Permaculture Farming
Permaculture farming is a design system for farming that applies ecological principles from nature to human agriculture. It attempts to banish pollution, water waste and energy waste. In the same vein, it focuses on improving productivity, efficiency and upcycling production to improve farmers’ conditions and their land. The heart of permaculture is caring for the planet, caring for people and promoting equitable distribution.

Permaculture Farming Integrates Production

This concept grew out of a sustainable agriculture movement initially developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia in the 70’s. The principles of permaculture are many. For instance — observing and interacting, catching and storing energy, obtaining a yield, applying self-regulation and feedback. Additional principles include using and valuing renewables, producing no waste, designing from patterns to details, integrating production (instead of segregating it), using small solutions, valuing diversity, valuing the marginal and creatively responding to change.

Enabling Self-Subsistence

NGOs and charity organizations often provide direct aid that is helpful in the short term but does not offer long-term solutions. A permaculture advocate named Josephine Awino explained, as an example, that in Kenya cash crops are primarily grown. However, when a community transitions from growing cash crops and moves towards growing plants that their community can eat — it allows the community to depend less on imports and exports. With less dependence on external subsidies, which are transitory and sometimes withdrawn, the community can create a long-standing, institutional baseline for financial success.

The Reuse of Land

Permaculture typically uses cyclical farming techniques to reduce waste and sewage problems. Permaculture farming primarily focuses on practical ways one can enrich the soil, to maximize garden output. It is also possible to implement the cycling of produce types during this process so that the land can consistently retain the same nutrients during each growing season. Any community can improve the soil quickly through using compost-making, water catchment systems and improving the landscape for water retention. Instead of focusing on what one can get from the land, permaculture focuses on how one can continue to reuse land exponentially. In communities where there is minimal space for gardening and farming, the reuse of land is particularly helpful. The consistent ability to reuse the soil can help protect low-income communities from famines due to blockades or sanctions from other countries.

Generating Income

Many communities often function with small economies. In this same vein, even small economies utilize mutual trade and aid — made possible through permaculture. Additionally, permaculture reorients the economic goals of a community. Instead of working to gain more money to buy imported food, the community can save money by consuming the food that they have created, themselves. Permaculture farming creates less dependence on outside income and promotes the circulation of the local economy in conjunction with surrounding economies and the instrumentation of direct, mutual aid. Also, permaculture farms can utilize the space they have created to offer other community services, which can, in turn, be used to generate income. Once the farm is successful, it can also serve as a teaching site for other communities within the region. In this way, communities can learn permaculture practices and this service (of teaching) itself can serve as yet another direct source of income.

Promotion of Community Reliance

When communities implement various kinds of food production, it does not necessarily require that individuals own land or have money. For example, a community can band together to petition their government to provide ground for a shared, community garden. Frequently, permaculture can function successfully in limited, private spaces — like rooftops or walls, to optimize the area and encourage growth. Individuals are inspired to rely on their community members to identify which places will work best for creating garden zones. Additionally, permaculture farming can unite a small community in the shared goal of making food to be used for and sold by the community, exclusively.

– Hannah Bratton
Photo: Flickr

Beauty brands making a differenceMakeup brands are generally known for their aesthetically pleasing cosmetics and the confidence they provide their consumers. However, what is less well known is that many makeup brands are actively creating initiatives to help those in need. Most recently, many of these companies have spearheaded relief efforts to ease the impacts of the global pandemic. Here are five popular beauty brands making a difference amidst COVID-19.

5 Beauty Brands Making a Difference during COVID-19

  1. Milk Makeup. Milk Makeup is one of the beauty brands making a difference during this time. It is a popular brand best known for its minimalist makeup products. However, the company has gained recent attention for its assistance with COVID-19 in New York. On April 10, the brand partnered with the Wu-Tang Clan to donate 100 % of its proceeds from that day to the New York City COVID-19 relief effort: the event raised a total of $106,000 in just 24 hours. Additionally, the brand donated $250,000 in beauty products to frontline workers.
  2. L’Oreal. In response to COVID-19, this international drugstore brand has implemented a new initiative called “L’Oreal for the Future.” The program plans to donate 100 million euros to help combat global climate change. L’Oreal will also donate 50 million euros to support vulnerable women living in societies severely impacted by economic deficiencies. Further, the brand donated 400,000 hygiene products and 400,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to frontline hospital and retail staff in Great Britain and Ireland.
  3. MAC. MAC is another one of the beauty brands making a difference during these difficult times. Since 1994, MAC Cosmetics has held an annual “Viva Glam Campaign.” In previous years, the money from this campaign was dedicated to combating HIV/AIDS; however, in light of 2020’s recent events, the campaign has shifted to target COVID-19. Through this campaign, the beauty company has committed to donating $10 million to 250 U.S. and international organizations working to help those impacted by COVID-19.
  4. Avon. This cosmetics brand has partnered with Feed the Children for the past 16 years. However, in response to COVID-19, Avon has significantly strengthened its support of this nonprofit organization. The company has donated more than $2 million in personal care products and over $40 million in necessities to impacted families across the country.
  5. Thrive Causemetics. Thrive Causemetics is another one of the beauty brands making a difference. It has created a $1 million initiative to aid COVID-19 relief efforts. As part of this commitment, the company donated $10,000 to the University of Washington Virology Lab to help expand access to COVID-19 testing. Additionally, Thrive Causemetics gave $350,000 to various other United States organizations diligently working to fight COVID-19 such as Meals on Wheels, Baby2Baby and Feeding America.

These beauty brands are prime examples of companies utilizing their influences and platforms to impact their communities for good. In the future, cosmetics companies will hopefully continue working beyond their products to improve the lives of their consumers.

– Kira Lucas
Photo: Flickr

Psychosocial Recovery from Ebola in Sierra LeoneCommunity healing dialogues are proving effective in providing psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone by addressing the trauma and stigma that survivors face. These sessions give community members a forum to raise and address their concerns about problems in the community, promoting health, wellness and prosperity in both psychosocial, emotional and economic senses. The dialogues seek to erase the stigma and promote economic recovery via micro-enterprise groups.

Poverty and Public Health Challenges

Sierra Leone is a West African country with a population of 7.5 million. Life expectancy is approximately 52 years for women and 51 years for men. The top ten causes of death include malaria, neonatal disorders, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world (women have a one in 17 chance of dying from pregnancy or childbirth), in addition to one of the highest mortality rates for children under five. The country lacks a centralized public health system, and most people cannot access health care due to extreme poverty.

Support and Strides Amid Ebola

Sierra Leone had the highest number of fatal Ebola cases in the 2014-2016 outbreak. The disease’s severity prompted the CDC and NGOs like Partners in Health to provide resources and support. The CDC mounted its largest ever response to an outbreak in an individual country, providing services that included:

  • Epidemiological/strategical support
  • Infection prevention and control
  • Case management
  • Health promotion
  • Laboratory/diagnostic support
  • Emergency management
  • Border health
  • Research support

Partners in Health also provided emergency Ebola care and stayed in Sierra Leone after the outbreak to help strengthen the country’s public health system, staff, supplies and infrastructure. It has provided prenatal care, community health services, tuberculosis treatment, mental health care, blood banking and emergency medical services. The organization also established ongoing support systems for Ebola survivors. Strengthening Sierra Leone’s health system is an important means of both alleviating poverty and helping the country heal from Ebola. However, much work remains to be done.

Returning to Communities Through Healing Dialogues

Ebola is a disease with severe physical manifestations, but its social and psychological aftereffects can also be devastating and can help ensure that those affected remain in poverty.

In the words of one lifelong resident of Sierra Leone, “The Ebola outbreak in West Africa had the same psychological effects on individuals as war.”

Often, Ebola survivors are grieving for the deaths of their loved ones. At the same time, they face stigma and discrimination when trying to return to their communities because people fear that they still carry Ebola.

To address these complex and multifaceted issues, USAID’s Advancing Partners & Communities project introduced community healing dialogues. These meetings, which are conducted by trained facilitators, give community members space to talk through and resolve their concerns. These sessions are having positive effects on psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone for both survivors and their communities. Some survivors have been able to rejoin their communities free of stigma. In addition, the sessions serve as a forum for the community-based resolution of economic problems. For example, the forum led to a micro-enterprise group helping pay for a young woman’s school fee.

Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak was devastating on medical, economic and psychosocial levels. Support from governmental and non-governmental organizations have helped the country face these issues. Community healing dialogues have been extremely beneficial in aiding psychosocial recovery from Ebola in Sierra Leone.

– Isabelle Breier
Photo: USAID

QANDIL's Humanitarian Efforts
Sweden’s renown as a humanitarian superpower stems from its involvement in global aid initiatives. In 2018, the country devoted 1.04 percent of its gross national income (GNI) to overseas development, making Sweden the sixth-largest humanitarian aid contributor among the world’s countries and the largest one proportional to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). From 1975 onward, Sweden’s humanitarian aid efforts have continually surpassed the U.N.’s minimum target of developed nations spending 0.7 percent of GNI on overseas development initiatives.

One of the most well-regarded Sweden-based NGOs is QANDIL. Established in Stockholm in 1991, QANDIL’s initiatives aim to foster lasting peace and development in Iraq. Beneficiaries of its aid range from refugees and returnees to internally displaced persons and local host communities. Since 2016, QANDIL has concentrated its efforts on development in the Kurdistan region, serving as the most prominent partner of UNHCR in this region. Below are seven facts about QANDIL’s humanitarian efforts.

7 Facts About QANDIL’s Humanitarian Efforts

  1. Economic Assistance — Two Cash-Based Intervention projects implemented in 2017 raised $2,695,280 for 3,829 families in need in the Kurdistan region’s Duhok governorate. In Erbil, QANDIL distributed $3,155,800 to 3,054 families in the Erbil governorate, while $648,290 went to 1,900 families in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. Ultimately, QANDIL distributed $6,499,370 to 8,783 refugees and IDP families within three of the Kurdistan region’s governorates. This provides a foundation by which these uprooted people may become economically stable and productive.
  2. Shelter — Through the Shelter Activities Project, QANDIL supported uprooted people in search of shelter, which included 7,246 families. Among QANDIL’s successes in providing shelter-based aid is the implementation of 25 major shelter rehabilitation initiatives, encompassing five camps in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. This helped resolve the long-term problem of incomplete and hazardous structures allotted to displaced persons.
  3. Legal Services — The Outreach Project, operating in the Erbil and Duhok governorates, offers legal services to IDPs and refugees. With the participation of volunteers from both the displaced and host communities, QANDIL’s efforts have granted legal assistance to 319,773 IDPs and refugees and outreach services to 19,894 persons in the Erbil governorate alone. In the Duhok governorate, beneficiaries included 69,093 refugees and IDPs. Furthermore, in 2017, QANDIL participated in an initiative to provide mobile magistrates to administer court-related matters for displaced persons.
  4. Assistance for Gender-Based Violence Victims — With the participation of UNFPA, QANDIL commits resources to finance and submitting reports to seven local NGOs that operate 21 women’s social centers. These centers function in both responsive and preventative capacities for women both within and outside camps. Services that these centers offer include listening, counseling, referrals to other institutions, distribution of hygiene kits and even recreational activities. In total, this program has assisted 67,108 women and girls in the Duhok governorate, 11,021 in the Erbil governorate and 43,797 in the Sulaymaniyah governorate.
  5. Youth Education — Starting in 2017, QANDIL devised an educational initiative targeting Syrian refugee students, funded at approximately $271,197. The soft component of this initiative provided funding and resources for recreational activities and catch-up classes, as well as teacher capacity building training and the maintenance of parent-teacher associations, in schools enrolling refugee students in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. The initiative’s hard component comprises aid for special needs students at seven refugee schools in the Sulaymaniyah governorate.
  6. Skills Training — In collaboration with the German development aid organization GIZ, QANDIL embarked on a vocational and educational initiative aiming to benefit displaced persons residing at Debanga camp. These individuals received access to skills training and qualifications certification, ranging from plumbing and electricity to language and art, in three-week courses offering free tuition. As a whole in 2017, the vocational and educational training centers that QANDIL supported with funding from GIZ have improved the employment prospects for 1,756 individuals, out of which 546 were women.
  7. Immediate Response in Crisis Situations — With an upsurge in regional conflict on Oct. 16, 2017, came an increase in IDPs in Tuz Khurmatu, a city 88 kilometers south of Kirkuk. This event tested the efficacy and efficiency of QANDIL’s humanitarian aid efforts. By Oct. 24, QANDIL’s Emergency Response Committee began dispensing out emergency kits to persons that the conflict escalation affected. Included in these packages were necessities, food and non-food items alike. By Oct. 25, QANDIL parceled out 1,237 emergency kits to aid-seekers distributed over 25 locations in the Sulaymaniyah and Garmian regions. That same day, 600 aid-seekers received aid packages in the Erbil and Koya regions, while the rest of the aid made its way to other camps in the Sulaymaniyah area.

From education to vocational training to sanitation and hygiene and shelter and legal services, QANDIL’s humanitarian efforts in the Kurdistan region of Iraq continue to make a difference for the lives of thousands of displaced and settled people alike. Thus, QANDIL serves as an ambassador for Sweden’s humanitarian aid mission. Whether in the course of sustained initiatives or responses to imminent crises, QANDIL persists in its constructive humanitarian aid role in an unstable region. It is through the tireless efforts of such NGOs as QANDIL that Sweden continues to serve as a model in humanitarian aid initiatives to the rest of the world.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

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 Guatemala

Guatemala, 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