’s job.

Looking to the Future

The success of the UNDP’s project’s first stage shows a possible solution to Yemen’s problem of energy scarcity. The UNDP now works to find funding for an additional 100 solar microgrids. Since civil war began in 2015, both sides have tried to limit each other’s access to the fossil fuels that Yemen depends upon. Pro-government coalition forces have prevented ships cleared by the U.N. from unloading their cargoes in the north. On the other side, Houthi-led rebels have recently suspended humanitarian flights to Sanaa, the country’s largest city and its capital. This is all in the midst of hospitals struggling to care for patients during the pandemic.

The UNDP’s solar microgrids are a source of hope among the many conflicts plaguing Yemen. More still, it is likely others will soon follow in the footsteps of the three initial young entrepreneurs. These solar microgrids stations have empowered Yemeni communities to build better and more sustainable futures and will for years to come.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Child Hunger in IdlibThe Syrian conflict continues to rage through this pandemic. The locus of fighting has shifted to the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Since 2019, the Syrian government — with support from Russia — has engaged in various bombing campaigns in the region and sent ground forces as well. Idlib is clearly feeling the effects of this violence. The need for aid in the province grows alongside the increasing size of the humanitarian crisis. One particularly important but overlooked aspect of the devastation in Idlib is the rising cost of food. Child hunger in Idlib is a result of the rise in levels of food among the youth due to price increases.

The Issue

Child hunger in Idlib — for infants in particular — has become an area of concern as COVID-19 has become more prevalent throughout the country. One big factor is that food has generally become much less accessible. According to The New Humanitarian, “‘An infant needs one container of formula per week, but the price has risen to $12,’ up from $9 three months ago … For many parents, that sum is out of reach.” This increase in price manifests itself often in the form of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The disease primarily affects children under the age of 5, is highly dangerous and often turns life-threatening. Effects of SAM include a process known as “stunting,” which limits the physical growth in very young children. Stunting and other effects of SAM lead to other problems later in life for these children.

Another frequent issue is malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women. It not only affects them personally but impacts the growth of their infants as well. The New Humanitarian also reports a rise in SAM hospital cases over the summer of 2020. The ratio jumped to 97 out of 1,692 people screened from the January status of 29 out of 2,199. This is likely a lower estimate given the number of people who cannot get screened or don’t have access to testing. Time is of the essence after receiving a SAM diagnosis. Once a child with this condition reaches 2 years of age, they will likely deal with the consequences of SAM for the rest of their life.

Fighting Worsens the Problem

Child hunger in Idlib — and in Syria more widely — is deeply concerning. The issue is compounded by the broader poverty levels and violence that plague the entire country. As a result of the fighting, the majority of  Syrians are internally displaced from their homes.

There is no clear end in sight to the fighting between rebel forces and the Syrian state military. Refugee camps are essentially at capacity and can’t withstand an influx of people if the civil war persists. Additionally, COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, which will likely increase the number of Syrian refugees and displaced persons.

In addition to the housing issue, food scarcity is prevalent in the country. Food options are usually unavailable or unaffordable. As such, many Syrians rely on foreign assistance and aid from NGOs as resources for food.

Aid

There are, however, numerous aid organizations and NGOs working to provide food security and address the growing refugee crisis. They are especially targeting the northwest, where Idlib is located. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is an organization working to expand health care access to those who need it. SAMS also provides meals to both children and adults at risk of food insecurity. Yet another part of their work focuses specifically on care for those with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

SAMS fights against child hunger in Idlib and throughout the rest of the country. They report that in 2019, the last year for which data is available, SAMS performed more than 2.5 million medical services for the Syrian population, at no or greatly reduced cost. Since 2011, they have provided more than $207 million worth of aid and medical resources as well.

SAMS and other similar organizations are vital to the survival of millions of Syrians. However, there is still more to be done. The international community must redouble their efforts to provide resources to those displaced and malnourished. Everyone must work to end the violence that has been a constant in the country for so long.

Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Syria
Syria has been in a state of civil war for nine years, since March 2011. Dire consequences meet civilians from all sides; from danger and violence if they stay and closed borders due to an overflow of refugees if they try to leave. Due to this humanitarian crisis, poverty has affected more than 83% of the population. In this same vein, 8 million Syrian children are in need —both inside and outside the country. As of April 2020, the WFP reported that the cost of a staple basket of food has risen by 111% in comparison to the previous month, due to Syria’s COVID-19 crisis. With these factors at play, initiatives to alleviate poverty in Syria are a welcome respite.

While it may seem that good news is hard to come by, there are a few initiatives in Syria working against the effects of high poverty rates. They tackle these issues from several angles, such as rewriting stereotypes, entrepreneurial education, resource allocation and community development. Here are four initiatives that are working to alleviate poverty in Syria, today.

4 Initiatives to Alleviate Poverty in Syria

  1. MeWe International and the #MeWeSyria Movement: Rewriting Stereotypes – MeWe International Inc. aims to rewrite the narrative about poverty in Syria and Syrian refugees. By using communication skills and narrative interventions as tools, it encourages and promotes healthy psychological skills, leadership efforts and community engagement. The training networks are hosted within Syrian communities and gear toward refugee youth and caregivers, especially within the facets of mental health. Storytelling is a tool MeWe International uses to help people to heal, grow and dream of a better future within communities in poverty in Syria.
  2. The Remmaz and Mujeeb Programs: Entrepreneurial Education – Programs from 2016 and 2017 are continuing to focus on equipping the younger generations in Syria with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their country and support their communities. Leen Darwish founded Remmaz, which teaches students how to code. “This programme is providing young people in Syria with critical business, leadership and entrepreneurship skills and directly linking them to opportunities to generate income,” says Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Global Coordinator for the Data for Development Platform. Aghyad Al-Kabbani, Eyad Al-Shami and Zeina Khalili co-founded Mujeeb, an AI program that creates customer support chatbots in Arabic. Al-Shami quoted, “On the human side, it’s hard. It’s not about building the next Google. But I want to exist. I want to do something.” Their hard work has led not only to easier online communication for people in Syria but also to a great success story for other young, Syrian entrepreneurs. This is a great example of how to alleviate poverty in Syria from the inside.
  3. United World Food Program Initiatives: Resource Reallocation – The World Food Program USA (WFP) has brought a few innovative solutions to Syria that have improved quality of life and the procurement of resources. Technology has been a valued instrument through NGOs like WFP. Moreover, the extension of aid is very much necessary to alleviate poverty in Syria. To counter the needs of 11.1 million people, iris scans prevent robbery while truck convoys carry supplies to hard-to-reach communities. Furthermore, both bakeries and greenhouses (under construction) increase the flow and availability of food. The WFP feeds more than 4.5 million people inside Syria and more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees every month. By addressing hunger on this scale, the most essential needs of the poor are met. Further, they can slowly grow and rebuild their homes and businesses.
  4. UNDP Leaving No One Behind Resilience Program: Community Development – The 2018 Resilience Program based in Syria focuses on four large-scale areas to alleviate poverty in Syria. The initiative works to promote self-reliance through socioeconomic recovery, improving the quality of basic services. Also, it aims to reinforce social cohesion in the community and strengthen local partnerships. The interventions were able to reach around 2.8 million people and contributed directly to around 111,000. The area-based approach rated certain geographical areas by need and ensured that the most crucial needs were met first. The communities with the highest beneficiaries include Aleppo, Al-Hakaseh, Rural Damascus and Lattakia. One of the projects included the improvement of basic services to crisis-hit areas, and these services included:
    • Solid waste and debris management;
    • Repair of water, sewage and electricity networks;
    • Rehabilitation of local businesses;
    • Supporting clean and renewable energy sources; and
    • Emergency repair of electricity and infrastructure.

Washing Away the Stain of War

Two million Syrians alone have benefited from the improvement of basic services. The remnants of war and violence are being cleaned up and removed. Moreover, the stones in the debris that were removed from Bab Al-Hadid were collected on-site. Notably, these stones will be reused in future rehabilitation projects in the same area.

After nine years of civil war and the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, the contributions of these organizations provide relief to Syrians.

Savannah Gardner
Photo: Pxfuel

 

BGMIn March 2020, the world entered a time of pause. For some people, the earth seemed to echo a sigh of relief. But stomachs continued to grumble, rain steadily beat down upon roofs made of mud or junkyard scraps and pill bottles drained empty. Galette Chambon and Thoman, two Haitian communities, were no exception to the landslide caused by COVID-19. Thankfully, these two poverty-ridden places’ retaining wall halted the landslide. For nearly ten years, But God Ministries (BGM) has provided Galette Chambon and Thoman with sustainable resources. These resources include water wells, medical and dental clinics, schools, housing and various job opportunities to support the local community. Unfortunately, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these resources have not been readily available.

Food Insecurity in Haiti

One of the major needs plaguing the six million Haitians who live below the poverty line is a lack of food. During the school year, BGM feeds 16,000 children each day. Once schools shut down, food was no longer accessible to these children. Additionally, the country was in a state of civil unrest and facing a drought, worsening the situation. Since 2015, Haiti has faced the onset of economic blows including a decrease in foreign aid, depreciation of the national currency and the natural disaster of Hurricane Matthew. However, the cherry on top was the closure of local markets due to the pandemic, which heightened the crisis. Rather than sit back and watch the nation plummet, BGM took action by conducting a Food For Life campaign. Stan Buckley, the founder of But God Ministries, spoke with The Borgen Project about the campaign’s success. He said, “We raised $90,000 in a week. So far, we have given away $75,000 in food distributions.”

But God Ministries’ Response to the Pandemic

A major source of revenue for But God Ministries came from American teams who partnered with the ministry. Without funding from visiting groups, BGM had to cut back on the salaries of their Haitian employees. A positive outcome, according to Buckley, is the number of houses BGM has the opportunity to build in the community during this time. A portion of the people who planned on spending part of their summer in Haiti chose to donate the money they would have spent on travel to the organization’s housing fund. Buckley said, “We have the funds in place for 16 houses, and we have built around five so far.” He also noted that the civil unrest has died down due to the coronavirus. If this trend continues, the country will be on an uphill climb toward a successful economic and sustainable future.

Haitian Economy

Self-sufficiency is contingent upon the physical state of the nation. Unfortunately, over 96% of Haitians experience natural disasters. In 2010, Haiti’s economic and concrete landscape was shaken to the ground by an earthquake. Many countries forgave Haiti of its debt. However, the country’s clean slate quickly became tainted. By 2017, Haiti had accumulated $2.6 billion in debt. In concordance with the national debt, Haiti’s clothing export rose to new heights. As of 2016, the apparel register accounted for more than 90% of Haiti’s exports, further sustaining the nation.

Sustainability is But God Ministries’ overarching goal. “One of our goals is to have Haitians leading in every area …, and that’s a process. We have a Haitian preacher, Haitian principals and teachers, Haitian builders …, and the list goes on,” said Buckley. Right now, Thoman produces electricity through sustainable solar panels, which happened through a partnership with Georgia Tech. Hopefully, Galette Chambon will follow this precedent. Electricity is a major barrier standing in the way of Haiti’s progression. According to the CIA, investing in Haiti is difficult due to the lack of electrical reliability and weak infrastructure.

Without financial and resourceful investment from neighboring countries, it will be exceedingly difficult for Haiti to enter a state of self-sufficiency. However, the work of organizations like But God Ministries provides an example for others who wish to help the country emerge from the pandemic better than it was before.

Chatham Rayne Kennedy
Photo: Flickr