Epilepsy in AfricaEpilepsy is one of the most widespread neurological disorders in the world, with about 50 million people living with it. More than 75% of people living with the disease are located in less developed countries, where there is difficulty receiving advanced medical treatments. Of that 75%, around 25 million people have epilepsy in Africa, forcing a great burden on people’s daily lives.

Common signs of an epilepsy episode may include seizures, unconsciousness, distress in movements and other psychological illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Premature death is three times more prevalent in epilepsy patients than in those without the disease, the highest rates being in rural areas. Not only is there a significant gap in treatment, but the rise of stigma and discrimination within African communities has prevented people from seeking care for epilepsy in Africa. 

Fortunately, health care systems in African regions have begun to take action by incorporating facilities and therapies tailored to treat epilepsy for patients, especially for rural populations. On the other hand, due to embedded cultural and traditional values in African societies, there are still lingering struggles to understand what epilepsy is, its diagnosis and cures. 

Barriers to Health Care 

Around 80% of people with epilepsy in Africa are not able to obtain medicines to treat and manage seizure episodes. Rural communities in African countries are often confronted with a lack of awareness and comprehension when it comes to diagnostic treatments for epilepsy, which can often lead to misdiagnosis. Additionally, because health care institutions are uncommon in low-income areas, people have to travel a long way in hopes of accessing medical attention. Due to the unstable infrastructure in the health care systems, finding professionals like epileptologists and neurologists specializing in epilepsy care is rare. 

Receiving treatment is also a major financial burden for many Africans, as the cost of health insurance ranges from $10 up to $50 per month. Medication and MRI scans which serve for assessing and treating epilepsy patients can cost between $50 to $1000.

Fighting Stigma and Discrimination

People with epilepsy living in poverty are usually the ones that receive the most backlash and face discrimination due to societal myths about the condition. Many people have perceived epilepsy as a contagious disease leading to them avoiding assisting someone during an epileptic episode. Along with this, discrimination has led to difficulty finding jobs and isolation from the rest of the community.

Education and legislation play a vital role in diminishing the stigma toward people with epilepsy. This is important because it can offer factual proof that calls for better assistance and treatment for epilepsy. Moreover, those who have seizure episodes in the work environment often face employment termination and are not able to continue work because of the stigmatization. Only a small portion of African countries have implemented legislation to safeguard individuals with epilepsy, but these protections have not always been in full enforcement.

Rehabilitation centers and health programs 

On a positive note, there have been ongoing developments in the health sector that help to dismantle stigma and enable treatment access for people in need. Many African regions have been incorporating “Mobile Health Clinics (MHCs)” to help people in remote communities where there are no health institutions. This innovation paves the way for the right specialists and health care providers, who work with different therapies, to improve the livelihood of people living with epilepsy. Speech, physical and cognitive therapies are crucial to managing epilepsy in patients to relieve psychological stressors. 

Other health programs have implemented reliable tests to distinguish and improve particular diagnoses of the disorder. The focal point for these programs is to work with communities in more impoverished areas while empowering women, the elderly and children. Additionally, this has offered a safe and unprejudiced environment for people with epilepsy, since they can speak through their condition without the feeling of judgment and dehumanization.  

Future Prospects

Efforts toward advancing and prioritizing care for epilepsy in Africa have been on the rise, with a focus on offering rehabilitation and therapy services. Research organizations, like CURE Epilepsy, have been working with local organizations in various countries to continue with the efforts and support to better the livelihood of many African individuals living with epilepsy. 

– Alessandra Amati
Photo: Flickr

Rehabilitation 2030 initiative
The World Health Organization (WHO) has made rehabilitation one of its top priorities over the next several years through the Rehabilitation 2030 initiative. This program strives to increase the availability and accessibility of rehabilitation services around the world. According to WHO, rehabilitation involves “a set of interventions designed to optimize functioning and reduce disability in individuals with health conditions in interaction with their environment.” Treatment can involve a combination of assistive devices, counseling and therapy to achieve this outcome. Unfortunately, “in some low- and middle-income countries, more than 50% of people do not receive the rehabilitation services” necessary to live a better quality of life. The Rehabilitation 2030 initiative seeks to address this.

The Global Need for Rehabilitation

Hundreds of millions of malaria cases occur every year with the large majority happening in developing tropical nations in Africa and Southeast Asia. Around 10% of malaria survivors experience significant cognitive and neurological impairments that can impact their motor function, hearing and sight and their ability to process information. Rehabilitative techniques, such as cognitive therapy, can treat these disorders and give people a chance to improve their health and quality of life. Unfortunately, cognitive exercises and other similar rehab treatments are not widely available in many countries with high rates of malaria.

Over the past decade, the prevalence of diseases associated with severe disabilities has increased by more than 20%. This includes ailments like rheumatoid arthritis and cancer that can take a heavy physical toll on an individual, limiting one’s independence. The technologies and knowledge to rehabilitate many of these symptoms exist, but their availability is inadequate in many parts of the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries. In fact, the availability of trained rehabilitation specialists is about 10 per one million people.

Even when these services are readily available, cost, lack of transportation and waiting times serve as constraints to accessibility. Individuals with disabilities who go without rehabilitation are likely to remain hospitalized for longer and are at higher risk of developing complications. They are also less likely to achieve the independence required to return to employment and their social roles.

Disabilities and Poverty

Around “50% of disabilities are preventable” and tie closely with poverty. Unmanaged disability can become an obstacle to education, impacting literacy rates. According to a 2000 publication by the Department for International Development (DFID), UNESCO estimates that “1–2% of children with disabilities in developing countries receive an education.” Without access to an adequate education, people with disabilities are unlikely to find gainful employment. In turn, many of those individuals cannot pay for the cost of their own care, placing that burden on other family members.

In addition, families members may have to drop out of school or work to care for the person with a disability, reducing household incomes and closing the doors to future prosperity. These outcomes not only hurt those with disabilities and their families but also the societies that host them. Communities without adequate rehabilitation services bear financial burdens that go beyond direct medical costs, such as the loss of otherwise productive members of society who previously could contribute to the economy.

Rehabilitation 2030 Initiative

In 2017, more than 200 stakeholders met in Geneva to support WHO’s “Rehabilitation 2030: a call for action” conference. From this, the Rehabilitation 2030 initiative was born with an emphasis on three points:

  1. The open availability of rehabilitation for all populations.
  2. To strengthen and integrate rehabilitation into larger health care systems.
  3. To acknowledge that rehabilitation is an important service to develop to reach universal health coverage.

Under this initiative, participating nations accept these three points and agree to commit themselves to 10 areas of action. These areas address the need for rehab financing, the strengthening of networks that connect people and health care services and the need for further research into rehabilitation. In support of these goals, WHO has lent technical assistance to more than 20 countries in the creation of strategic plans. In 2019, representatives from member states and organizations reconvened and shared their strategies and progress with each other, reifying their commitments to increasing the availability of rehabilitation.

There is a growing need for expanding the availability of rehabilitative care around the world. Untreated disability can constrain people’s learning and economic potential. Fortunately, many nations around the world are acknowledging the importance of rehabilitative care through their commitments to the Rehabilitation 2030 initiative and strive to improve services.

Gonzalo Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in MoldovaMoldova has faced many challenges in the past few years. Finding itself as a landlocked country with a relatively smaller population of fewer than four million people, the agriculture and food-based economy had a GDP of less than $8 million as of 2014. Some ways the country can improve its position on a global scale would be by improving the quality of life of its people. These improvements include advancing health services in hospitals as well as advancing education among citizens. Several programs target poverty reduction in Moldova, aiming to improve the lives of the most vulnerable citizens.

The Recent History of Moldova

Moldova suffers greatly from corruption among government officials, ranking in the 20th percentile for Control of Corruption according to the Worldwide Governance Indicators of 2015. Even though there was an increase in workplace competitiveness during the banking crisis of 2014, there was also an increase in political instability.

Before the banking crisis of 2014, there was a large decrease in extreme poverty in Moldova, lowering from 7% in 2011 to 3.1% by 2013. The reduction in poverty creates a higher need for shared prosperity that helps a larger portion of the population rather than just a small number of citizens. By aligning its principles with EU regulations, Moldova raised the country’s competitiveness in the market, increasing economic activity and helping greatly with poverty reduction in Moldova.

In agriculture, more than 1,000 businesses started up with the help of around $30 million allocated to rural businesses, which created more than 5,000 jobs. The funds allocated to Moldova also helped to increase preparedness among farmers against droughts and other weather risks.

Addressing the Needs of Children

Poverty disproportionately affects Moldova’s children as they are often located in rural areas in some of the most impoverished regions. Roughly 80% of impoverished families with children live in rural areas, and with each added child, the rate of household poverty increases. For instance, families with more than two children struggle most financially. Children growing up in poverty have less access to healthcare and education, which impacts their lives as adults. Without proper aid or assistance, children will continue cycles of poverty, leading to a country that is unable to prosper.

Organizations Assisting Moldova

There are a number of organizations and programs working inside the country to help with poverty reduction in Moldova. These organizations work with children, those struggling with mental illness, homeless people and many others. One organization, Way to Success, implements a two-year program to empower young people between 16 and 21 with important life and professional skills. The skills help the youth become self-sustainable, contributing to poverty reduction in Moldova. The organization teaches these young adults how to identify the needs of local communities and how to provide those communities with proper care and aid.

Another program to highlight is the Metamorphosis Program. This program’s objective is to rehabilitate and help young adults and teenagers who have suffered the effects of poverty and abuse. The program largely focuses on breaking the cycles of poverty with plans that grow ideas of resilience. Programs targeting young adults and teenagers greatly increase poverty reduction in Moldova, allowing for more prosperity in the country.

Moldova has many programs available to assist with poverty reduction. With programs targeting children, competitiveness in the economy and political instability, poverty reduction in Moldova is on the increase.

– Jake Herbetko
Photo: Flickr

instability in the CongoThe Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Over the past decades, war, gender imbalances and lack of political development, as well as conservation issues, have contributed to the country’s vulnerability. Instability in the Congo has been a challenge, but citizens continue to strive for peace and security.

With a population of 84,068,091 in 2018, 50.1% of the Congo’s population are women, while 49.9% are men. The population has a nearly equal gender ratio, though women face significant challenges in gender equality. As in many developing countries, women are not respected equally and typically do not hold positions of power. In the Congo, beginning in 1996, sexual violence has been used as a war weapon to intimidate and control women during and after the war.

According to the U.N., women in the Congo suffer drastically from a lack of rights and increasing vulnerability during the rise of military operations in 2018. With cases and reports of sexual violence increasing by 34% in 2018, the need for change is apparent. The U.N. quickly addressed these issues, working with the Congolese government to negotiate for peace with the Patriotic Resistance Front of Ituri. This brought about a decrease in sexual abuse cases committed by such military groups. Though the issue remains, there was a reported 72% decrease in sexual abuse cases following the UN’s intervention.

Poverty and Poaching

A decrease in the Congo’s poverty line has also occurred over the past two decades, although according to the World Bank, 72% of the population remains under the poverty line, living on less than $1.90 a day. With more than half of the Congo’s citizens struggling to make ends meet, poaching is an increasingly significant issue. Conservation is particularly essential in developing countries in which biodiversity and wildlife create tourist attractions that provide crucial economic income. Much of the country’s wildlife, such as elephants and primates, are subject to dangerous conditions. Primates are particularly vulnerable to threats such as the bushmeat trade and the pet trade. These trades are directly linked to poverty and instability in the Congo. This is because the industry provides a source of income and food. Therefore, in order to end poaching, baseline levels of infrastructure, employment and socioeconomic stability must be attained. Until this happens, many conservation establishments, such as the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), Kahuzi National Park and Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center are working to eliminate poaching and protect endangered wildlife.

Protection and Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center was established in 2002 by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN). Following the establishment of Lwiro, Coopera NGO stepped up to support the center’s rehabilitation and educational practices. Lwiro gained the support of the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance (ICWCA) and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). Two women now run Lwiro: Lorena Aguirre Cadarso works as the country director, and Itsaso Vélez del Burgo works as the technical director. These two women strive to ensure that Lwiro is actively addressing cultural and conservation issues in the Congo.

The fact that Lwiro is run by women is unusual, as women in the Congo have been subject to significant gender inequality for decades. They are breaking gender barriers while protecting at-risk wildlife and helping improve instability in the Congo.

Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center

Lwiro is home to 92 chimpanzees and 108 monkeys, adding up to a total of 13 different species. Rehabilitation and preservation of primates in the Congo mean saving the lives of the endangered animals, whether they have been injured due to poaching or other reasons. Typically young primates are brought to the center because their families have been taken from them and they will be unable to provide for themselves. Lwiro offers multiple dormitories for the chimpanzees and monkeys and includes a five-acre enclosure for the primates to play while the staff ensures that the dormitories are safe and clean. The rehabilitation of primates requires care and attention, just as the care of humans requires. Infant primates are treated with particular love and attention. Caretakers strive to teach social skills to primates that might have lost their families and would not otherwise be socialized. Lwiro’s mission is to ensure that resident animals acquire the necessary social skills for reintegration into wild chimpanzee communities after completing rehabilitation.

Sexual Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation

Along with primate rehabilitation, Lwiro also offers rehabilitation and treatment for local sexual abuse victims. Sexual abuse is a pervasive issue in the Congo. The center provides treatment for victims ages 2 to 18 years old. Treatment can be modified to meet the needs of particular victims. According to Cadarso, the center helps “victims of sexual violence, victims of gender violence and widows.” The staff uses methods such as Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE), meditation and prayer. Lwiro focuses specifically on survivors’ mental health. “You need to give psychological support that aims to provide the tools to resolve their trauma and skills to promote their resilience,” Cadarso stated. Lwiro has worked with nearly 350 victims and counting, most being women and children. The center also provides therapy for individuals for three months and three weeks. It reports an 85% patient improvement rate after treatment. Lwiro’s therapy offerings reveal that addressing instability in the Congo can start at the level of individual people.

A New Psychological Reference Center

Lwiro is expanding its center in 2020, starting a new project to build the first Psychological Reference Center (PCR). In the past, victims have not had a physical place to conduct their psychotherapy sessions. Therefore, this project will be massively impactful. Additionally, the Psychological Reference Center (PCR) will implement new practices such as training primary healthcare workers training to recognize mental disorders like PTSD, depression and anxiety. The second phase will provide similar training specialized for teachers, teaching “skills to recognize children with severe problems so they can be referred for more specialized treatment,” Cadarso states, and “providing listing resources available in their communities.” This initiative will enable individuals to recognize and assist those who are struggling physically and mentally. They will be able to determine proper care or treatment.

The project’s implementation and funding would not be possible without the support of many NGOs, such as the Jane Goodall Institute, the Ivan Carter Wildlife Foundation and more. To address instability in the Congo, multiple approaches are required, and Lwiro ensures that no person — or chimp — is left behind.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Beginning in the late 1980s with resistance to the military government, armed conflict and social disorganization have marked the lives of nearly two generations of Somalis. Because of the ongoing conflict, thousands of Somalis left their homeland due to the fighting and settled in expatriate communities around the globe. In recent years, however, a fragile stability has returned that sees locals and returnees rebuilding Somalia together.

While this remains good news, the return of Somali nationals who were raised or spent upwards of two decades abroad has generated new conflicts. Local Somalis often have a perception that they are entitled to more rights in their native land than those who have spent their lives abroad. Returning nationals often feel that their education and experience position them better to contribute to future peace and stability for Somalia. These preconceptions fuel disagreements regarding prime positions in government and other employment conflicts.

There is a significant culture gap between returnees and local Somalis, but efforts have begun recently to bridge this gap in the name of improving their war-torn country. A symposium was held in June 2017 to bring these groups together and foster an ongoing dialogue about incorporating all Somalis in the nation’s future. These new efforts hope to see locals and returnees rebuilding Somalia together.

One local participant explained, “It was an important workshop in that it brought together diaspora returnees and the locals. The engagements were amicable as the diaspora returnees and their local counterparts held discussions so as to get to understand each other.”

Returnees are a big part of rebuilding Somalia. One United Nations program in recent years has arranged for dozens of short-term positions in Somalia for expatriates with expert qualifications. Some returnees are keenly conscious of the problems incurred by bringing in outsiders. One American returnee who hosted a legal summit with Somali experts and politicians in 2015 was proud to have completed the project with a minimum of international interference.

Vocational and education programs that support returnees are opening opportunities for Somalis no matter their personal history. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees reported in December 2017 on a program in Mogadishu that is providing training through the country’s Returnee Support Center. Their training programs are increasing the quality of life in the Somali capital for both returning nationals and those who stayed through the wars.

Regional organizations are supporting efforts to integrate the diverse Somali population as well. AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, is participating in the talks to unite local and returning populations, and has endorsed their continuing work.

“One of the reasons AMISOM is supporting this great initiative is because cooperation and partnership between Somali Diaspora Returnees and Homeland community is critical for the stability and long-term development of Somalia,” said Dr. Walters Samah, AMISOM Political Officer to ReliefWeb.

Despite the fragility of the current situation, Somalia’s prospects have been improving for years. With luck and dedication, this trajectory will continue with locals and returnees rebuilding Somalia together for a better future.

– Paul Robertson

Photo: Flickr

smart cities
Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his plans to revitalize Indian cities through the creation of 100 “Smart Cities” in India. More recently, Mr. Modi has announced that he will be giving annual federal grants of 15 million for the next five years to a list of 98 cities to help them become ‘smart.’

Modi, who has faced critique over the vague nature of his ‘smart city’ concept, has himself argued that “there is no universally accepted definition of a smart city.” Nevertheless, experts argue that the idea of a smart city generally refers to a city with criteria such as good roads, power, access to water, and livable homes–which many Indian cities currently fail to meet.

Mr. Modi’s Smart City project has also more specifically toyed with the idea of promoting mixed land use in area-based developments, creating walkable areas in cities, and creating a variety of clean and safe transport options.

According to Mr. Modi, the Indian Smart City initiative is only one among many urban development projects aimed at keeping up with the pace of economic and population growth within India. Indeed, India, which has a burgeoning population boom that will overtake China’s by 2028, also has the world’s third-largest growing economy, according to the World Bank.

India has also experienced an enormous influx in rural to urban migration in recent years, with more than 30% of India’s once mostly urban population now living in cities. This figure is also expected to rise, as many Indians move to urban areas in search of better job opportunities and diminished caste-based persecution.

In light of the demographic changes occurring in India, many experts have argued that Mr. Modi’s ‘Smart City’ initiative is an enlightened plan that will serve to bring relief to millions of Indians migrating to larger cities.

By focusing on issues in Indian cities–such as poor sanitation and access to water–the ‘Smart City’ initiative is thus not only a retroactive plan that serves to correct the poor state of many cities, but also a proactive plan, that takes into account the strain that a burgeoning urban population will pose to Indian cities in the future.

As Mr. Modi’s plan regarding his list of 98 Indian cities begins to be finalized, the Prime Minister also hopes that the somewhat paltry funds currently allocated to the project will be able to be bolstered by private donations.

Other government officials, such as Home Minister Rajnath Singh, have also proposed ways in which the ‘Smart City’ concept could be further improved. Mr. Singh, for instance, just recently proposed the idea that ‘Smart Cities’ could also be built as ‘Safe Cities’, which would require the installment of security equipment such as CCTV, aerial surveillance, and an increase in female cops.

Other officials have also begun to float ideas for how Indian cities can be better improved–making them overall smarter, safer, and more livable for the millions of Indians who currently live in sub-par urban conditions.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC, Forbes, India Times, NY Times, Smart Cities Challenge
Photo: KadvaCorp

Taureg-led rebels finally signed a peace agreement in Mali after having their demands met by the government in Bamako. There have been four uprisings in Mali since they obtained independence from France in 1960.

As the country has endeavored to move towards the future, a disparity has arisen between the more prosperous south and the sparsely populated north.

This separation in progression between the north and south is partially due to the violence instigated by Islamists in the northern area of the region. According to the UN, 140,000 Malian refugees still live abroad and 49 people have lost their lives during the Mali peace deals.

However, just because a peace deal was agreed upon and signed, this does not mean the work is done. Due to the continued fighting in the north, everything from food to education is being threatened.

In Mali, an estimated 3.1 million people either do not have enough food or are lacking in nutritious foods. The climate has also been unfavorable in the region, causing an irregularity in rainfall and a disruption in normal planting cycles. In addition, over 54,000 Malians do not have access to clean, healthy drinking water as ponds and wells have dried up.

As for the children living in northern Mali, at least 715,000 are malnourished. To put this in perspective “the global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate was 12.4 percent and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) was 2.8 percent. In Timbuktu, where much of the fighting has taken place, these rates are 17.5 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively” (irinnews.org).

Education is also being severely threatened in the region as 450 schools have been forced to close affecting over 20,500 students. This disrupted the advancement of many students from one grade to another and eliminated any possibility of moving on to university.

For some, the lack of access to education has had another horrible side effect. Children are being lured into joining the army amid promises of education and/or wages to help their family. Worst yet, some join the army believing it is the only way to protect their family from other members of the forces.

When a peace deal is signed, many people not directly involved with the events and efforts of the country or region believe that all has been solved by the signatures on that piece of paper. But it is important to realize, that in violence and poverty stricken areas, a piece of paper is only the beginning of the solution.

Aid to northern Mali through organizations like UNICEF and the UN are essential in the continued promotion of peace, progress, and prosperity.

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: UN, IRIN News, BBC
Photo: Voa News

On August 23, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated a region known for having a good time, especially on Mardi Gras. Ten years later, experts are looking beyond the beads and glitter, wishing to improve demographic and social discrepancies that were present before Katrina.

Before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, concentrated poverty was mostly overlooked with 40 percent of individuals residing in New Orleans living at or below the poverty line.

Out of the people who evacuated in the wake of the category 5 hurricane, a majority of the poor without means of transportation were left to wait out the storm as 80 percent of the city was submerged.

As of 2013, the poverty rate in the city of New Orleans has decreased to 27 percent, but with a drop in the city’s overall population since before Katrina, this number remains unchanged.

Fortunately, data shows that the number of the city’s poor residents has dropped from 39 percent in 2000 to 30 percent between 2009-2013.

Since Katrina, $71 billion in federal funds has improved both levees and created an improved disaster management plan to help improve the city and learn from the mistakes for future natural disasters.

Now, the city’s focus is to continue improving and finding different solutions to make the city great once again. This starts with educating the children.

Before Katrina hit, New Orleans had one of the worst school systems in the country.

Due to a majority of public schools being converted into charter schools after Katrina, New Orleans outperforms the rest of the state in terms of high school graduation rate, rising from 54 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2014.

With students having a greater chance of graduating from high school, future students will have a greater chance of attending college and preventing their families from becoming impoverished.

In the words of Allison Plyer, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, “Greater New Orleans is in some ways rebuilding better than before.”

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Brookings, Forbes, The Washington Post, USA Today

Photo: Unsplash

gang violence

In March, El Salvador, a country that has been struggling to reinvent itself since its bitter 12-year civil war between Marxist rebels and the government ended in 1993, experienced the highest levels of gang-related deaths in over a decade.

According to the BBC, March was the deadliest month in El Salvadorian history since the end of the civil war — with over 11 percent of the population engaged in some form of gang-related activity. Much of this violence was, and continues to be, perpetrated by gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street Gang, both of which have origins in Los Angeles, where they were founded by Central American immigrants. Following forced expulsion out of the United States and back to their home countries, these migrants then settled back into life in El Salvador — carving neighborhoods into various gang-controlled territories in the process.

In 2012, El Salvador’s main gangs signed a truce in an effort to end gang-sponsored violence, which initially saw a drop in gang-related death by 40 percent. Since then, however, gang activity has picked up again at an increasingly violent pace. Currently, El Salvador is on the path to becoming one of the deadliest peacetime countries in the world, with roughly 15 homicides occurring every day in the country of six million, according to PBS.

However, since March, there has been a slight decrease in the number of violent incidences. This is thanks to the efforts of private companies, which have begun to recruit former gang members as employees in an effort to help stall the surge of violence currently overtaking the country.

League Central America, for instance, is a private company that works stitching logos onto American University clothing, such as sweaters bound for Harvard and Brown. One out of ten employees at League Central America are former gang members, who mainly hail from the country’s most notorious gangs; the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha.

According to one employee, who went by the name Jorge, “There are lots of former gang members who want to change their lives but [don’t] have a way out…because of the lack of work, the poverty.”

Company boss Rodrigo Bolanos, however, stated that companies can help improve the situation, saying, “In the process of suffocating the economy and the country the private companies need to take a position to look for a dignified way out.”

In light of this, private companies like League Central America are making important strides in starting to help the country battle against increasing rates of homicide, by helping former gang members find a way out of poverty by offering them entrance jobs with the chance of upwards mobility.

Jorge has stated that he is eternally grateful to the company for offering him a way out of the gangs and gang violence — and a new chance at life.

Jorge, who only recently started working at the company, is now the chief pattern cutter.

Ana Powell

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, PBS
Photo: Flickr

National Solidarity Program: Infrastructure in Afghanistan
The first step to helping those in need is having a supportive government enforcing small-scale changes. The National Solidarity Program (NSP) located in Afghanistan is the rehabilitation and development program for rural parts of the nation. It has supported the rights and needs of 18 million people and has helped to construct infrastructure, meet basic community needs, administer democracy and save lives.

The NSP is a program working for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD). It has a set budget of $2.6 billion for the years between 2003 and 2016.

The Nangarhar Province has demonstrated resiliency thanks to NSP. Since NSP’s installation in 2003, it has crated 32,000 Community Development Councils (CDCs) within 36 districts of each province in Afghanistan. It has financed 65,000 projects.

In 2013, NSP was known as the largest development program in Afghanistan. Evaluations have proven that NSP advances access to education, basic utilities, health care and counseling, specifically for women. NSP has created a platform for governance, democratic processes and female participation in rural villages.

The program was based on the hopes that villages could improve themselves with two approaches. NSP aimed to create gender-balanced CDCs and to fund villages through family grants. These grants were meant to enhance village projects managed by CDCs along with public input.

More than 250,000 families were provided technical help thanks to 806 CDCs in just four provinces. Effort to improve development has affected 141,050 people.

Some projects underway in the Nangarhar Province include digging wells, creating sewing jobs for women, building sewer drains and constructing buildings for community meetings. One function of the CDC is to take village complaints and design resolutions. Since residents and neighbors to villages find it to be an effective and sustainable practice, they feel safe to make home in the more promising region.

In 2009, there were 275 families in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. There are now 1,200 people living in the village.

The program has increased school attendance and the quality of education for girls. Health institutes have had a rise of child doctors, prenatal visits and curability of preventable disease with thanks to NSP. The program has also managed to increase access to clean water and sanitation.

Funding from World Bank, Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and Japan Social Development Fund are supporting the program. Haji Zumarai leads the CDC in Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village. He’s very grateful for the $50,000 grant funding village development efforts since 2009.

Partners of NSP have helped to improve water and sanitation. NSP’s 31 facilitating partners work within CDCs to contrive 86 thousand small-scale reconstruction and development projects. In addition, they maintain rural roads, irrigation, energy supply, health facilities and education.

BRAC is one facilitation partner of MRRD that helps construct infrastructure outside NSP. It builds systems, latrines, irrigation canals, micro-hydroelectric planets, protection walls, roads, bridges and schools.

It’s partnership with NSP is creating a self-sustainable rural Afghanistan. BRAC encourages democracy by helping to supervise and facilitate CDCs in places like Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai. It prioritizes infrastructure capabilities, aids with project overhaul and oversees transparency efforts.

NSP has bettered small-scale efforts for many by focusing on critical and essential needs in rural villages. In Sayed Ahmad Ghazi Village of the Kabul Province, NSP constructed clinics that are saving lives. MRRD granted $50,000 in funding. Local villages helped by producing $14,000.

Under Dr. Mastorah Ahmadi, two women and one man help oversee 50 patients a day. This has benefited 1,400 families. Children are receiving vaccinations and the workers are quickly treating preventable diseases.

Communities continue to prosper with these programs that minimize the hazardous implications of living in rural Afghanistan. Soon rural living will safe and readily sustainable. The Ghondi-e-Ahmadzai village stands as an example of success when community-focused programs like NSP work intricately with members and leaders.

Katie Groe

Sources: Bakhtar News, World Bank 1, Wadsam, World Bank 2, World Bank 3, BRAC
Photo: Worldbank