urban agricultureWith approximately 1.5 million residents, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have dense populations with locations often on the outskirts of the city. Disproportionately underserved, the communities in these informal settlements deal with issues such as improper waste disposal, gang violence and unemployment. Out of Brazil’s total population of 214 million people, about 23.5% of people experience moderate to severe food insecurity.  Feeding America defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” Run by gangs and riddled with violence, large areas of the favelas are often hard to reach and support, which leaves the local population with little choice but to devise their own strategies and solutions to address the issues in their communities. To improve living conditions in the favelas and wider Brazil, organizations are turning to urban agriculture to address food insecurity.

Urban Agriculture and Poverty

Urban agriculture involves the transferring of local food production processes to the urban landscape. Often community-centered, urban agriculture can take several forms, such as rooftop or community gardens. Urban farming provides a space where social bonds and collaborations may be formed within impoverished communities. Additionally, urban agriculture creates organic, affordable, accessible and nutritious food systems to improve food insecurity in the favelas. Not only does urban agriculture provide a reliable supply of food to people who need it most but urban agriculture can also create job opportunities for people in poverty.

Manguinhos Vegetable Garden (Horta de Manguinhos) Project

This urban farming project operating in the impoverished Manguinhos favela is “Latin America’s largest community farm.” In some areas of the Manguinhos favela, the unemployment rate exceeds 50%. According to Al Jazeera, the project is “helping at least 800 families survive” during COVID-19 while “employing more than 20 local workers at a time when Brazil grapples with a pandemic-battered economy.”

Created by Rio de Janeiro’s environment secretary, Hortas Cariocas is the “municipal-led social development initiative” that launched the Manguinhos Vegetable Garden in 2013 in an attempt to reduce poverty and improve food security in the favela. Members involved in the project receive training, equipment and weekly produce to secure the food needs of their families. The project also requires members to deliver some of the produce “to at-risk members.” The project then sells excess produce “commercially to Brazilian distributors.”

The Hortas Cariocas initiative has expanded to almost 50 vegetable gardens across Rio, according to Reuters in December 2021. All of Rio de Janeiro’s urban agriculture initiatives combined allow the city to yield “more than 80 tonnes of produce” to improve food security for more than 20,000 households.

Looking Ahead

Urban agricultural programs and initiatives in the favelas are a step toward providing marginalized communities with some form of self-sustenance and food security. In addition to this, urban farming also creates a potential source of income for communities as well as a green space for people to come together peacefully. As more urban agricultural initiatives form and expand, food insecurity in Brazil’s most impoverished areas reduces exponentially.

– Owen R. Mutiganda
Photo: Flickr

School Lunches in Peru
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the importance of school lunches in introducing children to nutrition and influencing their health outcomes over time. Although the emphasis on school meals has grown significantly in countries around the world over the last decade, Peru has struggled to make a drastic nutritional transition in comparison to its developed counterparts. However, the nation’s Qali Warma program aims to improve nutritional outcomes through school lunches in Peru.

Peru in Numbers

As of 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) recognizes 22% of Peru’s population as impoverished without access to proper nutrition. Furthermore, of children younger than 5, 13.1% suffer from chronic malnourishment. With a total population of 31 million individuals, these statistics illustrate the severity of inadequate nutrition in Peru.

However, over the years, Peru was able to reduce rates of chronic child malnutrition by 50%, a significant feat for the nation. While statistics on hunger and poverty show improvements over the past 10 years, it is important to recognize that rates of malnutrition differ across regions of Peru. In some rural areas, chronic child malnutrition reaches almost 34%. Furthermore, the rates of child stunting among Indigenous groups have remained the same since 2011. The lack of access to healthy and nutritious foods in Peru is partly responsible for these concerning rates.

Qali Warma Nation School Feeding Program

The lack of access to healthy and nutritious foods in Peru has led to a plethora of health concerns. Among the most pressing issues are anemia and obesity, which both serve as risk factors for other illnesses. The Peruvian government recognizes the concerning rates of anemia and child obesity in its country, leading to the implementation of the Qali Warma school feeding program.

Qali Warma is a social program that the Peruvian government implemented, aimed at increasing the health and nutrition of children through school lunches in Peru. The name Qali Warma originates from the Indigenous Quechua language and translates to “vigorous child.” The meaning behind the name is an ode to the mission of the group — encouraging “healthy eating habits” among the youth of Peru. Qali Warma’s main focus is children in early learning and primary education. However, to benefit Indigenous children in the Peruvian Amazon, the program extends its reach to high school students.

Since its implementation in 2012, the Ministry of Development & Social Inclusion of Peru (MIDIS) has overseen the program along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Initially developed as a three-year-long initiative, the success of the program means Qali Warma will continue until 2022. For the past decade, Qali Warma has provided healthy school lunches in Peru, improving eating habits among children while simultaneously engaging with local communities and providing people with food education.

A Two-pronged Strategy

The program consists of two services working in tandem with each other. The food service entails planning school meal menus and gathering the ingredients and supplies needed to put the meals together. Qali Warma uses specific calculations to ensure it meets the necessary nutritional and caloric requirements for child development. Moreover, the organization takes into account different cultural diets and consumer habits of each area it serves. The educational service component is primarily instructional. Qali Warma promotes “healthy eating habits and hygiene practices among the beneficiary children” while providing technical support and educational outreach to people implementing the food services.

Results and Reach

As Peru continues to invest in programs like Qali Warma, outcomes are proving successful in improving children’s health. By 2019, Qali Warma’s school lunches in Peru benefited more than 4 million children in total. Overall, the government notes an improvement in the overall nutritional state of these children since addressing nutrition with school lunches in Peru. Qali Warma reports that the impacts of school lunches extend far beyond nutrition as children are also more focused in classes and are eager to attend school. Nutrition specialists second this sentiment.

While Peruvian youth have struggled to maintain healthy levels of nutrition, addressing these issues in the places where children spend the most time, like schools, creates a lasting impact. Increasing the nutritional benefits of school lunches in Peru is a crucial first step in addressing malnutrition. However, consistent monitoring and modification are necessary as the program expands to reach more children nationwide.

– Chloé D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, with a population of 6.6 million inhabitants. Women in Nicaragua face many challenges such as increased poverty and violence. The following will present several areas where women’s rights in Nicaragua require improvement.

Violence Against Women

In Nicaragua, violence against women in the form of abuse is one of the most serious social issues that the country faces. Among married women in Nicaragua, 52% have reported cases of spousal abuse, with a median duration of five years. Additionally, 21% of these women reported an overlap between both emotional and sexual violence, with 31% of these women being sexually and/or violently abused during their pregnancy.

Needless to say, these statistics are disheartening and scary. With such high rates of abuse around the country, there seems to be little or no hope for Nicaraguan women to escape this abusive cycle. However, there are several organizations that have contributed to the decrease of sexual abuse in southern countries, such as Self-Help International. It is the largest global organization that works to prevent torture and abuse of all sorts by educating and empowering women in developing countries. Misinformation about abusive relationships is very common among Nicaraguan women. Organizations like this allow women to escape this kind of relationship.

The Gender Gap

The Human Development Report has ranked Nicaragua 124 out of 189 countries based on Gender Equality Index in 2017. Additionally, women are more likely to face poverty in Nicaragua than men. With facts like these, it is evident that there is a disparity between men and women in Nicaragua.

Family members are often the ones who push women in Nicaragua to the sex trafficking industry. Additionally, 28% of Nicaraguan women give birth before they are 18, which is mostly due to sexual violence. This is the issue of society not discouraging violence against women.

Women’s Rights and Poverty

The 2016 poverty rate in Nicaragua was 24.9% with an average salary being $265. A large number of women in Nicaragua experience pregnancy at a young age. They usually stay at home and care for their children rather than working and garnering an income. However, the income that their male counterparts provide for their families is frequently insufficient. In fact, about 78% of households in Nicaragua live in ‘substandard’ conditions, the highest rate in all of Latin America.

This problem returns to the roots of the gender gap and women’s treatment in Nicaragua. It means that the cycle of women having children at a young age and caring for them with a low household income will only continue across the years, even affecting future generations. This means that one of the most important places to start with solving this problem is encouraging education about abuse.

Solutions

Though there are certain difficult cases that prevent the maximum execution of women’s rights in Nicaragua, hope still exists for the country. With a declining number of abuse cases due to the exposure of organizations like Self-Help International, women’s rights in Nicaragua are beginning to solidify. Self-Help has been working to solve global issues like hunger and poverty since 1999, and it provides education and opportunities for women in these countries. In 2019, Self-Help was able to offer clean drinking water to 3,600 Nicaraguan residents in nine communities. With this preceding success, it is likely that Self-Help’s initiative to alleviate the women’s rights issues in Nicaragua will quickly gain traction.

Self-Help is currently working on a project to educate and empower 200 Nicaraguan women through workshops and microloans. This could lead to a reduction in young women entering and staying in abusive relationships. It is the success of the organizations like this one that can bring hope to women and influence the policymakers when spreading awareness about women’s rights.

Though Nicaragua’s statistics regarding women’s rights and abuse are not yet within positive measures, the work of NGOs should result in the improvement of conditions for women in Nicaragua over the next decades.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Mega-Gangs of Venezuela 
Heavily armed with automatic weapons, hand grenades and military equipment, meta-gangs in Venezuela are unlike typical street gangs. Often, they have more weapons than the police, launching attacks against law enforcement and driving officers from gang territory. Numbering anywhere from 50 to more than 200 members each, the mega-gangs of Venezuela rule over the fearful civilians in their territory with impunity.

The gangs have lost some of their power in recent years, but the political and economic crises in the country are driving people to join them, increasing their influence. Some of the most notorious gangs are “El Koki’s” gang, Los 70 del Valle, Tren de Aragua and El Picure.

El Koki’s Gang

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, El Koki and his allies had full control of neighborhoods such as El Valle and Cota 905 until July 2021, the latter of which served as his gang’s stronghold. El Koki is distinct from other gang leaders. He never served jail time and is running his gang outside of prison. Additionally, he has already lived to the age of 43 when the average criminal in the country’s poorest areas does not live past 25. He has also had an outstanding arrest warrant since 2012.

In 2012, the Venezuelan government developed the “peace zones” policy. It began negotiations with hundreds of gangs from all over the country. The government offered a truce in which police would stay out of designated neighborhoods if the gangs ceased criminal activity in addition to providing financial incentives for gangsters to disarm. One such incentive was the use of money and other resources meant for starting legitimate businesses.

The policy backfired, however, when gangs like El Koki’s gang began using the money to discretely acquire heavier weaponry, as reported in El Pais. El Koki and other gang leaders also took advantage of Venezuela’s criminal organizations gathering for negotiations to bolster the size of their gangs. Merging with these other groups, they formed the numerous mega-gangs of Venezuela that followed the implementation of peace zones.

The “Peace Zones”

One of the established peace zones was Cota 905. El Koki seized the opportunity there due to the lack of a permanent police presence. He strengthened his control as he killed off rival gang leaders and made alliances with others. For four years prior to June 2021, the police did not cross into Cota 905 once to enforce the law, something El Koki’s connections to the military and government may have had a hand in. In June, however, the truce between El Koki’s gang and law enforcement fully broke down. The two sides entered a war when the gang invaded the La Vega neighborhood southwest of Cota 905.

Demonstrating how empowered the mega-gangs of Venezuela have become, El Koki’s gang launched an attack on central police headquarters. The government retaliated by sending roughly 800 troops into Cota 905, where they went door to door battling the gang. According to InSight Crime, El Koki’s whereabouts are unknown. However, some have said that he may be in Cúcuta, Columbia, a common sanctuary for Venezuelan gangsters where he can continue to run his gang.

Tren de Aragua

In the state of Aragua, the mega-gang Tren de Aragua operates out of Tocorón prison. With nearly 3,000 members in groups spread across the country and expanding into nations like Columbia and Peru, Tren de Aragua, once a railroad workers’ union, is the most powerful criminal organization in Venezuela. Last spring, the gang made headlines with the completion of a baseball stadium it constructed within the prison it occupies. Reportedly possessing other luxuries such as a swimming pool and a disco hall while brandishing greater firepower than the police, the gang has demonstrated its financial success to an impoverished nation enduring an economic crisis.

Using its large arsenal, vast numbers and extreme wealth, Tren de Aragua has been able to expand rapidly as it repeatedly clashes with police and the military. Like other mega-gangs, it is alluring to people in poverty who do not get enough help from the government, have limited opportunities and are lacking in police protection. According to Mirror, to entice youths and build rapport with communities, it offers food packages at a time when much of the population faces starvation due to poor economic conditions that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened.

Police Brutality

It is not strictly poverty and recruitment efforts that motivate people to join and comply with the mega-gangs. Police brutality is another contributing factor and extrajudicial killings in retaliation for gang violence are all too common. As El Pais reported, in July 2021, more than 3,000 officers responded to gun violence between police and El Koki’s gang. There were reports of the police committing extrajudicial executions and robberies, and the circumstance resulted in 24 victims. When police assume the role of executioner and their responses to gang activity cause innocents to die, people end up in the mega-gangs for membership and protection.

The Work of NGOs

Currently, various NGOs and nonprofits are working to alleviate the situation in Venezuela. One such nonprofit is InSight Crime, which conducts investigative journalism, data analysis and makes policy suggestions for governments regarding organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. InSight Crime speaks with police and officials when doing on-the-ground research. It also interacts with people involved in illegal activity to gain their perspective.

The International Crisis Group organization advises governments on preventing, managing and resolving deadly conflicts. Additionally, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is an organization that operates in Ecuador and provides shelter and supplies to migrants who the ongoing turmoil and violence displaced. There are also local organizations such as Mi Convive, a nonprofit that feeds thousands of hungry children a week. Nonprofits providing food to children like Mi Convive are essential in preventing mega-gangs from bribing them with food.

Other Solutions

The Venezuelan government is addressing the high levels of gang violence with police reform and crackdowns to kill or drive gang leaders out of their territory. However, to put an end to organized crime and dismantle the mega-gangs of Venezuela, the government must take a complex, multifaceted approach. Corruption in politics and the military has led to impunity and the mega-gangs becoming better armed than the police. Eliminating financial incentives for organized crime is important. Otherwise, materially motivated criminals will continue to organize for profit. The police and other local public institutions should receive empowerment to rally their communities. They should act against the mega-gangs while scaling back military involvement.

The Venezuelan government, NGOs and foreign nations must work together. They have to ensure there is funding for robust social programs and that Venezuelans have economic opportunities where they live. They should be doing sufficient community outreach to sway people from the criminals and meta-gangs of Venezuela should be facing appropriate consequences.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Vaccine Distribution in Latin America
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Latin America hard. As of July 2021, about 1.3 million people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have died from COVID-19 alone, showing the devastating toll that the virus has had on families throughout the region. With such a high death toll and the introduction of new, more dangerous variants of the original virus, the question of vaccine distribution in Latin America has been a topic of discussion among health experts.

Throughout Latin America, vaccination rates overall have remained lower than world averages. Some countries such as Uruguay have a higher vaccination rate. As of September 16, 2021, the country has administered 171.68 doses per 100 people. Chile’s vaccination rate is second to Uruguay, with 159.65 doses administered per 100 people. The two countries with the lowest vaccination rates are Nicaragua, with 10.97 doses per 100 people and Haiti, with 0.44 doses per 100 people.

Vaccine distribution in Latin America unequivocally varies per country. These discrepancies are problematic in combatting the disease throughout the region. Many of the regions with low vaccination rates have some of the highest mortality rates as well, which has caused more need for the vaccine.

Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released a report in April 2021 detailing vaccination distribution in Latin America. It included its recommendations and the challenges that Latin America needs to overcome to increase vaccination rates and better the population’s overall prospects. UNESCO gave strategies for vaccination, focusing on impoverished areas that have higher mortality rates. Yet, UNESCO also projects that only approximately a third of people in Latin America and the Caribbean will receive vaccinations by the end of 2021.

Guillermo Anllo, a UNESCO program head for Latin America and the Caribbean, spoke to Reuters in early August. Anllo emphasized how crucial equity is to the distribution of vaccines in Latin America. The pace of vaccination has been slow in the region as a whole due to structural issues. For example, the highest income countries throughout the world have vaccination rates that are 30 times faster than the countries that have the lowest incomes.

Furthermore, economies have experienced damage during the pandemic, especially those in the Caribbean who rely on tourism. This damage to tourism has a ripple effect on the purchasing power of the countries’ governments to obtain more vaccinations, slowing the process in this way as well.

Efforts to Increase Vaccine Distribution

Worldwide organizations and agencies have sent aid to Latin America throughout the spring of 2021. Most recently, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has vowed to increase access to vaccines and to help minimize transmission of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean. This plan comes from PAHO’s Revolving Fund for Access to Vaccines, which has operated for more than 40 years to distribute vaccines to places in need. PAHO’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Latin America will go to the areas and people at the greatest risk in order to adequately and equitably protect the people of these regions.

With more vaccines on the way and a heightened urgency to vaccinate due to spreading variants, more inhabitants of Latin America will hopefully see higher rates of vaccinations and an increase in safety from the virus in the near future.

– Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Latin AmericaArtificial intelligence (AI) is bound to increase global GDP by 14% in 2030, becoming one of the most prominent industries of the future. As the world sees an exponential increase in professionals who leverage artificial intelligence for social good in different fields, it will also witness a myriad of projects harnessing AI to help the poor in different areas of the world. Despite some pessimistic outlooks on AI for the future, it holds an intrinsic power to address Latin America’s most pressing issues. Here is some information about how AI can help alleviate poverty in Latin America.

fAIr LAC

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) advocates a shared vision of AI to alleviate social inequality in Latin America. The IDB has acted on this vision by creating the fAIr LAC initiative, a broad network of multisectoral AI experts and practitioners to promote the ethical and humanitarian use of artificial intelligence, to foster economic growth and income distribution and ultimately to change social policymaking in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Teams at fAIr LAC have adopted the principles of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on AI that include human-centered values, inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being of civilians. Principle 1.1 addresses “responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI in pursuit of beneficial outcomes for people and the planet . . . advancing inclusion of underrepresented populations, reducing economic, social, gender and other inequalities, and protecting natural environments . . . .”

To carry out its ambitious agenda, the IDB is collaborating with data-driven enterprises in the region to introduce digital tools to create AI of social value. In this way, both businesses and social development organizations can take advantage of this technology.

Algorithmic Justice

fAIrLAC’s diverse network of professionals has a commitment to creating algorithmic justice to address inequality in Latin American society, as policies are only as effective and non-biased as the algorithms on which they are based. Trustworthy and useful AI can take many forms. The network has developed pilot projects encompassing issues such as government response time, aid delivery, education and natural disaster warning. The fAIr LAC regional observatory maps and tracks AI projects in Latin America and it thus knows who is implementing AI in the region, and for what purposes.

Using AI for Social Welfare

The Sisben Welfare Index in Colombia is a system of surveys through which households are scored on four dimensions to determine the need for social assistance. Through fAIr LAC, it has managed to increase social assistance and efficiency and has improved resource allocation, rooting out possible biases through a more consistent assessment of eligibility.

The Costa Rican Household Poverty Level Prediction uses the Proxy Mean Test, an algorithm to verify whether a family can qualify for aid, as the poorest households in Latin America cannot usually provide records of their living conditions or salaries. The PMT uses alternative attributes to see if a family is fit for aid and whether it is currently looking for more attributes that AI can measure. For this purpose, IDB has developed a challenge—a data science competition to predict household poverty in Costa Rica.

AI to alleviate poverty in Latin America can be helpful in numerous ways. Through the efforts of the Sisben Welfare Index and the Proxy Mean Test, hopefully, Latin America will see a reduction in poverty over time.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Latin American Water ScarcityIn Latin America, the health and well-being of rural communities are threatened by water scarcity and poor sanitation. In recent decades, the number of people facing water scarcity has declined. Unfortunately, with 36 million people currently lacking access to clean water in Latin America, water scarcity is an issue that is just too prevalent. EOS International aims to address Latin American water scarcity by providing simple and affordable solutions to increase access to clean water.

Causes of Latin American Water Scarcity

While many factors contribute to the water crisis, the outsized role of climate change cannot be ignored. Recent increases in extreme weather events including flooding, hurricanes and droughts threaten the water supply of many Latin American countries. For example, in Peru, flooding left water treatment plants full of rocks and debris, clogging the water supply. Consequently, authorities made the decision to restrict water usage in the Peruvian cities of Lima and Arequipa.

On the other end of the spectrum, drought threatens Bolivia’s water supply, which is significantly rainfall-reliant. Extreme weather conditions, however, are not the only factors threatening clean water access for Latin Americans. Misguided governmental decision-making exacerbates the problem. Most consequentially, increases in deforestation, mining and the creation of mega dams have exacerbated the occurrence of extreme weather patterns. In turn, these developments often harm the water supply in many Latin American countries. Of particular concern in Peru, international mining companies polluted waterways and “hijacked” the water supply, harming the livelihoods of farmers in the region.

In other countries, the biggest threat to the water supply is agribusinesses with undue control over water allocation. This synergy of extreme weather conditions, extractive industries, agribusinesses and governmental inaction still threatens rural families in Latin America who lack access to clean water.

Health and Water Scarcity

Water scarcity poses a direct danger to human health. The most harrowing outcome is waterborne illnesses, primarily diarrheal diseases, which are too often fatal. Waterborne illness is responsible for one in nine child deaths around the world. The pollution in the water itself is an environmental hazard. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that in children younger than 5 in the Americas, close to 100,000 die from such pollution annually.

Water Scarcity Hinders Poverty Reduction

Not only does water scarcity threaten the health of rural communities in Latin America but it is also a major obstacle to poverty prevention. Without clean water, it is nearly impossible to stay healthy enough to manage a job, go to school, construct a home or undertake other essential endeavors necessary to pull oneself out of poverty.

When women have to travel long distances to collect water, they waste hours of time and energy that can otherwise go toward more productive endeavors such as education and paid employment. Areas lacking clean water are also more vulnerable to food insecurity as it is more difficult to grow sufficient crops to feed the populous. Food security, education and employment are all key to poverty reduction, however, a lack of access to water presents a barrier to these outcomes.

Efforts to Alleviate Water Scarcity

Organizational efforts play a role in driving the decrease in overall water scarcity. EOS International is one such organization. EOS stands for “Emerging Opportunities for Sustainability.” The organization’s work aims to empower rural families in Central America by facilitating access to clean drinking water through technological advances and education.

As part of this goal, EOS volunteers help rural communities to safeguard clean water. The volunteers regularly test water quality and then treat unsafe and contaminated water, usually with chlorine tablets. The volunteers then monitor the water system over time, providing chlorine tablets to communities when required. Not only does EOS provide base-level support but it also manufactures and installs simple technologies that provide long-term support for the water supply. Since its establishment in 2008, EOS has installed more than 2,000 simple, affordable and “locally serviceable technologies” in Central America.

The organization also supports economic growth and income generation in communities. EOS International has “provided clean water services including training, education and support for 1,169 communities,” positively impacting more than 500,000 people. Furthermore, the organization’s “50 chlorine distribution centers have created income-generating opportunities for local entrepreneurs.”

Looking to the Future

EOS International has made a measurable impact on the health of rural Latin Americans. The organization has installed technologies that provided lasting clean water access to more than half a million people in Honduras and Nicaragua alone.

EOS International’s successes in combating Latin American water scarcity are not possible without the support of donors and volunteers. The implementation of technologies is done in large part by people willing to give their time to support rural families. Nonprofits make a measurable impact in the lives of countless families facing water insecurity. However, their work is not possible without generous contributions of time and monetary support. EOS International’s efforts are an example of the vital work being done by nonprofits to combat global poverty.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

collaboration among young girlsThe 18-year-old new pop sensation and Disney+ star, Olivia Rodrigo, made a name for herself in the pop music industry. Her song “drivers license” debuted at number one for nine straight weeks. Rodrigo is the first Asian American woman to reach #1 on Apple Music. With more than 13.4 million followers on Instagram, Rodrigo used her platform to advertise her personally designed T-shirt, “Spicy Pisces,” in March 2021. Rodrigo has donated all of the proceeds to a program called Plus1, which in turn, benefits another program called She’s the First (STF). STF supports grassroots organizations that encourage collaboration among young girls and supports girls’ rights.

Plus1, Olivia Rodrigo and She’s the First Collaborate

Plus1 collects money through live concert ticket sales and initiates partnerships with another organization of an artist’s choice. It donates a fraction of money collected from each purchased ticket to the partner organization. Then, the two organizations create a campaign for social media.

The artist’s music tour spotlights the impact of the partnership. Plus1 executes the social media campaign, coordinates volunteers and reports the partnership’s impact on communities. Through this process, fans can continue to contribute to the artist’s selected cause. Plus1 continued to support its partners despite the challenges of the pandemic. After creating the T-shirt, Rodrigo donated all of the proceeds to Plus1 and supported STF despite the restrictions on live events.

Rodrigo’s Donations Actionized at She’s the First (STF)

STF operates on the basis that too many girls are discounted from holding leadership positions, denied the right to an education and forced into marriage. Its goal is to strengthen collaboration among young girls and support girls’ rights. The STF coalition offers funding and training to grassroots organizations that work to educate young girls living in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

Additionally, the STF annual conference, otherwise known as Girl’s First Summit, assists adults in gaining knowledge about child protection, designing programs centered around girls and being successful in “feminist mentorship.” Moreover, the girl-led incubator program trains and sponsors young female leaders who have created projects that aim to serve young girls. The girls learn about how to develop an organization and strengthen their leadership from a feminist standpoint.

STF has also launched social media challenges #GirlsGetLoud and She’s a Girl First, which helped to overturn a law that prohibited pregnant girls from going to school in Sierra Leone. The organization reaches approximately 138,000 girls in 26 different countries yearly through campus communities, toolkits, training and partner programs. In the past decade, STF has reached roughly 167,000 girls, more than 100 organizations and 240 practitioners.

Women’s Empowerment

Rodrigo created a personal T-shirt design and used her newly acquired fame to support young girls’ education through Plus1. Many of these girls live in poverty in Africa, Latin America and South Asia. The organization assists music artists in donating financially to an organization of their choice. Rodrigo chose STF, which works toward strengthening collaboration among young girls and lends support to their right to an education. STF supports grassroots organizations that work to educate young girls in more than 11 different countries. STF also assists adults who work with girls daily in designing programs that benefit girls. In addition, STF sponsors young leaders who create projects that aim to serve young girls in communities.

Overall, the efforts of Rodrigo and committed organizations help empower young women, giving them a chance at a life outside of poverty.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

USAID hurricane preparation effortsBefore hurricanes arrive, aid organizations such as USAID work to prepare for the natural disasters. USAID hurricane preparation efforts for the Atlantic hurricane season include ensuring that the organization itself and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean have the supplies and knowledge needed to minimize the impact of hurricanes. With the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season underway, USAID’s preparation efforts will help communities, especially those most impacted by poverty, recover from the aftermath of hurricanes.

The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast

June 1 marked the start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season with the arrival of the first Atlantic hurricane, Hurricane Elsa. According to AccuWeather meteorologists, Hurricane Elsa is one of seven to 10 hurricanes expected for the year 2021. Meteorologists believe three to five of these hurricanes will qualify as major hurricanes — hurricanes with wind speeds more than or equal to 111 miles per hour.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast predicts a season with above-average intensity, but meteorologists do not forecast a record-breaking season. As with the 2020 hurricane season, COVID-19 presents a challenge for evacuation and relief efforts.

The increased poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean also create a new challenge for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Extreme poverty levels increased in the region during 2020 due to COVID-19, with approximately 12.5% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population currently living in extreme poverty.

People living in poverty face more barriers in recovering from the impact of hurricanes because they lack access to financial resources that could help them rebuild and seek assistance after hurricanes land. Furthermore, impoverished countries usually lack resilient infrastructure and housing, making these countries more vulnerable to damage and destruction.

Off-site USAID Preparation

Effective USAID hurricane preparation efforts require the agency to accumulate the supplies needed to help people affected by hurricanes. USAID maintains supply stockpiles in the U.S. state of Miami, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Pisa in Italy. By maintaining these stockpiles, USAID can distribute supplies as needed.

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also include testing temporary shelter in simulated hurricane conditions offsite before taking it to disaster-prone areas. Testing housing helps ensure that people impacted by hurricanes receive shelter that is safe and resilient to natural disasters.

On-site USAID Preparation

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also involve working with people on-site in communities at risk of hurricanes. USAID trains meteorologists, educates people about individual safeguarding measures to take to stay safe during hurricanes, stations experts in the Caribbean and Latin America and sends teams to disaster sites before hurricanes make landfall. All these actions help minimize the impact of hurricanes. To create teams that are familiar with the region before disasters happen, USAID stations long-term consultants, advisers and program officers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

USAID’s onsite work in Latin America and the Caribbean creates a network of people prepared to respond to disasters. As of May 2019, USAID trained 70,000 people in the region on disaster response. USAID provides disaster management teams with the necessary information to evacuate regions before flash floods begin, the most life-threatening aspect of hurricanes, by training meteorologists to evaluate the risk of flash floods.

Hurricane preparation saves lives by ensuring that physical and human capital is in place to respond to hurricanes and their after-effects. The Atlantic hurricane season continues until November 30, 2021. With the dedication of organizations such as USAID, disaster response in developing countries is strengthened and the impacts of natural disasters are mitigated.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

genetically modified seedsMany countries in Central and South America are home to strong agricultural economies. Since the 1990s, the growing use of genetically modified seeds has challenged traditional forms of agriculture. Companies such as DuPont, Syngenta and Bater sent these seeds to Latin America. Since this introduction, Latin American agribusiness has become largely dependent on genetically modified seeds. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are home to roughly 120 million acres of genetically modified crops. Promises of greater yields and less work fuel this upsurge. To understand the effects of genetically modified seeds and how farmers are gaining support, The Borgen Project spoke to Aimee Code, the pesticide program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Prosperity

Two key factors explain the effect of genetically modified seeds on poverty. The first is dependence. Code explains that “many GMO seeds are intrinsically linked with pesticide use.” Code explains further that pesticide dependence can be dangerous as “this traps farmers in a cycle of needing the pesticides and needing these seeds… it becomes more and more expensive and uncomfortable.”

The difference between this cycle of seed use and traditional methods is stark as genetically modified seeds require the user to buy new seeds each year rather than harvesting and using older seeds from past harvests as is traditional. Farmers are unable to reuse genetically modified seeds and plants because they do not own them; the seeds belong to the company that sells them.

Not only do crops themselves threaten farmers’ prosperity, but the system of genetically modified agriculture also fuels poverty. With the introduction of genetically modified seeds came the promotion of farm consolidation, meaning that fewer farmers are necessary. As a result of this farm consolidation, around 200,000 agricultural producers in South America “have lost their livelihoods” in the last two decades.

Seeds Endanger Farmers’ Health

“The amount of data is woefully inadequate on the health effects experienced by these farmers out in the fields,” shares Code on the issue of health in Latin America. However, even ordinary individuals can draw conclusions just from the nature of these practices. The link between genetically modified seeds and health is best explained by the pesticide use required for these crops.

Because farmers must store pesticides in the crops’ area, the pesticides constantly endanger people living around farms. To highlight the commonality of these exposures, Code reflects on her experience working in Honduras. She says, “A young man offered me water to drink out of an old pesticide bottle.” She explains the link to poor health by concluding that “these are exposures that shouldn’t be happening.”

Along with pesticides sprayed on crops, Code explains that “the seeds are often coated with pesticides, making the seeds themselves dangerous depending on the handling practices.” Unfortunately, many farmers cannot access ample personal protective equipment to protect themselves from dangerous chemicals.

Exposure to the seeds and pesticides is grave as long-term effects can include respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In the short term, these pesticides can result in nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety and cognitive harm.

Solving the Problem

The effects of genetically modified seeds remain prominent in the lives of many Latin Americans. However, ongoing solutions aim to mitigate the effects. Code explains that the two most important ways to reduce the spread of genetically modified seeds and crops are education and regulation. As the pesticide program director for the Xerces Society, she works with farmers to implement more sustainable practices.

The Xerces Society is not the only organization working to spread awareness of the value of non-GMO crops. Civil society and social movements throughout Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala have mobilized people to protect seeds and the heritage of agricultural practices. These movements are vital for boosting confidence in traditional practices, challenging narratives created by genetically modified seed companies.

Governments from across Latin America have also stepped up to help reduce the use of these seeds. Countries such as Guatemala and Ecuador have implemented full and partial bans on genetically modified seeds. Most recently, Mexico passed legislation to ban the use of transgenic corn and phase out glyphosate by 2024. These mark positive steps as government regulation can stop the trend of high-risk genetically modified seeds that have trapped many farmers. Such legislation will protect food sovereignty and the health of farmers in Mexico.

More legislative measures and actions are required to eliminate the effects of genetically modified seeds in Latin America. However, recent years have seen immense progress in efforts to reduce the seeds’ prevalence through policy action and awareness.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr