Ahmed Helmy regional ambassador UNICEFAhmed Helmy is an Egyptian actor, comedian and TV personality. Best known for his work in films such as “Molasses,” “Zaki Chan” and “Scarecrow,” Helmy is famous throughout Egypt and the Middle East, with more than 15 million followers on Instagram. Furthermore, he has served as a popular judge on Arabs Got Talent and a Samsung ambassador. While he is beloved for his acting skills and charisma, Helmy’s work with UNICEF has also received positive attention from fans. In 2017, the actor was named an ambassador for the Egypt branch of the charity. In June 2021, Ahmed Helmy became the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.

Social Media Campaigns on Childhood Development Issues

As UNICEF’s Egypt ambassador, Helmy participated in a number of social media projects, such as the #FightUnfair campaign. #FightUnfair sought to draw attention to issues impacting Egyptian youth, such as poverty and child labor. Another campaign that Helmy participated in was the #EarlyMomentsMatter movement, which highlighted the importance of early childhood development and establishing healthy parenting habits early in a child’s life. The campaign was widely successful and featured other famous UNICEF ambassadors, such as David Beckham.

Helmy’s work with UNICEF has often involved his own family, as his wife, actress Mona Zaki, is a UNICEF Egypt ambassador herself. Together, the couple made videos discouraging violent forms of disciplinary action toward children. A collaboration between UNICEF, The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and the European Union allowed the campaign to reach more than 80 million people.

Visiting Refugee Children

In addition to social media campaigns, Helmy’s humanitarian work included visits to communities served by UNICEF. For example, in November of 2018, the actor visited Syrian refugee children at Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. At the camp, UNICEF supports the quality education of more than 19,000 children. Following the visit, Helmy reflected on the experience, saying, “By ensuring every child can receive an education, healthcare, clean water and access to spaces where they feel protected and nurtured, UNICEF is giving vulnerable children hope for a better future, one where they can truly fulfill their potential.”

Helmy’s New Role as Regional Ambassador

In his new role as the UNICEF regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa, Ahmed Helmy hopes to continue to help children reach their potential. Specifically, he plans to focus on standing up for children’s rights and promoting awareness of early childhood development issues. Helmy’s work with UNICEF is an example of a celebrity harnessing their social influence for good. In his new role, Helmy has the potential to promote even more positive social change for the many children impacted by UNICEF’s work.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hungarian Water Pollution CrisisHungary, a landlocked country in Central Europe, ranks among the highest poverty rates in Europe. Nearly 33% of Hungary’s 10 million inhabitants are at risk of complete poverty if they forgo just three months of income. Hungarians with lower income disproportionally face many struggles, including obtaining affordable water. The Hungarian water pollution crisis affects everyone within the country, especially those in poverty, but water sanitation has thankfully seen improvements in recent years. However, there is still a dire need to increase efforts in order to achieve clean water for all.

The Danube River

Because of its landlocked status, Hungary’s primary source of water comes from the Danube River. This groundwater provides water for 90% of the Hungarian population. Additionally, this river basin covers nearly 10% of Europe and extends to 19 countries, providing 80 million people with water. Its water is used for drinking, energy, production, agriculture and transport. Those near Danube River rely heavily on it as a vital resource, but it’s currently not safe to do so. The river poses a threat to those whose utilize it due to the large presence of pollutants.

The river is contaminated with a variety of harmful substances: organic pollution, nutrient pollution, hazardous substance pollution and microbial pollution. The main factor causing this pollution in untreated wastewater. Corporations often have inadequates processes and facilities to properly treat water before releasing into the river basin. The untreated water then flows into villages and smaller cities that typically don’t have the means to purify the water to a safe level. These dangerous conditions make the water unsuitable for consumption, but Hungarians largely have no other options for obtaining water. Aid is needed to bring clean and drinkable water to all Hungarians, especially to those in poverty and in rural areas.

GEOInsight’s Technology for Water Pollution

The Hungarian start-up GEOInsight works to analyze data in a useful and digestible way. Its mission is to find data showcasing areas with heavily polluted water and use absorbents to treat those areas. These absorbents are ecological machines that measure the amount of waste and remove the micropollutants. GEOInsight focuses its efforts on natural adsorbents in water as a way to fight against water pollution.

Hungary’s government as well as the industries dispelling the wastewater can utilize GEOInsight to combat the water pollution in Hungary. GEOInsight can aid these organizations in understanding the data behind the polluted water. GEOInsight can also work with the organizations to help figure out what question needs to be asked in order to solve this water crisis. In addition, GEOInsight can help to create solutions for the problem. To specifically combat the Hungarian water pollution crisis, GEOInsight began developing technologies to detect micropollutants. The organization’s technologies more accurately remove pesticides better than conventional wastewater treatments.

Earlier this year, the start-up partnered with the water waste management company in Hungary, Hungary’s Department of Aquaculture and UTB Envirotec. GEOInsight, through its mission and partnerships, aims to solve the Hungarian water pollution crisis that increases the dangers of thousands of Hungarians on the brink of total poverty.

Hungary’s Partnerships For Progress

Hungary has been striving to clean its water system in a multifaceted approach. Since 2009, Hungary has funded research that seeks solutions to decontaminating the Danube River. It has even looked beyond its borders to try to fix the Hungarian water pollution crisis. Hungary partners with Slovakia to coordinate water quality, Romania to coordinate environmental risks and with the Czech Republic to coordinate energy priority. These intergovernmental measures are vital in the fight for water safety as are the local companies. With continued focus, advocacy and policies directed toward clean water and water accessibility for all, the Hungarian water crisis can finally be put to an end.

Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

Global Citizen CorpsNearly 90% of young individuals reside in underdeveloped nations and in developed countries, over half of them do not have jobs, go to school or have formal training. The lack of financial opportunities leads adolescents to join terrorist groups to earn a basic income and to gain a sense of identity. To combat the problem, Mercy Corps created a program called The Global Citizen Corps (GCC) to reduce participation in terrorist groups and to influence adolescents to make positive changes in the lives of adolescents.

Mercy Corps’s Global Citizen Corps (GCC) Program

Mercy Corps came to fruition in 1979 and assists foreign countries going through difficult times, such as war, natural disasters, economic crisis and political turmoil. Through the establishment of the GCC program in 2003, the organization focuses on helping young individuals improve their future and communities.

First, the program allows adolescents from the United States to chat online with other young individuals residing in the Middle East. With the use of narratives, conversations and volunteer work, the American youth educate foreign counterparts about the ability to seek data, how to speak up, the skills needed to be a leader and what it takes to make a difference in communities. Furthermore, the program works with each country’s government, local businesses and third sector to help the youth find employment. The GCC examines every procedure and method created by each of these institutions to ensure fairness for all citizens. In particular, the GCC helps advocate for better various projects for adolescent job search.

The GCC also provides basic resources and a safe space for young people who do not own a residence. The program assists young individuals to feel secure in any environment by introducing therapy and treatment. The program meets the emotional and physical needs of adolescents to prevent youth participation in terrorist groups. Lastly, the GCC gathers thousands of adolescents from all over the globe to participate in the program’s leadership course. The course allows young individuals from around the world to establish relationships, come to a mutual understanding about how to improve environments and inspire other adolescents to engage in community service.

GCC’s Impact

Since the program’s inception, GCC taught 15,000 young individuals about occupational skills, financial knowledge, job searching and interpersonal competence in 2009. Additionally, approximately 60,000 adolescents participated in community service, ranging from neighborhood gatherings to raising awareness for important issues in 2009. The GCC program caught the attention of nearly 12 million young citizens through social media and other news outlets in the same year.

Hope for the Future

All in all, the Mercy Corps’ GCC program aids in lowering youth participation in terrorist groups by creating online chat forums, advocating for fair institutional rules and practices, attending to adolescent basic needs and teaching leadership classes. The wide range of information and opportunities drive young individuals to advocate for positive change in youth life and nearby communities. When the youth put time and attention toward productive activities, joining a terrorist group appears unappealing. As the Global Citizen Corps program reaches more young citizens living in war-torn countries, the decline of terrorism looks achievable.

– Samantha Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap in IndiaGender inequality is still a prevailing problem across the world today. India is one country among the many engaging in the fight for gender equality. One prominent issue within this gender struggle is the disparity in pay. The strive toward equality within the country requires a greater focus on the gender wage gap in India. This pay gap is perpetuated by multiple factors, which must be tackled from a variety of angles. Two key areas for improvement lie within the education system and job market. In order to diminish the pervasive gender wage gap in India, the country’s educational and occupational discrepancies between men and women need to be addressed.

Barriers to Equality

Indian women often receive an insufficient amount of education and preparation for the workforce. On top of this, the educational training they do obtain tends to be of poorer quality. The literacy rate for women in India is around 70% while the literacy rate for men in India is 84.7%. Due to lower quality in education, women are less likely to attain higher-paying jobs. In fact, the participation rate of Indian women in the labor force has declined over the past 20 years and is significantly less than the world’s average. A high percentage of women who do find work do so in vulnerable employment situations. Around 80% of employed women work in rural areas in the agricultural sector and very few women work in the paid labor market. Comparatively, unpaid work accounts for only a quarter of men’s time. As a result, the wage gap between men and women widens.

This is if women can succeed in pushing against the social norm that women should stay at home and care for children. Oftentimes, women must take on the position of caretaker, which leaves less time for pursuing careers outside of the home. This societal standard has furthered educational and occupational inequalities. Investment in education is geared more toward men because women are labeled as future homemakers. Additionally, women face discrimination in the workforce due to the assumed idea of motherhood. Women are viewed as potential mothers who do not have time for the job and thus receive unfair pay. Accompanying the role of child caretaker, women in India generally hold a lower status than men. This leads to women being treated unfairly, one way being through smaller wages than men.

Commit2Change

The movement to decrease the gender wage gap in India is not without aid. NGOs are joining the fight for equality from all around the globe in numerous functions. One international NGO working specifically with young girls in India is Commit2Change. Its primary goal is to educate orphaned girls in India to transform their lives and provide a pathway to a bright future. Commit2Change believes educated women can help remedy gender inequality, especially in the job market.

Commit2Change works with young girls to instill academic knowledge, self-worth and the importance of community aid and involvement. Its educational programs help its participants to thrive holistically in all of these elements, especially educationally. Commit2Change has reached more than 4,000 girls, helping 98% of them to enroll in secondary school, 89% to pass exams and graduate and increase their interest in education by 82%. Commit2Change is undoubtedly fulfilling its goal of helping girls succeed through the power of education.

A Promising Shift Toward Gender Equality

The hurdles women must overcome in relation to education and job opportunities greatly influence the gender wage gap in India. To tackle these issues, Commit2Change along with similar organizations are paving the way for equality in the workforce. Commit2Change prepares young girls for a technologically advanced workforce, which can help them obtain high-paying jobs. It achieves this by providing quality education and adaptive life skills programming. As Commit2Change and other NGOs continue to educate and support women and young girls, the ultimate end to the gender wage gap in India may be an attainable goal.

Philip Tang
Photo: Flickr

Safeguarding ToolkitThe Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) created a report to address why aid effectiveness and quality are so important to development goals. Increasing effectiveness is defined as ensuring that the most impoverished populations are receiving quality aid to improve their quality of life. In order to achieve this, donors and developing countries must be mutually respectful of one another in order to achieve the desired development goals. This means countries providing aid and on-the-ground development need to be mindful of and respectful to the communities they are aiming to lift out of poverty. A community-based safeguarding toolkit was launched to ensure that people are aware of their rights and protections when it comes to developmental aid efforts.

Dignity at the Center of Aid

Jonathan Glennie of Open Democracy presents the question, “What if dignity was placed at the heart of all development work, from planning, through implementation, to evaluation of its impact?” Glennie explains the importance of a dignity-centered approach when lifting individuals and communities out of poverty and how such an approach is a more effective way of alleviating poverty. Engaging in foreign aid with dignity for communities experiencing extreme poverty leads to the empowerment of these populations. According to Glennie, when communities are empowered they can reach their real goals, resulting in concrete benefits such as improved health and food security, quality education and higher incomes.

Safeguarding Toolkit

The concept of mutual respect and dignity is now generally accepted as a norm in the development world. However, communities are not always aware of their rights. Given this, Habitat for Humanity, Oxfam International and WaterAid collaborated to launch a “community-based safeguarding visual toolkit” in February 2021, with plans to review and update the toolkit in 2022, resources allowing. The toolkit was created to allow humanitarian and development organizations to give visual information regarding the Six Core Principles Relating to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse to the community members these organizations are working with.

NGOs are continuously evolving and many have recognized that safeguarding measures will be most effective with intentional and focused community engagement. This toolkit was designed to protect and embolden communities in which development is taking place to understand their rights, prevent exploitation and abuse and promote a speak-up culture in the world of development globally. The toolkit has been released in 24 languages so far and can be downloaded for free, making it widely and equitably accessible.

Encouraging Ethical Development

The toolkit contains 11 key messages with 29 corresponding visuals. Some examples of these messages are “aid workers are not allowed to ask for or accept bribes for aid” and “aid organizations encourage complaints — there are safe ways to complain.” Other visuals explicitly state community members’ rights against sexual abuse and/or exploitation by aid workers. These visuals are not intended to be a stand-alone effort in creating respectful and ethical development efforts but are to be utilized in conjunction with wider training and conversations.

Strategic and ethical aid promotes the economic prosperity of developing communities while creating self-reliance. It is important that such communities are aware of their rights and are engaged in the development process. This community-based safeguarding toolkit is working to ensure that efforts to lift people out of poverty respect the basic rights of the communities humanitarian organizations serve.

Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Asylum System in Greece
When an asylum seeker reaches Greece after spending an onerous period braving some of the harshest conditions the human experience has to offer, they frequently meet consternation. The country they arrive in submits people looking for a better life to an elaborate system that starves them of their rights as asylum seekers under the Geneva Convention. This inevitably devolves into situations that mirror gross human rights violations. These situations exacerbate what many of the people face in their home country: poverty. The Borgen Project spoke to migration specialist Margaux Cachera to better understand the asylum system in Greece and its effect on poverty.

How the Policy Changed

Cachera worked on Leros, a Greek Island in the southern Aegean sea. She worked in conjunction with a hotspot that serves as the first glimpse of Europe for some migrants. She insists the asylum system in Greece has intrinsic ties to Europe’s policy on migration, which is admittedly poor. “There’s the basic issue of European countries not following the rule of law regarding refugees. One of the main principles of international law is nonrefoulement, which they are violating. So they are infringing on a key principle of refugee law. They simply go around it.”

The process of refugee migration in Europe is as follows; every asylum seeker may submit an application for international protection once inside the boundaries of the asylum country. However, on the fringes of Europe, in places like Spain, Italy and Greece, they face more difficult migration problems than northern countries. They have also increasingly looked to tighten immigration laws and border controls. After years of loosely following international law, a 2016 agreement with Turkey changed everything about the asylum system in Greece.

The controversial legislation and agreement with Turkey ensured that refugees and asylum seekers could no longer travel to other European countries. They thus end up in a clogged system that does not want them. Programs to house, feed and integrate asylum seekers have since fallen into disrepair. Cachera contends that in the years since the agreement came into being, the asylum system in Greece has become a divisive political football. “Since then, there has been a shift to a more intense, right-wing government and this agreement has started to be more harshly applied – not that it wasn’t ever applied before – and they [refugees and asylum seekers] are now being put into detention camps at scarier rates.” The asylum system in Greece is now morphing from a process by which people integrate into society to a process by which they experience exclusion or imprisonment.

The Poverty Asylum Seekers Face

If one reaches a Greek island with the hopes of attaining asylum, they immediately face stark reality. Before the 2008 economic crisis in the country, migrants experienced greater employment than natives. The following years proved the opposite, with unemployment rates among refugees dropping at greater rates than natives.

This phenomenon does not apply to asylum seekers, who often cannot obtain employment due to a lack of legal standing in Greece. As a result, they must live in a kind of limbo – unable to be employed and unable to have their case heard. This has created an environment with “no stable electricity or running water, limited food and insufficient space for social distancing.”

Cachera highlights the paradox about the asylum system in Greece – often asylum seekers (those who have not yet received their refugee status) benefit from greater aid than those who have received official status but are soon to lose it if they receive the good news of refugee status. “Asylum seekers don’t face the kind of poverty that refugees do. They have a shelter – which is deplorable but a shelter nonetheless. They have food – daily meals. And a stipend.” It then becomes curious to figure out why the system does not aid in the integration of its new migrants.

Greek’s hostile position to NGOs that help asylum seekers and provide programs that grant emergency housing and cash assistance programs like ESTIA and HELIOS, which “subsidizes rent and independent housing for up to twelve months” for vulnerable refugees, essentially subjugates asylum seekers to unwanted and uncared for wards of the state. It perpetuates a kind of incomplete existence in which not even prisoners remain.

What this Means for the Future

The solution appears to be one of increased funding to systems that aid asylum seekers and refugees. This functions in addition to the restoration of eligibility periods for programs like ESTIA. Such programs provide housing and cash to newly arrived refugees. Greece must realign itself with the principle of nonrefoulement. It must also reconsider its agreement with Turkey, which amounts to a naked attempt to circumvent established rules of the Geneva Convention, the doctrine that employs itself to protect vulnerable asylum seekers.

Of course, poverty has intrinsic ties to the process. Amnesty International recognizes 1.4 million refugees who currently need resettlement out of the more than 70 million people who have experienced forcible displacement due to “conflict, persecution or natural disasters.” Developing countries host about 84% of these people, which does not include Greece. Without a 180 degree turn to restore dignity and material resources to those waiting for refugee status the system is bound for further disrepair.

Human rights advocates and migration specialists like Margaux Cachera often publicize shameful issues to garner attention for gross injustice. Questions about actionable solutions, though, often engender a bevy of good ideas. “How do you make camps better? Should camps exist at all? I guess we’re not trying to discuss revolution here but enabling people to have agency is key. That’s the whole thing…. Camps in the global north are so regimented to a certain extent that they don’t allow for a microeconomy… Personally, I think it’s crucial that people are allowed to cook by and for themselves if they want. Which can spawn local vendors. People then have money to buy food and cook for their families. Some form of normality in that form would create a more positive social impact inside the camps.”

Depending on our aims for humanity, the global community must understand and address the asylum system in Greece. This would not only benefit those inside the walls of refugee camps and hotspots but also impact global poverty.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Kwanisa FoundationWhile COVID-19 casts a new set of challenges for poverty in South Africa, two extraordinary women are showing the power that a grassroots foundation has in the fight against poverty. COVID-19 has had disastrous effects on poverty in South Africa, leaving many South Africans unemployed and unable to secure basic needs such as food and clean water. The Kwanisa Foundation aims to assist South Africans in need.

COVID-19 in South Africa

Surprisingly, in an analysis done by Global Food Security, food security issues caused by COVID-19 in South Africa are not related to supply, logistics or distribution. Food insecurity is due to a collapse in earnings.

A recent study conducted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), concluded that 34% of households are expected to fall out of middle-class status and into the vulnerability of poverty. The same study predicts that the South African economy will contract anywhere from 5-8% in 2020. Furthermore, the economy will likely recovery slowly through 2024.

The adverse health effects of COVID-19 and economic disruptions put South Africa’s food security in jeopardy. Shocks in the system due to COVID-19 have resulted in a complete stop of household income for many families, income that is vital for purchasing food.

Although the South African government has provided relief funds, it has not been enough to curb the effects of the pandemic. With the loss of income resulting in food insecurity, social protections and grassroots efforts are vital to providing short-term relief.

The Kwanisa Foundation

Providing much-needed short-term relief is exactly what Kopano Tsengiwe and Nwabisa Mpotulo, both from Johannesburg, set out to do by founding the Kwanisa Foundation. Starting in March 2020 when the nation went into lockdown, the Kwanisa Foundation has been providing food to families in need.

Delivering food packages around their community, consisting of dry and canned goods and even hygiene products such as toothpaste, the Kwanisa foundation has empowered those in the community to help in any way they can.

By developing these grassroots programs that draw in help from those who can give it, the Kwanisa Foundation has put an increased emphasis on outreach directed toward the youth of South Africa.

The goal is to build a network of individuals who can pool together resources and skills in order to develop and improve local communities.

The co-founders first met at the University of Pretoria and both worked at the nonprofit called Blue Palm. In an attempt to continue their philanthropic efforts, the two co-founded the Kwanisa Foundation whose mission is to empower disadvantaged youth to become advocates for change within and outside of their communities.

Other Initiatives

The Kwanisa Foundation’s efforts do not stop at food drives. Looking to empower the youth of South Africa and address unemployment, skills development workshops target students in underprivileged schools. These workshops include university readiness training and career counseling to help prepare the youth for their futures ahead.

Another youth-driven project is the Light in a Home Mission. This project looks to improve the living conditions and access to resources for the 2.3 million orphaned children currently living in South Africa. Orphans receive basic necessities and administrative help such as applications for grants and tertiary institutions.

Other community-driven projects championed by the Kwanisa Foundation include sanitary pads and toiletry drives, school shoes and stationary drives as well as blanket drives.

Instead of just hoping for change, Tsengiwe and Mpotulo are stepping up and creating change with a grassroots effort to help end poverty in South Africa.

Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Power to Africa
In the digital age, access to the Internet has become a barrier to entry for much of society. Nowhere is this lack of access more prevalent than in Africa. Roughly two out of three Africans lack access to electricity, let alone the Internet. To address this staggering disparity in privilege in an age that the widespread use of electricity characterizes, several NGOs are working to bring power to Africa through a combination of innovative technology and locally-led distribution campaigns.

The Honnold Foundation

Founded by renowned rock climber Alex Honnold, The Honnold Foundation aims to promote equitable access to power worldwide. While the organization does work both domestically and abroad, many of its projects in Africa have focused on the distribution of solar lanterns and pay-as-you-go energy programs. These programs provide power to remote, off-grid communities. Through generous grants The Honnold Foundation has awarded to organizations such as The Solar Energy Foundation and SolarAid, the Honnold Foundation has provided clean, renewable energy sources to 12.3 million people. This has not only lit up a large swath of Africa but also eliminated the need for expensive and environmentally-harmful alternatives such as kerosene lamps. Additionally, the Foundation has provided solar power to 165 Ethiopian schools and 35 health centers, as well as more than 2,000 households.

Sustainable Energy for All

Sustainable Energy for All, or SEforAll, is an independent international organization. In partnership with the United Nations, it works to promote access to sustainable energy across the world. In Africa, SeforAll’s “Electricity for All in Africa” program is using a top-down strategy to alleviate regional energy poverty. SEforAll’s focus is threefold: first, it advocates for policy reform centered on the promotion of sustainable energy access for all, in conjunction with meeting sustainable development goals. The organization also utilizes a neutral platform to promote investment in sustainable energy in Africa. In addition, it accelerates the market for private sustainable energy companies and facilitates communication between companies and the public sector. In Africa, 44 countries have joined SEforAll’s initiative, with drastic long-term improvement expected in nearly all of them as more companies buy into the clean energy industry and countries adopt policy reforms.

Africa ICT Right

Many organizations are pushing valuable initiatives to bring electricity to remote and impoverished African communities. However, NGOs tackling the disparity in Internet access are less common. Africa ICT Right (AIR), is a nonprofit addressing the lack of Information and Communication Technology – or ICT – in Ghana. Some of AIR’s programs include projects to equip schools with computer labs and STEM teachers, programs to offer technological tools and learning opportunities to high school girls and innovative technological reforms in rural medical centers to reduce infant and maternal mortality. Above all, AIR based its mission on the following idea: not only does it benefit less affluent communities to have access to these technological tools, but it also allows the inclusion of diverse voices from areas such as Ghana.

Power for All

Power for All is an NGO that has dedicated itself to bringing power to Africans in rural areas through decentralized renewable energy sources. Rather than prioritizing one form of renewable energy, Power for All strives to promote a combination of different strategies to tackle increasing overall energy efficiency and availability. In addition to this goal, Power for All lobbies governments to reduce taxes on renewable energy sources. Furthermore, it incentivizes investors and banks to earmark funds specifically for the promotion of sustainable power sources.

ACRA

The Milan-based NGO ACRA is also spreading the benefits of electricity throughout several African countries through a variety of sustainable solutions, including the construction of small hydroelectric plants in rural areas. Organizations in Tanzania applied this strategy to a high degree of success. Plants turned over to local leadership and paired with education initiatives in the locales they power. What is particularly remarkable about ACRA’s programs is that it tailors them to the region in which they implement them. For example, ACRA’s hydropower programs in Tanzania work well in that region. However, in Senegal, ACRA has seen an even greater potential for the installation of solar panels to power remote communities.

The Push to Bring Power to Africa

The actions and goals of these NGOs point to a greater global appreciation for the value of integrating Africa. The work of these organizations will likely prove invaluable in bringing power to Africa. By incorporating Africans into the global economy, they better global communication networks with new and diverse perspectives.

Kieran Hadley
Photo: Flickr

Sanctions prevent humanitarian aid
When looking at what contributes to poverty in a nation, one might first look at the government and economy to try and figure out what is inhibiting the state’s growth. Sometimes though, the hindering factor does not lay within the developing state’s own government or economy, but a neighboring one’s, or perhaps in one with a substantial trade relationship with the state. Many struggling countries establish trade relationships with more economically stable nations to help foster their own economies. When others impose sanctions on these ‘helper’ countries, this can impact how quickly or how much they can still receive these resources. Moreover, sanctions can prevent humanitarian aid.

Sanctions Set Ripples

The U.S. and Iran’s relationship soured following the broken agreement between them regarding nuclear arms. Afterward, the U.S. killed top Iranian general, Soleimani, and imposed sanctions against 18 Iranian banks. The intention was to keep Americans from engaging with the banks. Meanwhile, the U.S. government imposed secondary sanctions on other countries to prevent them from doing business with those same banks.

While the U.S. issued a statement in December 2020 that stated the sanctions would not apply to humanitarian aid, Iran claimed that the U.S.’s sanctions have strained its relationship with South Korea, a U.S. ally. As a result, $7 billion from oil sales is still in South Korea due to U.S. sanctions. Iran claims this money was for humanitarian goods such as COVID-19 vaccines.

Influenced by the U.S. sanctions, South Korea’s relationship with Iran has deteriorated and inhibited the economic relationships, and assumedly others, since the U.S. secondary sanctions on nations engaging with the 18 Iranian banks do not exclusively apply to South Korea.

Effects On Humanitarian Aid

The act of imposing sanctions poses a threat to humanitarian aid in a variety of different ways. The most obvious is if an organization or staff member has sanctions directly or explicitly against them, although this remains hypothetical.

Another threat involves the fear and paranoia surrounding the idea of sanctions. In trying to avoid sanctions, many humanitarian organizations act with more caution than is necessary. As a result, this stringent self-policing ends up making their work less effective, which is counterintuitive to the purpose of humanitarian aid. This is observable in the case of Afghanistan, where groups avoid working in areas where the government does not have control – although that does not mean that people do not require aid there. Therefore, the sanctions directly prevent regions in Afghanistan from receiving humanitarian aid.

Corruption and Sanctions

Studies found a correlation between corruption and GDP, meaning the poorer the country, the more likely it has a high level of corruption. A high level of corruption, on the other hand, harms economic growth, creating a possible cycle of corruption and economic stagnation. However, the graphs and knowledge that experts have presented do not indicate the causality of low GDPs leading to corruption. One cannot say a country is corrupt because it is poor. Since fighting corruption is one of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s priorities, corrupt countries receive more sanctions than their counterparts, damaging the affected nations’ economy even more.

However, this does not only mean that corrupt countries lose money but it also most likely results in people in need receiving less aid. Reducing aid and applying sanctions also means that people have less money and trade options. Countries that receive sanctions may also lose jobs as industries suffer and businesses shutter, leaving the people and humanitarian workers to take the brunt of the consequences that those imposing the sanctions intended for their governments.

Relief International is Helping Iran

Regardless of the sanctions against Iran, Relief International has been working in Iran since 1990 when it emerged to help respond to the Manjil-Rudbar earthquake, the worst national disaster in the country’s history that had a death toll of 50,000 people. From there, Relief International has taken it upon itself to send whatever resources Iran might need, considering that it is a disaster-prone area. In 2019, 12,400 people received assistance from Relief International in the wake of the Nowruz floods. About 11,500 Afghan refugee students enrolled in Relief International’s education programs, while 2,500 were able to increase their income due to Relief International’s job programs. The organization has rehabilitated 27 schools after natural disasters ravaged them.

Avoiding Sanctions

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, Relief International has prioritized sending medical supplies to frontline healthcare workers in Iran. Items as simple as masks, gloves and hospital coveralls are basic but essential to protecting healthcare workers as they fight on the pandemic’s frontlines. Relief International sent 1,000 kits with protective equipment, such as protective wear, hand sanitizer and shoe covers. Furthermore, it gave 40,000 testing kits to the Pasteur Institute of Tehran. To further help support healthcare workers, Relief International has started an Iran program to produce medical supplies and equipment locally, mitigating the delivery times and logistical hurdles of donating resources.

With mainly focusing on medical components, Relief International can avoid the negative effects that U.S. sanctions cause. However, with the sanctioning of banks, financial aid programs can face more difficulties with these measures and financial transactions to NGOs may only occur after catastrophes. The example of Relief International shows how crucial it is to protect organizations that deliver humanitarian aid. Alternatively, to put it more directly, sanctions can complicate and prevent humanitarian aid and others’ ability to save lives.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Helping Hand“My favorite part of Helping Hand packing days is seeing everyone work together. The entire group helps each other with deciding which category an item should go into and where to find that category’s box.” In an interview with The Borgen Project, Bisma Ahmed talked about her experience participating in the packing events organized by Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). “It makes me feel great knowing that children in need across the world will be wearing the very clothes I am packing.”

Helping Hand for Relief and Development

Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) is a nonprofit organization that fights global poverty by improving access to clean water, feeding the hungry, providing healthcare and rebuilding places affected by natural disasters. In addition to emergency relief, it also has long-term development programs. These include efforts to promote education and literacy, orphan support campaigns and rehabilitation and disability programs. In the 15 years that it has been in service, Helping Hand has worked in more than 85 countries across the globe.

Focusing on the Vulnerabilities of Asia and Africa

The main areas that Helping Hand addresses are countries in Asia and Africa as most of the 689 million people living below the poverty line are in these two continents. A few notable countries that have benefited from Helping Hand’s work include Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Somalia, Tunisia, Kenya and Haiti. The organization also provides benefits to refugees including the refugees of Rohingya, Syria and Palestine.

In 2019, through the long-term empowerment program, Helping Hand assisted 6,140 vulnerable people with skills development training in Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and Kenya. In 16 different countries, 19,100 children, including orphans and refugees, received an education through Helping Hand scholarships and education programs. The organization also provided daily healthcare to 160,900 Rohingya refugees and benefited 1.2 million people through its water, hygiene and sanitation programs.

The organization’s recent campaigns include the Beirut Relief Fund, the HHRD COVID-19 Crisis Response, and most recently, Global Winter Revisions, a campaign allowing donors to send winter packages to places where they are needed most.

Packing Day: The Mid-Atlantic Region

Every year, the U.S. regions of Helping Hand set a goal for how many containers of clothes to send as aid overseas. The 2020 goal was to send 10 40-foot containers.

Now and then, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region of Helping Hand has packing days where volunteers come together and sort donated clothes for shipment to the needy all around the world. Naveed Ahmed, the regional manager for Helping Hand’s Mid-Atlantic area, explained the benefit of the Helping Hand packing days. “The purpose is many, in my opinion. We’re engaging the local community and we’re opening our doors to show what Helping Hand is all about.” According to Naveed Ahmed, most of the success of the packing days comes from the organization’s personal connections with local donors, including large businesses and companies.

Helping Hand packing days have been going on in all of its U.S. regions since its founding in 2005. In 2019 alone, the $55 million worth of clothing items or in-kind gifts benefited 12 million people in 10 different countries.

The clothing items go wherever the team believes the need is. Helping Hand holds offices in Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Haiti and Kenya, making the organization fully part of the clothes distribution process. The teams in those areas inform the U.S. national team of the amount and types of clothing that are needed. The U.S. regions then start collecting, packing and sending the clothes out.

Typically, the packing events surround a specific global issue or national relevance. For example, the last packing event that the Mid-Atlantic region had was for Giving Tuesday. The packed donations went toward the Helping Hand Winter Relief Campaign. A week later, they had another packing event, this time dedicated to loading the boxes into the containers.

Packing for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The Mid-Atlantic region has a packing day for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. “We usually like to have a day of service on that day,” Naveed Ahmed said. “Usually, students and volunteers from all over the state will come out and be part of the packing day. It is a great day to show appreciation to a great leader like MLK and for us all to do the part of service he and many others have done over decades.”

The efforts of Helping Hand give hope for the future, ensuring that the lives of struggling people around the world are made a little easier.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr