Information and stories on education.

Pineapples Against Poverty in Rwanda
Poverty plagues many residents in the East African country of Rwanda. As a result of the deadly 1994 genocide, many female-led households are struggling. To provide for their families, these women are using their small parcels of land for agricultural cultivation. However, it was not until a group of residents in the district of Kirehe founded the Tuzamurane Cooperative in Eastern Rwanda that things changed. Through these efforts, profitable gain could now occur. Tuzamurane has worked to boost incomes by cultivating pineapples, a practice that has supplemented the community and helped combat poverty. By using pineapples against poverty in Rwanda, there is potential for improved quality of life for thousands.

What is the Tuzamurane Cooperative?

Established more than 10 years ago, the Tuzamurane Cooperative emerged to educate women on horticulture and financial literacy. Workers identified pineapples, a locally grown and climate-suitable fruit, as an ideal agricultural crop for local cooperative members to cultivate.

After some members visited a Belgian export convention, inspiration struck to collect community pineapple harvests and market them for both local and foreign sale. After this collection process, the initiative sells these fresh pineapples to locals and exports the dried fruits. Unfortunately, however, local markets pay very little just 6 cents for a single pineapple.

Community Success and Support

Oxfam, an Irish organization focused on mobilizing people against poverty, joined this cooperative’s efforts in 2015 and helped turn its pineapple production into profit. With Oxfam, Tuzamurane could attain proper facilities like processing equipment, a more thorough supplier base and adequate organic certification. Cooperative members now have access to a broader market with a higher profit margin, which can directly fight poverty in Rwanda.

Tuzamurane, meaning “lift up one another,” is a fitting name for the organization’s mission. For instance, the educational opportunities and market accessibility Tuzamurane provides its members are profound on their own. Yet, its support goes beyond these areas. If a co-op member needs monetary assistance to make ends meet, Tuzamurane readily provides financing. Members pay for this financing interest-free by supplying an equivalent amount of produce. Furthermore, Tuzamurane covers the cost of employees’ health insurance. In these ways, the cooperative protects the social well-being of its members and their families.

The positive impacts of Tuzamurane Cooperative within the community and region are profound. The pineapple farming income has provided members, particularly women, with funds to pay for their children’s schooling and household expenses. They can also invest in their futures by purchasing livestock and more land for cultivation. Additionally, they can hire more labor to help during busy times. Notably, members of the cooperative are no longer part of the lowest income groups. Tuzamurane has made incredible progress in using pineapples against poverty in Rwanda.

Social and Economic Impact

With Oxfam’s support, Tuzamurane finds great success in providing for Kirehe and Rwanda’s greater community. While pineapples may seem like a simple crop, their ability to grow on small land plots makes them easier for women to manage. In this way, the cooperative’s support empowers male and female heads of households alike. Facilitating their escape from poverty and the ability to adequately provide for their families.

With juicy pineapples in tow, the Tuzamurane Cooperative has addressed several needs of those facing poverty in Rwanda. By educating locals on introductory horticulture, providing essential equipment and offering more business opportunities, more than 300 people and their families have escaped dire poverty in Rwanda. With its lucrative business model, this co-op will undoubtedly continue to inspire thousands throughout the region to use pineapples against poverty in Rwanda.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

Education Will Help End Poverty
Education is a luxury many people take for granted, but it is something poverty-ridden families often sacrifice to have. Globally, over 250 million children and young adults are not in school. As a result, around 617 million young children and adolescents around the world are unable to read or do mathematics within the minimum proficient level. Poverty is one of the main reasons for this tragedy and it often comes from generations prior that also lacked schooling. By properly educating new generations, poverty rates could reduce significantly. Here are some ways that proper education will help end poverty.

Health

Estimates have determined that in developing countries, one-eighth of all children are born malnourished and that about 47% of those in low-income countries will continue to experience malnourishment until they reach the age of 5. Poor nutrition is a direct result of poverty and often linked to insufficient knowledge of proper nutritional diets. A study that occurred in 13 different countries found that the standard yearly gain production increased with those with basic education by 8.7%, which in turn increased food security and helped lower rates of malnourishment in children.

Education will help end poverty because, with basic education, parents learn more about how to care for themselves and their families, which in turn leads their children towards healthier lifestyles. Health education gives families have a higher chance of survival and even reduces rates of HIV and AIDS.

Mortality Rate

Education will help end poverty because it is particularly powerful for girls. Education has many effects on girls and women, but a primary impact is that if all women in poverty finished primary school, then the child mortality rate would reduce by almost 17%. This adds up to about 1 million newborns saved every year, but how does saving lives help lower poverty rates?

If more children survive, then families would not feel the need to have more children, thus the size of families would be smaller. If the families were smaller, then families would have more income and resources to go around, thus reducing poverty. For example, sub-Saharan African women with no education have 6.7 births on average, but with access to schools, these women only have 5.8 births. And finally, those studied who had finished secondary education have 3.9 births on average.

With schooling, women could more easily recognize danger signs in pregnancy and be able to seek care faster. Women with more knowledge about their body, pregnancy and childbirth have a better chance of giving birth safely. Records have determined that a child with a mother who had basic education is 50% more likely to surpass their fifth birthday.

Income and Economic Growth

Income is, of course, a huge factor in poverty. Records have stated that if someone has basic education (that is, reading, writing and mathematical skills), this not only has a positive impact on their own income but can also “increase the rate of return on the economy.” Those with education have a much higher chance of getting better jobs with higher wages. Just one year of education can result in a 10% raise in pay. More pay means better, more nutritious food, better access to sanitation, better access to healthcare and better housing.

For example, Vietnam was one of the poorest economic countries in the world due to its 20-year war. However, since 1990, Vietnam transformed its poor and war-torn country into a GDP that grew to 3,303%. Its economic growth rate was the second fastest and the main strategy for this success was the improvement and modernization of its education system. Vietnam is only second to China, which also implemented a new education system, causing it to have the number one fastest GDP growth.

With children attending schools and developing both important skills and abilities, they will one day get better jobs. The more income they have, the more goods and products they consume which benefits the companies. This in turn increases the demand for the production of more products, thus giving jobs to more people and helping the economy grow. These changes and more will be key in eradicating poverty around the world.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Flickr

education in malaysiaMillions of individuals struggle to get an education in Malaysia. This is due to systemic repercussions of poverty, stigma and lack of resources. However, the Malaysian government and the U.N. have released conflicting numbers regarding the poverty rate in Malaysia. Malaysia reports that the poverty rate is less than 1%. But the U.N. contends that the poverty line should be adjusted for accuracy to 15% to 20%. When statistics ignore the reality of those living in extreme poverty, the consequences go beyond understanding household income and financial security. Poverty deprives individuals of job opportunities and education in Malaysia, as well as exposes them to discrimination.

Poverty and Education in Malaysia

Lori Niehaus is a 2019 Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia and founder of the Change Makers program. Niehaus told The Borgen Project about the significant role that poverty plays in Kelantan, the Malaysian state with the lowest GDP. Poverty impacts the daily lives of students and their ability to get an education in Malaysia. For starters, many students are driven for financial reasons to work all night to support their families. As a result, they have less time to study, which puts them at a disadvantage in school.

Through the stratification process in public schools in Kelantan, students with low scores in any subject are designated to lower-level classes. These classes receive very little attention and resources from their schools. In some cases, students often arrive at school and sit in a classroom without a teacher the entire day. As such, this stratification further stalls their education and deprives them of opportunities to advance.

Additionally, social stigmas that result from poverty and Kelantan’s low GDP rate also deprive students and adults of professional opportunities. Kelantan is unique in that its population speaks its own language, a mix of standard Malay and Thai. However, wealthier populations within Malaysia speak standard Malay. Niehaus told The Borgen Project that standard Malay speakers “automatically discount Kelantanese as less educated, and that creates a mental and cyclical effect on what they feel capable of accomplishing.”

Gender Disparities in Education in Malaysia

Along with poverty, gender disparities in the classroom prove to be another obstacle to education in Malaysia. Social and cultural gender disparities produce a stifling, hyper-gendered environment for girls. In that environment, academic insecurities and shyness prevent female students in school from reaching their full potential. To combat gender disparities in Kelantan, Niehaus and a colleague created the Change Makers program in their community.

Change Makers

Through a two-day, one-night camp, the Change Makers program worked with 80 female students from four different high schools. The camp fostered an academic environment in which girls have the chance to engage in problem-solving workshops. Moreover, the camp curriculum included three major issues. These are mass displacement (in the context of the Rohingya crisis), environmental issues and the relationship between racism and identity.

However, because Niehaus and colleagues facilitated this particular program, it will not continue in the future. But schools support similar events every few years. Without initiatives like these, female students around the world will continue face challenges while pursuing their education in Malaysia or chasing professional opportunities.

“The purpose of Change Makers was to encourage our [students] to think critically about the problems that their community—both in Kota Bharu, their city, and in Malaysia at large—face and how we might bring about change,” said Niehaus. Niehaus believes that by creating conversations about change for marginalized groups within Kota Bharu and Malaysia as a whole, students will find ways to think critically and effect real change in their communities. They may then be able to work on solving problems with education in Malaysia within their own communities.

Nye Day
Photo: Flickr

women's education in the gambiaAcross the developing world, millions of women and girls in poverty receive little to no education. Women learn to cook, clean and care for children. Men, in contrast, often receive an education from a young age. With this advantage, men can work toward opportunities beyond the reach of their female counterparts. When girls have access to education, they can forward the benefits to their community. One educated girl can impact generations. This is why women’s education in The Gambia is important.

In The Gambia, a small West African country, girls face problems common in developing countries. The average family lives on a daily income of $1, but education after grade six costs $100 per year. Families frequently invest their small income in educating boys, whom they think will support them in adulthood. As a result, women struggle to find opportunities beyond domestic labor.

In addition to these limitations on women’s education in The Gambia, other barriers include cultural biases and teenage marriage. The culmination of these obstacles prevents nearly 50% of the Gambian population from accessing education and economic empowerment. Consequently, the lack of women’s education in Gambia hurts the country’s development.

Why Does Education Matter?

For women living in poverty, including those in The Gambia, very few opportunities wait for them. These girls face the expectation from a young age that they will grow up to become mothers and homemakers. Early on, girls learn about domestic skills and how to raise children. Men, on the other hand, have the opportunity to dive into their education and accelerate their careers.

The education of women in developing countries is absolutely critical to their personal growth. When young girls receive the same opportunities as boys, they learn essential skills that go far beyond the classroom. Health classes teach young women about the spread of illnesses and the importance of nutrition. Math lessons provide analytical skills that they can apply to household finances. Language courses allow them to communicate better with others and read the news.

For women in The Gambia, these skills would allow them to improve their own quality of life. In a nation that often undervalues gender equality, women’s education in The Gambia is a critical first step to leveling the playing field.

Women’s Education and Economic Development

The smallest country in mainland Africa, The Gambia faces limited economic development. The current regime has harmed business freedom and has contributed to the weakening labor force. With a population of around 2.1 million, the country has a limited workforce. Most jobs center on agriculture and crop exports. However, excluding women from the workforce cuts the number of potential workers in half.

Additionally, since the nation’s economy depends on crops, The Gambia’s GDP fluctuates with farmers’ production. This means that in dry seasons, when people struggle to water their crops, the economy struggles as well. In fact, the Gambian economy recently contracted by 10% as a result of erratic rainfall, according to The World Bank.

Including women in the workforce would increase the available amount of labor, which would help in cultivating crops. Additionally, more labor would allow other sectors of the economy to grow, creating a more diverse and stable economic system. If women received an education, making them more employable, more businesses would develop and the economy would grow exponentially.

Education Brings Hope

Over the past several years, efforts around the globe have worked toward improving women’s education in The Gambia. Women in The Gambia are now achieving higher levels of education, and experts predict this trend will continue. Many charities and NGOs are raising money and bringing awareness for this cause. Some are even increasing education through international programs. One of these NGOs is Janga Yakarr, which uses exchange programs in the United States to increase women’s education in The Gambia.

Janga Yakarr, which directly translates to “education, hope,” is a charitable organization founded by sisters Alexandra and Erica Chalmers in 2011. After learning about the lack of opportunities for women in The Gambia due to limited education, they decided to help. The sisters arranged a shipment of desks, chairs, whiteboards, chemistry equipment and educational materials to The Gambia. This effort meant to help children in The Gambia complete their education.

An Educational Exchange

The Chalmers became inspired by how their school supplies supported young girls and the relationships they formed with these students, who lived nearly 4000 miles away. From this point on, the Chalmers sisters wanted to enhance the relationship between students in the U.S. and in The Gambia. They now create an educational connection between the two countries.

To do so, they started the nonprofit Janga Yakurr in partnership with grassroots organization Starfish International. The organization’s aim is to raise money for women’s education in The Gambia. Additionally, it aims to foster relationships between U.S. high schoolers and students in The Gambia, as well as run exchange programs between the schools.

Alexandra Chalmers told The Borgen Project, “Looking at the struggle that many women go through in The Gambia in order to feel empowered, it opened our eyes to how much we take for granted in the United States. Our own education has provided us with so much opportunity to pursue, and we wanted to share that with these girls as well.”

The Future of Women’s Education in The Gambia

Over the past several years, many organizations like Janga Yakurr have helped make progress on women’s education in West Africa. This is important not just for women but for these countries as a whole. When young girls receive the same opportunities as young boys, they can get higher-paying jobs. From there, the labor force will continue to grow, which will improve economic stability.

Additionally, as women are more highly educated, they may help fight for women’s equality. They can use their education to fight for equal representation, for example, and to reduce female circumcision and domestic abuse. With a higher level of education, many women and girls may also gain respect and equality in other facets of life.

Education fuels empowerment. For women in poverty, they likely cannot feel empowered without education and financial support. However, women’s education in The Gambia will provide ample opportunity for them to thrive and for the whole economy to prosper.

Daniela Canales
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Rwanda
Rwanda is a low-income country in East Africa with a population of 12.6 million as of 2019. The World Bank and the IMF have supported Rwanda’s economic development, which has been remarkable throughout the past decade. Following years of conflict that destabilized national progress, particularly the 1990-1994 genocide that claimed almost 1 million lives, there have been exemplary innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda.

In 2013, the Government of Rwanda drew its second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II) as part of its Vision 2020 for socio-economic transformation, which included targets of a GDP growth of 11.5% and a 20% reduction in poverty levels. The Vision 2020 also aimed for an annual creation of 200,000 new jobs, 50% of them in non-agricultural sectors. The Government also founded the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to further drive economic development. In 2019, RDB recorded $2.46 billion USD in investment commitments to Rwanda, with the U.S. being the top investor. Energy, water, manufacturing and the service industry attracted the highest investment. Notably, 46.5% of people in Rwanda were employed as of November 2019 with 61% of the total workforce in the agricultural sector. Here are some of the effective innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda.

4 Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Rwanda

  1. e-Soko: e-Soko is an Agricultural Market Pricing Information System that the World Bank has funded. It seeks to empower farmers to make more informed decisions on farming by allowing them to access pricing information through ICT. The program also connects the Ministry of Agriculture with the farmers in sharing key information and continues to provide weekly market prices of farm produce available online. In 2019, the World Bank scored Rwanda a trading food indicator of 69.19 out of 100, which is a measure of domestic farmers’ use of regulatory processes for agricultural production. In 2020, RDB and FAO partnered in a three-year project dubbed “Support local suppliers’ capacity development and promote e-commerce in Rwanda” for smart solutions in horticulture, livestock and agribusiness.
  2. Girinka: Loosely translated as “may you have a cow,” Girinka is an initiative to alleviate poverty in rural communities that the Rwandan Government spearheaded in 2006 in collaboration with several NGOs. Based on the Rwandan traditional practice of giving cows as gifts, the Rwandan Government granted heifers which provided milk to combat malnutrition in children, commodity through sale of dairy products and improved agricultural output through their organic manure. By 2017, 85% of the projected households had received a heifer each with a total of 298,859 heifers distributed. A survey from 2012 showed that 79% of the households were food secure. The initiative, also known as One Cow per Poor Family, has been a success story among the innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda.
  3. The One Laptop per Child Initiative: The Ministry of Education in Rwanda is committed to providing equitable, quality education for a skilled workforce in order to drive socio-economic development. To achieve this, the Government introduced changes in basic education such as a new Competence Based Curriculum that emphasizes social skills and application skills; the curriculum aims to reach a developing a workforce that is more productive. In line with this, in 2008, the Government launched an ICT program for primary schools labeled as the One Laptop per Child Program to increase understanding in mathematics, sciences and technology. As of 2019, 58% of primary schools, 85.4% of secondary schools and 51% of tertiary institutions in Rwanda were using ICT in teaching and learning. For the primary schools, 79.9% had science kits and 25.5% had a science laboratory. As of 2020, RDB put Rwanda’s literacy rate at 73.2%.
  4. Mobile Employment Services: In 2019, RDB introduced the Kora Portal, an online employment site that is one of the innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda. RDB further provided buses and ICT experts to take the services to remote parts of Rwanda. By 2020, the portal had registered 965 jobs, 62 employers and 4,800 job seekers. The portal also has a skills database that recorded 95,000 graduates. This was in line with the Government’s aim to create 1.5 million jobs by 2024. As of November 2019, Rwanda’s unemployment rate was at 15.4% in comparison to 14.3% in February 2018.

Prospects

Rwanda aims to become a middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In its Vision 2050, the RDB’s National Skills Development and Employment Promotion Strategy seeks to boost investment in the country, advance skills in the workforce and build on emerging technologies all to transform Rwanda’s socioeconomic status. The World Bank Group projected Rwanda’s annual GDP growth rate to be at 6.9% in 2021 in comparison to a low of 2% in 2020 from a high of 9.4% in 2019. Through the innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda, the country’s socio-economic status should keep growing.

Beth Warūgūrū Hinga
Photo: Pixabay

Educating Children to Become World CitizensThere has been generally positive growth in the awareness of global issues for a long time now. Global poverty is one such issue. Cases of successful poverty reduction can be used as inspiration for encouraging global engagement from a young age. Educating children to become world citizens may very well inspire them to become future leaders for positive changes worldwide.

However, the subject of poverty can be a difficult concept for students to grasp. It is especially challenging for those who have no exposure to a world beyond their own. Teachers who feel passionate about exposing children to global poverty must consider the age of their students. Depending on the class’s age, teachers can determine the best methods and approaches for introducing such an important topic.

Potential Curriculums

  • Ages 6-10: For children at such a young age, the concept must be sensitively introduced. One such way to do this is by framing poverty through a story. A storybook allows children to make comparisons between someone their own age living in poverty and their own lives. Afterward, the lesson encourages them to ask questions and relate their own experiences to what they are learning about.
  • Ages 11-13: Children at this age are already more aware of the small differences between themselves and others. This awareness makes 11-13 the perfect age range to introduce children to cultures apart from their own. For the lesson, instructors may assign children a specific country that is facing extreme poverty and ask them to research schools in that country. Students may then compare the resources, teacher’s education and accessibility of the school they are researching to their own school. Documenting these differences in a notebook allows the children to then use the notebook as a reflection of what they have learned.
  • Ages 14-18: As young adults explore their lives and their futures, they are excited to explore different and new concepts. They are also developing their own opinions about their passions and beliefs. Exposing them to different artistic observations of poverty through documentaries and photography helps young adults see impoverished countries as unique and vibrant rather than poor and helpless. Additionally, young adults become more aware of their own finances at this age. Students making their own money for the first time are able to sympathize with lessons on the economy of poor countries, such as microfinancing and budgeting less than $1 a day.

Organizations Educating Children to Become Global Citizens

Exposure is critical when educating children to become world citizens. Introducing pertinent organizations and speakers who have been affected by global poverty or work closely in fighting it makes lessons come to life.

  • Edutopia, founded by George Lucas, this foundation is on a mission to transform education. One of its goals is to provide children with the knowledge that will help them in the real world when they grow up. The website provides teaching strategies including how to diversify what students are taught. The 5 Minute Film Festival is a resource through Edutopia that gives teachers access to various documentaries. The festival also includes the Change Series, published by the creators of the documentary Living on One Dollar. This includes episodes on the challenges developing countries face. Some such challenges include access to clean water, resources for natural disasters, and the prevalence of malnutrition.
  • CARE is an organization that works to make a difference in countries facing extreme poverty. They recognize education as a primary resource in poverty eradication and provide a toolkit for teachers addressing some of the major challenges in making poverty a thing of the past. CARE uses the United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals as guidelines for lessons and activities such as women empowerment, disabilities and diseases. 
  • TV Programs: Journalist David Brancaccio hosts PBS NOW, a program that addresses domestic issues but also goes beyond by looking at the world as a whole. The show addresses foreign affairs, the environment and health. Teachers can use the show’s various topics, such as child brides and climate change, to assist in educating children to become world citizens.

Hope for the Future

Children’s rising interest in international issues from an early age allows them to see the world from a different perspective. There has already been a lot of success in reducing global poverty. Yet, understanding challenges across the globe is often overlooked – even by people in wealthier countries that are given the luxury of education. By exposing children and allowing them to explore the world, teachers are educating children to become world citizens.

Zoe Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

Education Inequality in Pakistan
Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country and home to over 221 million people, is trying to get girls the education they deserve. Education inequality in Pakistan exists primarily because of a lack of funding from the government, unsafe transportation, early marriage and poverty. Families living in poverty in Pakistan frequently choose between sending their children to school, hoping they get there safely, or buying household necessities. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch article, “32% of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared with 21% of boys.”

The Current Situation in Pakistan

Today, the youth population in Pakistan is larger than it has ever been. With 64% of individuals now under the age of 30, this new generation may be able to change Pakistan’s economy and education system, according to World Education News and Review. However, how can girls make a societal change when only 39% out of that age group, 2% of whom are female, have employment?

Women in Pakistan often do household chores such as cooking and taking care of the children while men in Pakistani culture are the breadwinners. Many in Pakistan see them as worthy of a proper education because they need those skills to create a prosperous life for their family. This adds to the gender and education inequality that exists in the patriarchal society of Pakistan.

For the girls who have the opportunity to go to school, they often face obstacles such as rape and discrimination. The gender-based violence present in Pakistan often occurs through child marriage, domestic abuse and maternal mortality rates. Many girls marry before they turn 18, and according to a 2018 article by TheirWorld, “In 2012 and 2013, 53.7% of married girls between 15 and 19 had never been to school.”

The gender discrimination that girls face in the educational system is an intergenerational problem. The United States has been working to aid Pakistan in furthering its educational system and obtaining education equality for girls.

Solutions

USAID aims to help girls in developing areas gain access to education, diminish the gender gap and keep girls in school when they are at high risk of dropping out. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, 22.7% of children drop out of primary school. In an attempt to change those statistics, USAID has constructed and repaired 1,607 schools and awarded scholarships to 19,000 students in Pakistan in the past decade.

Education in Pakistan is often poor. School budgets are frequently low, infrastructure is improper and teachers are illegitimate. Change must begin on the inside, starting with the intentions of the Pakistani government.

In past years, Pakistan has fallen short when it comes to financing education. In 2000, Pakistan spent 1.8% of its gross domestic product on education. In 2017, Pakistan spent only 2.9% on education. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, “The government has allocated Rs. 83.3 billion for Education Affairs and Services in the federal budget for 2020-21.” While there are plans in place to help Pakistan’s economy and promote education, some organizations are working on a more personal level.

Save the Children

Save the Children is an organization that strives to create a better future for children by providing aid to healthcare, education and disaster relief. In Pakistan, the organization’s goal is to raise awareness about girls rights, work towards gender equality and help improve the country’s education system.

“We want to help every child, each one is important but we know girls need more help breaking down those barriers,” said Save the Children’s Vice President of Public Policy and Advocating, Nora O’Connell, in an interview with The Borgen Project. Save the Children’s Choices, Voices, and Promises program aims to educate children about gender and social norms to move towards equality. The program intends to teach boys about the obstacles that their sisters and friends in order to create a supportive, less divided community. “In some cases we see boys helping their sisters with their chores so they have more time to focus on their school work,” said O’Connell.

Save the Children also has programs about sexual and reproductive health, teachers as role models and a mentor program. According to O’Connell, the mentor program is a great way for adolescent girls to stay in school when they are at risk of dropping out. Save the Children pairs girls with mentors who may have dropped out of school due to marriage or pregnancy, in order to show girls they are capable of moving past social barriers.

Through continued work, education inequality in Pakistan should become a part of the past. Everyone deserves the right to an equal and proper education no matter their gender. As the African proverb goes, “if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

– Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

Childhood BlindnessFounded by West Virginian Doctor VK Raju, the Eye Foundation of America responds to the ubiquity of childhood blindness. Though less common in industrialized nations, blindness affects many societies throughout the world. Globally, 2.2 billion people cope with cases of vision impairment or blindness, 12 million of which are preventable. According to the foundation, combating childhood blindness may be the most cost-effective health intervention.

Eye Foundation of America

Most instances of vision impairment result from eye conditions. When eye conditions obstruct the visual system and one or more of its functions, if not treated quickly and effectively, vision impairment leads to permanent blindness.

Dr. Raju, the creator of Eye Foundation of America (EFA), grew up in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, India. His medical career in ophthalmology brought him to his current residence of Morgantown, West Virginia. Following his journey from east to west, Dr. Raju strengthened his ties to India and other developing countries through EFA.

Childhood vision impairments have an impact on education as learning is done 80% through vision. Therefore, EFA revolves around a singular mission: eradicating childhood blindness. The principles of service, teaching and research, underscore operations of the foundation. EFA sets up medical clinics across the world focused on training staff on ophthalmological procedures, screening local populations for eye conditions and maintaining a functional vision for the youth.

In four decades, EFA made notable strides in combating childhood blindness and overall blindness. In 30 countries across the world, EFA trained and educated more than 700 doctors and medical staff, conducted three million vision screenings and saved the vision of more than 350,000 people through essential procedures.

Early Intervention Prevents Blindness

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Raju affirms the importance of proper sight for children, without which “the child becomes a problem to themselves, a problem to the family and a problem to society.”

Reducing childhood blindness requires early intervention. If health care personnel identify eye conditions in a child’s first two years of life, the visual cortex still has time to develop and function properly. Conversely, if doctors neglect vision problems during this critical period of growth, the brain cells may never learn to see.

Disparities Between Access and Affordability

Dr. Raju traces the pervasiveness of childhood blindness to accessibility and affordability rather than incidence. He offers his home state of West Virginia as an example. In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau documented the West Virginia poverty rate at 17.8%, which is 6% above the national rate of 11.8%. Despite relative poverty, Dr. Raju asserts that West Virginia residents enjoy excellent health care and ophthalmological treatment, regardless of whether they have insurance.

Two-thirds of the 1.4 million cases of childhood blindness occur in developing countries where Dr. Raju sets up the majority of EFA’s clinics. Accordingly, The World Health Organization (WHO) reports, “The burden of visual impairments and eye conditions tends to be greater in low and middle-income countries and underserved populations, such as women, migrants, indigenous peoples, persons with certain kinds of disability and rural communities.”

Vision Impacts Global Poverty

Mahatma Gandhi once famously declared, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” For Dr. Raju, the change is to see. Though often taken for granted, vision enables children to read, write and learn through seeing. Vision impacts education and education impacts poverty. Dr. Raju’s foundation addresses overall global poverty by addressing childhood blindness.

Maya Gonzales
Photo: Flickr

Microsoft's Global Skills InitiativeIn the wake of COVID-19, economies across the world have been hit hard. Countries alike have seen decreases across all economic sectors as quarantine and stay-at-home orders were mandated in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. People transitioned to working remotely, while millions of others lost their jobs entirely due to market crashes. In an effort to cushion the economic travesty that the pandemic has bought, Microsoft is launching a global initiative, partnering with LinkedIn and Github, to teach 25 million people across the world new digital skills. Microsoft’s global skills initiative aims to remedy the global economic impact that has come with COVID-19.

Digital Skills

Microsoft believes these newfound digital skills will give people the ability to take on jobs where digital skills are necessary in order to be successful. The initiative targets those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic, as well as minorities, women and others affected by poverty.

Recent statistics predict that over 250 million people globally may be unemployed by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. Microsoft found that in the U.S. alone, in May 2020, women had an unemployment rate of 14.4% compared to men who were at 12%. Additionally, Latinx populations had unemployment rates of 16.7%, which is much higher than other groups. These statistics indicate why the initiative particularly targets populations such as women and minorities.

By learning digital skills, those who are at an economic disadvantage will be able to take on jobs in the digital age and improve their economic status. Those who attain these newfound skills might even be able to teach others and distribute their knowledge to uplift an entire community.

Three-step Process

The three partnered companies have come up with a three-step process that they hope will encourage economic growth in communities across the globe. The first part relates to the Linkedin Economic Graph. The Economic Graph is a digital representation of the global economy based on more than 690 million professionals, 50 million companies, 11 million job listings, 36,000 defined skills and 90,000 schools. In short, it is data that shows available jobs and their required skills as well as global hiring rates. These insights will help create economic opportunities for the global workforce.

The second part consists of free tools, programs and content that people will be provided with, in order to learn the skills necessary for job applications. This initiative will give people free access to content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and the GitHub Learning Lab.

Thirdly, low-cost certifications and other cost-free job-seeking tools will be available to help people pursue new jobs with their newly developed skills.

Along with this digital skills initiative, Microsoft will be backing $20 million worth of cash grants that will be distributed across the globe to different nonprofit organizations. These grants will help nonprofits to combat the effects of the pandemic and allow the nonprofits to further extend reach in order to help more people.

Microsoft believes that global shutdowns and social distancing have accelerated the path to digitalization in all fields and economies. The company knows that digital tools are now necessary regardless of the field of work and will continue to be relevant far after the pandemic has passed. Microsoft’s global skills initiative may help the world’s economic recovery and may possibly uplift the entire globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

George Hashemi
Photo: Flickr

Left-Behind ChildrenChina has undergone swift urbanization and development in recent years. However, reaping the rewards of this progress has not been easy for everyone. In search of better job opportunities, millions of Chinese parents in poverty have left their communities in hopes of creating a better future for their children. However, these parents must leave their children behind to do so. These left-behind children (LBC) may remain with a caregiver, family member, friend or institution, or they can be left entirely on their own.

There are about 70 million left-behind children in China, and they experience many effects of poverty. The average ages of LBC range from 6 to 17. While LBC are more prominent in rural China, the number of LBC has risen in urban areas as well. As a result, many children in China are mentally and physically ill, don’t receive a proper education and are essentially stuck in the cycle of poverty. Parental absence contributes to all of these factors.

Poor Quality of Education

While their parents seek more money in the city, left-behind children are left in inadequate school buildings with limited supplies and ill-prepared teachers. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Lijiah Zhang, an author and journalist who examines China’s left-behind children, stressed that education is the largest problem these children face. “Without their parents, the children are more likely to lose interest in their studies and sometimes drop out of school, the opposite of what their parents hope for,” she said. Indeed, over 13% of left-behind children drop out by the eighth grade. Another reason for dropouts is the household responsibilities some left-behind children must take on, such as agricultural work, which leaves them with no time for academics.

For those who do continue their education, the quality is waning. With teachers lacking incentives and resources, education is a large obstacle for LBC. Educators hired for rural teaching positions are often fresh out of training and possess little teaching experience to offer a proper education. But because they are cheaper to pay, schools that lack funding hire them constantly. The staff is overworked and tremendously underpaid, with some rural educators working over 12 hours a day. This poor teaching quality combined with cramped classrooms and a lack of technology sets rural children up for failure.

High Dropout Rates

Left-behind children dropping out of school perpetuates cyclical poverty. China’s economic expansion over the past 40 years has brought about 800 million people out of poverty, but it has also widened the gap between rural and urban communities. Families in poverty continue to struggle with money, and the number of parents deciding to leave children behind is rising. These children are stuck living with the effects of poverty, and with no parental guidance, they have little means of digging their way out.

Zhang stated that many LBC feel powerless in their situations, which leads to them losing interest in their schooling and dropping out, thus reducing their chances of climbing the employment ladder. Because of the difference in economic opportunities between rural and urban communities, poor children remain poor while the rich stay rich.

Lack of Safety and Health

Because left-behind children do not have parents to protect or guide them, they are more vulnerable to abuse. Forms of abuse include harassment from peers and guardians, sexual abuse and criminality. For example, in 2015 a teacher was sentenced to life in prison for raping 12 of his students, 11 of whom were left-behind children. Many children also experience extremely long walks to and from their schools, some of which take multiple hours. This leaves them alone and vulnerable to anyone passing by.

Living without parental guidance also takes a mental and physical toll on children. Left-behind children are much more likely than non-LBC to have depression, anxiety and behavioral issues due to parental absence. They are also more likely to suffer from chronic loneliness. In a survey of six Chinese provinces, 25% of LBC reported high levels of loneliness, which can worsen mental and physical health. While parental migration offers a chance at economic improvement, child development often deteriorates.

The diets of left-behind children are often also insufficient. According to a 2015 study, left-behind boys consumed more fat and less protein in their diets. This puts them at an increased risk for obesity and stunted growth. Zhang said: “I think the LBC’s diet is worse than non-LBC. Their guardians, usually their grandparents, are mostly very frugal. They also don’t have any idea about healthy diet or nutrition.” Limited nutrition can lead to poor school performance in addition to long-term health risks.

Helping Left-Behind Children

This crisis is well-known, and many organizations are working to aid these millions of children. Save the Children, OneSky and Humanium advocate for and offer direct assistance to left-behind children. So far, Save the Children has helped 310,000 vulnerable Chinese children. Specifically, it provides educational improvements and services to keep them from harm. UNICEF also offers services to LBC in multiple Chinese provinces, including social and emotional development and health administration. UNICEF continues to initiate projects to help these children.

Each year, millions of Chinese children suffer without their parents. The mental and physical health consequences along with the inadequate education they face make their everyday lives an uphill battle. Humanitarian assistance helps thousands of these children, but the causes underlying the crisis continue challenge poverty eradication. 

– Radley Tan
Photo: Flickr