Inflammation and stories on families

empowering women in Israel
Founded in 1925, NA’AMAT is an organization that provides support, education and service to Israeli women. The women who originally started the organization believed in equality: that women were equal to men and deserved equal chances at life. The organization began in New York with the purpose of empowering women in Israel. Eventually, the organization spread to nine countries in total.

Israeli women fought for the right to receive equal treatment in the workplace and community long before the 1960s feminism movement. They demanded respect for all they did as wives and mothers. NA’AMAT played a large role in providing resources for these women. Its mission statement reads: “[NA’AMAT provides] vital educational and social services for women, children and families in need, in Israel.” Here are three ways NA’AMAT fulfills its mission statement.

Nurturing Children

NA’AMAT has 200 facilities to provide childcare to over 17,000 children, so their parents are able to work. The families who enroll pay based on a sliding scale fee, depending on their income. Because so many families live below the poverty line, the NA’AMAT U.S.A. branch raises funds to help pay for these children to attend.

On top of providing early education, NA’AMAT is also a safe haven for children who have suffered abuse or neglect, become an orphan or experienced terrorism. These children receive counseling and special attention.

Empowering Women

In 2004, 18,000 women in Israel reported experiencing abuse, but authorities believe the actual number was closer to 140,000-200,000. One out of three women will experience sexual assault according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. However, most women with conservative or religious backgrounds do not file a complaint.

NA’AMAT focuses on empowering women in Israel by operating legal aid bureaus. Its purpose is to help women who have been victims of workplace discrimination and domestic abuse. It provides counseling and programs that give women a sense of pride and self-worth.

Education For At-Risk Youth

Not everyone without an education lives in poverty, but people who experience poverty are far more likely to not have an education. Education opens doors: it provides more job opportunities, helps fight gender inequality and allows people to develop social skills.

NA’AMAT provides education and vocational training for low-income children. Some of the schools are girls-only, and each student receives personalized care and attention. Whether the children have come from underrepresented groups in Israel or are migrants, NA’AMAT gives them a second chance at developing skills to contribute to society and feel a sense of empowerment.

Empowering women in Israel is a clear focus of the organization. Through NA’AMAT, Israeli women can progress forward in their lives. Whether they have been victims of abuse or neglect, the organization helps them stand on their own two feet. NA’AMAT gives women the support they’d otherwise lack with helping care for children, so they can have a career and provide for their families.

Each woman truly receives personalized care. Additionally, positive role models surround their children and provide support through their adolescence. With NA’AMAT on their side, Israeli women have had an ally for almost 100 years to help fight for equality for themselves and their children.

Tawney Smith
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 and Global Poverty
Since early 2020, the entire globe has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic and attempting to address the outbreak properly. Most of the world’s population is currently under some form of social distancing as a part of a response to the outbreak. From scientific research to increased travel restrictions, almost every country is working on ways to boost the economy while managing the spread of the virus. However, COVID-19 has affected much more than the economy. Here are four ways COVID-19 and global poverty connect:

4 Ways COVID-19 and Global Poverty Connect

  1. The Consumption of Goods and Services: For most developing countries struggling with poverty, much of their economies depend on commodities, such as exports. Food consumption represents the largest portion of household spending, and the increase in food prices and shortages of products affect low-income households. Countries that depend on imported food experience shortages. The increase in food prices could also affect the households’ inability to access other services such as healthcare, a major necessity during this time. These are two significant connections between COVID-19 and global poverty.
  2. Employment and Income: The self-employed or those working for small businesses represent a large portion of the employed in developing countries. Some of these workers depend on imported materials, farming lands or agriculture. This requires harvest workers and access to local farmers’ markets to sell produce. Others work in the fields of tourism and retail. These fields require travelers, tourists and consumers — all of which lessen as COVID-19 restrictions increase. Without this labor income, many of these families (now unemployed) must rely on savings or government payments.
  3. Weak Healthcare Systems: This pandemic poses a major threat to lower-middle-income developing countries. There is a strong correlation between healthcare and economic growth. The better and bigger the economy, the better the healthcare. Healthcare systems in developing countries tend to be weaker due to minimal resources including beds, ventilators, medicine and a below-average economy. Insurance is not always available for low-income families. All of this affects the quality of healthcare that those living within the poverty line receive. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Public Services: Low-income families and poor populations in developing countries depend on public services, such as school and public transportation. Some privatized urban schools, comprised of mainly higher-income families, are switching to online learning. However, many of the public rural schools receiving government funding do not have adequate resources to follow suit. This could increase the rate of drop out. Moreover, it will disproportionately affect poorer families since many consider education an essential incentive for escaping poverty. Aside from school, COVID-19 restrictions could prevent poorer families from accessing public transportation. For developing countries, public transportation could affect the ability of poorer families to access healthcare.

Moving Forward

There are many challenges that families across the globe face as a result of COVID-19. Notably, some organizations have stepped forward to help alleviate circumstances. The World Bank, Care International and the U.N. are among the organizations implementing programs and policies to directly target the four effects of COVID-19 mentioned above.

For example, the World Bank is continuously launching emergency support around the world to address the needs of various countries in response to COVID-19. By offering these financial packages, countries like Ethiopia, which should receive more than $82 million, can obtain essential medical equipment and support for establishing proper healthcare and treatment facilities. These financial packages constitute a total of $160 million over the next 15 months as a part of projects implemented in various countries, such as Mongolia, Kyrgyz Republic, Haiti, Yemen, Afghanistan and India.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

Infertility in Developing CountriesAn estimated 49 million to 180 million couples  suffer from infertility, globally. Moreover, the majority of those affected live in developing countries. The most common cause of infertility in developing countries are STDs and pregnancy-related infections. With the focus of most poverty reduction efforts aimed at lowering overpopulation the health concern of infertility is often overlooked. Women who suffer from infertility in developing countries often face ostracization and struggle to get the healthcare they need. Thankfully, there has been an emergence of programs to help these women.

Causes of Infertility in Developing Countries

The most common cause of infertility in developing countries is untreated STDs since treatment is often unavailable or costly. In Africa, more than 85% of women’s infertility resulted from an untreated infection compared with 33% of women, worldwide. The most common STDs involved are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Other risk factors increasing the chance of infertility are poor education, poverty, negative cultural attitudes towards women. Finally, a lack of access to contraception is a huge risk factor.

The Sexist Effects of Infertility

The burden of infertility in developing countries falls on women although male infertility is the cause in 50% of cases. When a woman is unable to conceive, her husband will often divorce her or take another wife if permitted in the country. Women who are deemed infertile also suffer discrimination from the community.  In some cultures, society views these women as having a “bad eye”, which can pass on infertility from person to person. This results in infertile women missing important events such as weddings and other social gatherings since they receive no invitations.

Combating Infertility in Developing Countries

A campaign initiated by the Merck Foundation, “Merck More than a Mother,” seeks to heighten access to education and change the stigma for infertile women in developing countries. The program has provided training for fertility specialists and endocrinologists with more than 109 specialists trained since 2016.

Also, the foundation has created music videos, songs and fashion shows in African countries to send the message that women should not be blamed if they cannot have a child. More than 14 songs have featured singers from Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

Women Deliver

In 2016, women’s infertility was a topic of discussion at Women Deliver — the world’s largest women’s health and rights conference held in Copenhagen. There were more than 5,500 conference participants, including government ministers, policymakers, business leaders, NGOs and activists. The WHO brought the topic to the conference, with the Director of Reproductive Health and Research giving a speech about the detrimental effects of infertility.

The WHO and Women Deliver, along with the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have partnered to increase global advocacy for infertility in developing countries. The partnership aims to achieve this through advancing education and research in the field.

Hopefully, with these increased advocacy efforts, the world will start to recognize the health concern of infertility in developing countries.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

homelessness in the virgin islandsIn many vacation hotspots, it’s easy to overlook the undeniable poverty, and this includes locations such as the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2018, approximately 500 individuals were homeless. This may seem like a small number, but the population of the Virgin Islands is minimal, only 100,000 people. It’s time to shed some light on the struggles of the people who are easily overlooked by the beautiful beaches of the Virgin Islands. Here are five facts about homelessness in the Virgin Islands.

5 Facts About Homelessness in the Virgin Islands

  1. Homelessness in Families: Homelessness in the Virgin Islands is seen in families, which directly affects children and their growth. To help low-income families, the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8, was created. However, it has faced a $3 million reduction causing 26 families to lose housing and government help. Moreover, “for every $1 million dollars cut from the program … 111 families could lose housing.”
  2. Homelessness in Children: Those who are 0-17 years old are in the age range leading homelessness in the Virgin Islands. These children are considered “youths without parents or unaccompanied youths” and these numbers are growing.
  3. Demographics: There are certain groups that are being directly affected by this homelessness, as shown above by the large number of homeless children. Other groups include Black citizens and men. Black citizens made up 90% of the homeless population in 2017. The majority of the homeless population, 96%, is comprised of men. Another group being directly targeted is those who struggle with mental illness or drug dependence.
  4. Economics: The Virgin Islands heavily rely on tourism to boost the economy and to help the average person’s income. Therefore, during off-seasons for travel, most have to pick up other jobs to stay afloat to prevent money from becoming tight. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, travel has been limited, creating more financially unstable families and individuals. The off-season for travel and COVID-19 greatly affects homelessness and the financial standing of persons in the Virgin Islands.
  5. Lack of Action: Most records of homelessness in the Virgin Islands were taken in 2017 or 2018. The most recent record of homelessness was taken in early 2020, showing that the issue has not gone away. In 2020, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. proposed major reforms to the mental health treatment systems in the Virgin Islands. However, the bill has yet to be passed due to a lack of attention in Congress.

Governor Bryan has submitted legislation in order to put an end to the chronic homelessness faced by the citizens of these islands, however, is has been greatly overlooked by Congress. To help the issue of homelessness in the Virgin Islands, constituents should email or call their representatives and senators.

A non-governmental organization that has worked to help the issue of homelessness among youth is the Jermain Defoe Foundation created by English football player Jermain Defoe. It strives to help youth who are poor or are suffering from illness or abuse. This organization was founded because of the lack of attention that was brought to the issues of homelessness and poverty faced by children. It has provided funding and support for the Holy Family Children’s Home, raised funds to build the Rainbow Children’s Home and opened a football academy — all in the Virgin Islands.

– Samira Akbary
Photo: Flickr

Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on familyMartin Luther King Jr. is remembered for many things. He was the leader of the American Civil Rights movement, an advocate for nonviolence, an inspirational speaker and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. At home, he was also a husband and father to four children. His dedication to his family was deeply connected to his vision for the United States. In fact, Dr. King’s mission for peace and equality was greatly inspired by his desire to help future generations of children. He consistently used familial metaphors and symbols to illustrate his greater points. Here are the top Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on family.

Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes on Family

  1. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” (“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963)
  2. “Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will, in the end, connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.” (Date unknown)
  3. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” (speech in St. Louis, March 22, 1964)
  4. “When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands…” (“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963)
  5. “The group consisting of mother, father and child is the main educational agency of mankind.” (Date unknown)
  6. “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.” (New York Journal-American, September 10th, 1962)
  7. “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” (Strength To Love, published 1981).
  8. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (“I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on family went hand in hand with his mission for equality. Whether it was America’s children or his own, Dr. King emphasized coexisting and love for one another throughout his famous speeches. He used images of brotherhood and children to exemplify the relationships he believed Americans should have with one another. To Dr. King, family referred to more than blood relatives. It encompassed all people in the United States, regardless of color. Today, his message of prioritizing family is forever ingrained in his legacy, to be studied and appreciated by generations to come.

Natalie Malek
Photo: Flickr

Culture Affects Poverty
Poverty is a universal issue. It affects people of every nation, religion and culture. Though global inequality has been decreasing in recent decades, many countries still stand at an advantage over others, and in many cases, are in a better position to help.

It is difficult to guarantee effectiveness in a foreign country by virtue of it being foreign. The way the government or people behave will differ. Even the general mindset toward poverty can vary—and these are important differences to note. Culture impacts poverty’s manifestation and means of escape.

These cultural differences continue to exist on an international scale. Culture affects poverty both directly in the way it interacts with poverty, and indirectly, with the conditions that stimulate or prevent poverty. Many of the critical factors focus on a culture’s standard for family structure.

Children are More Likely to Live in Poverty

Children are most likely to live in poverty. If approached per capita, children below 11-years-old in developing countries are nearly 10 percent more likely to live in poverty than the international average. In contrast, the elderly are 10 percent less likely to live in poverty.

There are similar numbers across the globe. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where the poverty rate averages 54.6 percent, children between six and 11-years-old are 62.7 percent likely to live in poverty, while those of 65-years-old stands at 47.9 percent.

The Middle East and Northern Africa have the lowest rates of child poverty. Mirza Izmagilov Makhmutov, former Minister of Education of Tatarstan, describes Eastern culture as being more family-oriented with a focus on upholding history and tradition, compared to Western culture, which places emphasis on science and the individual. Though she describes this rule as unattractive to most young people, it may hold ground in lessening child and elderly poverty in the Middle East.

This is not to dismiss economic factors. Poverty rates drop with even moderate economies of scale—that is, the more production in a country, the more efficiently its society runs. Countries with economies of scale tend to have fewer children in a household.

Single Parents are at a Disadvantage

Though it is difficult to isolate the causes of single parents’ likeliness to live in poverty, as they are often closely entangled with a lesser education and intergenerational poverty, single parents are more likely to live in poverty than their married or cohabiting counterparts. In the U.K., a child’s likelihood of being in the bottom quintile of income is 21 percent for married parents, 31 percent for cohabiting families and 81 percent for single parents.

While the U.K’.s rate of single parents has grown over the last few decades, as the gap in poverty between single and married parents decreases, people still largely look down on single parenthood in Asia.

Globally in 2012, 13.7 percent of children below 15 lived in single-parent households. In Japan and Korea, 12.3 percent and 8.9 percent of children respectively lived in single-parent households, compared to in the U.K. and the U.S., with a respective 20.7 percent and 16.7 percent.

On average, 15 percent of children in Japan live in poverty. For children of single mothers, this increases to 55 percent. Yukiko Tokumaru, who runs Child Action Poverty Osaka, a non-governmental organization, describes Japan as having a culture that places women below men, making it difficult for a woman to have a job after a child.

Yasuko Kawabe, who runs the Nishinari Kids Dining Hall in Osaka, describes the children as needing more than food when they come to her center. At school, the children often find themselves isolated from their peers because their peers consider them to be from a “bad house.” Mothers, too, do not receive pressure to look wealthy at the Hall. According to Junko Terauchi, head of the Osaka Social Welfare Promotional Council, there is massive pressure on single or poor mothers, with women going so far as to hide separations from their partners from friends and coworkers.

Though hope often feels far away for these Japanese women, change seems to be on the horizon. Japanese President Abe Shinzo aims to provide work for women, especially those returning to the workforce after giving birth. Daycare centers in Osaka and other cities offer free meals and playtime for children.

Globally, there is increasing aid for single parents, and there is decreasing global inequality. Culture and wealth gradually exchange. There are no clear-cut means of determining if any culture is more effective at dealing with poverty than another. Rather, culture affects poverty by determining the behavior of poverty in a nation. Culture affects poverty on many levels—in determining government support, in the way it changes the standard family structure and in wealthy treatment of the poor.

– Katie Hwang
Photo: Flickr

Quotes on the Family by Nelson Mandela
Poverty has a tremendous, and mostly negative, impact on the behavior and health of families across the globe. Spouses in impoverished families are more likely to use violence against their partners, develop addictions and engage in criminal behavior. Parents in impoverished families often face a conflict between their role as a parent and their role as a worker. Children in impoverished families tend to have lower birth rates, struggle with behavioral disorders and perform worse in school. Additionally, they find it more difficult to find employment than those in wealthier families. Because of the negative impact poverty has on the family, impoverished families do not experience the joys and comforts of family life that wealthier families experience. However, Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, knew how essential a happy family is for both enduring life’s hardships and participating in political activism which his quotes on family display.

Mandela was a political leader and philanthropist. Throughout his life, Mandela created a large family of six children, two wives and 17 grandchildren. As he suffered in the prison on Robben Island from 1964 to 1982, Mandela’s meditations on his family were what gave him the comfort and motivation to endure his struggles and continue his life of activism. Below is a list of five quotes on family by Nelson Mandela.

Quotes on Family by Nelson Mandela

  1. “From experience I have found that a family photo is everything in prison and you must have it right from the beginning.”
    -From a letter to Winnie Mandela, written on Robben Island on June 22, 1969.
  2. “I have often wondered whether a person is justified in neglecting his own family to fight for opportunities for others.”
    -From an unpublished autobiography manuscript, written on Robben Island, 1975.
  3. “I like relaxing at the house, reading quietly, taking in the sweet smell that comes from the pots, sitting around the table with the family and taking out my wife and children. When you can no longer enjoy these simple pleasures, something valuable is taken away from your life and you feel it in your daily work.”
    -From an unpublished autobiography manuscript, written on Robben Island, 1975.
  4. “Our families are far larger than those of whites and it’s always a pure pleasure to be fully accepted throughout a village, district or even several districts any time, completely relax, sleep at ease and freely take part in the discussion of all problems, where you can even be given livestock and land to build free of charge.
    -From a letter to Mrs. N. Thulare, written on Robben Island, July 19, 1977.
  5. “A happy family life is an important pillar to any public man. Few people are essential or dangerous to the success or downfall of a politician than a good wife or play-girl.”
    -From a letter to Winnie Mandela, written on Robben Island, May 6, 1979.

Family and Global Poverty

These five quotes on family by Nelson Mandela reveal that healthy families are essential for a good life and a healthy society. One of the primary ways humans can make it easier for everyone to have a good life and form healthy families is by ending global poverty.

When people eradicate global poverty, spouses around the world could be less likely to use violence against their partners or develop addictions and engage in criminal behavior. Fathers and mothers should also be less likely to face any conflict between their role as a parent and their role as a worker. Also, children should have high birth rates, be less likely to have behavioral disorders, perform better in school and find it easier to find employment than those in impoverished families. As organizations around the world work tirelessly to reduce global poverty, the joys and comforts of family life that wealthier families enjoy may no longer be something the poor can only dream of, but a reality they can experience.

– Jacob Stubbs
Photo: Wikimedia

Intergenerational Transmission of PovertyMore than 780 million people live below the poverty line, as a result of and contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty. More than 160 million children at risk of continuing to live in poverty by the year 2030. Similarly, those living in poverty will likely remain in poverty. In other words, poor parents raise poor children, who are more likely to remain poor as adults. This intergenerational transmission of poverty refers to two or more successive generations of a family living in poverty. The intergenerational transmission of poverty includes financial, material and environmental assets, human capital and attitudes, cultural and other knowledge or traditions. Therefore, those seeking to end persistent poverty must prioritize childhood poverty.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international agreement that sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child (up to 18), regardless of race, religion or abilities. This agreement expresses that children should live free of the deprivations of poverty. Unfortunately, millions of children are still living in poverty. Children are particularly more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty, malnutrition and poor health.

Effects of Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

This is especially true in developing countries that are riddled with poor sanitation, poor access to clean water and electricity, lack of healthcare services, and a lack of transportation. Such risk factors affect their physical, cognitive and social development. As a result, disadvantaged children are more likely to perform poorly in school, have low incomes and high fertility rates. Consequently, these children will ultimately provide poor care for their children. These deprivations then initiate another cycle of the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Child poverty is a global issue, not just one in developing countries. For example, in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, 19 percent of men who experienced relative poverty as a teenager also experienced poverty while they were in their thirties.

Even when children live in relative poverty, in which they lack the minimum amount of income needed in order to maintain the average standard of living in the society in which they live. They also have much poorer opportunities in education and healthcare, which disproportionately affects their chances of climbing out of poverty.

In Guatemala, a study found healthier children from advantaged homes are more likely to continue their education beyond primary level. These children, consequently, tend to have better cognitive skills during preschool. These children were compared to children with early biological, social and psychological risk factors. Thus, the results show the effects of poverty affect educational success. Subsequently, it also affects the ability to attain jobs with livable wages.

Childhood poverty can also affect society as a whole and feeds into the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Poverty contributes to low educational attainment leading to a less productive workforce and unemployment due to lower skills and productivity.

Strategizing Against Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty

UNICEF aims to improve the lives of millions of children and disrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty. To do so, UNICEF provides an agenda to ending childhood poverty:

  • child poverty should be an explicit part of the global development framework and its implementation;
  • every country should explicitly prioritize the reduction of child poverty on their agenda and include appropriate national plans, policies and laws;
  • expand child-sensitive protection systems and programs, improve access to quality public services for the poorest children;
  • an inclusive growth agenda to reach the poorest and most deprived.

Children with a good start in life are much less at risk of being poor as adults. Tackling childhood poverty should be a priority when addressing the intergenerational transmission of poverty. When we help children climb out of the cycle of poverty, we are not just helping them individually, we are also helping society prosper.

Andrea Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

Reuniting Immigrant Families
In the spring, the Trump Administration — via the Department for Homeland Security — enacted a “zero-tolerance” policy for any immigrants who enter the United States without proper documentation. For the past few weeks, media and news coverage focused on the events occurring at the United States and Mexico border and unearthed photographs of inhumane conditions at detention centers.

Children were being separated from their parents. The developing story focused mainly on the violations of human rights occurring at the southern border and the separation of approximately 2,700 families. This lack of reunited families urged organizations and individuals to fight to change the system; since progress has been made in reuniting immigrant families.

Stories of Progress

  1. Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services provides legal assistance to detained immigrants and minors and is based in El Paso, Texas. The organization uses a database to see if children have been, or currently are, in El Paso to start the process of reconnecting children with their families.
  2. Charlotte and Dave Willner started a fundraiser on Facebook after they saw the picture of a toddler crying as her mother was detained at the border. The couple’s goal was to raise $1,500 for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). The couple far exceeded their goal and raised $20 million from over 525,000 people. These funds will help provide legal representation for immigrant children and parents in Texas. RAICES also intends to hire more lawyers to assist with family reunification.
  3. RAICES is based in San Antonio, Texas. This organization works to provide affordable legal services to immigrant families. It is the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas. In 2017, RAICES staff closed 51,000 cases at no cost to the client, and for the current work to end family separation, they have developed a toolkit to organize events in advocates’ communities.
  4. The American Civil Liberties Union has diligently worked on reuniting children with their parents through the United States justice system. The group worked to create a hard deadline on a formerly uncertain process for when children might see their parents again. Now, children under five must see their parents within 14 days of their detention, and parents and children must be in contact via phone within 10 days.
  5. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC) cooperates with Catholic and community legal immigration programs to provide services. They started a project called Defending Vulnerable Populations, whose goal is to increase the number of fully accredited, qualified representatives and attorneys to represent immigrants.

Putting An End to Human Rights Violations

In addition to organizational work, the greater community has also come together to stop these human rights violations. Many groups at large focused on immigrant or legal rights have unified to provide free and low-cost services to immigrants detained at the border.

Fundraisers work to provide aid and services to immigrant communities crossing the border. As the powerful court case deemed the number of days when families must be reunited, the process and the good news of reuniting immigrant families at the southern border should significantly progress.

– Jenna Walmer
Photo: Flickr

In a world where social media makes it easier than ever to know exactly what your friends and family, not to mention complete strangers, are doing, it should not be a luxury to know where your loved ones are. However, the very same world is also witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that there are currently 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. But those people are more than just a number. Every one of those individuals is someone’s mother, father, son or daughter. And each of them deserves to know where their family is.

After being uprooted from their homes and shuffled back and forth between camps all over the world, refugees know all too well how easy it can be to become separated from your family. Reuniting displaced refugees can be a daunting task. Many of these people do not have regular access to phones or the Internet, let alone official documents of identification.

But the Internet can be a powerful tool. Refugees United, or REFUNITE (RU), is a new kind of platform working to connect family members escaping disasters, persecutions or conflicts who have ended up in different parts of the world, sometimes completely alone. Founded in 2006 by two Danish brothers, Christopher and David Mikkelsen, REFUNITE aims to be a sort of “Google for refugee search.”

In the past, most United Nations agencies have tended to rely on the International Committee of the Red Cross, the global network of Red Cross organizations. However, due to privacy reasons the Red Cross and the United Nations are restricted from looking at one another’s databases, leading to a lot of inefficiencies.

While the Red Cross system has helped tremendously in reuniting displaced refugees with their families, the system requires individuals to apply for help from a third party to conduct the searches. The staff of national Red Cross societies does most of the tracing by responding to requests from other countries. However, without a global database, people looking for family members are forced to guess which countries to search.

“We didn’t want to be the kind of NGO that is a third party providing help to refugees,” RU founder David Mikkelsen said. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to take control of their situations and help themselves – and give NGOs another tool to help.”

RU went live in May 2010. The first words of the registration page read: “We do NOT recommend the service of Refugees United to people at risk of being traced by potential persecutors.” Once a username and password are established, a profile is created. The site stresses anonymity, reminding people “Everyone can see the information in your profile. Use nicknames, initials or information only known by your family.”

Users then input the last known location of family members as well as exclusive information that only loved ones would know, such as birthmarks or favorite foods. These steps can be left blank if desired, and the database can be searched without registering an account. But as a search platform, RU’s success depended on the power of networks: in order to be effective, REFUNITE needed to attract as many users as possible.

As of October 2017, over 750,000 refugees are registered on the platform, making it the largest missing refugee database. Today, REFUNITE operates across 17 countries with 16 technology and mobile carriers with access to around 370 million mobile subscribers. Now, United Nations organizations and refugee groups work with REFUNITE, such as the International Rescue Committee, as well as Facebook.

Getting the word out about REFUNITE is still the biggest challenge in reuniting displaced refugees. However, with the web platform available in 12 languages and text services in five, the organization is making its way to becoming accessible to refugees who speak hundreds of languages across the world.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr