The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the tenuous position of large swathes of the developing world as upwards of 100 million additional people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year. Consequently, the invaluable impact of humanitarian aid organizations in providing COVID relief has become clear. One such organization is American Jewish World Service (AJWS). AJWS is a leading Jewish aid organization focused on global poverty and human rights.

AJWS is a major contributor in the humanitarian field, investing more than $30 million annually to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. Using a collaborative, transnational approach, AJWS identifies grassroots organizations in 18 countries around the world to become grantees. However, the relationship between AJWS and its partners is far from simply monetary; the organization has staff on the ground in all 18 countries to provide hands-on support and expertise. In an interview with Sam Wolthuis, the associate vice president of programs at AJWS, says, “We get to know [partners] very well before we even talk about funding and supporting the organizations.”

Four domains make up the main focuses of all AJWS partners: Land, Water, and Climate Justice; Civil and Political Rights; Sexual Health and Rights; and Disaster Response. The latter of these domains encompasses COVID aid. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has proven to be hugely significant.

Filling in the Gaps

AJWS and its partners have attempted to compensate for the insufficiency of governmental actions towards coronavirus. A common shortcoming AJWS has identified is rampant misinformation about the virus, an issue the World Health Organization has dubbed an “infodemic.” In response, AJWS’s staff assembled an infection prevention toolkit for partners to disseminate vital information on the ground. Translated into 10 languages, the toolkit has been delivered via loudspeakers, billboards, and community radio programs.

In addition to quashing misinformation, AJWS’s partners have worked to eliminate more tangible threats. The Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand has created community farming projects. These projects aim to reduce food insecurity and provide additional income for ailing Thais. In India, a tidal wave of coronavirus cases crushed the healthcare system. This has left pregnant women seeking care in limbo. For example, the New York Times published an article this past summer about an Indian woman who died during labor after being turned away from eight hospitals. Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, an AJWS partner, has filed a petition in Delhi’s High Court. This petition aims to prevent such horror stories and ensure pregnant women receive care.

While protecting citizens from the universal dangers and disparities of the pandemic, AJWS has also focused on the plight of the marginalized. For example, the organization has worked with Estrellas del Golfo (“Stars of the Gulf”) to establish community kitchens in LGBTQI communities within El Salvador which suffer from discrimination and violence. Wolthuis (Who specifically is this person?  She was not formal introduced in the context of this paragraph) expresses pride in this essential form of COVID aid. She says this crisis has disproportionately affected these groups, but they have remained a constant focus for the organization.

Fighting for the Vulnerable

AJWS-focused countries such as Uganda have scapegoated and demonized LGBTQI individuals. Homosexuality is criminalized there, and Ugandan authorities have repeatedly conducted mass arrests of such individuals. The latest crackdown occurred when 19 LGBTQI youths staying inside a shelter in the city of Kampala were arrested. “Negligent act to spread disease” is the charge they all face. The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a legal aid organization and AJWS partner, mobilized to secure the prisoners’ release. However, obstructionist authorities and strict lockdown procedures stymied them at every turn. Only after a 52-day legal blitz by the HRAPF were the 19 youths released from prison.

Organizations like the HRAPF have had an especially difficult task during pandemic-induced shutdowns. However, their work has arguably never been more important. Take Kenya, for example, where the Pastoralist Girls Initiative (PGI) has been working to empower young girls in the Tana River and Garissa counties for two decades. In response to rising reports of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and child marriage since the pandemic began, PGI has pivoted its focus toward engagement with local enforcement. By communicating with government officials and judges about cases of gender-based violence, the initiative is working to ensure justice is served for survivors.

Wolthuis says that such flexibility is the norm among partner organizations. This is because AJWS defers those on the ground who determine the most pressing issues demanding attention. “Partners dictate what the gaps are, and what the needs are and how they’re going to solve them. And we support them in their vision to do that.” This vision may have blurred at the onset of the pandemic, but AJWS extended a crucial lifeline to its partners through its COVID aid.

Keeping the Vision Alive

The incredible work of AJWS’s partners during the pandemic obscures the enormous difficulties they have had to battle themselves. The movement-building of AJWS partners typically involves a good amount of face-to-face interaction. This interaction had to move online when the pandemic struck, despite barriers to technology access. AJWS prioritized the safety and economic well-being of partners’ staff first in its COVID aid. Then, they worked to help them re-open digitally by helping with Zoom set-ups and moving advocacy efforts online.

Such adjustments proved to be critical in providing COVID aid as the pandemic unfolded. However, AJWS and its partners have also extended their focus to the long-term. Wolthuis points to rising global hunger and disruptions to vaccine campaigns for other illnesses as effects of the pandemic that could sting for years to come. At the very least, the world’s most vulnerable can rest assured that AJWS will continue to support organizations that tirelessly work on their behalf.

– Jack Silvers
Photo: Flickr

Documentaries About PovertyDocumentaries are a form of film or television which take advantage of the entertainment platform to inform audiences of important issues through a more gripping means. They range in topics from technological innovation to the controversial beauty industry. Many documentaries have also focused on another major issue of today: global poverty. Below is a list of the top five documentaries about poverty as of 2019 and where to find them.

Top 5 Documentaries About Poverty and Where to Find Them

  1. The End of Poverty?: Directed by Philippe Diaz, who is well known within the genre, the documentary debuted in 2008 and became notorious for its unique historical perspective on global poverty. It highlighted the ways poverty has amassed through the years, beginning as early as the 16th century and concluding with present day. The film describes how poverty thrives in today’s world through interviews with historians, economists and impoverished families from around the world. This documentary can be viewed on Amazon Prime.
  2. Dilli: This 2011 documentary about the slums of Delhi focuses on the hardships of individuals in the area. Though relatively short, coming in just longer than 30 minutes, the film has a firm impact on the audience. Through interviews with citizens, ranging from old to young, directors Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas depict these daily trials. The film received critical acclaim, winning 1st place in the Short Documentary category of the Los Angeles Movie Awards. This documentary about poverty can be viewed now on Youtube.
  3. Poor No More: This 2010 documentary focuses on the poverty of Canada’s working-class by following the journey of native citizens. It puts Canada under a lens in comparison with Ireland and Sweden in terms of their respective job markets. The documentary takes a moment to focus on poverty within a different context—within the context of a country which is generally presumed as wealthy and well structured. The documentary can be viewed on Youtube.
  4. Hauling: This documentary, which premiered in 2010, follows the daily life of the Claudine family, a household of 27 children, whose income is dependent on the recycling system of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Every day, they collect the leftover wood, plastic and cardboard of the city in exchange for meager payment from the local recycling plant. The film brings forth the discussion of poverty in Brazil and the ways which their citizens persevere. The film can be viewed on Amazon Prime.
  5. The True Cost: This 2015 documentary focuses on the fashion industry and the way it uses impoverished nations to obtain cheap labor and goods. The film highlights the controversy of the fashion industry and the way it abuses the environment and ignores basic human rights. This documentary about poverty can be found on Netflix.

Art and media can become a platform for the voiceless. In these five documentaries about poverty, the lives of the underprivileged are documented for the rest of the world to face. If people want to help, but they don’t quite know where to start, then they must take the first step to get informed. Any of these documentaries could be a place to start.

– Eleanora Kamerow
Photo: Flickr

North Koreans

The West is never lacking digital information about world news. E-books, the radio and news media keep people informed about current world events. However, the people of North Korea do not have access to such resources. In North Korea, information regarding the outside world is limited or, in some cases, non-existent. Although the citizens of North Korea are largely unaware of global current events, people around the world are working together to provide them with digital information.

Providing Digital Information to North Koreans

The state of North Korea regulates almost all content that its citizens can view, denying nearly 25 million residents access to information about the rest of the world. While millions of people worldwide can search current news via the internet, North Koreans cannot. Most of their internet content is restricted to information related to the government and their leader, Kim Jong-Un. Luckily, many organizations are uniting to provide information to those in North Korea.

Flash Drives for Freedom is an organization dedicated to uniting North Koreans and multiple organizations to grant access to digital information. The Human Rights Foundation, Forum 280 and USB Memory Direct have worked diligently to provide flash drives to those in North Korea. These devices contain media content such as Hollywood movies, books and other information denied to North Koreans. The organizations load the drives with information and smuggle them into the country. In 2018, more than 125,000 flash drives were donated and distributed.

Activists in South Korea have also taken action to help. The small group of activists has been informally smuggling food and information in bottles to people in North Korea. These bottles often contain rice, worm medication, U.S. currency and USB drives. Twice a month, with conducive tides, activists toss these bottles into the Han River, and the groups gather together in prayer. This method is a safe and ingenious way of providing digital information to North Koreans.

Hope for North Korea

Activist groups and non-profit organizations are coming together for the overall benefit of North Koreans. Their creative methods have provided key information about the outside world to civilians who have been denied internet access and important news. Techniques as simple as flash drives and plastic water bottles can mean all the difference to someone living in North Korea. By providing digital information to North Koreans, they can gain not just information but hope for a better future.

Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Digital Bangladesh on its WayBangladesh has embarked on a journey to digitize itself and transition to a middle-income country by 2021. This goal is known as Digital Bangladesh. Incorporating digital technology in almost every sector of the country is an ambitious target for Bangladesh, yet it has already made progress with more initiatives on the way.

Information and Communication Technology

By 2021, the government aims to integrate Information & Communication Technology (ICT) as a key tool in eradicating poverty and establishing good governance as well as improving the quality of education, healthcare and law enforcement. The government has already laid out some of the foundation work for realizing Digital Bangladesh, such as preparing the National ICT Policy 2009 and the Right to Information Act 2009.

Some of the strategies being used to implement Digital Bangladesh include increasing the coverage of broadband internet connection and cellphone communication throughout the country in order to exchange information and access different types of services, integrating ICT into the school curriculum and improving the capacity and management of healthcare services. Other important areas Digital Bangladesh will improve are increased efficiency in judicial processes, improved coverage of social safety-net programs, reduced environmental impact as well as increased access to banking and financial services.

The Benefits of Digitizing

With more than 120 million cellphone subscribers and 43 million internet subscribers, the population of Bangladesh has been able to enjoy the benefits of digitizing different services around the country. Some examples of these digital services include admission registration to academic institutions, the publication of exam results online, online submission of tax returns, online banking systems and bill payments and filing complaints to police stations. Even video conferencing and telemedicine services are now available in rural areas of the country.

The Access to Information (a2i) Program, supported by UNDP and USAID since 2007, has been the driving force for Digital Bangladesh with the aim of increasing transparency, improving governance and reducing inefficiency in providing public services around the country. On average, six million e-services are provided per month to rural and remote areas through the 407 City Corporation Digital Centers, 321 Municipality Digital Centers and 4,547 Union Digital Centers.

Digitizing is helping to streamline government affairs. More than 25,000 websites of different unions, sub-districts, districts, departments and ministries are connected through the National Web Portal. This portal contains information for more than 43,000 government offices. Furthermore, activities are much more environmentally friendly now that the Prime Minister’s Office as well as around 20 ministries, 4 departments, 64 Deputy Commissioner’s offices and 7 Divisional Commissioner’s offices are using e-filing system. This created an efficient paper-less environment in offices.

Digital Banking

In terms of digital payments, as of December 2015, 18 banks are now operating mobile financial services in Bangladesh. Transactions have risen significantly to 120 percent on average since 2011. This amounts to $1.3 billion on average per month. Although these transactions are a small portion of the entire economy, it is still a notable shift towards digital services, thus a step closer to Digital Bangladesh.

More than one billion transactions in 2015, worth around $20 billion, were done digitally. Furthermore, 70 percent of government payments were also digital. As of 2016, around 38 million people in Bangladesh had utilized mobile money services, reflecting the shift from a cash-dominant economy to a more digital payment economy. The availability of mobile money orders has also been a remarkable stride towards Digital Bangladesh, especially for the rural areas in the country.

Furthermore, around 300 of the Digital Centers have been involved with rural e-Commerce, allowing people to purchase items that are not easily available in remote areas. It has also allowed small-scale women entrepreneurs to participate with 5000 women entrepreneurs who are involved with the e-Commerce platform called “,” which consists of goods produced by these women.

Improvements Still Needed

Bangladesh still has a long way to go in terms of fully digitizing itself. The National Identification System needs to be fully implemented and incorporated with important services in order to improve access to digital financial services. Since human capital is an essential element when it comes to adopting new technology, programs aimed at incorporating ICT-based education from primary to tertiary level schools should be prioritized. Finally, having political stability is a necessity in realizing Digital Bangladesh, given how political turmoil is often a setback when it comes to the development of different sectors in the country, including ICT.

The progress Bangladesh has made so far in realizing its 2021 goal cannot be overlooked despite its lacking in certain areas. However, with the increase in different digital services and activities around the country, Bangladesh is gradually lifting itself up and shifting towards a more ICT based economy, making Digital Bangladesh a potential reality. 

Farihah Tasneem

Photo: Flickr

Facts and Figures in the Philippines
The Philippines is a sovereign island nation in Southeast Asia . It houses a population of 102,624,209. In addition, the Philippines consists of more than 7,000 islands. The following facts and figures in the Philippines characterize the unique diversity of these islands.

5 Facts About the Philippines

  1. Multiple ethnic groups make up the Filipino population, with Tagalog at 28.1 percent, followed by Cebuano at 13.1 percent, Ilocano at 9 percent, Bisaya/Binisaya at 7.6 percent, Hiligaynon Ilonggo at 7.5 percent, Bikol at 6 percent, Waray at 3.4 percent and other at 25.3 percent.
  2. While 82.9 percent of Filipinos practice the Catholic faith, 5 percent are Muslim, 2.8 percent Evangelical, 2.3 percent Iglesia ni Kristo and 7 percent follow other or no religion.
  3. Facts and figures in the Philippines regarding major infectious diseases show that the degree of risk is high. Bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A and typhoid fever are some of the most common food or waterborne diseases, while dengue fever, malaria and leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread through the urine of infected animals, also target the population.
  4. Records from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) have indicated that poverty rates are decreasing among Filipino families. In 2006, the overall poverty rate was 26.6 percent. By 2015, that number had dropped to 21.6 percent.
  5. Filipino lawyer and politician Rodrigo Duterte sits as the current president of the Philippines. A little more than half of the population, approximately 55 million, is registered to vote and participates in elections. Additionally, 45,000 candidates are competing for 18,000 national and local posts, including five who are contesting the presidency.

Unbeknownst to much of the world, this nation contains a diverse population with evidence of great development. The poverty rate has decreased dramatically, for example. Additionally, citizens are becoming more active in their nation’s political arena. It is often easy to overlook the stories of positive progress throughout the world, and the Philippines is one such story that deserves more recognition.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

During the China Poverty Reduction International Forum on May 26, 2017, the first case-sharing database for poverty reduction was launched by the Chinese government. The Global Poverty Reduction Online Knowledge-Sharing Database gathers replicable cases of poverty reduction from users in the hopes of collecting “innovative and successful approaches” toward reducing global poverty.

As part of the Global Poverty Reduction and Inclusive Growth Portal, which is an online platform with expert’s opinions, trends, and further opportunities regarding poverty reduction, the database is meant to bring worldwide users to the platform. The Global Poverty Reduction Online Knowledge-Sharing Database is available to anyone with internet access, either to read about individual cases or contribute their own experiences. To encourage participation, it has been designed to be user-friendly and provides a guide to assist users with the template for uploading cases.

The Global Poverty Reduction Online Knowledge-Sharing Database organizes cases into three different categories for easy access: market-oriented, government-led, and community-driven. Each poverty reduction case is classified into further sub-categories that relate to how poverty was reduced in that developing nation. For further ease-of-use, the database uses tree diagrams and standard templates that make the information easier to comprehend and utilize.

More than 40 global experts and research institutions contribute to the database. For instance, the project was initiated by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and is co-managed by the China International Poverty Reduction Center and the China Internet Information Center. With this strong network of contributors, the database has the potential to connect past and current developing nations in the effort to alleviate global poverty, especially by having China as its main contributor. Once categorized as a developing country, China now has one of the most successful economies in the world and is reported as having the fastest rate of poverty reduction in history.

With worldwide contribution and utilization, the Global Poverty Reduction Online Knowledge-Sharing Database may be the key to ending global poverty.

Haley Hurtt

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Thailand
Although Thailand shifted from a low-income to an upper-middle income economy in 2011, with poverty rates declining from 67 percent in 1986 to 11 percent in 2014, economic growth has slowed in recent years. Poverty and inequality continuously pose significant challenges to the country, especially due to faltering economic growth and falling agricultural prices. In response to these challenges, the country’s government is seeking welfare reform in order to improve conditions for those living in poverty in Thailand.

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government has announced a plan to register more low-income Thais for the Government Welfare Registration Program, a database for disbursing one-time cash grants.

This initiative to revive the Thai welfare system reported low registration rates in late July 2016. The Government Savings Bank reported approximately 113,000 registrants in July, far below a target of two to three million for the month. Similarly, Krung Thai Bank (KTB) predicted five million applications to come in by the end of 2016, far under the target of eight million applicants.

KTB vice president of operations Songpol Cheewapanyaroj credited the low turnout to the dissemination of misinformation. “The government must work harder to create an understanding of the new system,” he said.

This is not the first attempt by the Thai government to create a database for those living in poverty. In the early 2000s, then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also advocated for those living in poverty in Thailand to register themselves.

However, the most recent push to reform welfare registration differs from past attempts. This time around, the Thai government is seeking the aid of the Finance Ministry and has emphasized various methods to screen out ineligible people from the database.

Thailand’s efforts to reform programs for impoverished people can greatly help the government track and tackle poverty. The database is an effective poverty-targeting system, although it may be difficult to successfully implement. Thailand’s employment rates are difficult to track due to high rates of informal employment, and this makes it difficult for the government to determine which citizens qualify for welfare.

One way to combat this lack of internal reporting is to provide recourse for citizens to self-register and to incentivize them to do so. For example, the Thai government is offering free rides on the Metropolitan Rapid Transit and Bangkok Mass Transit Systems, free electricity and water (below certain usage levels), and potentially free accident insurance. Those who already registered last year are required to re-register with more detailed forms.

While poverty in Thailand is pervasive and will likely take years to mitigate, recent attempts at reform, a collaboration between monetary entities and new approaches of self-registration may all be a step in the right direction.

Casie Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Many people have heard about bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that has more than doubled in value over the past year. However, few are familiar with blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin. Blockchain creates a tamperproof public ledger of transactions, thus removing the need for a trusted third party between strangers. Because it is public and contains multiple nodes, the blockchain is practically impossible to corrupt. The potential applications for blockchain are promising and diverse. Blockchain could revolutionize the financial industry, as well as the healthcare sector. There are at least three ways blockchain can help the poor.

  1. Blockchain can be used to establish identity. According to UNICEF, there are more than 200 million children under the age of 5 that are unregistered. More than 80 million of these belong to the least developed countries. Lack of identification can perpetuate the cycle of poverty and increase the risk of exploitation. Children without birth certificates can be denied access to education and healthcare. Later in life, lack of identity can hinder employment or access to assistance programs. In some countries, failure to register is due to governmental red tape. Thankfully, groups like ID2020, BitNation and OneName are already working to use blockchain to help the unidentified poor.
  2. Blockchain can improve healthcare for the poor. Paper-based medical records are onerous, but especially so in developing countries where people frequently relocate due to economic or political instability. Also, it can be difficult to keep track of vaccination history, particularly during the early years of life. Pediatric vaccines often require multiple administrations along a specified timeline. Blockchain technology would help maintain a more accurate record of which vaccines have been administered and are still due to be administered to a child.
  3. One of the ways blockchain can help the poor is by altering the flow of money. Most of the money pouring into developing nations is not from foreign aid, but rather from remittances. On average, more than eight percent of the more than $400 billion of remittances sent to developing countries each year is lost to fees. Because blockchain removes the middle man, the cost of sending remittances would drop significantly. Since more funds would be reaching their target recipient, senders would be motivated to send even more, thus further increasing the cash flow into developing nations. Just as blockchain would help to ensure that remittances make it to their intended recipient, it would also help to ensure foreign aid is used appropriately. Since donations would be part of a public ledger, they would not be susceptible to diversion by corrupt individuals.

These are just a few of the many ways blockchain can help the poor. The technology also holds promise for improving access to credit and establishing land ownership, among a myriad of other applications. It’s no wonder that more and more people are expressing interest in the blockchain.

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr

How Global Internet Access Can Alleviate Poverty
In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg proposed that global internet access could be the answer to eradicating extreme poverty. From there he pledged to work with the U.N. in acquiring internet access for refugee camps and has continued to launch campaigns and work alongside organizations such as ONE in gaining further global support.

On November 19, Zuckerberg proposed policy recommendations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Peru where he addressed numerous world leaders and politicians. The summit concluded with unanimous support in implementing “accessible, open, interoperable, reliable and secure” global internet access.

Statistics have shown the dire need for internet access in developing countries and have compared accessibility to those in wealthier countries of which 81% of the population have internet access compared to a mere 15 percent in poorer countries. As much as 75% of Africa is disconnected and as a result, the issue has devolved to sexism in which women and adolescent girls are being further discriminated against with internet access. In fact, women in developing countries are “a third less likely” to receive internet access than males and the difference continues to increase.

ONE has recognized the separation in internet access that has been deepened by sexism and has created the Connectivity Declaration,which will gather support for equal, global internet access. Thus far, 76% of ONE’s goal for backer support has been reached— that’s 75,839 names pledged out of 100,000.

By creating a way for global internet access, lives can be enriched and the effects of poverty lessened. At stake for individuals in poor countries with no internet access is a lack of education, limited health information and weakened job opportunities. In wealthy countries such as the U.S., the benefits that come alongside internet usage are taken for granted. In Africa, for example, a pregnant woman could benefit from having internet access in order to receive pregnancy advice and farmers could utilize the internet to predict weather forecasts in order to optimally maintain their crops and income.

Zuckerberg has been a long-standing advocate for widening internet access and has joined the U.N. initiative in eradicating poverty by 2030. The Facebook CEO supports the need for global internet access by claiming that the Internet gives “a voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless.”

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in JordanCanadian nonprofit organization PeaceGeeks has created a new app called Services Advisor in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The purpose of the app is to help refugees in Jordan locate available services.

As of November 2016, refugees and displaced persons in Jordan included over 700,000 individuals. According to the UNHCR’s November 2016 Factsheet for Jordan, 90 percent are from Syria, eight percent are from Iraq and most of those remaining are from Yemen and Sudan. Jordan hosts the second highest number of refugees per 1,000 people, and it is the sixth highest number of refugees of countries overall.

After overcoming the challenge of fleeing from their country of origin, refugees then face the need to find basic resources such as food, shelter and medical care. The location and availability of these services can change, making it even more difficult for refugees to know where to go.

Humanitarian aid organizations that provide assistance to refugees in Jordan can find it difficult to connect with people who need help, struggling to keep refugees updated on available services. This is where PeaceGeeks’ newest technology is helpful.

Services Advisor is accessible to anyone with a smartphone or computer, and it is available in English and Arabic. Many refugees leave their countries with cellphones and there are organizations in Jordan that hand out sim cards once they arrive. Internet access is available in Jordan’s public spaces.

The new app lists services by category: basic needs, education, food, health, protection, shelter and wash. Users choose a region in Jordan to find the services available in that part of the country. The web app then displays information about nearby organizations, including services and hours of operation. The organizations are responsible for keeping their information up to date.

In a recent interview, PeaceGeeks Executive Director Renee Black explained the idea behind Services Advisor. “It’s a single place that refugees can find whatever’s available to them: whether it be for things like water and sanitation, psycho-social help, or shelter or anything like that.” This new technology will make finding those services significantly easier for the refugees who desperately need them.

Kristin Westad

Photo: Flickr