Inflammation and stories on families

Social Media CampaignThe continued conflict in Syria and its neighbouring countries has left hundreds of thousands of refugees stranded and in dire need of help. Thankfully, some of these tragic stories still have happy endings.

Earlier this month, Gissur Simonarson, an Oslo, Norway-based activist, posted a photo on Twitter of a Syrian refugee in Beirut cradling his sleeping daughter in one arm while desperately attempting to sell a handful of pens with his free hand. Soon after posting the photo, Simonarson’s 6,000 plus followers took action.

Using the hashtag #BuyPens along with a full-on two day search from Simonarson’s followers and some outside help, the two refugees were eventually tracked down. Carol Malouf, an activist who helped find the family, took a selfie with the daughter, Reem, and posted it on Twitter.

“Reem came to me, hugged me & asked to take a selfie,” Malouf posted. “What a lovely lively child. A modest home full of love.”

The social media campaign helped discover that Abdul, the father, arrived in Beirut after fleeing from Yarmouk, one of Syria’s most war-torn regions. After locating the pair, Simonarson set up an IndieGoGo page to help raise $5,000 for Abdul and Reem. The page was completely funded in under half an hour.

After a single day, more than $80,000 had been raised for the family. Abdul is currently planning on sending his two children to school as well as helping other Syrian refugees with the money raised. With over 220,000 casualties so far, positive stories like these are few and far between, but Simonarson is remaining positive after witnessing such goodwill.

“I think that this campaign proves that humanity is not lost just yet,” Simonarson tweeted.

Alexander Jones

Sources: CNN, Independent, International Business Times

Photo: Flickr

Often it is the simple, low-resource interventions that can have the most impact in improving the lives of women and children.

In Lira, Uganda, a community-based parenting intervention has proven to be successful in supporting both child development and maternal wellbeing.

The link between maternal wellbeing and child development is important. Maternal depression can be stigmatized or regarded as unrelated to child health. However, the study implemented by Dr. Singla and his colleagues reveals that maternal and child health are related and can be addressed together.

The study selected 12 parishes in Lira; half participated in the parenting intervention and the remaining parishes served as a control group. Mothers were paired with their children in the study. The children were between 12 to 36 months old, and the mothers were selected for a background of low maternal education.

The parenting intervention group consisted of 12 fortnightly peer-led group sessions related to maternal wellbeing and caring for children. Topics discussed included increasing the involvement of fathers as well as ways to care for children in regards to playing, talking, hygiene practices and expressions of love and respect.

Results of the intervention program were assessed with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale. The endline results were collected three months after the 24-week program ended.

Children who were in the intervention group had higher cognitive scores and receptive language scores. Mothers in the intervention group also self-reported fewer symptoms of depression. These results are positive and confirm the hypothesis that maternal and child health can improve in a unique way when the issues are addressed together.

Atif Rahman, Professor of Child Psychiatry at the University of Liverpool, and his colleagues support the integration of maternal mental health into maternal and child health programs. They also emphasize that this work must connect to broader goals, such as poverty reduction and gender empowerment.

It is significant that this Ugandan program was successful with non-professional, local community members because this indicates that similar programs can be implemented without great expenses.

Iliana Lang

Sources: The Lancet Global Health, PLoS Medicine
Photo: Pulitzer Center

The main focus of the James Dyson Award is on design and engineering, but there is also encouragement and support given to medical and scientific research to bring great change. The organization itself has donated over $14 million to these causes through grants, machine donations and fundraising endeavors led by the people at Dyson.

The James Dyson Award is aimed towards young people from 18 countries who think differently than others and come up with ideas to change the future. “Whatever the design, as long as it solves a problem, it’s got a chance of winning the James Dyson Award,” its website reads.

Along with the recognition, a $45,000 prize is given to the international winner to help take the idea from a prototype and launch it into a commercial product. The winner for this year’s award goes to a product called the inflatable baby incubator. The inventor is a Loughborough University graduate by the name of James Roberts. The project overall is called and referred to as “MOM” and is said to cost a fraction of the price of other alternatives currently in the market.

With the award money, Roberts is planning on continuing the project and perfecting it to bring to the market in 2017. The remarkable thing about this project is that it is delivered as a flat package to wherever its destination may be. The product is meant to be assembled at the site where it will be used. The inflatable incubator is a sheet of plastic that contains inflatable panels that can be blown up manually and heated by a ceramic element, which then keeps the newborn baby warm. When opened, it will stay open and not collapse on the baby. An Arduino computer keeps the temperature at a stable heat and also controls the humidification, a lamp and an alarm.

This product is huge step in taking care of infants, because it is safe for the baby and costs a lot less. Other incubators cost more because shipping the incubator requires large boxes. This incubator as mentioned above, ships flat and is easy to assemble once it is received.

The main purpose of this incubator is to decrease the number of premature child deaths within refugee camps. According to the MOM Incubator website, “Every year, an estimated 150,000 child births occur within refugee camps. Of these child births, 27,500 will die due to lack of sufficient incubation.”

Moving forward, the plans for MOM include using the money to perfect the prototypes and, if needed, doing a possible redesign to gain the best possible outcome for an inflatable incubator system.

– Brooke Smith

Sources: MOM Incubators, BBC, James Dyson Foundation
Photo: Flickr

girls not brides
There are girls as young as 13-years-old married off throughout the world. In developing countries, one out of every seven girls is married before her 15th birthday.

Girls married younger than the age of 18 often report that have been beaten by their husbands and forced to have sex. These girls often think it is acceptable for their husbands to beat them and make them feel powerless.

The main reasons for girls being married off include culture and parents’ desire to counteract a fear of their daughter getting molested. Tradition and culture are a big reason for young girls being married off; families are scared to stray from tradition in fear of being excluded from their communities. Poverty is another cause of child marriage. Poor families often marry off their daughters so that they have less expenses. They have one less body to feed, educate and clothe.

Although parents in certain situations marry their daughters off at young ages trying protect them, the young girls are still losing their human rights. They completely lose their childhoods.

Girls Not Brides is an organization working to protect girls from being married at a young age. They give a voice to the voiceless. Members of this organization are based in Africa, America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East; they are united in helping girls reach their full potential and not being married off at a young age.

Girls Not Brides works with 350 other civil organizations from over 60 countries. They believe that partnering up will bring attention to the issue and show that there are others who want to stop young marriages too.

Girls Not Brides reaches out to young girls and helps them feel empowered. They supply young girls with skills that will be useful in the future and have different workshops to show girls how to use their newly learned skills. This program also sets up support groups for young girls and boys to share their experiences so that they can become advocates against child marriage themselves.

Girls Not Brides has put together a technical brief on ending child marriages. Please take a look and see what you can do to help.

Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: Girls Not Brides, Girls Not Brides, Girls Not Brides, Slate
Photo: WUNRN

While laws concerning immigrants have always been debated in the United States, the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the Mexico-U.S. border has turned the issue from a legal conundrum to, as Barack Obama put it, an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

During the economic recession in the U.S., the number of illegal immigrants steadily declined from 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.3 million in 2009, pushing immigration related issues to a less pressing status. As the economy grows, the number increased to 11.7 million in 2012.

The number of illegal immigrants from Mexico was at 57 percent in 2007 and is now at 52 percent, due to a shift in Mexico’s economy as wages are slowly rising. Although Mexico’s number of immigrants has declined, the number of immigrants from Central America has risen in the past four years.

With the growing numbers, the subject of immigration reform has resurfaced once again.

The number of children traveling alone across the U.S. border has been increasing since 2009, according to Cecilla Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The increase has added urgency to the immigration debate, as well as shifted the issue from economic to humanitarian.

The latest estimate predicts that as many as 60,000 children, mostly from Central America and Mexico, will enter the U.S. illegally this year, and the number could possibly grow to 130,000 in the following year. Most of these unaccompanied children come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and are escaping poverty and violence from their previous homes. Although coming without adult guidance, many of the children have plans to reunite with parents or relatives in the States.

While the topic of immigration has not budged much in the past, it is believed that the Republican Party will slowly begin to make policy in favor of amnesty of undocumented citizens or other immigrant rights as a political move to gain voters and support. Obama winning the overwhelming majority of Hispanic votes in the 2008 and 2012 election worked as a wake-up call to Republicans about their strategy.

“Republicans have got to compete for the Hispanic voter,” said Republican Sen. John McCain.

Some congressmen have taken the more emotional side to the issue, focusing on the children who either came by themselves or those who came with their parents who overstayed their visas. Seeing as these children are not at fault, and the U.S. wishes to continue being a land of opportunity, the emotional aspect of passing more forgiving immigration laws has strengthened.

Whether the motivation is political or ethical, Democrats and Republicans have been working on creating a bipartisan bill to resolve differences between the parties concerning those here illegally, mainly children of undocumented citizens. The DREAM act has been discussed between both parties. Its main goal is to ease the path of citizenship via a 5-year plan and to re-vamp visa programs for temporary workers.

The DREAM act has struggled to pass completely but did make recent success. On June 2, the DREAM act was passed in the New York State Assembly. Although it still needs to pass in the Senate, and was turned down during its last attempt in March, it is believed to have a better chance of passing this time around.

Currently, President Obama has been using his executive authority to grant provisional legal status to some of the undocumented immigrants that were brought to the U.S. as children, but hopefully both parties can reach a national agreement in the near future.

“America is an idea; nobody owns it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “We’ve got to create order out of the chaos.”

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, Latin Post, NPR
Photo: New York Times

In Yemen, 52% of girls are married before the age of 18. This nightmare is far from fantastical dreams of love and marriage, meeting ‘Prince Charming’ and living ‘happily ever after.’ Rather, many Yemeni girls are forced to marry men double their age.

Prior to recent progress, Yemen had no legal minimum age for the marriage of its citizens. In 1999, parliament abolished a former law that made marriage before the age of 15 illegal, and in 2009, attempts to reinstate a legal marriage age failed. Both of the aforementioned incidents occurred when legal groups cited “religious grounds,” arguing that a minimum marriage age would be contrary to Islamic law. However, Abdulwahab al-Anisi, who currently serves as the secretary general of Yemen’s largest Islamist party, has voiced his party’s willingness support the new law.

The average age of child brides in rural Yemen is 12 to 13-years-old, and the death of brides as young as 8-years-old have been reported after their wedding night or child birth. This is the horrific reality for young brides forced into child marriage, many of whom are unlikely to have knowledge of intercourse prior to their wedding night.

However, new constitutional proposals address gender equality and women’s rights, as well as the suggestion to make marriage before the age of 18 illegal for both genders. The proposed Child’s Rights Law was submitted to Prime Minister Mohammad Basindawa on April 27 and would require the verification of age for both the man and the woman when filing for a marriage license.

The draft also suggests punishment for perpetrators of forced child marriage, providing criminal penalties of two months to one year in prison. Any persons who draw up a marriage contract with the knowledge that one or more persons is under the age of 18 could face fines of up to $1,860. Prison sentences and fines are also suggested for witnesses, parents, or guardians who know that at least one person filing for the marriage license is under 18.

It will be long and difficult process to change a practice with such deep roots and serious social implications, but Belkis Willie, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher, believes that, “a law setting an age and criminalizing is a first step, and then a few high profile criminal cases against parents and spouses will be key.”

Organizations such as HRW are urging the Yemeni government to expedite the passing of this law, which would help protect thousands of girls who are victims of early and forced marriage. Forced marriage, in turn, often results in girls being prevented from completing their education and makes them more vulnerable to marital rape and domestic abuse.

“The prime minister should provide strong leadership to get the minimum age for marriage and the child rights law on the books,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for HRW. “There’s no excuse for further delays in passing this desperately needed legislation.”

– Madisson Barnett

Sources: The New York Times, Human Rights Watch (1), Human Rights Watch (2)
Photo: BBC

A hundred million people are estimated to be homeless in the world and the number is only growing bigger with the rise and fall of economies. It is estimated that there are another 100 million “hidden homeless” worldwide, a number which takes into account those living in abandoned houses, cars, or houses and apartments with little to no furnishings.

Dr. Mark Bergel, now deemed a CNN Hero, founded his organization after noticing the very few furnishings in the houses of those struggling to make ends meet.

Bergel started his journey as a professor at American University and eventually took on his vision to help others as a full time job. He founded an organization called A Wider Circle in 2001, a nonprofit devoted to furnishing the homes of families living in poverty, free of charge.

Since it’s founding, A Wider Circle has furnished the houses of over 125,000 people, but Bergel’s mission does not stop there. He is also committed to providing an education for those who have asked for one.

Managers from the Greater Washington Area’s homeless shelters mentioned to Bergel that an education in “life skills” and how to cope with stress would be highly beneficial for the shelters’ frequenters.

So that is just what Bergel did.

He incorporated educational programs into A Wider Circle’s mission to help lift adults and children out of poverty by communicating the importance of life skills and helping to adjust the “whole person.”

“I want to help create the change that will enable people to rise out of poverty and enjoy the freedom and independence afforded to others. Poverty is a human problem, and human beings will solve it,” Bergel explained.

After many community service trips, Bergel came face to face with the truth that many people living below the poverty line often lived without beds, tables and couches. Bergel stated that “most apartments had nothing but a chair… There was nothing that would give these people a sense of hope, [or] a sense of dignity.”

With new furnishings and one less issue to worry about Bergel hopes to give families room to breathe and the ability to start fresh.

Currently, A Wider Circle has two full warehouses complete with donated furniture, toys, clothes and clean sheets. Families are able to stop in and choose what they need from the selection.

Since donating his own bed in 2008, Bergel has been sleeping on his floor or couch. He says he intends to do so until every family in the United States has enough beds for each family member.

Bergel’s foundation is not only helping people in the U.S. to live easier lives, but he is also bringing attention to a global issue — the “hidden homeless.” By helping the lives of the “hidden homeless” in the U.S. Bergel is one step closer to addressing this issue on a global scale, and by publicizing his work, we are one step closer to inspiring others to follow his lead.

– Becka Felcon

Sources: CNN, A Wider Circle
Photo: Brown University

On March 5, 2014, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation officially joined Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains initiative.

The Saving Brains initiative is focused on improving child development worldwide by helping children reach their full potential. The need to do so is demonstrate by data released in 2007 that reported over 200 million children living in developing countries to be unable of reaching their developmental potential.

The Gates Foundation, in partnership with Grand Challenges Canada, has launched the new topic, “Explore New Ways to Measure Fetal and Infant Brain Development.” This new program will be a great addition to the country’s Muskoka Initiative, which is dedicated to the health of both women and children.

With its involvement, the Gates Foundation will be the very first global partner of Grand Challenges Canada. Other extensions of Grand Challenges, such as Grand Challenges Brazil, gained regional partners in the Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation and the Bernard van Leer Foundation in November 2013.

As of 2014, Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains initiative, currently funded by Canada’s government, has used over $28 billion in about 46 different projects. Saving Brains is determined to see an increase in human capital in low-income and middle-income nations by looking to improve brain development.

In a blog post written by Jeff Murray, the Interim Deputy Director in Family Health for the Gates Foundation, and Karlee Silver, the Vice President of Targeted Challenges for Grand Challenges Canada, the pair address the importance of the new initiative. Murray and Silver note that although there has been great success in reducing deaths of children under the age of five and various causes of mortality, it is now necessary to ensure that these children are not just living, but truly thriving.

“Promoting health, providing enriching and nurturing experiences and protecting children from maltreatment in the early years can set them on a trajectory towards long-term health, productivity and participation in society,” Murray and Silver write.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that young children across the globe are able to live the best possible lives.

Murray and Silver explain that the new initiative undertaken in partnership with the Gates Foundation will explore new approaches for measuring both fetal and infant brain development. They hope that these new methods will be “simple, reliable, non-invasive, objective and universally applicable.”

Developing new approaches to measuring development will also help in measuring an infant’s gestational age at birth. The gestational age is related to brain development and growth in both the fetus and infant stages of life.

In regard to the effect such developments could have worldwide, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child reported in 2010 that having healthy child development is the foundation of a society that will have a successful future.

In a March 5 press release, Dr. Peter Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada, said, “Together with other partners, we will be able to unleash the power of innovation to ensure children not only survive, but also thrive. This is no less than what any parent would want for their children, anywhere in the world.”

– Julie Guacci

Sources: CNW Group, Grand Challenges Canada, Grand Challenges Canada Press Release, Yahoo Finance Canada
Photo: IDRC

Steven Green, the first American soldier charged and convicted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, died from attempting suicide at the Tucson federal maximum security prison in mid-February.

Green was serving multiple life sentences for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, the murder of her parents and young sister when he was stationed in Iraq in 2006. Along with four other soldiers, one of whom stood guard, Green sexually assaulted the teenager and then shot her parents, younger sister and eventually Abeer herself.

In an attempt to hide their crime, the soldiers burned her body and blamed the attack on Sunni insurgents, a lie which hid their actions until fellow Private Justin Watt informed a psychologist during health counseling session.While the other four soldiers directly involved in the crime, James Barker, Paul Cortez, Jesse Spielman and Bryan Howard received lengthy sentences in military prisons, most upwards of a century, Green’s sentencing was unique in the fact that the charge came after his honorable discharge from the military due to a diagnosed antisocial personality disorder.

Because of his discharge, prosecutors were able to charge him under a 2000 law that gave federal government jurisdiction to pursue criminal cases against United States citizens and soldiers for acts committed in foreign countries.

According to the Justice Department, the law allows prosecutors to establish Federal jurisdiction over offenses committed outside the United States by persons employed by or accompanying the Armed Forces, or by members of the Armed Forces who are released or separated from active duty prior to being identified and prosecution for the commission of such offenses.

While this law may provide some comfort to victims of the Armed Forces, it does little to address the conditions that may have spurned the crime in the first place.

At the time of the Qassim al-Janabi family murder, the American soldiers stationed near their home lived in a remote area known at the “Triangle of Death,” near Mahmudiha, so christened by U.S. servicemen because of the large number of American casualties.

During an interview with the Associate Press, Green expressed how the deaths of his comrades affected him and “messed me up real bad,” he said.

He dehumanized Iraqis to such a point that “[he] wasn’t thinking these people were humans.”

Green’s crime, conviction and death illustrate an ongoing problem experienced by organizations working abroad. While Green’s assault and killings occurred while employed as a U.S. military employee, his actions not only impact the military but also negatively impact other efforts made by humanitarian organizations operating internationally.

Past acts of military malfeasance have already maligned America’s reputation abroad, a recent example being the U.S.’ subterfuge involving an ersatz vaccination doctor in Pakistan. Under the guise of routine examinations and with the help of a local Pakistani doctor, military personnel verified Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts at the expense of future humanitarian efforts in the country.

Regardless of the merits of their operation, the military’s ruse has unquestionably gravely damaged America’s reputation in Pakistan. Now, World Health Organization vaccination teams increasingly face violent confrontations from Taliban insurgents. As one of the world’s most endemic regions to polio, stunted vaccinations may potentially lead to the virus’s resurgence around the globe.

Government inability to address these issues will lead to even greater repercussions for U.S. and many western-associated humanitarian organizations. While the Military Extradiction and Jurisdiction Act may provide additional security in holding ex-military personnel responsible for their crimes, it does little to address the issues that created, and lead to, his crimes in the first place. Instead of creating laws that punish violent behavior, programs and procedures should be established to prevent potential crimes committed abroad, thereby protecting possible victims and also ensuring that other humanitarian efforts may continue unimpeded.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: TIME, Los Angeles Times, United States Department of Justice
Photo: Nick Mooney

January’s “Polar Vortex” broke records for the lowest temperatures in many cities that had lasted for 50 years to 100 years. Millions of people across the East coast and Midwest endured temperatures much below normal and all 50 states experienced freezing temperatures. Southern states, not used to freezing weather, were ill-prepared to handle it. Fox News reported that there were 21 deaths related to the cold. The homeless population was particularly vulnerable. America’s poor suffered the worst effects of the extreme cold weather; not only the homeless, but also families on social assistance and the working poor.

Cuts to Energy Assistance

Many low-income families across the country were not able to heat their homes this winter due to last year’s budget cuts. In 2013, Congress cut funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by $155 million. Since 2010 funding for this program has dropped from $5.1 billion to $3.32. While many families cannot sufficiently heat their homes, approximately 300,000 families cannot afford to heat their homes at all.

Both the number of households receiving aid and the amount of aid households receive has been cut. Since 2010, the percentage of heat covered by the Low Home Income Energy Assistance Program has dropped from 52.5 percent to 41.5 percent. As this funding has been cut, the cost of fuel has gone up; the cost of electricity has risen by 7 percent since last year and the cost of natural gas has risen by 14 percent.

Low-Income Families Struggle to Heat Their Homes

Three children died in Hammond, Indiana in January 2013 in a house fire when their parents used propane space heaters to heat their home. Andre Young was renting a house for himself, his wife and their five children but had been unable to pay their utility bills. Their water, gas and electricity had been cut off for several months.  When a spark from the propane heater engulfed the house in flames, Andre ran inside to try and save his children, all under 7 years old. He was able to save two children before he collapsed in the snow outside of the house. A 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a seven month old baby died. Andre was sent to hospital in critical condition.

The average family in Indiana spends $530 on heat between November and March, but that cost would have been much higher this winter. The combination of the cuts to energy assistance and the abnormally cold winter has left many families unable to cover the cost of heating their homes.

Choosing Between Health and Food

In 2013, Congress cut spending on food stamps and 47 million Americans lost food stamp benefits. The high cost of heating during this year’s polar vortex has left many poor families having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their kids. There has been an increase in the use of food banks and soup kitchens this year. Feeding America recently reported that 46 percent of its clients have to choose between paying for food and paying heating and other utility bills.

– Elizabeth Brown

Sources: Huffington Post, Huffington Post, Think Progress, Salon
Photo: Midtown Blogger