the Friendship Bench

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern parts of Africa. Zimbabwe has a population of around 17 million. Estimates show that one in four Zimbabweans have anxiety and depression, yet there are only 12 psychiatrists in the country. Roughly two years ago, the idea of the Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe was introduced as an answer to this deficiency in mental health care. Now, the success of the program might be able to help other countries.

What is Friendship Bench?

In 2016, Dr. Dixon Chibanda came up with the idea of a friendship bench to treat the enormous problem of depression and inaccessibility to mental health treatment for the people of Zimbabwe. This was in response to the lack of resources and healthcare professionals. He decided to train 14 grandmothers as mental health counselors for a pilot project.

The government of Zimbabwe expanded the program following its success and has trained more than 700 grandmothers since. The mission of the Friendship bench is to boost mental well-being by bridging the gap created by poverty, distance and lack of resources. Friendship benches are wooden benches placed in open areas of health facilities where patients and their counselors have conversations based on problem-solving therapy.

The Randomized Control Studies conducted in 2016 evaluated the success of the Friendship Bench. They found that the benches alleviated symptoms of depression in 86 percent of the patients compared to 50 percent in a control group with standard therapy. These patients were also five times less likely to have suicidal thoughts. Dr. Dixon Chibanda, the founder of Friendship bench Project says that there are also positive effects of this treatment on other health outcomes such as hypertension and diabetes.

Why the Friendship Bench is so Successful?

The Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe has been successful for a number of reasons. By understanding these reasons, other countries could use this method to alleviate their mental health issues. The following are a few reasons that have led to the success of the Friendship Bench.

  1. The use of local terminology by the grandmothers to communicate resonated with the patients. For example, instead of using the word depression, grandmothers use the local word kufungisisa, which means ‘thinking too much.’ The non-use of strict medical terminology prevented stigma and encouraged people to seek help.
  2. The grandmothers involved in the project not only provided a safe space to share the problems but also helped empower their patients through solutions-oriented discussions.
  3. The patients meet with their counselors every week. This higher frequency of meetings leads to effective treatment.
  4. The holding of group sessions for the patients brings in a feeling of community and belonging.
  5. Since grandmothers who deliver the treatment come from the native community, they were able to build a relationship of trust with the patients.

Friendship Bench as a Blueprint for Other Countries

The United States has about 16 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. This number is one of the highest in the world, and yet it is inadequate. To cover this gap, New York City launched the Friendship bench project under the aegis of Dr. Chibanda in 2016. New York City has three permanent, bright orange friendship benches in Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. The project got an enormous response. Within the first year of the program, there were already 30,000 visitors. The counselors in New York City are as diverse as people. In fact, many of them have experienced mental health issues and/or substance abuse.

Canadian Universities have an independent but similar program to tackle depression in students. The Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench is a nonprofit organization in Canada that started in 2015. The program uses #YellowforHello to spread awareness about mental health. The method is the same; person-to-person conversation to solve the problems causing mental health issues in university students. Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (MSD) said, “When it comes to mental health, all countries are developing countries.” Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide and one of the largest contributors to the global burden of disease.

Zimbabwe’s success with the Friendship Bench has provided a blueprint for mental health treatment in both low- and high-income countries. With New York already following the suit and London in consideration, it is safe to say that Zimbabwe, an otherwise resource-deprived country, is leading the globe with an effective and accessible solution to address common mental health disorders.

Navjot Buttar
Photo: Flickr

 Gala Benefits AIDSOne of New York’s most prominent events in support of AIDS research is the annual amFAR Gala, which will take place this year on Feb. 8. Included in the star-studded guest list are Donatella Versace, Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Heidi Klum and Lady Gaga. Lena Dunham, popularly known for her role in the HBO drama series, Girls, will host the event.

Since the American Foundation for AIDS Research’s first event in 1998, the annual amFAR Gala has collected more than $17 million in donations. With tickets starting at $1,750 and ending at $75,000, the black-tie event will include cocktails, dinner, a live auction and a special performance by Ellie Goulding. The gala serves to highlight the progress made in HIV/AIDS awareness and research. The event honors and recognizes those that have joined the fight against HIV/AIDS by donating.

Globally, 36.7 million people are affected by HIV/AIDS — 1.8 million of those being children who have most commonly inherited the disease during pregnancy or through breastfeeding. A majority of those infected live in poverty-stricken countries in the Asia-Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for 60 percent of the world’s population and has the highest rate of HIV infection. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than 25.6 million people living with HIV.

Because of advancements in AIDS research funding by organizations such as amFAR, 18.2 million people infected with the disease are able to receive treatment. AmFAR’s funding has led to the implementation of numerous programs worldwide that are used to both encourage and distribute treatment. Specifically, amFAR has been a source of international support through various programs. These programs include the TREAT program in Asia which focuses on building clinics and educations centers that provide treatment and prevention education. Nepal has received amFAR’s assistance through the creation of educational programs for HIV. Studies carried out by amFAR in Kenya have further revealed modes of disease transmission.

Since its founding in 1985, amFAR has invested more than $450 million toward AIDS research, which has led to the creation of numerous programs and developments in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It is because of these advancements that the celebrity community can come together at New York’s 18th annual amFAR Gala this February to honor the progress accomplished by contributing individuals.

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

Pedaling Out of Poverty: Bamboo Bikes Help the Poor and Unemployed
Pedal Forward, a social enterprise company founded by Matthew Wilkins in 2012, is helping the poor in the U.S. and Africa ride into a brighter future. Wilkins and business partner Chris Deschenes wanted to create a reliable mode of transportation that was sustainably manufactured and cheap to buy. Their answer to the problem? Bamboo bikes.

“I remembered I had bamboo in my backyard growing where I grew up in Long Island, and I did some Googling and saw that people have been building bikes out of bamboo since the 1890s,” Wilkins said to the Hatchet. “It just never really caught on.”

Pedal Forward exclusively hired the underemployed and homeless for its workforce through the Back on My Feet organization, tasking them with the construction of the bikes themselves. Their New York warehouse was purchased through the $44,748 the duo earned on Kickstarter last February, and construction of the bamboo bikes is currently well underway.

Over 70 percent of the world’s poor lives without adequate transportation, according to Pedal Forward’s mission statement. Wilkins hopes to manufacture bikes in Tanzania and Uganda to bring affordable transportation to the poor there. In the meantime, however, Pedal Forward has been buying bikes from local vendors and distributing them to orphaned children and farmers so they can sell goods in markets.

“It’s combining my two favorite things which are bikes and building things, but at the same time it has a huge impact to a ton of people around the world,” Wilkins said to the Hatchet.

The bamboo used by Pedal Forward has been treated to make it four times more shock absorbent than carbon fiber and have higher tensile strength than steel. It also grows at the sustainable rate of one meter per day, earning it the name Iron Bamboo.

On top of being strong, the bamboo is good for the environment and easily recycled, making it cheap, green and created for a good cause. It took Wilkins three years to perfect the prototype of the bike after he won best business idea at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in 2012, thus delaying Pedal Forward’s commercial start to 2016.

The first bamboo bikes are set to sell for $499 this September on their website.

Regina Park

Photo: Flickr

Stephen Colbert & Hugh Jackman to Host Global Citizen Festival
Is there anything better than music that plays for a good cause?

The 2015 Global Citizen Festival will take place in New York City’s Central Park on September 26. The Festival will celebrate the launch of the United Nations’ Global Goals, a set of 17 initiatives designed to protect the environment, support universal education and end extreme poverty by 2030. Featured headliners include Pearl Jam, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay.

Although the free event announced the artists earlier this summer, it just recently revealed the hosts of the show. The group of mega-talented individuals that will share the stage with the musical headliners include Stephen Colbert, Hugh Jackman, Deborra-Lee Furness, Salma Hayek Pinault, Kerry Washington and Olivia Wilde.

An online platform created by the Global Poverty Project in 2012, Global Citizen features informative articles and innovative campaigns dedicated to ending extreme poverty, injustice and inequality. It has hosted the Global Citizen Festival since 2012. The hosts this year will encourage festival attendees and fans around the world to become involved in Global Citizen’s mission to eradicate poverty.

In fact, in order to earn tickets the festival requires that people “take action” against poverty. After visiting the Global Citizen website to create an account, fans must perform a series of honorable actions to receive tickets to the festival. Such actions include signing virtual petitions against poverty, tweeting to world leaders and calling the U.S. State Department about the U.S. foreign aid budget.

Colbert and Jackman have expressed their excitement to host the festival as well as their firm belief that extreme global poverty can be eliminated by 2030. World leaders will be in attendance this year, providing the hosts and global citizens alike with the opportunity to voice their support of the Global Goals and the eradication of poverty.

Since 2012, the Global Citizen Festivals have made significant impacts in eradicating poverty; people have taken more than 3 million actions on the Global Citizen website. This September, the Festival will be jam-packed with good music, great people and an awesome cause.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Rolling Stone, Global Citizen 1, Global Citizen 2
Photo: Tick Pick

Hot Bread Kitchen
Foreign-born and low-income workers have the opportunity to become financially independent through a culinary career at Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK) in New York City’s Spanish Harlem.

Due to a lack of English fluency or professional networks, immigrants are often forced to the periphery of society. HBK works to build a world where immigrants are accepted into mainstream culture and honored for their work. In the kitchen, the foreign-born workers are not only improving their English language skills, but learning about commercial baking and management.

Since its launch, HBK has trained 22 women from 11 different countries, and it has incubated 15 small businesses.

The bakery offers Project Launch, a paid on-the-job training program, and HBK Incubates, a small business incubation program. Most of the workers grew up learning how to bake traditional breads from family recipes, and the training programs are funded by the sale of multi-ethnic breads made by the bakers using local and organic ingredients.

Project Launch is an intensive workforce training program in artisanal baking and English fluency for foreign-born and low-income minority women. Participants in the program receive up to 35 hours per week of on-the-job bakery training, 16 hours of customer service training and three hours of English fluency classes.

After an average of nine months, the women are placed in management track positions in the culinary industry or advanced to the HBK Incubates, which helps them launch their own businesses. For those transitioning into professional positions, household wealth is improved, with salaries increasing an average of 106%.

Nancy Mendez started making tortillas by hand when she was 10 years old, but she could not afford professional cooking school in Mexico because of the cost. She now makes Mexican corn tortillas for HBK based on her grandmother’s recipe. Mendez, who moved to the U.S. almost 14 years ago, now runs the entire tortilla production process at HBK. The tortillas are sold at weekly farmer’s markets in New York and at small shops. The breads sold at HBK vary, from foccacia to rye and challah to lavash crackers; the bakery also sells granola. The tortillas are one of the bakery’s most popular items.

HBK is not the only non-profit kitchen that doubles as a training center — La Cocina in San Francisco and Hope & Main in Rhode Island are also kitchen training centers in addition to commercial enterprises. However, HBK is unique in that is pays its bakers for class time.
HBK products are sold at retailers all over Manhattan, Brooklyn and online.

– Haley Sklut

Sources: Hot Bread Kitchen, National Public Radio, Changemakers
Photo: Arbor Brothers

drop_of_water
Water is essential to all life, a phrase often repeated, yet the fact remains that over 800 million people cannot access potable water every day. 2.5 billion do not have adequate sanitation increasing the likelihood of disease not just in that region but globally, an issue that goes hand in hand with poor access to water. Every year, 3.4 million die of water related diseases, equivalent to the population of Los Angeles.

When successful potable water projects enter a community, it has been shown to have beneficial impacts across many aspects of that communities life. In truth, it lies at the heart of the most cost effective and efficient solutions to global health, population growth, poverty, disease and climate change. The World Health Organization estimates a return of 3-34$ for every dollar invested in a clean water project, given the technology and region.

With such powerful ramifications, the debate on how best to approach this problem is an important one. Over the past 20 years, there have been two main approaches, that of charity/micro-finance projects, and the privatization model, the most famous case taking place in Cochamamba, Belize. Both have their critics.

There is now a third approach, a more holistic one, that considers unique environmental and cultural factors. Overall it has been coined as the Investment in Watershed Services strategy, and it combines tactics from the previous two long standing frameworks for improving access to potable water.

With the latest solution, initial capital for a given project is invested directly to farmers, or potential land owners in the natural watersheds of a given area. The money is used to clean up and maintain the natural functions of the watershed, which perform the same functions of treatment plants or ‘grey’ technologies without the expensive equipment.

Nonprofits and communities all over the world are recognizing the value in this framework as it  creates a co-dependent and cyclical dynamic with downstream water users and polluters funding and investing in the upstream maintenance. The headliner project of this nature is New York ongoing investment in the Catskills Mountains. New York municipality pays for riverbank protection and maintenance that have allowed it to save billions on costly filtration plants. However, there are projects all over the world at all different scales using the very same framework.

By not having environmental damage and natural resources as an externality in the financing of the project, many positive side effects occur wherever these projects are enacted. Aside from addressing the initial issue of access to clean water. The enhanced environmental and farming practices that make up the foundation of this approach, increase food yields and improve the natural habitat.

For more information on the overall framework of the strategy, ongoing projects or how to become involved, go to the Watershed Connect website.

– Tyler Shafsky

Sources: Watershed Connect, USAID, Huffington Post
Photo: Wanah Fong