Technological Access in Bhutan

A mountainous landlocked kingdom of 766,000 people, Bhutan has been traditionally been isolated and disconnected from the outside world for a number of centuries, with previous rulers keeping the nation as a “hermit kingdom” prior to the legalization of television and Internet in 1999. Bhutan’s economy relies heavily on its agriculture and forestry alongside the budding hydroelectricity industry, which has proven difficult due to the mountainous terrain of the country. The country’s main trade partners are India and Bangladesh, with no known relationship with the U.S. or other major U.N. members. The legalization of the Internet in 1999, as well as investments in technological advancement in the mountainous country, is a turning point for the kingdom as the developing technological access in Bhutan is expected to bring the country to the modern era.

Internet Development

Since the Internet’s introduction in 1999, Bhutan quickly was able to quickly build its telecommunication infrastructure and have much of the country connected. Cell phone services began in 2003, with 80 percent of the population owning a cell phone as of 2018, which includes 70 percent of the population that consists of farmers, making Bhutan one of the most connected countries in the world. This jump from the days of being isolated from the world allows the people of Bhutan to communicate both within and outside of the country’s borders.

Telecommunications

The continued developing technological access in Bhutan has also seen growth through Bhutan’s own investment into its communication networks. Bhutan’s internal ICT development includes:

  • implementing protection lines for consumer purchases
  • building stations for mobile carriers and broadcasters and expanding upon broadband connections for wireless connections and private access for citizens
  • investing in cybersecurity and strengthening the overall connection quality

The investments in the internal network lines have allowed Bhutan to quickly connect the nation at a rapid pace. However, challenges remain in terms of developing the rural areas of the country within its mountainous terrain. That said, the government is actively looking at ways to change the status quo.

The National Rehabilitation Program (NRB) and the Common Minimum Program are two examples of initiatives focused on building new facilities and roads as well as easier access to electricity and supplies. Mountain Hazelnuts, a company headquartered in Eastern Bhutan has also made major tech investments for its farms, increasing employment and supplying smartphones for hired farmers that help with directions on the road and improve communication.

Henry Elliott
Photo: Flickr

 

Healing for GuatemalaGuatemala, a country with a rich Mayan past, has a history riddled with trauma and violence which contributes to the country’s poverty level today. After a 36-year civil war that tore the country apart, healing for Guatemala has just begun. While the civil war and accompanying genocide of its indigenous people ended in 1996, the country and those affected have struggled to hold military leaders accountable, to find their missing loved ones and to have the world recognize the pain and suffering that took place from 1960 until 1996.

Civil War and Genocide

The civil war hit a peak in violence in the mid-1980s, when General Efraín Ríos Montt formed a coup and overthrew the government. General Ríos Montt started a bloody genocide where over 200,000 indigenous Mayan Indians were killed or forcibly disappeared, having yet to resurface today. General Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013 after being found guilty of massacring 1,771 members of the Mayan Ixil group. Despite this ruling, the conviction was overturned shortly after and General Ríos Montt died while a retrial was underway.

Throughout their country’s violence and unrest, the indigenous Mayan people remain very proud of their culture and want to uphold their traditions.  While around half of the population in Guatemala is indigenous, these Mayans have suffered through exploitation, discrimination and marginalization. Today, healing for Guatemala means protecting and celebrating the Mayan culture in the face of extreme violence and terror. One long-held tradition of the Mayan people is backstrap weaving, which is a method of weaving beautiful and intricate textiles for clothing and other material uses.

Illiteracy and Language Barriers

Many Mayan women today are still living well below the poverty line (which means living on less than $1.80 per day) and many indigenous women are illiterate. Only 73 percent of women over 15 years of age in Guatemala are literate, a proportion that is vastly skewed toward women who live in cities, not in the rural countryside of the Mayan people. Numbers of Mayan women who are illiterate are unknown because births are often not registered with the state of Guatemala. It is estimated that roughly 60 percent of the indigenous population are illiterate. Due to extreme poverty, in which nearly 80 percent of indigenous families fall, one in two children under the age of five is malnourished.

Many of these Mayan women do not speak Spanish, the official language of Guatemala. These women only speak their Mayan language, of which there are 21 in Guatemala alone. Because these women do not speak Spanish, they are forced to sell their meticulous weavings to a Spanish-speaking middleman for much lower prices. Because of the low rates these women bring home from their weaving, they often have no choice but to pull their daughters out of school to help bring in money for the household. Only one in four indigenous girls over the age of 16 stay in school while the remainder typically start working to help their household.

The Formation of Trama Textiles

During the height of the violence, when it was dangerous and possibly deadly to wear Mayan clothing, the Mayan women of the Guatemala Highlands formed Trama Textiles, a woman-owned cooperative focused on backstrap weaving. As Mayan men were “disappearing,” the women of the community banded together in order to support themselves and their families. They did so by doing what they always had: backstrap weaving.

Weaving with Trama Textiles not only provides a way for these women to deliver clothing, money and other support to their families, it also helps these women deal with their trauma. The 400 members of this artisan cooperative work together, exploring different colors and designs in their textiles. With the sense of empowerment and purpose the cooperative gives them, they are able to grow stronger and work towards a better future. At Trama Textiles, the women weavers who are producing the product are the ones setting their own pricing, not a middleman. Trama Textiles helps these women to uphold Mayan traditions while ensuring a better future for their children.

Trama Textiles provides a place of relief for many indigenous Mayan women of Guatemala. Not only is it delivering healing for Guatemala it is helping women in indigenous villages form a community in which they thrive. These women who are often illiterate and do not speak the same language as one another are able to come together to run a cooperative. They earn money and valuable business knowledge while showing the rest of the nation that peace and healing are possible after a violent and turbulent past. This process, with the help of Trama Textiles and other cooperatives like it, will help pull indigenous communities out of the poverty that the 36-year civil war imposed on them. With a rise in income, these rural communities will be able to let their children finish their education, which will continue the cycle of pulling them out of poverty. Cooperatives like Trama Textiles are imperative in healing for Guatemala and all those affected by the genocide.

– Kathryn Moffet
Photo: Pixabay

the Friendship Bench

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern parts of Africa. Zimbabwe has a population of around 17 million. Estimates show that one in four Zimbabweans have anxiety and depression, yet there are only 12 psychiatrists in the country. Roughly two years ago, the idea of the Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe was introduced as an answer to this deficiency in mental health care. Now, the success of the program might be able to help other countries.

What is Friendship Bench?

In 2016, Dr. Dixon Chibanda came up with the idea of a friendship bench to treat the enormous problem of depression and inaccessibility to mental health treatment for the people of Zimbabwe. This was in response to the lack of resources and healthcare professionals. He decided to train 14 grandmothers as mental health counselors for a pilot project.

The government of Zimbabwe expanded the program following its success and has trained more than 700 grandmothers since. The mission of the Friendship bench is to boost mental well-being by bridging the gap created by poverty, distance and lack of resources. Friendship benches are wooden benches placed in open areas of health facilities where patients and their counselors have conversations based on problem-solving therapy.

The Randomized Control Studies conducted in 2016 evaluated the success of the Friendship Bench. They found that the benches alleviated symptoms of depression in 86 percent of the patients compared to 50 percent in a control group with standard therapy. These patients were also five times less likely to have suicidal thoughts. Dr. Dixon Chibanda, the founder of Friendship bench Project says that there are also positive effects of this treatment on other health outcomes such as hypertension and diabetes.

Why the Friendship Bench is so Successful?

The Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe has been successful for a number of reasons. By understanding these reasons, other countries could use this method to alleviate their mental health issues. The following are a few reasons that have led to the success of the Friendship Bench.

  1. The use of local terminology by the grandmothers to communicate resonated with the patients. For example, instead of using the word depression, grandmothers use the local word kufungisisa, which means ‘thinking too much.’ The non-use of strict medical terminology prevented stigma and encouraged people to seek help.
  2. The grandmothers involved in the project not only provided a safe space to share the problems but also helped empower their patients through solutions-oriented discussions.
  3. The patients meet with their counselors every week. This higher frequency of meetings leads to effective treatment.
  4. The holding of group sessions for the patients brings in a feeling of community and belonging.
  5. Since grandmothers who deliver the treatment come from the native community, they were able to build a relationship of trust with the patients.

Friendship Bench as a Blueprint for Other Countries

The United States has about 16 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. This number is one of the highest in the world, and yet it is inadequate. To cover this gap, New York City launched the Friendship bench project under the aegis of Dr. Chibanda in 2016. New York City has three permanent, bright orange friendship benches in Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. The project got an enormous response. Within the first year of the program, there were already 30,000 visitors. The counselors in New York City are as diverse as people. In fact, many of them have experienced mental health issues and/or substance abuse.

Canadian Universities have an independent but similar program to tackle depression in students. The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench is a nonprofit organization in Canada that started in 2015. The program uses #YellowforHello to spread awareness about mental health. The method is the same; person-to-person conversation to solve the problems causing mental health issues in university students. Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD) said, “When it comes to mental health, all countries are developing countries.” Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and one of the largest contributors to the global burden of disease.

Zimbabwe’s success with the Friendship Bench has provided a blueprint for mental health treatment in both low- and high-income countries. With New York already following the suit and London in consideration, it is safe to say that Zimbabwe, an otherwise resource-deprived country, is leading the globe with an effective and accessible solution to address common mental health disorders.

Navjot Buttar
Photo: Flickr

Nigerian Dance Company
People primarily consider dance a form of art or entertainment, but this Nigerian dance company is using dance to make a difference and better its community, as well as provide the determination and focus for the younger population. QDanceCenter is a dance studio, touring dance group and community development center all in one. It has received international recognition for touring and performing shows that focus on a variety of current socio-cultural, personal and political topics.

History and Mission of QDance

Qudus Onikeku, an internationally acclaimed choreographer and dancer, founded QDance in 2014. QDance started as a way to promote dance and tradition in the Lagos community. Onikeku also realized the need for employment and personal development opportunities and decided that fighting unemployment would be a major goal of the center as well. It now works with dancers and non-dancers and provides many employment and internship opportunities throughout Nigeria and the rest of the African continent.

QDance has a mission of “embracing creativity and innovation as a way of life.” It places high importance on innovation, using it as a means to create a goal, generate creative ideas, follow through on development and practical application and make it deliver real value and products. The QDance philosophy combines art and business to create a social enterprise and works with young people primarily in order to keep striving for the future of the center. QDanceCenter believes that dance is a business and employs not only dancers but also non-dancers who ensure that all the content and intellectual properties QDance produces returns an income. Its primary focus is to make sure that the center can continue to pay employees as well as continue to tour and perform.

Dance to Make a Difference

With over 203 million people in Nigeria, 19.81 percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 24. Of that number, 12.4 percent of the people within that age range do not have employment and are dealing with homeless issues. QDance is trying to make a difference both in the world of dance and within its own community. Currently, the Nigerian dance company employs nine full-time positions, 150 part-time positions, 20 internship opportunities and 230 indirect/outside jobs. Although it focusses primarily in Nigeria, it has made an impact in nearly 50 countries.

Onikeku considers QDance to be comprised of change-makers and says that they “have to be willing to attack something that society’s failing woefully at.” One of the other major focuses of QDance is working with dancers and artists living with disabilities. The center provides a platform for all dancers, based on talent and regardless of ability or disability. To date, QDance has trained over 100 young dancers, including those disabilities. It has amassed over 10,000 active followers and has worked with over 200 artists.

By providing employment opportunities for both dancers and non-dancers, QDanceCenter has been able to provide an income to hundreds of people as well as make a positive impact on the Lagos community in the past five years. In addition, the international community has recognized the work and talent of the center and its dancers, with many clients and artists located outside of Nigeria. Through these continued efforts, the Nigerian dance company is using dance to make a difference in the community by fighting against poverty and unemployment. Over the next several years, the organization will have helped many more people follow a passion, receive a steady income and foster a sense of community and development over an international following.

– Jessica Winarski
Photo: Flickr

Community Healing Dialogues in Sierra Leone
There are historical misunderstandings and under-investments in social care for people with mental health problems. This is even more prevalent among people living in poor countries like Sierra Leone. People in Sierra Leone do not treat mental health as seriously as other physical health disabilities. Sierra Leone has a population of more than 7 million people and there are only two psychiatrists, two clinical psychologists and 19 mental health nurses. There are also only four nurses that have specialization in child and adolescent mental health. With a clear need for psychological professional help, there has been a rise in community healing dialogues in Sierra Leone.

Mental Health in Koindu

Like many towns in Sierra Leone, Koindu struggled after the Ebola epidemic. Some say that mental disorders and anxiety affected many citizens even after the virus outbreak. Koindu citizens go through similar psychological effects as war veterans.

After experiencing stigmatization and discrimination from within their communities, many survivors of the Ebola outbreak became stressed which increased mental health problems. Koindu’s community suffered distress with only a few mental health providers and little information about psychological pain. The USAID Advancing Partners & Communities project initiated community healing dialogues (CHDs) to provide care to the people.

Community Healing Dialogues (CHDs)

Trained facilitators lead the community healing dialogues. They unite the community members together to vent their concerns and come up with ways to solve them. The success of community healing dialogues in Sierra Leone is raising awareness about serious problems affecting group members. Community members are discussing economic and livelihood challenges as a group, and creating solutions. People, who formerly discriminated against Ebola survivors, are now accepting them back into their communities.

Once a week, the CHDs gather between 15 to 18 community members to talk about and promote the mental health issues in their communities. There are at least two social workers and two nurses per district to organize and facilitate Community Healing Dialogues. More than 705 community members in 45 communities benefit from this psychosocial care. Depending on the situation, people refer some members to higher-level mental health services.

Higher-Level Program Aid

The World Health Organization (WHO) developed the mental health gap action program (mhGAP) to provide more specialized services. The program trains higher-level health care workers and medical doctors around the country. The workers and professionals use procedures within the program to identify and diagnose possible treatment options for mental disorders.

The African region is widely using mhGAP. It is pursuing professionals who may provide more specialized care at the local recommended hospitals; Kissy Psychiatric National Referral Hospital, Connaught Hospital and Ola During Children’s Hospital. The WHO is collaborating with other partners within the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to provide technical support to continue strengthening mental health services.

There is now a better understanding and acceptance of how to treat mental health within the country. Advanced care solutions along with the community healing dialogues in Sierra Leone are improving the quality of care for the people in need of help.

– Francisco Benitez
Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurship in Mexico
According to a 2016/2017 study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Mexico is one of the five countries in the world where the number of women starting their own businesses is equal to or greater than men. This is fantastic news because if men and women participate equally in the economy, Mexico’s GDP could increase by 43 percent or $810 billion. From 2000 to 2010 alone, women’s participation in the workforce decreased extreme poverty by 30 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. With that increase in female entrepreneurship in Mexico, women are able to become more independent, but many women still face powerful barriers in starting their own business.

Many women, especially in subsistence settings, lack access to training, financing and markets, and face physical, sexual and economic violence. The average female-headed household earns $507 a month in urban areas and $273 a month in rural areas while male-led households earn $780 a month in urban areas and $351 a month in rural areas. The burden of domestic tasks also falls mostly on women. A 2009 survey found that men spend an average of 53 hours a week on economic activities and 12 hours on domestic tasks while women spend an average of 40 to 45 hours a week earning money and 20 hours maintaining the family and household.

The Marketplace Literacy Project

Elena Olascoaga, a gender and development consultant and former project manager for the Marketplace Literacy Project in Mexico, is very familiar with the challenge successful female entrepreneurship in Mexico faces. Olascoaga describes the Marketplace Literacy Project as an initiative to help people in subsistence settings become entrepreneurs by acknowledging the skills they already have in the marketplace and giving them the tools to build on and market pre-existing skills.

According to Olascoaga, the founder of this methodology and workshop program, Professor Madhu Viswanathan, tried to bring this program to Mexico for a long time before finding a U.S. State Department grant intended for breaking cycles of violence against women due to economic dependency. He initially designed the program to be gender-neutral so Olascoaga came in because her background in gender consultancy allowed her to effectively factor the unique challenges female entrepreneurship in Mexico faces to the workshops. She added a new program to the methodology that she called autonomy literacy, because, although the program teaches participants to create their own income, it is often difficult for people in abusive situations to start a business, even if they have the know-how.

The Need for Female Entrepreneurship in Mexico

While Mexico has made great strides to improve gender equality, there is often still a cultural emphasis for women to become mothers and housewives, to a point where Olascoaga describes economic dependence as romanticized. Many consider women lucky if they do not have to work because their husband provides food and shelter. However, this kind of love can be a trap. If the husband is the only provider, then the wife is not building her own savings or gaining experience in the workforce. “If something goes wrong in the relationship, then they have nowhere else to go,” she said.

In an interview by Forbes Magazine, hotel owner Gina Lozada said that “…Most parents don’t educate their girls to succeed in business. On the contrary, it is normal that women are raised to believe that their goal should be to marry and take care of the family.” Often, because female entrepreneurship in Mexico does not receive emphasis, women feel that they do not have many options and lack the confidence to start their own company.

Olascoaga observes that, because women in subsistence settings feel that they cannot strike out of their own, they often stay with their abuser. “A common phrase is no se hacer nada which is I don’t know how to do anything,” she says. Autonomy training, when combined with marketplace literacy training, teaches women that they do know how to do something. For example, they might be good cooks or skilled embroiderers. The methodology of the Marketplace Literacy Project is to build on preexisting knowledge and teach women to recognize their skills and to think strategically about their resources.

Autonomy Literacy

“We want women to be aware that they can create their income,” said Olascoaga. In the workshops, the Marketplace Literacy Project works with women in two age groups, women older than 18 and girls 14 to 18 years old. In her experience, almost all the women older than 18 had been in violent relationships where they stayed with their aggressors because they did not have economic independence. Some among the younger group were already mothers and in violent relationships where they had the potential to work and build skills, but their partners would not let them.

As the younger group went through the program, though, many of them began to realize that their mothers, aunts and other relatives were living in similar situations. One struggle that she noted when working with women is that they will not recognize that they are living in an abusive situation, especially to a group of strangers, so they instead speak in hypotheticals. The participants may know someone in this situation, and if they did, they would express how they could help.

The Marketplace Literacy Project, though, has helped give more than 4,500 women tools for economic independence since its start in 2016. Olascoaga said that those who participate have two major takeaways. The first is that autonomy becomes a very important concept and the second is that they do not need money to start a business. Olascoaga was happy to report that women will often come up to her and say that, after the workshop, they started businesses by selling cookies or embroidering. “It might seem small to us,” Olascoaga said, “but for them, it’s a really big deal.”

With female entrepreneurship in Mexico on the rise, more and more women are not only finding empowerment in their lives but changing the world around them by challenging a culture that often devalues their work.

Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

 

Consequences of Poor Living Conditions on the CommunityThe direct consequences of poverty are well-known — limited access to food, water, health care or education are a few examples. However, the consequences of poor living conditions on the community are seldom discussed; indeed, if members of a community suffer from poor living conditions, then the entire community suffers.

Effects on Community

Studies show that poor living conditions negatively affect physical and mental health. In fact, one study found that individuals in poor housing exhibit worse mental health in 100 percent of cases. Additionally, inadequate or unsanitary living conditions can contribute to the spread of disease, which adds to health care costs, prevents individuals from working and threatens the well-being of community members.

The health ramifications of poor living conditions on individuals extend to entire communities as well. Overcrowded areas are prone to suffer from infectious diseases, especially if there are unsanitary conditions. Mental health issues decrease an individual’s chance of finding employment, which can hinder a community’s productivity and economic activity.

Educational and Social Impacts

Yet another consequence of poor living conditions on the community is the degree to which they affect educational attainment. Poor living conditions inhibit a child’s ability to receive the best possible education, no matter the country or region. And a substandard education affects the entire community negatively. Well-educated populations, on the other hand, provide a myriad of advantages for a community, such as higher wages, more opportunities for innovation and greater rates of investment. Community development programs that focus on education remain among the best strategies to combat poor living conditions worldwide.

One of the less examined consequences of poor living conditions on the community is the impact on social bonds. As discussed, poverty has a detrimental impact on mental health; further, it can negatively affect families, relationships and essential social networks. The simple truth is that poor living conditions shift the attention of individuals toward their daily struggle with poverty. Instead of, for example, participating in community organizing, individuals may have multiple jobs in order to support their family. Overall, this hampers a community’s ability to form bonds and work together to improve their situation.

Combating Poverty

Bridges to Community, a nonprofit organization, works closely with community leaders in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Through creating more robust education, health, housing and economic development networks, the organization hopes to initiate and inspire organic community growth. In selected areas in both countries, Bridges to Community builds schools, provides health care and repairs damaged homes. In the past 12 months alone, the organization built or repaired 71 houses and established 70 biodigesters, which cleanly and efficiently treat wastewater.

Mentioned before, poverty has adverse effects on community organizing, but it does not entirely prevent it from occurring. For instance, more than 1,000 residents of Paraiso, San Jacinto organized to build a community center, and they are continuing their work to strengthen health care and education opportunities. The community identified 18 projects best-suited to serve their needs; after completion of the community center, they now have a communal area where they may continue their development efforts.

A powerful way to combat poor living conditions is through community development. Steps taken as a community provide lasting change and often address the root causes of poverty and poor living conditions, such as limited education opportunities and lack of quality health care. Despite the barriers that poverty presents, strong communal bonds prove to be an effective tool in raising awareness and mobilizing community action.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

The Brightness of The Arts
The room is dark with a spotlight and hard bleachers. One young person enters from stage left juggling three red balls. Another performer helps the juggler onto a cylinder. Barefoot, the juggler is now balancing and juggling. Soon they add another cylinder at a 90-degree angle to the first, followed by another cylinder and another. The juggler is now five feet off the ground, still balancing and juggling. Phare Battambang Circus is a human-only circus in Battambang, Cambodia with goals well beyond entertainment that involves its idea of The Brightness of the Arts.  It strives to fight poverty in Cambodia through the arts.

The Phare Battambang Circus

The Phare Battambang Circus runs through a Cambodian nonprofit, Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) or The Brightness of the Arts, which provides a “nurturing and creative environment where young people access quality arts training, education and social support.” Sparked in 1986 in a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border, Phare Ponleu Selpak uses a whole child approach through arts, education and social support to break intergenerational patterns of poverty steeped in the long history of state-sponsored violence. While the violence of the Khmer Rouge has retreated, children in Cambodia still struggle with extensive social problems such as poor school retention, drug abuse, poor working conditions, domestic violence, illegal migration and exploitation.

Now a must-do for visiting tourists, high season at the Phare Battambang Circus means at least 150 visitors a night. About 40 percent of nightly circus revenue goes to the youth performers themselves. This income supports families around Battambang and keeps youth out of more destructive industries like human trafficking in Thailand. PPS estimates that over 1,000 lives should positively change every year through its free-of-charge artistic, general education and personalized social support. Its arts education and artistic performances are changing the lives of families living in poverty in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge Regime

Under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, the party’s radical Maoist and Marxist-Leninist agenda governed all aspects of everyday life in Cambodia. In its effort to render the country a classless agricultural utopia, the Khmer Rouge asserted that only the culturally pure could participate in the revolution. As such, the Khmer Rouge “executed hundreds of thousands of intellectuals; city residents; minority people such as the Cham, Vietnamese and Chinese and many of their own soldiers and party members, who were accused of being traitors.” Recent estimates place the death toll between 1.2 and 2.8 million.

The people the Khmer Rouge found to be nonconforming went to prison camps, the most notorious being S-21 where the regime imprisoned over 12,000 people and only 15 survived. Such widespread violence forced millions into refugee camps for years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

At Site II, a refugee camp on the Thai/Cambodian border, a French artist and humanitarian worker named Véronique Decrop started offering informal drawing classes for the children at the camp orphanage.

How Site II Grew into PHARE

Classes at Site II grew into PHARE, a French association and acronym meaning Patrimoine Humain et Artistique des Réfugiés et de leurs Enfants (Human and Artistic Heritage of the Refugees and their Children). Communications and Marketing Coordinator for Phare Ponleu Selpak Morgane Darrasse said, “The original idea was to develop a form of art therapy for them to escape and overcome the traumas of war.” Over time PHARE grew into Phare Ponleu Selpak or The Brightness of the Arts.

When Site II closed in 1992, Veronique and nine of her students moved to Battambang to create a sustainable school for the most affected children from the surrounding area. By 1995, the school accepted its first students and to this day, four of the original founders are still active in PPS.

Thanks to state-wide violence, all founders of PPS grew up in refugee camps segregated from their own cultural traditions. When it came time to implement music and dance programs at PPS, the founders chose to spotlight Cambodian traditional music. Derasse said, “They felt it their duty to revive the dying Cambodian arts” while fighting poverty in Cambodia.

Phare Ponleu Selpak Supports Its Students

Even though drawing classes with PHARE were the first seed, Phare Ponleu Selpak now has a thriving visual and performing arts curriculum as well as a strong outreach and social work foundation to support students find job placements and networking opportunities through and after their education. In its efforts to create a sustainable arts community, PPS ensures that 100 percent of students who complete their secondary or vocational training with it achieve employment within three months of graduation. This sustainable long-term approach lessens the intergenerational hold of poverty in Cambodia.

One student, Monisovanya RY, studied visual arts and graphic design through PPS. Upon graduation, PPS hired her into the PPS communications team to coordinate product design and production. In her free time, she creates performances in local galleries to cultivate an understanding of the environmental dangers of plastic waste.

Morgane Darrasse for PPS boasts, “We provide our students with communication and life skills, and also a complete set of technical skills, a strong fundamental and cultural knowledge of the arts, and the ability to understand, analyze and respond to a given problem with professionalism and creativity.”

The organization’s graphic and animation graduates work in advertising, marketing and animation production, and all local circus instructors are graduates of the program itself. Its goal is the creation of a sustainable arts community.

PPS’s Child Protection Program

In addition to pursuing arts programming, PPS’s Child Protection Program (CPP) asserts the inherent value of children’s rights. It wants communities to be safe and to provide families with the tools to care for their children. These programs extend into the three communes surrounding Battambang.

In collaboration with 32 NGOs based in Battambang and generous international donors, CPP follows, tracks and supports students and their families through a family needs assessment process and a monthly student sponsorship program. Most PPS participants come from these local communes because of the intense time commitment their programs require. PPS established a scholarship program for its visual arts program recently, which has made it accessible to young people from other parts of Cambodia.

Phare Ponleu Selpak or The Brightness of the Arts saves lives and combats poverty in Cambodia. In 2013, PPS received a royal award of $31,000 from the Netherlands. The Dutch Ambassador said PPS gets at the heart of their award requirements “to promote the use of culture as a means of development.”

Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Using Technology for Decreasing Poverty in the Dominican Republic Via Technology
A promising program that is aiming to help to bring people in the Dominican Republic out of poverty is the Community Technology Center Program (CTC). This initiative is one key sign of the progress the country is making in improving health, promoting gender equality and decreasing poverty in the Dominican Republic. With more innovative programs like the CTCs, the country could continue to see significant progress in many areas of poverty reduction through education and access to technological resources.

What Do CTCs Offer?

Since its inception in 1998, the primary purpose of the CTCs is to offer technology resources for people to help in areas such as employment and education, thereby increasing financial stability. The CTCs are also working to achieve its mission connected to health by helping to prevent the spread of disease by offering people access to information about health. Currently, there are 87 centers, but there are plans to build more.

The CTC initiative works towards helping families living on a dollar per day to possess the tools to help themselves increase their financial stability. One of the reasons for the success of the CTC program is that it utilizes technology to help people at no cost, thereby bestowing to people the tools to have a say in their lives. In fact, the centers offer technology training for those who don’t know how to use the resources.

Empowering Women and Minorities

Assistance for women, the disabled, immigrants and others who have not had access to online information and technology is a top priority. One of the issues the CTC programs has been trying to address is women’s access and use of the Internet. At least “three-fourths of the female population don’t use the internet.” The CTC initiative is also working to expand women’s participation in technology and Internet access.

The part of the program, women on the net, also demonstrates the progress that the CTCs are making. Some of the areas of education the centers provide are programming, multimedia and telecommunications. By providing education in these areas, the goal is for participants to find jobs in technology. By 2013, 700 female participants had finished programs at various centers, learning computer literacy and technology.

By providing assistance to people with disabilities, immigrants and non-legal residents, CTCs are helping to reduce poverty in often marginalized communities. One of the people the program has aided in employment, Julien Joseph-Josue, said the CTC program made him feel like “part of a family.” Joseph-Josue is a Haitian immigrant who received training to help his career as an interpreter.

The Success of the Program

The centers provide opportunities for learning and sharing in a community space as well as providing training in obtaining a job. Currently, the centers have achieved substantial progress in alleviating poverty in the Dominican Republic and have made significant strides in working to promote gender equality. The number of people CTCs has helped demonstrates this development. CTCs have helped develop the skills of around 40,000 people, 60 percent of these people being women, creating a more positive outlook.

Demonstrating a continual sign of progress the CTC program has made is the Bill and Melinda Gates recognition for the initiative for its innovation. The organization awarded the initiative The 2012 Access to Learning Award (ATLA), an award for organizations across the globe that offer access to technology. The CTC program obtained $1 million from this award. Furthermore, Microsoft will give $18 million worth of software to the initiative in accordance with its global citizenship effort to offer help in the positive developments from technology.

The technology that the program provides allows for access to information aiding in financial stability, health and decreasing poverty in the Dominican Republic. In addition, the CTCs have been shown to move the Dominican Republic further along on the path to achieving gender equality. With the continual effort of the initiative, hopefully, there will be more positive results in the effort to alleviate poverty in the Dominican Republic.

– Daniel McAndrew-Greiner
Photo: Flickr

Poor Mental HealthThe Mental Health Foundation has recognized poverty as a causal factor of mental health problems, but also as a consequence of mental health problems. Poor mental health and poverty often go hand in hand.

Causes and Effects of Poor Mental Health

Mental health issues arise from causes related to the social, economic and physical environments in which an individual lives. Poor mental health in a community is significant in the range of social health problems that contribute to reduced development. The effects include decreased community cohesion, low educational achievement, poor physical health, premature mortality and increased violence.

Recovery from both mental health problems and poverty requires timely, sufficient access to quality resources and care.  Incorporating principles and taking action in devastated areas will substantially improve the quality of life for individuals with mental and psychosocial disabilities. It will also improve development in the individuals themselves, as well as their families and communities.

The Work of Advancing Partners & Communities

Advancing Partners & Communities (ADC), a USAID-funded organization, recognizes the need to address mental health stability to repair impoverished communities. ADC understands that to address inequalities related to mental health and poverty, there must be a change in social arrangements. In order to transform an area’s social arrangement, the ADC has created community healing dialogues (CHDs) in areas of Sierra Leone that have been heavily affected by Ebola outbreaks.

The Ebola outbreak in 2014, as well as the recent outbreak in May of 2018, have left many countries with a sense of devastation and hopelessness.  Many people lost friends and family members, and survivors of the illness have been faced with discrimination and stigmatization. The immense disconnect between community members, as well as the heavy devastation that faces them, have affected the mental health of individuals and communities alike.

Community Healing Dialogues

The CHDs, a type of community-centered regeneration program, work directly with the distressed communities in an effort to change the divided social structure. The dialogues catalyze local action and build social capital, both of which are necessities in overcoming mental health instability and poverty.

The CHDs offer people, specifically survivors ostracized by their community, an outlet to voice their concerns, complaints and ideas for solutions. With the help of the CHD-trained facilitators, members of the community are able to move past stigmas and accept the survivors back into their midst.

By providing peer-support within the community, the CHDs work toward uniting people to build social capital. Social capital creates strong bonds within the community, allowing it to provide protection against health risks, resilience and support for its people, as well as access to social, psychological and economic resources. Conversation is key to building social capital, and social capital is key to developing a strong community.

Healing, for a community devastated by disease or an individual struggling with mental illness, begins with conversation. Assistance offered to people with poor mental health has the ability to impact the wellbeing of not only the individual but the entire community.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr