Access to Education in PalestineAmid the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict, there remains a generation of Palestinian children denied access to traditional education. Despite immense adversity, education remains an important priority in Palestinian society. Education is, in part, a mode of sustaining Palestine’s unique culture amid exile and foreign occupation. More than 95% of children are enrolled in basic education across Palestine. While impressive, this statistic obscures the tribulations and barriers that Palestinian youth experience in their educational journeys. Both males and those with disabilities are at a disproportionately higher rate of not completing their education with 25% of boys dropping out of school by age 15. Equally concerning, is that “22.5% of boys and 30% of girls aged 6-15 years with a disability have never enrolled in school.” International aid organizations are committed to improving access to education in Palestine.

Low School Completion Rates

Low rates of school completion are inherently tied to Palestine’s failing job market. The economy is crippled by decades of sanctions and isolationism. Currently, youth unemployment rates are 40% in the West Bank and 62% in Gaza. Simply, many young Palestinians do not see the incentive in completing their education if it will not guarantee them job opportunities.

For the Palestinian education system to thrive, the state’s circulation of job opportunities needs to be drastically improved. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offers a technical and vocational training program to Palestinian refugee youth to help them gain skills for the Middle Eastern job sector. The UNRWA runs eight centers with a capacity for about 7,500 students. Furthermore, UNICEF works on “life-skills and entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.”

Influence of West Bank Violence on Education

Violent episodes of conflict along the West Bank and Gaza Strip hinder education in Palestine. Due to the crisis in the region, almost half a million children in Palestine require humanitarian assistance. The closure of the Gaza Strip and its accompanying physical access restrictions vehemently infringe upon the liberties and learning potential of young Palestinians. Having to regularly pass by military checkpoints and settlements on the way to school has untold psychological effects on Palestinian youth. Even at home, almost 90% “of children are subjected to psychological aggression” and 74% are physically punished.

Organizations such as UNICEF fight to create violence-free environments across Palestine. “It is our collective duty to protect every child on the journey to school and at school and to ensure that they can access the quality education which is the right of every child, everywhere,” says Genevieve Boutin, UNICEF special representative in the State of Palestine. She further explains that education is integral to achieving peace.

The Future of Palestinian Education

Still, much remains to be done to improve access to education in Palestine. Across Palestine, classrooms remain immensely overcrowded and underfunded. From a lack of classrooms to textbook shortages, Palestinian students are forced to beat the odds. Sometimes, students must study with no light due to frequent power outages. In fact, the Gaza Strip is only able to garner a meager four to six hours of electricity daily.

It is crucial that the United States and other powerful countries increase their humanitarian assistance and aid to the Palestinian territories. As violence continues to erupt, the U.N. is actively involved in mediation efforts. International organizations must continue targeted development projects in marginalized Palestinian communities. The future of education in Palestine depends on the unity and support of the international community.

Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South SudanAs the world’s youngest country, South Sudan faces many obstacles to economic and political stability. Continued conflict, natural disasters and COVID-19 further exacerbate the developing nation’s economic strife in the aftermath of years of civil war. Outside of foreign aid, South Sudan’s economy heavily relies on two main sources: oil production and agriculture. Both these sources experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, negatively affecting economic growth and livelihoods in the country. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Sudan calls for the support of foreign aid in order for the country to successfully recover.

South Sudan’s Oil Industry

South Sudan is one of the most oil-reliant countries in the world. More than 90% of its revenue and more than 70% of its GDP stems from its abundant oil fields. Since gaining its independence, South Sudan produces nearly three-quarters of former Sudan’s entire oil output, equating to almost 500,000 barrels per day. However, the volatile oil industry is experiencing a lower demand and a decline in prices due to the pandemic. Regarding the global oil demand, “containment measures and economic disruptions related to the COVID-19 outbreak have led to a slowdown in production and mobility worldwide, producing a significant drop in global demand for oil.”

COVID-19’s Effects on Agriculture and Food Security

The agricultural sector accounts for 15% of GDP in South Sudan and employs roughly 80% of South Sudan’s population. With more than 80% of the population residing in rural areas, agriculture, livestock farming and fishing make up the livelihoods of many households.

A devastating combination of flooding, drought, locust swarms and the pandemic created high levels of food insecurity in South Sudan. More than 6 million people are facing crisis-level food insecurity and roughly 1.4 million children under 5 may suffer from acute malnourishment in 2021.

The IMF Assists

In response to the worsening humanitarian crisis, the world continues to reaffirm its commitment to eliminating poverty in South Sudan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a disbursement of  $174.2 million in March 2021 for emergency assistance to South Sudan in the wake of COVID-19. The assistance aims to provide economic relief due to the collective impact of plummeting oil prices, floods and the pandemic in general. According to the IMF, the funding will “finance South Sudan’s urgent balance of payments needs and provide critical fiscal space to maintain poverty-reducing and growth-enhancing spending.”

World Bank Projects in South Sudan

On June 8, 2021, the World Bank announced two new projects equating to $116 million to curb poverty in South Sudan by committing to “strengthen the capacity of farmers, improve agricultural production and restore livelihoods and food security.” The first project, the South Sudan Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods Project (RALP), amounts to $62.5 million and commits to training farmers to better manage their businesses, utilize new agricultural technology and implement climate-smart practices to improve agricultural output. The project will also assist farmers with “tools, machinery and seeds required to improve productivity.”

The second grant of $53.7 million supports the Emergency Locust Response Project (ELRP). The grant will fund South Sudan’s response to desert locusts. The project will provide income opportunities to vulnerable people to assist them in producing more food and improve their economic situation. The project also encourages “the restoration of pasture and farming systems” in the region.

The Road Ahead

The World Bank expects levels of poverty in South Sudan to remain high for the time being due to food insecurity and the lack of access to essential goods and services. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Sudan is harsh. Data as of April 2021 indicates that 82% of the population lives below the poverty line. However, the recent aid to South Sudan gives the country’s oil industry and agricultural production an opportunity to recover to pre-pandemic levels. The government’s priorities lie in addressing the lingering conflict and stabilizing its economy amid an economic, humanitarian and public health crisis. With continued aid and support, South Sudan can successfully recover and achieve stability.

Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr

Involvement in the Tigray Region

At the northernmost border of Ethiopia is the Tigray Region that stretches for more than 19,000 square miles. Tigray is home to about seven million Tigrayans, an ethnic minority that accounts for only about 6% of the country’s population. The region is now experiencing a humanitarian crisis that requires urgent aid. U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region aims to end the conflict and protect the human rights of Ethiopians.

Conflict in Tigray

Decades of conflict regarding the self-determination of the Tigrayan population boiled over in 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed postponed the election due to COVID-19. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a leftist party in control of the regional government, deemed this an “unconstitutional extension” of Ahmed’s term and held elections anyway.

The Ethiopian government declared the election void, leading to an outbreak of violence between the two sides. As the Ethiopian government and the TPLF wage a war against each other, an unprecedented humanitarian crisis has arisen. Ethiopian forces have killed thousands of people in indiscriminate shootings. The conflict has left more than two million people displaced as of January 2021. The violence on the part of the government has been described as a “campaign of ethnic cleansing.” This crisis has caught the world’s attention, with the U.N. and other international organizations working to address it. However, U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region also aims to bring resolution.

The US Takes Action

On May 26, 2021, President Biden released a statement on the crisis in Ethiopia. Biden urged Ethiopian leaders to work toward “reconciliation, human rights and respect for pluralism.” Furthermore, Biden called for a ceasefire, citing a warning from the U.N. Office of Humanitarian Affairs “that Ethiopia could experience its first famine since the 1980s.”

The administration has also implemented visa restrictions targeted at Ethiopian and Eritrean officials responsible for the conflict. The restrictions press for the resolution of the conflict. U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region involved months of failed diplomatic talks between Ethiopia and the U.S. The administration heeds warnings that further action may be taken if Ethiopia does not take steps to address the humanitarian crisis. The actions could include halting U.S. security and economic assistance and possibly leveling sanctions against Ethiopian officials.

In March 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that additional humanitarian assistance of $52 million would be provided to the region. This brings the total of U.S. aid to the region to nearly $153 million since the beginning of the crisis. The aid aims to help nearly 4.5 million people in the region in need of shelter, healthcare, food, water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Concerns of Congress

The concerns of members of Congress call for greater U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region as well as greater involvement from the international community. An op-ed by Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Gregory Meeks called attention to the tragedy unfolding in the region. Menendez and Meeks call for more decisive action to be taken to address the Ethiopian crisis.

The representatives suggest that the U.S. lead “an international arms embargo on the Eritrean regime.” The U.S. should also implement “targeted economic sanctions” and “must oppose the assistance from international financial institutions that would flow to the Ethiopian government.”

On May 28, 2021, Representative Karen Bass introduced H.Res. 445, titled “Condemning all violence and human rights abuses in Ethiopia.” The bill calls on “the Government of Ethiopia and the Government of the State of Eritrea to remove all Eritrean troops from Ethiopia.” The bill also calls for other armed groups to cease hostilities and uphold the human rights of Ethiopians while allowing humanitarian access to provide aid.

Meaningful Action

As the crisis continues, U.S. involvement in the Tigray Region continues to be a topic of discussion. Both the Biden administration and U.S. Congress will have to move forward with policy decisions to ensure meaningful action and outcomes. Every action from the U.S. and other international actors will ensure that the fundamental rights of Ethiopians are protected.

Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Solar Panels in SyriaSolar panels in Syria have shone a light on a dark corner of the country. In the Syrian province of Idlib, locals and refugees shield their eyes from the sun glinting off their solar panels. Even though solar panels are considered a luxury across the globe, the area of war-torn Idlib is full of solar panels. These solar panels are many citizens’ only source of electricity and heat.

Electricity Issues in Idlib

Idlib is also the stronghold of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has been labeled a terrorist organization. Due to conflict, citizens of Idlib have struggled to get by. At first, after the Syrian government cut off power to the province due to the presence of HTS, residents relied upon fuel-powered generators for electricity. For years, people suffered through the noxious fumes and roaring strain of the generators’ motors.

As time went by, the fuel for the generators became far too expensive. Additionally, the unclean, locally-refined oil prompted frequent and expensive generator maintenance. In 2017, solar panels in Syria began to supplant generators as locals’ main source of electricity. However, locals did not use solar panels out of ecological concern. People just needed an affordable source of electricity because the fuel to power generators became prohibitively expensive.

The Solar Panel Solution

Locals value the solar panels in Syria despite a high initial investment cost. In interviews with The New York Times, many locals described the panels as “god-sent.” After the initial investment, solar panels are a virtually cost-free source of electricity. Thousands of locals now use solar panels to power their lights and electronics. On cold nights, the power of solar panels provides heat.

The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

As of March 2021, 13.4 million people require humanitarian aid in Syria, representing about a 20% increase from 2020. In neighboring Jordan, just south of Syria, more than half a million people are living in exile: some in refugee camps, some outside in the elements. In Jordan, almost 80% of Syrian refugees were living under the national poverty line before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In a March 2021 interview with Reuters, U.N. aid chief, Mark Lowcock, summarized the grim situation in Syria: “Things are getting worse. We’ve had a decade of death, destruction, displacement, disease, dread and despair.” He went on to add, though, that the United Nations was planning its largest-ever response strategy in order to safeguard lives in the region.

Foreign Aid to Syria

According to The New York Times, Germany provided many second-hand solar panels in Idlib. Germany has extended further assistance by pledging around $2 billion to go toward humanitarian aid in Syria. The U.S. and Qatar agreed to provide funding as well, pledging $600 million and $100 million respectively. While Britain’s pledge of around $281 million is lower than its pledge in 2020, the combined global assistance will make a significant difference in the lives of Syrians.

While the situation in Syria remains dire, the world’s eyes are on the region. With aid coming from all around the globe and solar panels lighting up homes in Idlib, there is both light and hope in Northwestern Syria.

Thomas McCall
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in EthiopiaThe ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has become another challenge for Ethiopia as the East African country faces civil conflict, food scarcity and increasing poverty. For the first time in 22 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally may increase due to the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia has been substantial. Roughly 42% of registered businesses in Ethiopia’s capital closed down completely and other businesses saw drastically reduced or no income. The COVID-19 pandemic may potentially reverse Ethiopia’s poverty progress over the last two decades.

COVID-19 in Ethiopia

As of May 14, 2021, Ethiopia had almost 265,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 4,000 recorded deaths, straining an already fragile health system and delaying access to other crucial medical care. The pandemic has also caused delays in distributing childhood vaccines for polio and measles. Furthermore, it is also likely to increase the morbidity rates of other common diseases. In April 2020, half of all households in Ethiopia saw their incomes reduce or disappear entirely. Urban areas were formerly the foundations for Ethiopia’s economic growth. These areas have been the most affected by COVID-19 as employment and income have fallen.

The economic setback of COVID-19 may have lasting repercussions for Ethiopia’s future. The pandemic’s impact on education has become an even more significant concern. Schools in Ethiopia closed in March 2020 and an estimated 26 million students lost access to primary and secondary education. Such a halt in education puts many children at risk of dropping out or being forced into child labor or child marriage. According to a survey in 2018, roughly 16 million children between 5 and 17 are involved in child labor across Ethiopia. While schools began to reopen in October 2020, there are still concerns over the lost time and how it might affect students’ success later in life.

COVID-19 and Civil Conflict

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia may be the highest in the Tigray region. Conflict erupted in November 2020 as tensions rose following a delay in national elections. By January 2021, about two million people were displaced by the violence, many of whom have fled to neighboring Sudan. The fighting has negatively impacted the availability of healthcare. At one point, only five out of 40 hospitals in the region were accessible. This dramatically increases the challenge of responding to the pandemic and makes it difficult to assess the full extent of COVID-19 in the area.

Food scarcity is another significant problem following extensive crop losses caused by swarms of desert locusts. Some farmers lost up to half of their harvests due to locust plagues. At the same time, the conflict has made it very difficult to procure food from outside of the region. Malnutrition is a real risk, especially for children. Many families are already experiencing decreased income and are unable to afford the rising food prices. The effects of the conflict, pandemic and food insecurity have placed an estimated 4.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian Aid

Through a partnership with the World Bank, the Ethiopian government has been able to fund a comprehensive response plan to improve the country’s ability to address the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. The Ethiopia COVID-19 Emergency Response Project’s primary focus is increasing resources and testing capacity. Now, there are 69 testing laboratories across Ethiopia. This is in addition to the establishment of contact tracing systems, 50 quarantine facilities, 332 isolation wards and 64 treatment centers. Public awareness and health education are prioritized with door-to-door campaigns to reach vulnerable populations.

It is also vital to stimulate the economy by focusing on supporting the small businesses that the pandemic has hit hardest in order to see true poverty reduction. Because of the uncertain nature of the outbreak, a recovery plan will have to be adaptable. Addressing poverty in Ethiopia, and Tigray specifically, will also require a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in the region, an act that multiple world leaders encourage. These goals can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia, furthering recovery progress.

Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Unsplash

Relief for YemenRelief for Yemen has long been a goal of humanitarian politicians and activists. A bipartisan letter, signed by four U.S. senators, urges the Biden administration to allocate more federal funding for aid to Yemen.

The Letter of Appeal

Two Republican senators and two Democratic senators signed a letter appealing for more U.S. aid to Yemen. On May 4, 2021, Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Todd Young (R-IN), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) signed the open letter together in an act of humanitarian bipartisanship. The senators voiced their concern about the international community failing to reach previously established relief goals “after a recent United Nations fundraising appeal for the war-torn country fell short.”

In March 2021, international donors raised $1.35 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen, falling short of the United Nations’ target goal of $3.85 billion, the estimated amount required for a comprehensive humanitarian response. As one of the most powerful countries in the world, the U.S. pledged only $19 million, much less than Oxfam’s recommended $1.2 billion.

All the while, close to “50,000 people in Yemen are living in famine-like conditions” and the conflict threatens to plummet another five million people into similar conditions. The conflict itself has already claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. The humanitarian crisis and poverty brought on by the conflict have compromised the food security of more than 20 million people, accounting for two-thirds of Yemen’s population. The United Nations warns that “400,000 Yemeni children under the age of 5 could die from acute malnutrition” without swift humanitarian action.

Efforts to End the Crisis in Yemen

The open letter came around the same times as renewed calls for a ceasefire from the international community. Senator Murphy was in Yemen when the letter was released, joining Tim Lenderking, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen, as well as diplomats from Europe, with the hopes of brokering a ceasefire between Houthi rebel factions and the Saudi-led military coalition. Participants in the meeting demand an end to war crimes actively committed by both sides. The Biden administration has backed away from weapons sales in an effort to mitigate the conditions. But, the conflict and subsequent crises continue, requiring increased aid to Yemen.

UNICEF and the UN Assist

One of the priorities of UNICEF’s efforts in Yemen is to treat cases of acute malnutrition in children and assist children whose lives have been overturned by the continuous military conflict. Efforts range from facilitating access to therapeutic foods and educating children about the dangers of explosives scattered throughout the country. UNICEF is also restoring damaged schools in an effort to develop secure spaces for children to continue learning.

At a time of resurgent violence coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign aid groups have stepped up relief measures in anticipation of increased demand for food. In one particular hotspot, within the Ma’rib Governorate, the intensification of military conflict has displaced at least 2,871 families. The U.N. Regional Coordination Team for Ma’rib aims to assist about 200,000 people in the area. Sanitation, nutrition and shelter remain top priories for these efforts.

Despite the scale of the crisis, international aid groups remain determined to provide relief. Senators, leaders and foreign diplomats are continuing efforts to broker a peace deal. The severity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen requires broader support from the global community in order to upscale efforts and comprehensively provide aid to Yemen.

– Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

The Economic Value of PeaceThe Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) recently published its annual report, “The Economic Value of Peace,” demonstrating the economic consequences of violence throughout the world. The findings show that violence directly impacts the economy and countries’ macroeconomic performance. Countries that improve on peace average a 1.4% higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita growth. Therefore, a decrease in violence corresponds to an increase in economic activity.

The Poverty-Violence Cycle

Without proper intervention, countries engrossed in conflict often fail to break from the perpetual cycle of violence-to-poverty. Such conflicts may directly damage essential infrastructure, institutions and even fundamental interpersonal relationships within a society. The effects are both short and long-term. The short-term cost directly affects the victim and the perpetrator while the long-term cost has ripple effects through lost productivity and undermining of societal structures. The consequences eventually translate to a loss in education, widespread food insecurity and high mortality rates.

The Economic Cost of Violence

According to the IEP, “the economic cost of violence for the 10 most-affected countries ranges from 23.5 to 59.1% of their GDP.” In 2019 alone, the global cost of violence came out to approximately $14.4 trillion — 10.5% of the world’s GDP or roughly $1,900 per person. Moreover, if the world decreased its violence containment spending by 15%, $1.4 trillion could be redirected to other economic activities that would lead to long-term growth. Democratic governments demonstrated significantly less economic costs compared to their authoritarian counterparts. The average authoritarian government had a cost that equated to 11% of its GDP while democracies averaged about 4%.

In countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, the cost of violence exceeds more than 50% of their GDP. Both countries face extremely high poverty rates. This amounts to roughly 80% and 50% of populations that live below the poverty line respectively, reinforcing the direct connection between violence and poverty. In 2018, the United Nations estimated that the conflict in Syria resulted in nearly $120 billion in infrastructural damage. By 2017, 50% of Syria’s infrastructure was considered non-operational and it is estimated that Syria experienced $226 billion GDP losses between 2011 and 2016.

How Peace and Growth Connect

The IEP Economic Value of Peace report confirms the direct link between violence and poverty. Violence both stunts the positive benefits of peace and has a direct, empirical effect on the economy. Nevertheless, there are global signs of improvement. As a result of an overall decrease in violent conflict, from 2018 to 2019, the global economic impact of violence has decreased by $64 billion. Fully democratic countries reduced their economic impact of violence by roughly 16% in 2020.

These signs of recovery demonstrate that development and peace go hand-in-hand as there is an undeniable relationship between violence and poverty. Without stable and secure institutions, a fundamental basis for a prospering economy is lacking. Violence creates insecurity and a poverty trap for a country’s marginalized people, causing them to undermine their governance. Nevertheless, consistent data shows that this can be reversed through peacemaking efforts.

Alessandra Parker
Photo: Flickr

Mutombo CoffeeOver a span of 18 years, Dikembe Mutombo built a Hall of Fame NBA career that made his name synonymous with stifling defense and a trademark finger wag. In 1997, he established the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation with the mission to improve the lives of people in his native country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Mutombo also recently established Mutombo Coffee to revive the Congolese coffee industry.

Congolese Coffee

A major accomplishment of the Foundation is the construction of a 170-bed hospital in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. The hospital opened in 2007 and was built in memory of Mutombo’s mother. The hospital services anybody in need, regardless of their ability or inability to pay.

While certainly impressive and commendable, Mutombo’s latest endeavor involves building a thriving coffee industry in the DRC. “Rebuilding” is actually the proper term to use when describing the DRC’s coffee economy. In the 1980s, coffee was the country’s second-largest export, providing approximately $164 million to the economy. Connoisseurs prized Congolese coffee and rain-rich, volcanic soils in the Lake Kivu region provided ideal growing conditions.

However, recent decades of conflict and instability, much of it centered in the country’s coffee-growing east, have decimated output. Many Congolese people live without the infrastructure needed to safely operate their farms and easily reach international markets.

Mutombo Coffee

Mutombo announced the creation of a new coffee company in the first few months of 2021. He has placed special weight on not only providing economic sustainability and fair wages for farmers but spotlighting the unsung efforts of women farmers in the industry. The emphasis is especially significant given the DRC’s infamous struggles with sexual violence. Additionally, his work is important given that in 2018 an estimated 73% of the Congolese population lived on less than $1.90 a day. As the chair of the international distribution company, Cajary Majlis, Mutombo partnered with the DMCC Coffee Centre to bring coffee from the DRC to other parts of Africa and Dubai. Mutombo hopes to extend the coffee’s reach even further.

Perils of Congolese Coffee Farming

The Congolese wars between 1996 and 2002 significantly impacted the country’s export industry. Coffee farmers were forced to make a dangerous journey across Lake Kivu in small boats to smuggle their crops into Rwanda and neighboring countries. Locals estimate that 2,000 drowned making these trips. Those who made it were forced to accept below-market value prices for the coffee out of desperation.

Fortunately, many farmers no longer have to undertake this ordeal. The development of regional cooperative associations with stable international supply links has reduced some of the hurdles. However, numerous challenges still remain. Grenades and mines lie waiting in thickets around crops. Also, more than one hundred armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Allied Democratic Forces, still operate in the eastern DRC. Abductions and kidnappings also happen with some regularity, putting farming families at risk.

Bureaucracy and taxes pose additional hurdles and can reach as much as 13% of a shipment’s value. This total is far higher than in neighboring countries. Frequent delays involved in moving goods across the DRC border can needlessly increase prices even further.

Building a Market

There is also disagreement regarding the optimal strategy for marketing DRC coffee. Some argue the product needs to be sold at the lowest possible price in the highest possible quantities to reestablish the beans around the globe and compete with neighboring countries. Others believe higher prices targeting the burgeoning specialty coffee market are ideal. Congolese coffee shop owners say there needs to be more emphasis on building a domestic market.

Mutombo sees promise in his native country and so do others. A partnership funded by USAID, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, Eastern Congo Initiative and World Coffee Research committed a four-year-long effort to help Congo’s coffee industry. The effort led to 4,000 farmers exporting their own coffee, which Starbucks sold in 2015.

Financial aid is flowing in to redevelop the region, and despite the obvious challenges, hope is on the horizon. With Mutombo’s track record of success and the personal touch of a native Congolese committed to prioritizing people over profits, Mutombo Coffee seems primed to bolster a region hungry to rebuild and thrive.

Jackson Fitzsimmons
Photo: Flickr

Tegla LoroupeAt the 1994 New York City Marathon, Tegla Loroupe of Kenya made history as the first African woman to win a major marathon title. For years, African men had great success over the distance and now a female compatriot could share in the glory. Loroupe has won several major world marathons and broken world records. Loroupe has since retired from professional running and has involved herself in supporting peace, prosperity and economic advancement in Kenya and across Africa.

The Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation

Loroupe says that she grew up surrounded by conflict. All around her, she saw violence at the hands of warring tribes in Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia. In these regions, many tribes depend upon livestock farming to stay afloat. However, resources like food and water can be scarce. This leads to violence among the tribes and what people know as rustling: the stealing of cattle. Many tribes resort to the use of force as they otherwise risk falling into severe poverty.

In 2003, Loroupe founded the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation (TLPF). She wanted an end to the conflict between the tribes and sought peace through sports. Loroupe based the foundation on three pillars: peacebuilding, education and supporting refugee athletes.

Tegla Loroupe Peace Race

A hallmark of the TLPF is the Tegla Loroupe Peace Race, a 10-kilometer run that hosts runners from warring tribes. They put their weapons down to compete in this race and build stronger relations with the goal of ultimately preventing further violence.

Loroupe says that the Peace Race had strong effects within just a few years. Deaths from fighting between tribes drastically reduced and people have reached a better understanding of one another. Further, many warriors surrendered their weapons for the sake of peace.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, professional soccer player, Lucky Mkosana of Zimbabwe, agreed that “sports definitely contribute a significant amount to world peace.” He highlighted how athletic competition creates positive exposure to other cultures and fosters “an environment where people can learn” about those from outside groups.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, Mkosana understands well that children having outlets like sports can open them up to opportunities. He is a founder of the BYS Academy, a soccer school for vulnerable youth in his hometown of Plumtree, Zimbabwe.

The Importance of Education

Another arm of the TLPF is the Tegla Loroupe Education and Peace School (TLE&PC). Here, children receive the opportunity to learn after experiencing displacement due to conflict. The school also acts as an orphanage for its students, giving them a safe place to call home.

As of early 2020, the school had 460 students and Loroupe hopes to eventually increase enrollment to 1,000 students. Recognizing the importance of a good education, Loroupe wants to ensure that all students have access to a good learning environment. Mkosana said that “talent is spread evenly but resources are not.” Loroupe’s academy makes an effort to provide resources to all.

Loroupe also says that improved access to learning can help reduce violence. Education creates opportunity, and without one, people do what they feel they must do in order to survive. With schooling, this need not be the case. People can create livelihoods for themselves and live without violence.

Heading the Refugee Olympic Team

More recently, Loroupe once again became the leader of the Refugee Olympic Team for the Tokyo Olympics. The Refugee Olympic Team first appeared in the 2016 Rio Olympics, which Loroupe also led.

Loroupe had experience working with refugee athletes at the TLPF so she was a clear choice to head the refugee team at the Olympics. The 2016 team comprised of 10 athletes, who Loroupe says, “reminded the world of the sufferings and perseverance of millions of refugees around the world.”

It was also important for refugees to see that these athletes were able to find success. There was hope for them and they can achieve their dreams just as the members of the Refugee Olympic Team had.

Looking Forward

Loroupe’s promotion of peace through sport through the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation has changed much in Kenya since its inception. Warriors are laying down their arms and children are obtaining educational opportunities. The story of the TLPF is a developing one, but from what it has accomplished so far, peace in Kenya is extending further than ever before.

Evan Driscoll
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mental Health in ArmeniaHundreds of thousands of civilians fled in search of safety when violence broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, 2020. Following these first violent clashes, organizations stepped up to provide humanitarian assistance for displaced civilians arriving in the capital Yerevan. The extensive damage to infrastructure and disruption of daily life, coupled with a harsh winter climate and COVID-19, will require help from the international aid community for many months to come. One area that this incoming aid will go to is mental health education and support. In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that one in five people in conflict-affected areas lives with a mental health issue. The longer a person lives with acute stress, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the more difficult it is for them to successfully secure basic needs. Aid groups are addressing the issue of mental health in Armenia with various programs.

Mental Health Support for Armenia

The Armenian Red Cross Society is providing humanitarian assistance to help people with basic necessities. This includes psychosocial support for returning soldiers and civilians. As of late December 2020, it had provided around 1,000 psychological services to wounded soldiers and their families.

The International Medical Corps, another emergency aid response group, is working with the Armenian Ministry of Health to assess current needs. In October 2020, the organization expressed its plans to provide training in psychological first aid for frontline healthcare workers. The organization will also provide mental health and psychosocial assistance to people who need it.

UNICEF Addresses Child Trauma

The UNICEF Armenia team and a local arts and music school called the Nexus Center for the Arts offer art and music-based support groups. These support groups give children and teenagers a chance to express themselves without having to talk. UNICEF reported testimonials of students who upon arriving were too afraid to open up but after participating in the support groups felt ready to talk about the trauma they had experienced. The groups also give students a chance to hang out, decompress and enjoy music in a comfortable and safe environment.

To help school teachers, UNICEF partnered with several civil society organizations to teach them how to address trauma in the classroom. UNICEF offered virtual lessons on trauma-informed teaching. The lessons gave 150 school psychologists and 900 public school teachers the skills to work in high-pressure situations and strategies to provide better psychological support to their students.

UNICEF Armenia also put together a psychological first aid guide. This guide has clear and concise information on how to respond to children in a mental health crisis. It emphasizes the importance of responding to children in an age-appropriate and individualized way.

The Increased Need for Mental Health Support in Armenia

Mental health in Armenia, especially following the conflict, is an issue that requires prioritization. The conflict and displacements have left 39,000 children out of school. The trauma caused by displacement has affected children in multiple ways. Ensuring the well-being of these children is a top priority for UNICEF and other organizations addressing mental health in Armenia. The hope is that these initiatives will combat the negative impacts of traumatic experiences in conflict-ridden areas like Nagorno-Karabakh.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr