Information and stories on development news.

Malaria in Malawi
Malaria in Malawi remains a top concern for public health and the safety of the country. On a global scale, Malawi accounts for 2% of all malaria cases, placing it in the leading “20 countries with the highest malaria prevalence and mortality rates.” In 2019, Malawi’s population totaled more than 19 million. That same year, health facilities in the country reported almost 5.2 million cases of malaria. The sheer amount of malaria cases in Malawi is alarming in comparison to the total population number.

Malaria-endemic Regions

Looking at malaria objectively helps explain its high prevalence throughout Africa. As the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2019, Africa accounted for 94% of the 229 million malaria cases and 409,000 deaths worldwide. WHO notes that children younger than 5 made up 67% of these deaths. The transmission of the deadly parasite allows it to thrive in many countries throughout Africa, specifically after the spike in annual rains in November. The malaria parasite thrives in very humid, often hot and wet conditions, making Malawi a prime location for the spread of the parasite. While the country has worked to control rates of malaria in Malawi by offering health services, the country still struggles to control the sheer amount of cases present.

The Beginning of the Malaria Vaccine Pilot Program

In 2019, Malawi welcomed the world’s first malaria vaccine pilot program. The vaccine, referred to as RTS,S, targeted children ages two and younger. GlaxoSmithKline is the producer of RTS,S, which underwent clinical trials after 30 years of refining. The vaccine trials found that RTS,S was able to prevent about four out of every 10 cases of malaria. The pilot project in Malawi aimed to gather observations and evidence of actual vaccine implementation to guide WHO in its policy recommendations for the use of RTS,S on a broader scale. The criteria observed included child mortality, vaccine follow-up and vaccine safety. Although the intention of the vaccine is not to replace other preventative measures, WHO hopes to add it to its bundle of malaria prevention recommendations.

The World Health Organization Approves the Vaccine

On October 6, 2021, WHO officially endorsed the use of the RTS,S vaccine worldwide, now called the Mosquirix malaria vaccine. This approval comes after two years of trials in three African countries (including Malawi) where more than 800,000 children received the vaccine. The vaccine can prevent severe and fatal cases of malaria at a rate of 30%. Since the pilot program implementation in 2019, WHO has been able to justify the ability of countries to roll out the vaccine safely. Although the vaccine itself is not 100% effective, it works as a preventative measure, reducing the likelihood of contracting a deadly case of malaria in Malawi. The rollout of this vaccine comes after decades of unsuccessful attempts to find a form of protection against malaria.

Economic Benefits of a Preventative Measure

Access to the Mosquirix vaccine will not only protect public health and safety but will also relieve the stress on Malawi’s economy. For years, programs focused on treating malaria in Malawi reactively. Given that treatment options are more widely available than prevention methods, health system responses have centered on reactivity rather than proactivity. As a result, the first response to malaria cases is often drugs. Drugs are both expensive and difficult to obtain. Furthermore, the malaria parasite adapts over time, becoming resistant to medications and decreasing the efficacy of drugs. Access to a proactive vaccine addresses the issue beforehand, saving costs in both healthcare visits and treatments in the long run.

Moving Forward

Malaria is a unique illness in that it involves a parasite that can strike an individual several times. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, this reality is concerning. On a yearly basis, children average a total of six malaria infections. The continued attacks on their immune systems leave them susceptible to other diseases. However, with the new vaccine comes new hope in the fight against malaria in Malawi. While the approval of the vaccine is only the first step in widespread change, the next few years present a strong opportunity for progress in some of the most vulnerable communities.

– Chloe D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

SaveSmile
Every three minutes, a child is born with a birth defect called a cleft lip and/or palate. These cleft defects “occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy.” The impacts of clefts go deeper than just physical appearance as clefts can also have major effects on eating, “speech, hearing, dental development, facial growth” and psychological well-being. Surgery can repair a cleft lip or palate. Medical teams often perform these within the initial two years of a child’s life, however, some adults seek these surgeries as well. Despite the far-reaching impacts of clefts, many parents cannot afford the costs of the surgery their child desperately needs to lead a normal life. In Sudan and many other developing countries, a cleft lip can be the sole cause of extreme shame and ridicule. Those with facial deformities are subject to mockery, ostracism and isolation. Due to severe social stigma, many are unable to leave their homes, gain an education or marry. The Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) spearheaded the SaveSmile initiative to help people with cleft defects in Sudan. Through surgical mission trips and free, high-quality care, IMANA is changing the lives of those afflicted with clefts, one surgery at a time.

IMANA and SaveSmile

Over the span of 156 medical missions, IMANA has helped more than 2.6 million patients in impoverished countries. Not only does IMANA do medical relief work but it also aids many health professionals in gaining an education and volunteering their talents to those in need.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, former president of IMANA and current chair of the IMANA Medical Relief program (IMR), Dr. Ismail Mehr, said that IMANA is blessed to have gained recognition for its medical humanitarian work from USAID, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and President Obama. “SaveSmile is just one little part of our work. We’re present in [more than] 36 countries around the world where we carry out medical-surgical missions,” said Mehr. While SaveSmile is only a small part of IMANA’s impact, the initiative has completely transformed the lives of more than 1,500 patients suffering from cleft lips and palates.

Dr. Mehr and his team have carried out 11 annual missions to Sudan to provide free surgical correction to patients who otherwise would not receive the care that they need. Although these surgeries usually cost around $200 and each mission costs about $35,000 in total, IMANA strongly believes that financial status should not decide who can or cannot receive surgery. IMANA has made these surgeries accessible to Sudan, a country with no other medical relief teams working there due to Sudan’s placement on several sanctions and embargo lists. All donations fund surgical care and materials; the volunteers even pay for their own travel expenses to ensure that all donations go directly toward helping patients.

The Importance of Cleft Surgeries

Those with cleft defects often face extreme social ostracism from their communities. In Sudan, there are many stories of children whose families do not allow them to go to school or leave the house because families fear embarrassment. This ostracism has social and psychological impacts. Cleft lips can also be detrimental to the patient’s health. Firstly, a newborn infant with a cleft lip is usually unable to properly suckle, leading to extreme malnutrition. As they age, they still have trouble eating as it is difficult to chew with this disformity. Cleft lips also often create a speech impediment, subjecting the individual to even more ridicule and difficulty expressing themselves. Lastly, those with cleft lips are more prone to ear infections and other respiratory tract infections, which are especially difficult to treat when the patient does not have access to proper healthcare.

The Origin of Project SaveSmile

Noting the poverty and lack of proper healthcare in Sudan, IMANA took action, setting its sights on repairing cleft lips, mainly among children. The first team flew to Sudan in 2009, and since then, a team has traveled to perform surgeries in Sudan every year other than 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.

In the United States, stores, schools and businesses shut down in March 2020. Fortunately, the SaveSmile team operated in Sudan just a week before international travel came to a halt, giving the team the ability to complete a mission trip in 2020. However, due to a lack of vaccinations in Sudan and the Delta variant, the team had to cancel its March 2021 trip. The team has yet to decide whether it is safe to visit Sudan in 2022 as their number one priority is keeping both patients and volunteers healthy.

Dr. Mehr’s Message

Dr. Mehr emphasizes the importance of medical relief work. He notes that medical relief work is not the most significant focus of humanitarian efforts. There are many organizations focusing on important aspects such as shelter, food and education, but few that work in the realm of medical relief. “People need access to healthcare and that is why we feel so strongly here at IMANA about the work that we do,” said Mehr. Often, medical relief organizations such as IMANA do not receive enough funding, which creates barriers in procuring surgical supplies and travel funds to carry out medical missions.

By supporting organizations like IMANA, an ordinary individual can play a role in transforming the lives of thousands of people who would otherwise end up in the outskirts of society simply because of a repairable birth defect. Supporting the SaveSmile initiative allows IMANA “to fly those miles and heal smiles.”

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr

Shares Uganda
Many know Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa, for its conservation of mountain gorillas and agricultural exports of cash crops like coffee, cotton, tea and tobacco. The nation is also home to the highest refugee population in all of Africa. About 76% of citizens reside in rural locations and the agriculture industry is responsible for the employment of about 73% of the workforce. According to Opportunity International, 41% of Ugandans endure circumstances of poverty. The nation’s agriculture sector presents the most opportunities for low-income families, youth and refugees to avoid poverty. Shares Uganda has tapped into the natural resources and rich agriculture aspects of Uganda to help aid impoverished populations.

Shares Uganda

The company’s main business objective is to “develop, finance, process and export added value organic agricultural commodities in Uganda in direct cooperation with small scale farmers.” These farmers, who also receive support to obtain organic certification, undergo training “to enhance productivity and to ensure a profitable and fair income with guaranteed procurement.” According to its website, Share Uganda’s overall mission is to create “organic and fair trade added value production chains locally that are ecologically, socially and economically sound” while benefiting “all parties in the chain.”

The organization contracts farmers in Uganda to grow organic produce like bird’s eye chilies, chia and sesame seeds for export to Europe. Other produce like sunflower seeds, beans and fruit are a priority to produce because they are in high demand in Uganda.

Registered farmers go through training to “produce a sustainable market-driven product.” Once farmers produce their crops, Shares Uganda purchases the produce directly from farmers, negating the need for a middleman. Without a middleman, farmers are able to receive higher compensation for their produce. The company also runs “a training program to stimulate Village Loan and Saving Associations that help” farmers to increase productivity and rely less on costly microfinance loans.

At the marketing phase, field officers monitor “every organic store on organic conformities, documentation and aspects of quality.” Before the growing season is over, the officers then “provide marketing training to each store official on record keeping, marketing and accountability.” This ensures high-quality products aligned with international standards.

Positive Impacts

The efforts of Shares Uganda positively impact communities in Uganda. Shares Uganda’s initiatives have led to increased income for farmers, enabling them to improve their quality of life. With more income, farmers are able to afford improved housing, access adequate education and health care services as well as necessary medicines. With the ability to afford the costs of education, school enrollment rates are increasing. According to the World Bank, primary school enrollment rates in Uganda have risen over the years, standing at about 95% in 2013. Furthermore, from 2013 to 2017, poverty in the northern region of Uganda decreased from 44% to 33%.

Looking Ahead

Results of drought in recent years have pushed back individuals into poverty, though, making the resources and support available through outside organizations that much more essential for farmers in Uganda. Over the past decade, Uganda has made strides to mitigate poverty with the help of organizations like Shares Uganda making the most of agricultural opportunities.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

Wildlife Tourism in Africa
The World Travel and Tourism Council says that wildlife tourism is “tourism that involves watching and experiencing with wildlife in its own natural habitat.” Wildlife tourism is incredibly important in Africa; it makes up 36.3% of the continent’s travel and tourism economy. As home to arguably the most captivating and recognizable collection of wildlife on the planet, including elephants, lions, cheetahs and gorillas, it is no wonder that many tourists seek Africa as a place to get closer to nature.

Of course, the money that tourists spend can be transformative in places that do not and likely would not have much of an economy outside of tourism. In total, wildlife tourism directly contributes $29.3 billion to the African economy and employs 3.6 million people. Those numbers are more than twice as high when indirect effects factor in. For a continent that is lagging behind the rest of the world in reducing poverty and had 70% of the world’s poor in 2019, the influx of wealthy tourists from abroad is greatly desirable.

A Synergistic Match

In recent decades, many conservationists have come to realize the dual role that wildlife tourism can have in Africa. It can help protect its extraordinary wildlife and enrich the local communities near the protected areas where the wildlife lives.

Many rural populations in Africa are destitute and rely heavily on subsistence farming. For those who border the approximately 17% of lands in Africa that are designated protected areas, they need to have economic reasons to play a role in protecting those lands and the wildlife on them. The argument alone that such beauty should receive protection for future generations might sound good on principle but bears little weight to those who are struggling to survive in the here and now. On the other hand, wildlife tourism can provide them with significant economic opportunities.

In short, if tourism provides more economic opportunity than exploiting the land and wildlife would, then locals will work to protect the land and wildlife that generates the tourism. As a result, the key is making sure that a sufficient portion of wildlife tourism funds goes toward the local economy. Countries in Africa that want to create sustainable wildlife preserves need to create sustainable wildlife tourism that centers on equity for local stakeholders. This means making sure local workers receive fair pay, and that much of the tourism-generated fees and taxes go to local communities to fund health clinics, schools, infrastructure and social services.

The NGO Establishing Sustainable Tourism

The United Nations projects that “more than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa.” The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), an NGO, believes this rapid growth will increase the difficulty of wildlife conservation because governments will feel pressured “to allocate more and more land for agriculture, livestock, human settlement, resource extraction and infrastructure.”

For its part, AWF has helped set up some nature conservancies in Africa that benefit local people. In Kenya, it helped Maasai tribal people set up land-lease arrangements outside of Amboseli National Park, effectively expanding the local protected area. The Tawi and Satao Elerai ecolodges operate in these conservancies and generate revenue for the Maasai people. Both provide funding for schools that should help empower girls in the highly patriarchal Maasai culture.

In Rwanda, AWF was instrumental in setting up Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, the country’s first community-owned lodge. Revenues from the lodge fund the SACOLA (Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association) community trust, which has received nearly $4 million to date and has benefited more than 5,000 households.

Equity on a Continent Rich With Natural Treasures

These and other projects like them play an integral role in providing economic opportunity for rural people in Africa who border the continent’s many protected areas. Local people benefiting economically from conservation efforts strengthen conservation efforts. Those who would like to improve the balance between man and nature in Africa may have an interest in spending their tourist dollars at eco-friendly lodges.

– Jeramiah Jordan
Photo: Flickr

End Poverty in India
Between 2005 and 2006, there were 640 million people experiencing multidimensional poverty in India. Multidimensional poverty means the people are lacking more than just finances, they are also lacking clean water, electricity, access to healthcare and education. By 2017, that number had dropped to 365 million, a 271 million improvement. Massive strides have occurred in India to improve living conditions. In July 2019, 99.45% of the country had access to basic sanitation, compared to only 40% in previous years, this is all apart of the process to end poverty in India.

About End Poverty

End Poverty in India is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that began in 2009 with the goal of reducing poverty in India. End Poverty currently focuses on helping uneducated girls, struggling women, small farmers, agricultural farmers without land and traditional craftsmen, among others. Currently, its work occurs in the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Delhi. The organization develops and implements self-sustaining programs to act as a catalyst for social impact. Its four main areas of program intervention are sustainable livelihood creation, girls’ education, rural development and civil society development.

 4 Poverty Reduction Programs that End Poverty Implemented

  1. Sustainable Livelihood Creation: At End Poverty in India, sustainable livelihood creation provides equal opportunities to those who are less privileged. The organization helps individuals create sustainable, independent livelihoods with limited reliance on external resources. The interventions that End Poverty in India implemented include sustainable farming, dairy farming development, women’s economic empowerment and a skills training and vocational education program. Recent accomplishments include planting 5,759 saplings in India as part of the sustainable farming intervention between 2019 and 2020, bringing the total of planted saplings to 41,579 since the program began.
  2. Girls’ Education: Education is a constitutional right in India, but female literacy often lags behind that of men. For example, in Tijara, Rajasthan the literacy rate among females is only 38.88% in comparison to 75.01% among males. One of the most notable programs that End Poverty started is the Kishori Shiksha Program (KSP), which is a one-year, intensive “catch-up” education program for adolescent girls who are no longer in school. As part of the KSP Program, End Poverty in India helped 304 new students enroll in school and 126 girls were able to complete their literacy classes. KSP trains local women in course delivery, teaching methods and record keeping. The organization then supplies both teachers and students with learning materials.
  3. Rural Development: The 2011 census illustrated that 68.84% of India’s population lived in rural villages. Over the last few decades, various groups have worked to alleviate existing issues in rural communities, including End Poverty in India. Under its rural development program in Tijara, the organization created the Village Development Group (VDG). It will act as coordinators accessing government plans, supporting rural development and making requests based on the needs of their village and tracking the requests through the various levels of government until they reach completion. End Poverty participates in VDG’s meetings and provides help in the preparation and processing of documents and decisions. Accomplishments include opening 147 new bank accounts, installing 45 hand pumps and providing 160 families throughout 19 villages with solar-powered LED light panels.
  4. Civil Society Development Program: In Indian culture, the idea of civil society organization is deeply important and has been a major reason for the increase in NGOs. Civil society organizations have contributed to the well-being of many communities in India. However, End Poverty has found that many of them still struggle with basic issues such as a lack of funding, structured planning and recognition. These issues were the catalyst for End Poverty to create its N/Core program, which helps early-stage nonprofits that focus on poverty reduction. Mentors of the N/Core program work with the heads of the new nonprofits to speed up their progress and help them create adaptable models for economic development.

End Poverty in India’s work is important and has helped significantly to reduce poverty, but it has more work to do. The organization hopes that its four programs will make a significant difference and provide individuals with the opportunity to live better lives.

– Trystin Baker
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Liberia
Although there have been steps toward equal rights for women, some countries are struggling more than others. In Liberia, gender disparities and imbalances are common. To put it another way, there is little appreciation or recognition for the contributions of women to the Liberian community. However, progress has occurred in regard to improving women’s rights in Liberia and gender equality.

The Root of Inequality

In Liberia, traditional and religious insight impacts gender inequality and the neglect of women. This leaves women underrepresented, uneducated and undermined. Gender inequality plays a major role in the rights of women. They have no one to advocate for their rights but themselves. This would not be as unfortunate if women had a right to equal education. While contributing all of their time to family and working, women have less time to focus on education and social life. Furthermore, the stringent roles and responsibilities of women have prevented them from being able to partake in society and benefit development.

The Roles of Women

Women account for more than 50% of the labor in agriculture, cash production and food crop production, along with marketing and trading in Liberia. Despite their heavy role in the workforce, private and public sectors do not even honor the law of allowing pregnant women to go on maternity leave. They are also responsible for taking care of the household and doing additional work on the side, such as gathering wood and water. Despite their roles in agriculture, women own less property and have no other option than to be dependent on male relatives. The discrimination in land ownership is due to biases in the formal legal framework and customary law. Men are also more likely than women to inherit the land, control decision-making, allocation, management and the use of land.

Besides a woman’s role economically, they also experience a high risk of violent behavior against them in Liberia. These acts of violent behavior can include female genital mutilation, wife burning, dowry-related violence, rape, incest, wife battering, female femicide, female infanticide, trafficking, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, execution and prostitution. Any violence against women is a human rights violation according to the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions and their protocols provide protection against discrimination against women, allowing women to be equal to men under the Humanitarian Law, subsequently improving women’s rights in Liberia.

Aid and Hope

Another aid established is the 2009 National Gender Policy, which fights to abolish all gender issues. The main goal is to form a fair society where girls and boys along with women and men enjoy their human rights equally on a basis of non-discrimination. In other words, where the full potentials of all, regardless of sex, are harassed toward achieving unprejudiced rapid economic growth which includes equal access to social, financial and technological resources.

Inconsistency in the national legislature has delayed the implementation of the National Gender Policy. After President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first female president, men began to recognize the possibility of a woman in power. As the President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018, she secured millions of dollars in foreign investment. She also formed a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to investigate corruption and heal ethnic tensions.

The history and roles of women in Liberia are what drive the ongoing evolution of women’s rights. The more women who have representation, the better the chances are for their rights. Changes start as small policies and fill bigger shoes such as presidencies. Although improvements are still necessary, any is better than none at all.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Newborn Health in India 
Maternal and newborn health in India is a pressing issue. Women die every day before and during childbirth, yet 90% of these maternal deaths are entirely preventable with adequate healthcare. Poverty exacerbates maternal mortality, with about 94% of maternal deaths occurring in lower-income nations. In lower-income nations, the common obstacles in receiving proper healthcare include the inability to afford healthcare services and a “lack of information.” Distance also plays a factor, particularly in rural areas where clinics and hospitals are scant and many women cannot easily travel to these facilities. ARMMAN is an India-based organization that aims to improve maternal and newborn health in India.

Maternal Healthcare in India

Even if a woman makes it to the hospital for childbirth, the services she receives may be subpar, putting her health at risk. Without proper hygiene protocols in place and well-trained medical staff to assist them at health centers, women can die from infections, severe bleeding, “high blood pressure during pregnancy” and delivery complications. These factors account for almost two-thirds of maternal deaths and all of them are avoidable.

Maternal health poses an urgent problem in India. The latest available data indicates that India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) stands at 113 deaths per 100,000 births in comparison to the world average MMR of 11 deaths per 100,000 births in higher-income countries. In fact, pregnancy complications are the leading “cause of death among girls between 15 and 19 years of age” in India. These statistics also reflect the broader issues with Indian healthcare — it is inaccessible, unaffordable and low quality. Although it will be difficult to reform the entire healthcare system in India, organizations have a commitment to improving maternal and newborn health in India.

ARMMAN

ARMMAN is one such organization working to improve maternal and newborn health in India. This Indian nonprofit dedicates efforts to improving the quality of life for mothers and their newborns. Dr. Aparna Hegde founded ARMMAN in 2008 after witnessing the death of a pregnant woman due to circumstances that were entirely preventable with appropriate guidance. ARMMAN leverages technology to help both women and healthcare workers. So far, the organization has helped more than 26 million women and has trained more than 212,000 health workers across 19 Indian states.

Apps and mobile technology play a central role in ARMMAN’s programs, providing education and monitoring the well-being of pregnant women. The organization’s Mobile Academy is a maternal and child healthcare course that aims to keep health workers up-to-date with “knowledge of life-saving preventative health behaviors and improve the quality of their engagement with new and expecting mothers and their families.” The audio-based training can be accessed via voice call and is available in five of the most common local languages. Another project, mMitra, allows pregnant women and mothers of infants to access “a free mobile voice call service,” which provides “timed and targeted preventive care information weekly/bi-weekly directly to the phones of the enrolled women.” mMitra has reached 2.5 million women so far.

Arogya Sakhi Program

AMMAN’s Arogya Sakhi program is a home-based child and maternal care program. Arogya Sakhi “trains women health entrepreneurs (Arogya Sakhis) from communities in resource-poor rural areas to provide home-based preventive care” and other necessary tests and screenings to “ensure early referral during antenatal and infancy period.” This service is essential because healthcare workers attend only 37.4% of births in rural areas, a gaping difference in comparison to a birth attendance rate of 73.4% in urban areas. Arogya Sakhi helps diminish this gap, giving women the skills to help their communities. Armed with medical kits and an app that guides them through proper procedures, the Arogya Sakhis assist people in their community with care, diagnosis and births. The Arogya Sakhis charge a minimal fee for their services, allowing them to gain financial stability and pull themselves out of poverty.

Maternal health remains a pressing issue in developing countries, but organizations like ARMMAN work to improve access to high-quality healthcare services for women and their children.

– Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

Pope Francis' view on Poverty
The Roman Catholic Church has a following of approximately 1.2 billion people around the globe. Pope Francis currently stands as the 266th pope. Pope Francis’ view on poverty emulates the values of his namesake, St. Francis of Assissi, putting poverty relief at the forefront of his mission. Pope Francis has the power to bring together people from all over the world in order to combat global poverty.

Leading by Example

As the figurehead of a major global entity, Pope Francis has a tremendous influence on a significant number of people. Even before his election as pope, as the first pope from Latin America, Pope Francis had been exposed to poverty as a youth in his homeland. Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis was born in Buenos Aires to Italian immigrants. Growing up in his native land of Argentina, Pope Francis saw the gap between the wealthy and impoverished widening drastically. This issue, occurring in several areas of the world, is a topic of concern for Pope Francis.

Poverty Reduction Efforts

Speaking on poverty, Pope Francis says, “There is such a large number of people who are on the margins. And we don’t see them because poverty is bashful. They have become part of the landscape; they are things.” As far as religious figures go, Pope Francis is notably unconventional. He calls on world leaders to fight poverty and hunger by readjusting the budgeting of tax dollars and redistribution of immense wealth in order to provide for the most at risk.

He also preaches about remaining true to an ascetic lifestyle, which means possessing the discipline to reject modern luxuries in the name of equality. For example, the title of cardinal is a tremendous honor in the Roman Catholic Church and is often cause for celebration. Practicing what he preaches, Pope Francis requested that those wishing to travel to the Vatican to witness his appointment to the position of cardinal not do so. Rather, Pope Francis suggested donating these travel funds to people most in need.

In March 2021, the Pope donated $350,000 while in Iraq, $250,000 of which went directly to families living in poverty. The Pope has also made significant donations toward the fight against COVID-19, particularly with the purchase of ventilators sent to several countries in need. Additionally, the Pope contributed to funding for medical supplies through donations to Colombia in April 2021 and Brazil in August 2021.

Calls to Action

Regardless of one’s belief system, it is easy to recognize the Pope’s humanitarianism simply by considering Pope Francis’ view on poverty. It is inspiring to have a leader who so valiantly fights for those in poverty. The Pope typically follows the teachings professed in the Gospel of Matthew, verse six, which states, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward…” This means that the Pope does not make public the nature of his charity. The known instances of his charity are only public knowledge because of public statements made out of gratitude by the recipients. The Pope’s empathy and authenticity are notable features that are changing the world for the better.

It is easy to recognize injustice in the world, however, it is not always easy to remain steadfast in ethics and intervene in global poverty with bravery. In his speeches, Pope Francis declares that even the most ordinary individual can play a role in global poverty reduction.

– Michelle Schwab
Photo: Unsplash

Fashion Labels That Give Back
Blue denim jeans, preppy polo shirts and black leather have nothing in common, but their founders do. Levi Strauss, the creator of blue jeans, Ralph Lauren, the creator of the polo shirts, and Versace, known for their iconic black leather and Medusa logo, are just some of the fashion labels that give back to combat current issues. They donate money, clothes and masks for issues such as poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who They Are

Ralph Lauren has dominated the fashion world with its vibrant colors and iconic polo player logo, which stems from the designer’s love of sports and is embroidered on the company’s polo shirts. People also know Ralph Lauren for blending the American style with European fashion. As for its founder, he built his company from the ground up without ever attending fashion school. As of November 2021, Forbes listed Ralph Lauren’s worth at $7.3 billion.

Gianni Versace worked alongside his mother in the fashion industry, before starting to freelance designs for Italian designers. He sprung his own collection in 1978. His fashion house, Versace, received credit in the 1990s for being the first to feature supermodels in its ad campaigns. Not only that, the Italian company pioneered displaying models with noticeable personalities. Black leather and gold jewels accompany its iconically sensual style to give more of an edgy punk look.

Levi Strauss wanted to strike gold during the California Gold Rush in 1853, but it was not gold that would make him rich. In 1872, tailor Jacob Davis wrote to Strauss, sharing his new way of making pants that made them last longer. In the letter, he asked Strauss to be a business partner. Strauss agreed, and thus blue jeans were born.

All three fashion designers started out small, which eventually led to their success. Despite that success, these fashion labels advocate for private organizations, implement poverty reduction efforts and sponsor those combating COVID-19 relief and support the arts and culture.

COVID-19 Hospital Relief: Versace

In 2020, COVID-19 took a negative toll on everyone and their health. Cases increased and hospitals ran out of rooms to place their patients in. Donatella Versace, the chief creative officer of Versace, decided to contribute to pandemic relief by donating to hospitals in her home country of Italy. At that time, Italy had the highest number of COVID-19 cases with a total of 17,660 as of March 14, 2020. Versace donated €200,000 ($222,890) to San Raffaele hospital’s ICU after it requested aid due to the increase of pandemic patients. She explained, “In times like this, it is important to be united and support however we can help all those who are in the front lines, fighting every day to save hundreds of lives.”

Millions Donated: Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren has created and funded nonprofit organizations that differ from Versace’s. However, these two fashion powerhouses share one goal: to help their community. The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation has donated a total of $10 million in donations and resources to its workers and communities worldwide. The Foundation recently donated a value of $1.5 million in clothing to frontline workers and families. These interventions build on the precedent that emerged decades ago when the Foundation started a cancer-combatting campaign in 2000 called the Pink Pony Campaign.

Ralph Lauren provided grants for any employee who needed accommodations during the pandemic, such as health or childcare needs. Additionally, it partnered with the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for COVID-19 relief and donated 250,000 masks and 25,000 isolation gowns to health care workers. As Ralph Lauren said, “This includes helping to fund necessary hospital resources—ranging from personal protective equipment and patient navigation programs to meals and childcare support.”

Advocate for Poverty Reduction: Levi Strauss

As of 2018, 10% of San Francisco residents lived in poverty. To combat this, Levi Strauss Foundation donated a total of $100,000 to a local poverty-fighting NGO called The Tipping Point Community. This organization combats poverty in the area and raises funds for communities that the pandemic hit hardest.

The Tipping Point Community funds economic support for people dealing with or at risk of poverty. Its funding has paid for food, housing and hospital bills. It also aids in paying bills for workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The Tipping Point Community’s goal of $30 million is ambitious, but foundations like Levi Strauss agree that stabilizing the area’s ecosystem and improving the lives of individuals in need is well worth the investment. To date, the NGO has raised more than $18 million of that goal.

Fashion Labels That Give Back

Ralph Lauren loved sports so much that he created an empire. Versace wanted women to feel comfortable in their skin, so he designed clothes that accentuated their bodies. Levi Strauss made a partnership and, in the process, created blue jeans that better-accommodated workers. These three designers grew up differently and had different inspirations when it came to making clothes. However, these fashion labels share one thing: they give back. All three created and funded organizations that helped to fight issues such as poverty, providing funding during the pandemic and helping their workers receive financial aid.

– Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr 


The COVID-19 pandemic hit the agricultural sector of the Philippines hard. Several families rely on their income from agriculture as more than 22% of the country’s population works in the agricultural industry. However, the pandemic particularly affected agricultural households because “agriculture-related occupations have always been associated with being income poor.” Many of those who solely rely on agricultural income do not have access to electricity, education, proper sanitation and more. COVID-19 serves to exacerbate these poor living conditions even further. However, the Philippines recognizes that the agricultural industry is a significant part of the country’s economy, thus, the nation has established initiatives aimed at modernizing the agricultural sector so that its citizens can thrive.

Disasters Affecting Farmers

Because of the impacts of both the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters, 2020 was an unfavorable year for the agricultural sector. The supply chain took a heavy hit with several obstacles, including lack of transportation, a decrease in demand and a low volume of exports. These factors all contribute to the decline of the agricultural industry and the country’s economy.

Due to pandemic-related quarantine restrictions, local farmers had to schedule market visits, which led to a rise in transportation costs. To make matters worse, several typhoons hit the Philippines, negatively impacting the economy, which is already suffering the effects of COVID-19. According to the FAO, typhoons in 2020 destroyed “agricultural equipment and other livelihood resources, significantly affecting those who are dependent on farming” for an income.

However, despite the difficulties that the agricultural sector faces, the Philippine government aims to improve the lives of farmers and the country’s economy by modernizing the agricultural sector in the country.

Modernizing the Agricultural Sector

In June 2020, the World Bank released a report titled “Transforming Philippine Agriculture During COVID-19 and Beyond,” which highlights the need to modernize the Philippines’ agricultural sectors. The report points out that while reconstructing the agricultural industry is a difficult process, it is necessary for a country to grow positively.

The World Bank offers ideas such as direct cash payments to farmers, investing in agricultural startups and increasing the use of e-commerce to modernize the Philippines’ agricultural sector and “reduce poverty in the rural communities.” The report supports the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture (DA) initiatives to transform the agricultural industry. Agriculture Secretary William Dar is adamant that the sector will recover in 2021, which in turn, will help with the overall economy’s recovery.

The Philippines’ 2021 overall economic growth target is 6.5%-7.5% and the agricultural sector’s growth target is 2.5%. The nation aims to achieve these goals “through further integration of technology that will improve production, connectivity and delivery of service to its beneficiaries.” Both the World Bank and the Department of Agriculture realize the potential of modernizing the agricultural sector of the Philippines. By reforming the industry through several different initiatives, the economy will improve along with the lives of farmers within the country.

Solutions

Alongside the Philippines’ and the World Bank’s efforts to modernize the agricultural sectors, other organizations have focused themselves on the same initiative. One of these organizations is Agro-Eco Philippines, established in 2004 as a ”farmer-led national network organization.” Farmers created the organization for farmers, with farmers constituting 80% of the Board of Trustees. The organization has several ongoing initiatives, including modernization interventions, such as the “development and documentation of locally-adapted technologies.” Specifically, the organization runs a “community-based, farmer-led and participatory breeding program” for rice and corn crops, with “35 farmer-breeders with about 500 bred lines used by an estimated 30,000 farmers nationwide.”

The Future

Overall, it is apparent that agriculture plays a crucial role in both the Philippines’ economy and the lives of several families who rely on agriculture for an income. Families are struggling due to the pandemic’s impact on the sector, however, modernizing the agricultural sector with the help of institutions and organizations brings hope to improve not only the country’s economy but also the lives of the families reliant on the sector.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr