Theresa Kachindamoto’s Activism
Malawi operates under a democratic chiefdom system, which has been in existence for hundreds of years. Theresa Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 siblings and the mother of five children. She works as a tribal Malawian chief in the district of Dedza. This district consists of nearly 900,000 people and 551 headmen. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children stems from the cultural practice of child marriages.

Kachindamoto has been working to annul child marriages and ensure that the female victims of it can receive an education. In Malawi, one in two girls will marry before 18, preventing them from completing their education. Kachindamoto uses her voice to explain the practicality of arranged marriages with healthy boundaries. She also advocates for safe environments for the betterment of all parties involved. Here is some information about Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children.

Empowerment of Children

Some call Theresa Kachindamoto the terminator of child marriages. In fact, she has annulled over 1,000 marriages and immediately aided in getting individuals back to school afterward. Kachindamoto has said she will be chief until she dies, giving the children of Malawi a solid and long-term advocate. She is accomplishing change through the creation of a reliable support network to alter traditions.

U.N. Women has been a big supporter of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children and how she brings attention to the issue of child marriages.

Many young women end up having to enter child marriages since their families are in poverty and cannot provide for their basic needs. Benedeta Matinson talked about marriage and finishing school in a U.N. Women video before she received employment. She conveyed information about experiencing marriage and pregnancy at the age of 15. Benedeta stated that marriage not a suitable solution for the lack of basic necessities.

The Problem

Malawi is the sixth most impoverished country in the world. Girls who marry before the age of 18 make up 18% of the country. Kachindamoto has expressed that motherhood and wifehood often take precedence over girls’ education. Thus, the chief is working towards altering traditions. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children empowers young women. It grants the girls understanding of their value and what they deserve. This includes quality education before marriage arrangements.

Child marriages lead the way to more significant problems. An example of a problem is sexual initiation camps. These are places where young women learn how to sexually please men and understand their “duties” as wives. The tradition translates as “kukasa fumbi,” which basically means sexual cleansing. Girls either graduate the program by having relations with their instructor or go home virgins. Meanwhile, if they return home as virgins, their parents force them to lose their virginities to local men. This cultural practice makes girls more susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV. In fact, statistically, every one in 10 Malawians becomes ill with HIV/AIDS.

With the teen pregnancy rate rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.2% of girls ages 15 to 19 are mothers. In addition, 63.5% of girls are mothers-to-be.

The Importance of Education

As part of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children, she created and signed an agreement for her district to end child marriage along with sexual initiation camps. This was the result of conversing with 50 sub-chiefs who gave Kachindamoto significant pushback. In response, she firmly said, “these girls will go back to school” and the other tribal members slowly worked towards sticking to the new law. In her reign, Kachindamoto raised the age of consent for marriage from 15 years old to 18 years old.

The Mpapa mothers’ group is an organization that seeks out victims of child marriages. Members go door to door in search of those who have dropped out of school due to early marriage, and they attempt to return the girls to school. Mpapa Primary School is a school that the girls then attend, where drop-out rates were at 6% in 2020 and attendance was at 87%. Nationally, only 51% of girls finish primary school.

The Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE) trains the Mpapa mothers’ group. The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency supports the group as well. The group encourages to complete education by mentoring teens on pregnancy issues, marriage and their rights as women.

A 15-year-old girl and Mpapa Primary School attendee, Aisha Kayima, benefited from mentoring sessions two times a month. The mothers’ group has taught Kayima to be better informed about her choices so that she can have a quality future.

Looking Ahead

Putting a stop to child marriages can change the economic status of young girls while ensuring entire communities’ safety by inhibiting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children also helps reconnect girls with their warranted educational paths. In Kachindamoto’s words, “If you educate your girl, you will have everything in the future.”

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Government
Worldwide, more people have access to mobile phones than to proper sanitation. As crazy as it sounds, mobile phone access can be advantageous. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that out of the 7 billion people on earth, around 6.5 billion have access to a mobile phone. As of 2018, 100% of the population in low- and middle-income countries had access to mobile phones, whereas 55% of the population in low-income countries owned a mobile phone. The pervasiveness of mobile technology can help build expansive government networks. Mobile Government (mGov) could provide citizens and businesses with extended benefits and stir up overall economic growth.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, several countries with pre-established digital governments have launched public services that people can access via mobile phones. The introduction of these online services could be a blessing for developing countries, where the communication between the government and the residents is almost nonexistent.

What is a Mobile Government (mGov)?

Mobile Government is a government-led platform that uses mobile technology to increase active participation in government operations while offering several government services and applications that individuals can access electronically. It provides quick and easy access to integrated data and location-based services and helps to empower citizens. Here are different ways Mobile Government can make a positive impact.

Increased Financial Inclusion

As per World Bank reports, by 2018, the number of people holding bank accounts shrank from 2.5 billion to 1.2 billion in just seven years. As a result, less than 50% of the adult population did not have a link to traditional banking systems. Therefore, to increase the financial inclusion of the citizens, governments all across the globe are undertaking initiatives to encourage and support the development of financial technologies.

In India, Jio, an Indian telecommunications company, in collaboration with the government, stirred a socio-economic revolution by providing subsidized 4G service to more than 200 million subscribers in under two years. Likewise, the mobile currency has transformed the Kenyan economy. More than three-fourths of the population have gained access to mobile wallets (M-Pesa) and can participate in financial transactions.

Similarly, online services can be useful in distributing money among the poor since only a small fraction have operational bank accounts. About 1.2 billion users across 95 countries use mobile money. Many countries use mobile payment services to provide monetary assistance through Government-to-person (G2P) payment systems.

In Bangladesh, the government is providing 5 million families with economic support by transferring money online, ensuring that families have a stable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The usage of mobile has helped reduce corruption dramatically, improve access to financial services and boost participation in economic activities.

Better Access to Essential Services

Mobiles have made access to health, education, agriculture and other services trouble-free for the general public. In the same way, mobile phones are going toward addressing serious health problems. Increased communication can bring awareness about safe drinking water, birth control, maternal health and malnutrition amongst many others.

Globally, 774 million people are unable to read or write. Out of that group, 123 million are youth. One can frequently trace illiteracy to a lack of books. Studies have revealed a positive correlation between high illiteracy rates and a shortage of books. The majority of people in sub-Saharan African do not have access to books and the schools in the region rarely do anything about it. As a solution, several developing countries have replaced physical texts with online books, allowing a larger proportion to access books. For instance, educators in schools in countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria and Pakistan read stories to the children from mobile phones.

Mobile phones can also combat dengue fever in Pakistan. Sanitary workers use smartphones to send geo-tagged images of swamps to the central health experts. Afterward, health experts monitor the images.

The agriculture sector in Ethiopia and Uganda also utilizes mobile phones in a significant way. It employs mobile phones to deliver early alerts on droughts, food shortages, pests and weather-related calamities.

Enables Social Accountability

The governments in developing countries are using mobile technology to promote the use of SMS texts to enhance social accountability among the citizens. A study that took place in 46 African countries unearthed a correlation between high mobile penetration and low corruption rates.

In several developing countries, citizens receive encouragement to notify their governments of any matters that require addressing. In Pakistan, the Director-General of the Passport Office sends a message to the visitors inquiring about any bribery encounters or any other issues.

Mobile Government can be a powerful tool, useful in extending access to existing services, developing further innovative, inclusive services and increasing citizen participation in all realms of the public sector. Mobiles can dynamically foster civic engagement, facilitate transparent democracy, reform the outdated educational systems and create advanced healthcare infrastructure in developing countries. The use of mobile technology can tackle the growing digital divide between low-income and high-income countries. Hopefully, this will uplift the economies and literacy rates in developing countries.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

The Northern Triangle
Latin America is in a vicious circle of crime, poverty and corruption. High crime rates thwart economic opportunities and crime rates push people into poverty, all cumulating into corrupt leaders who use the pain for their power and self-interest. Nevertheless, nowhere is crime more prevalent than in the Northern Triangle.

The Northern Triangle is region in Central America that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has experienced the worst problems such as poor economic growth, rampant gang violence and political corruption. This three-prong nightmare has fueled an estimated 265,000 people toward the Southern U.S. Border and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. While some do attempt to find safety in Europe and elsewhere in South America, others take the risk and traverse their way to the U.S-Mexico border, where they risk entering the country illegally. Others surrender to U.S. border patrol and seek asylum. However, it is unlikely that they will receive asylum. On average, only 13% of individuals receive asylum and experience integration into the United States.

Gang Corruption

In 2017, a survey asked the people in El Salvador, “who runs the country?” About 42% of respondents said “Delincuencia/Maras.” For non-Spanish speakers, this translates to gangs, like MS-13.

These answers have visible ramifications that strike at the core of the government. Governments in the Northern Triangle are weak, and the people know this; the gangs know this. People understand the country’s power lies in gangs’ hands, not in the government’s.

For example, in 2012, the Salvadorian government agreed to sign a truce with the criminal organizations to address skyrocketing homicide rates. The profoundly unpopular legislation did lower the homicide rate but the people still had to continue to pay gangs. Tactics like homicide and racketeering are not the only ways these organizations flex their might.

Throughout the Northern Triangle, gangs rely on drug and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and theft to export their criminal enterprise well beyond the Northern Triangle. Issues in the Northern Triangle are not just an inter-state problem but also a problem for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Governance Problem

Northern Triangle nations have made some progress when it comes to corruption. But the total damage that such corruption caused is still in the billions: $13 billion to be precise.

In 2006, Guatemala successfully combated corruption when it appealed to the U.N., which established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This independent body investigates the infiltration of criminal groups within state institutions. Such an organization resulted in the conviction of hundreds of officials and reduced the homicide rate.

In El Salvador, in 2019, the country created its own independent body called Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CITIES), which could yield the same results as CICIG. Over in Honduras, the hopes of establishing such independent oversight do not seem to be gaining the same traction. After the resignation of President Lobo Sosa in 2013, an investigation into the Honduran Institute of Social Security revealed a scandal that cost the people over $200 million. It also implicated President Orlando Hernández, who admitted to unknowingly using some of the money to fund his presidential campaign.

Unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, the Honduras legislature rejected a proposal to create its own CICI. Instead, it created Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Although intended to fight corruption, it does not have the same autonomy as CICIG and CITIES. MACCIH is not autonomous and cannot investigate Honduran Public Ministry. Instead, it relies heavily on its relationship with the Attorney General and Congress, which could shield the people committing corruption. This inability to pass support for CICIH instead of settling for MACCIH might be signaling that the $200 million white-collar crime is the beginning of a giant iceberg.

A Path Forward

In Washington DC, support exists for CICIH and CITIES. Congresswoman Norma Torres and others released a statement in 2019 supporting these institutions. Reinstating the CICIG and implementing the same structure in CICIH and CITIES would stop corruption. This would allow the state to use its monopoly on violence to fight crime and allow positive economic growth. In April 2021, the State Department announced $740,740 in available funding for “competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that empower civil society to combat corruption and protect human rights.”

– Diego Romero
Photo: Flickr

Female entrepreneurs in AfghanistanIt is no secret that women’s rights in Afghanistan have been suffering due to decades of war and Taliban rule in the country. Afghan women have been denied employment, education, healthcare and basic freedoms for years and were punished violently by the Taliban for attempting to find work or go to school. Years after Taliban rule, women are picking up the pieces of a broken society that drove them and many other Afghans into severe poverty. Organizations such as the Women’s Economic Empowerment Rural Development Project (WEERDP) and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), both funded and backed by the World Bank, set up savings and loan associations in different communities to allow Afghan women to start their own business. Female entrepreneurs in Afghanistan have the potential to help the economy and poverty within the country.

Women’s Empowerment Projects of the World Bank

International Aid to Afghanistan is essential for empowering its women and bringing communities out of poverty. The World Bank has a variety of programs dedicated to poverty eradication. It implemented the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project to support Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA). VLSAs operate as a community bank that gives out micro-loans to women to create employment opportunities to sustain economic growth. Examples of businesses that have been started are hair salons, tailor shops and bakeries.

While the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program closed down in 2018, it was replaced by the WEERDP and continues to be backed by the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) to ensure steady funding.

VSLA’s are funded by the World Bank and the IDA to ensure sustainable financial institutions are available in Afghanistan, with the hope that they will partner with larger commercial banks in the future.

Benefits of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

There are roughly 275,684 Afghan women beneficiaries of the WEERDP.  Many of them have had access to financial services for the first time with the program. Many others have taken loans, learned how to repay them and have begun saving for the future. These are valuable life skills for women who were not able to enter the workforce or gain an education in the past.

With the increase of women-run businesses in Afghanistan’s rural communities, VSLA’s can begin to partner with larger banks to begin serving bigger loans to women after seeing the success of the businesses that started with micro-loans. The support of financial institutions is important to give women the confidence to become entrepreneurs, especially in a country where the percentage of women in the workforce has been statistically low. Skills like leadership, management and problem-solving are derived from starting a business and they can be spread throughout communities to strengthen the role of women in the economy.

Skills can even be passed down through generations. Building a structure with programs like the WEERDP is vital for long-term economic growth and success because it can open doors for creativity and innovation for an economy that would benefit.

The Future of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Increasing the number of women entrepreneurs with savvy financial skills can benefit the communities of Afghanistan in many ways. Successful women can begin to venture out into local politics and healthcare fields to build on their skills while sharing their talents with the community. Women have important input on what types of businesses are needed for their community and can reduce poverty in specialized ways.

Afghan women make up roughly half of the nation’s population, so their representation is needed to drive economic and societal progress. Having women be visible in the business sector can allow for gender equality to improve in Afghanistan over time, improving the development of the nation as a whole.

– Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

How the Disha Project Empowers Women in IndiaIn India—a country surging with sustained economic growth—more than two-thirds of women don’t have a profession or are outside of the workforce. This level of engagement also varies between rural and urban areas due to a divide in, among other things, access to training and schooling. Despite the growth in the past few decades in terms of education rates, as well as a similarly important decline in birth rates, women in rural India are still not as able to pursue or secure a job as their male counterparts. The Disha Project was an international effort that acted as a catalyst for improvement and provided diverse resources and plans to empower underprivileged Indian women across the nation.

The Disha Project’s Mission

The Disha Project was set out to be a three-year united effort between the United Nations Development Programme, the India Development Foundation and the IKEA Foundation. The three groups, together with their networks of experience and assets, came together to provide women in India with opportunities for income growth and management. Skills training remained the primary tool of the Disha Project and teaching women essential skills alongside separate enterprise teachings, participants were able to gain valuable and diverse knowledge that set them apart from other job seekers.

The original goals of the project included a target goal of a million women in India being introduced and linked to a growing chain of economically independent job seekers and makers. Beyond applying skills that would greatly increase the possibilities for job acquisition, the Disha Project also marked replicability and scalability as its goals, which explained the strong focus on self-sustained community growth.

The Models Used

To fulfill the intentions the Disha Project laid out for itself, planning and execution were paramount. Clement Chauvent led the Disha Project and served as the United Nations Development Programme’s chief of skills and business development. In his capacity as Disha Project’s head, he outlined four principal models by which the project would take shape. Clement detailed how model one is primarily educational, providing advice and direction for female job seekers. By surmounting this first barrier to self-sustainable economic growth, the program’s participants can begin to pursue their own aspirations much more aggressively.

The second and third models rely on the market and social networks, leading women seeking to fill these roles to established needs in professions. Additionally, by connecting mentors and those with guidance to women who wish to start with “micro-entrepreneurship,” the UNDP initiative directly provides resources and support. The final and fourth model is that of production and economic efficiency. This model seeks to unite women in India to make sure those producing salable products and practicing profitable skills can expand their reach and value as a part of the system.

Meaningful Success

For the Disha Project, countless personal stories of women in rural India initiating businesses, gaining greater social power and supporting their households and communities financially stand as testimony of success. On a larger scale, Chauvet reports, “With the support of IKEA Foundation, since 2015, 800,594 women in Delhi NCR, Haryana, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra have been enabled with employable skills.” These women in India also act as a greater example of societal change. Due to the sheer scale of the Disha Project’s impact, small systematic changes, carved in the footholds of agricultural villages and towns, will slowly become more noticeable. Each woman among the almost 900,000 participants carries within herself the tools to inform her family, engage her neighborhood and teach other women in the community. Through the efforts of organizations like the Disha Project, women are becoming more empowered worldwide, which contributes to a more secure financial future for all and paves a way forward to a world that is more equally accessible, regardless of sex.

—Alan Mathew

Photo: Flickr

Livelihoods in Brunei are ImprovingBrunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Some statistics about the country still remain unknown like the percentage of Bruneians that live in poverty. This is due to the fact that Brunei still does not have a poverty line as of 2018. However, one can use other means to measure Brunei’s poverty. Additionally, other data can help ascertain whether or not livelihoods in Brunei are improving their unquantified impoverished situations.

One way to look at this is the Economic Freedom Index Score (EFIS). One can think of this as Bruneians’ freedom of choice as well as their ability to acquire and use goods. Brunei’s EFIS is 66.6, and it ranks 61 out of 180 countries. Singapore, the top country, comes in at 89.4, making it the world’s most free economy in the 2020 Index. Then there is North Korea, the bottom country, which has a score of 4.2. Despite Brunei’s moderate EFIS score, the country is working to boost that number. Here are three ways livelihoods in Brunei are improving.

1. Self-Empowerment Initiatives

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah says Brunei has drafted “self-empowerment initiatives” to create more job and entrepreneurship freedoms. Oil and gas production supply 90% of government revenue and 90% of exports. However, these industries have limited job opportunities.

Now, the country strives for economic diversification to reduce reliance on oil and gas. To support these endeavors, the administration will simplify the processes to start a business and develop business regulations. The most significant changes were amending certain laws allowing businesses and investors to operate without a license and reducing the wait times for a business to open.

2. Employment

Unemployment rates — regardless of education level — are high. Although, Bruneians with a vocational background have the highest rates of unemployment. The youth are also at risk of higher rates of unemployment. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the unemployment rate among young Brunei increased from 25.3% to 28.9% in 2019 — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was the highest percentage.

A suggestion from the IMF is to invest in technology and digitalization to capitalize on the tech-savvy generation. Also, the Manpower Planning Council is setting up a labor-management information system to lower unemployment among college graduates. This will be a cooperation between government agencies, the private sector and education institutions to ensure the turnout of employable graduates.

3. Welfare

The Sultan also says that people’s welfare is of utmost importance. This assertion stems from taqwa, the basic Islamic principle of God-consciousness together with brotherhood, equality, fairness and justice. This concept is the basis of true Islamic societies.

With this in mind, livelihoods in Brunei are improving by adjusting the financial aid requirements. This effort attempts to lift benefit recipients out of poverty and continue to provide assistance to citizens who need it. With these new rules, the government will be able to map welfare recipients and learn where there is a need to advance workforce skills and job opportunities. The implementation of this new system is more important than ever before due to COVID-19 and an expected increase of benefit recipients. Now, however, Brunei authorities can better prepare themselves to leave no one behind, per taqwa.

Overall, livelihoods in Brunei are improving. The administration has focused itself on economic diversification to be less reliant on oil and gas. The unemployment rate has increased, but the country is undergoing steps to combat that with education and jobs. Also, Brunei is updating welfare programs to include further applicant information. This will assist in financial help as well as learning where education or job options are a factor in poverty.

These changes could create a cycle of prosperity and bring more Bruneians out of poverty. However, Brunei needs to create a poverty line. That way, it can more accurately assess its poverty situation and how much progress it still needs.

Heather Babka
Photo: Flickr

 Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa is a NGO based in Kenya that works to empower young Africans. They provide people with the skills necessary to become innovative and ethical leaders of Africa. The group created several leadership programs and research programs to renovate Africa. Their new program, LEAP, is a mobile phone training platform designed to train employees and students about health precautions and safety outside of the classroom setting.

Who is Amref Health Africa?

Amref Health Africa is an African led organization that works to train African workers. The NGO works to improve health care from the people in Africa while also strengthening health care systems. They partner with different organizations around the world to promote power and unity. Amref Health Africa currently collaborates with 22 global offices and 35 different programs in Africa to bolster health care efforts.

Through Amref Health Africa’s partnership with Accenture, Kentan Ministry of Health, M-Pesa Foundation, Safaricom and Mezzanine, LEAP — the mobile health learning application — was created. The application has allowed health care workers and students to work effectively outside of a classroom setting.

LEAP during the Pandemic

Recently, LEAP users employ the site to train in order to craft a COVID-19 response. The program instructs community health workers on how to raise awareness about the virus. LEAP also provides information on the best precaution methods for the community. Thanks to LEAP, health care workers have learned to take the necessary steps to promote safety and awareness in Africa. So far, over 78,000 community health workers and health workers have been trained and are using their education to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, LEAP launched a two-month campaign in Kenya. Through the campaign,  health care workers were trained to identify, isolate and refer suspected COVID-19 cases. Participants were also taught how to identify high-risk areas and suppress the transmission of the disease.

Results

The app allows customization of the training content to fit the needs of the audience. It takes into consideration the skill level of the people using the app and modifications can be made to the language and audio section depending on user preference. LEAP allows personalization to ensure that the user has the best results with the program.

LEAP has strengthened the health care system in Africa by helping to stop the spread of the virus. The mobile training app also diminished the spread of misinformation on the virus. LEAP has provided Africa with the knowledge necessary to arm and defend themselves against COVID-19.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

DouglaPrieta Works
In many cases of migration, dangers from gangs and community violence force people to leave their homes. Migrants also tend to flee because of economic challenges and persecution. A few women in Mexico who were part of these forced removals did not want to move to a new country. It was important for these women to stay where their families, cultures and traditions existed despite difficulties like finding sustainable jobs in Mexico. As a result, they decided to move to Agua Prieta, Mexico and become a part of the family at DouglaPrieta Works.

The Beginning

DouglaPrieta Work is a self-help organization that women founded to help the poor. Specifically, the founders had the dream of procuring the means to stay in their home country through the creation of a self-sufficiency co-op. To fund this, the women sell handmade goods such as reusable bags, earrings, winter accessories, dolls and more. They sell these beautiful crafts throughout Agua Prieta, neighboring cities and even in the United States. Their efforts all center back to the main goal of promoting “a mutual-aid ethic among community members, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency.”

How it Works

The first step in economic security is education. The women at DouglaPrieta Works understand this and all self-teach. They work together to learn how to sew, knit, craft, cook and read. The women utilize these skills to then sustain themselves, their families and the co-op. To further support themselves, the group incorporated a farm next to their co-op. They use the fruits and vegetables they grow for cooking. The women encourage sustainable food security through culturally-appropriate foods based on the needs of the people in their community. The group also built a woodshop to craft furniture for the community to maximize the benefits of their surrounding resources. The co-op does not exclude the children in all of this work either. Oftentimes, their children learn the skills along with them and work with each other in school.

Actions

In 2019, they led an initiative where people in their town could donate canned goods and receive a handmade reusable bag in return. This program allowed the women of DouglaPrieta Works able to donate hundreds of canned goods to those in need. Additionally, they were able to provide reusable bags to the community in order to encourage limited plastic bag use to better the environment.

DouglaPrieta Works often provides migrants working at its co-op with funds to help them and their families survive the journey of migration. There is a nearby migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, C.A.M.E, to house the travelers. While at the co-op, many migrants work in the woodshop at AguaPrieta Works in exchange for meals, funds and friendship.

Students and groups interested in learning about the U.S./Mexico border are welcome to join the women at DouglaPrieta Works for a meal, as the women provide stories and information about the border. The power of education and inclusivity is a core value at DouglaPrieta Works.

Helping Out

Overall, incredible work is occurring in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico. These women are sustaining themselves to stay in the country they call home and they are providing food, resources and work for migrants. Their children are able to learn and grow together, as well as eat healthy, organic meals from the garden. To learn more about the co-op, visit its website.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Young South African Artists
Since the Disney animated film debut in 1997, “The Lion King” franchise has grown to over 24 on-stage productions worldwide, grossing almost $9 billion and being experienced by over 100 million audience members. Today, the KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP) has provided support to young South African artists and helped them make their way to global stages in productions of “The Lion King.”

About “The Lion King”

Having won six Tony Awards, including for best musical, many have hailed “The Lion King” as one of the most daring and impressive musicals of all time. The success of the performance owes to the innovation of director Julie Taymor, whose experimental theatre and puppeteering experience brought the story to life through signature costume designs. All the characters of the story are animals, which headdresses, masks and puppetry represent. However, the actors are just as visible to the audience as their animal costuming with the “duality” of the characters foregrounding the talent of the actors, who are the heart of the show.

The acclaim of The Lion King also lies in its soundtrack, which the South African choral style inspired. When casting for the musical, Taymor and her producers wanted to retain the inspiration by returning to its source; in most productions of “The Lion King,” at least eight cast members are South African. In South Africa, one of “The Lion King’s” casting partners is Edmund Mhlongo, who shared in a recent interview with The Borgen Project that for South African performers, “It’s job creation for them that is permanent. As long as they are alive and healthy, they are employed by The Lion King.”

K-CAP Empowers Youth through Arts Education and Employment Opportunities

Edmund Mhlongo is the Artistic Director and founder of KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP), a nonprofit organization that aims to use the creative arts as a tool for youth empowerment, sustainable employment opportunity and community development. Founded in 1993, K-CAP centers around KwaMashu, a township 20 kilometers from the eastern seacoast that has historically experienced high crime and poverty rates. Mhlongo explained his focus on the youth of the community saying that, “I realized that most people who are involved in crime are youth. The majority of youth are very talented, and if you don’t keep them busy with something positive, they end up using that energy negatively.”

In 2003, Mholongo opened his own education center with K-CAP, the Ekhaya Multi Arts Center (K-CAP EMAC) to support young South African artists. Auditions for the school occur annually to find the most talented of the local youth, and since its founding, the center has expanded to cultivate 156 primary and secondary students, 32 of whom are full-time residents. While a full-time program director, Mhlongo himself also teaches script writing, directing and acting courses. Meanwhile, other teachers develop students’ dancing, music, drama, film or visual arts skills. Mhlongo expressed, “They are very creative. Each day I learn a lot from them. I enjoy arts education, especially for kids, I wish every school could have an arts education.”

K-CAP has prepared its students for employment in entertainment outlets such as music recording and South African TV. In fact, 23 of its alumni have gone on to perform for “The Lion King” at different international venues, including the Broadway stage in New York City.

K-CAP Festivals and Celebration of South African Culture

While training students for professional artistic careers, K-CAP EMAC also hosts annual festivals that celebrate different aspects of performance and South African culture. For example, in April, the organization hosts a Freedom Month festival, commemorating the liberation of South Africa by Nelson Mandela and the birth of constitutional democracy in 1994. In December, the annual programs conclude with K-CAP’s African Film Festival, a whole week of films that concludes with a weekend of workshops that South African artistic celebrities lead.

These festivals and partnerships serve to both inspire and enrich youth’s understanding of their craft and culture, as Mhlongo detailed, “I view arts as development and a basis of life, it starts with culture. I regard a person who doesn’t know his or her own culture like a tree without roots. For me, culture is the starting point, then arts. Arts makes you connect with the world. It speaks all languages. It has no boundaries. And during these times, I have seen arts comforting people when they are in bad situations. Arts is a critical component of society. That’s why we have TVs. People, when they’re stressed, they go and watch TV, and that is art. Or they listen to music, and that is art. Art is part of life, a way of life. The most active communities in arts are the communities with less social problems.”

A Global Arts Education: Virtual Learning and Travel

Mhlongo also sits on the National Arts Council Board of South Africa, where he acts as a development counsel and lobbies to ensure that the arts have the necessary funds and resources to continue supporting developing young artists or create the dance studios, recording studio and computer lab at K-CAP EMAC. Adjusting artistic programs to virtual platforms has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Mhlongo shared, “We’ve learned a lot through the pandemic. We never saw technology as a part of arts. But now we’ve learned. We know that technology is important, it can be easy for us to use in the arts, which opens the world for us because they can be accessible, even internationally.”

As K-CAP continues to grow in popularity and impact by helping young South African artists, Mhlongo envisions greater global opportunities for his students. He explained that “My biggest dream is that these kids can maybe annually go international. I’ve seen the kids I have taken overseas. When they come back, they come back different people. They change. They see the world differently. They learn to admire their own country, their own world, in a different way.” For these young artists, a global and artistic education prepares them for a world of creative opportunities.

– Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Cotopaxi Foundation
The Cotopaxi llama, featured on backpacks, jackets and beanies, has come to stand for more than just a brand; it is also an ideal. Cotopaxi, named after an Ecuadorian volcano, is a Utah based company that produces gear, whether that is hiking gear or clothing. Cotopaxi equips customers to face their environment. However, Cotopaxi’s impact extends far past gear. Its company regards ethical production, sustainability and humanitarian efforts as pillars of its business model. Cotopaxi sends a message with its products for people to “Do Good” through its products and the Cotopaxi Foundation.

What Sustainability Means to Cotopaxi

Angie Agle is Cotopaxi’s Director of Impact and Community Marketing. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she defined sustainability as “operating in a way that will allow future generations the resources they need to secure happy and complete futures.”

Cotopaxi pushes a conscientious business model that limits its environmental impact. It exclusively uses materials with a design to limit waste, such as its signature llama fleece or recycled fabrics. These recycled fabrics mesh together to make each product unique. The results are backpacks or coats with bright colors that stand out in any crowd.

A rip or tear in a Cotopaxi product does not mark the end of its use. Instead of encouraging customers to replace older products with new purchases, Cotopaxi implements a repairs program. The damaged item is fixed and then either resold or donated. Any profits go to the Cotopaxi Foundation. The repairs program allows materials to stay useful and significantly reduces company carbon emissions.

Sustainability, per Cotopaxi’s definition, is consideration for the future. It is not limited to environmental issues but encompasses any and all efforts to help upcoming generations. Cotopaxi’s humanitarian efforts, for example, demonstrate a second way to be “sustainable.”

The Cotopaxi Foundation

Davis Smith, CEO and co-founder of Cotopaxi, cites his childhood as the inspiration behind his company’s philanthropic purpose. Before moving to Utah, he grew up in South America witnessing firsthand how poverty can affect a community. He told Deseret News, “The people I saw every day were just as smart as me, just as hardworking and just as ambitious, but had no opportunity.” He set out to address global poverty in his own unique way; through gear. Five years after Smith founded Cotopaxi, he created an adjacent foundation called the Cotopaxi Foundation to combine giving with hiking.

Cotopaxi allocates 1% of its funds to the Cotopaxi Foundation, which then distributes those funds among carefully selected grantees, meaning that a portion of every consumer purchase goes toward doing good. Cotopaxi’s grantees cover a wide array of well-deserving causes. These include:

  1. International Rescue Committee: Cotopaxi partners with the IRC to help refugees displaced from their home countries. Due to Cotopaxi’s location, its work with IRC generally focuses on the Salt Lake area, holding educational events and contributing to the Cotopaxi Refugee Scholarship Program. To go even further, Cotopaxi connects with refugees through the IRC to offer them employment. This idea originated with Cotopaxi’s long-held tradition of writing thank you cards to customers. As the company grew, thank you cards became an unmanageable task for the existing employees. Smith turned to refugees in need of employment to fulfill the card writing task and has not looked back. The card-writing program through the IRC now includes resume help, interview training and coding instructions to facilitate further employment opportunities.
  2. Fundación Escuela Nueva: FEN is working to address educational inequities around the world. It firmly believes in the power of education to give confidence and hope to an individual and community, fighting to make sure everyone has access to those benefits. With Cotopaxi’s help, it has successfully provided education to over 45,400 children around the world.
  3. UN Foundation-Nothing but Nets: Nothing but Nets is making a big impact with a simple solution. Bed nets protect people from mosquitos while they sleep and have saved millions of lives from malaria. Cotopaxi works with Nothing but Nets to expand its organization to include more Latin American countries and save more lives.
  4. Mercy Corps: Mercy Corps’ impact extends all over the world. However, Cotopaxi’s work with the Mercy Corp centers in Columbia and Venezuela, again paying homage to Cotopaxi’s Latin American roots and namesake. Its partnerships provide Columbian and Venezuelan refugees with assistance ranging from money to medicine.
  5. Utah Refugee Services: Cotopaxi works with Utah Refugees Services to help acclimate refugees to their new environment. Cotopaxi also takes crucial steps to make refugees feel at home and find work. It regularly employs refugees through its repairs program in order to welcome refugees to the community.

The Cotopaxi Foundation allows Cotopaxi to have a two-part function: gear and good or “gear for good” as it puts it. Its donating process, being revenue-based, is special because it creates customer involvement. In fact, the buying of a hiking backpack initiates the purchaser into the giving process. This involvement does not simply make the customer temporarily satisfied with themselves, but it also sets the example of giving back and inspires further change.

Ismael: A Life Touched by Good

Ismael arrived in Utah after fleeing his home country of Uganda and spending two years in a Kenyan refugee camp. His new home offered a new set of challenges as he adjusted to the newness of everything. However, Cotopaxi met him with support, offering him a position as a thank you card writer while he looked for a more long-term occupation.

Ismeal now works as a supervisor over multiple Paradies Lagardère–owned stores. In regards to the help he received from Cotopaxi and its IRC partners, Ismael said that “They showed love for refugees … I was so amazed. Without them, it would be very hard because you know nothing.”

His story is one of many. Cotopaxi continues in its mission to leave the world better than it found it. It sustainably produces gear that hikers trust and give back to their community through the Cotopaxi Foundation. Every backpack or tent with the Cotopaxi llama emblem is inspiring change and doing good.

Abigail Gray
Photo: Flickr