Inflammation and stories on South America

Kids in Need of DefenseWhen she was 15 years old and nine months pregnant, Karla fled an abusive home in Honduras and sought shelter in the United States. After being referred to the Houston, Texas office of Kids in Need of Defense, Karla received pro bono legal assistance and was granted asylum. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) helps migrant children like Karla find a new life in safety. Karla’s story is not the norm though. Many migrant children are either turned away at the border or kept for weeks in facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Non-governmental organizations like KIND help by providing children with pro bono legal representation in immigration court, allowing children like Karla to find a safe home. KIND also works within countries of origin, fighting to alleviate the sources of suffering that cause children like Karla to migrate in the first place.

The Immigration Crisis

Conversations about immigration in the United States often focus on statistics and stereotypes rather than the actual people making the journey or the organizations working to help them. Organizations like KIND fight to make the discussions surrounding immigration about aid, safety and policy-oriented solutions rather than focusing on stopping immigration altogether.

Today, immigration is front and center in political debates. The Biden administration is working to right the wrongs of the previous presidential administrations. As detailed in a recent New York Times article, emergency facilities set up by the Biden administration have led to modest improvements in conditions for migrant children.

As Maria M. Odom, the senior vice president for legal programs at Kids in Need of Defense, clarifies, “These facilities were designed and ramped up with the goal of achieving prompt reunification with parents, sponsors and legal guardians.” But, a shortage of case managers for placing migrant children with family members and other sponsors leads to some children spending weeks, even months, in emergency facilities.

Reasons for Migration

While people migrate for a variety of reasons, migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are primarily fleeing political and social instability, violence, crime, injustice and poverty. According to KIND, in countries like Honduras and Guatemala, more than half the population lives below the poverty line. In the western part of Guatemala, about a third of the population experiences extreme poverty. “Civil war, internal conflicts and natural disasters” have also weakened institutional structures in these nations. These dire circumstances prompt citizens to leave in search of better living conditions.

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Founded in 2008, Kids in Need of Defense is a U.S.-based NGO that provides legal aid and counsel to unaccompanied and separated migrant children once they are in the U.S. Through its offices in Mexico and its programs in Central America, KIND works with legal partners to address the root causes of migration. Overall, KIND works to “protect children during migration and connect repatriated children with essential services.”

Kids in Need of Defense also works with “partners in Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland and the United Kingdom.” Its European initiatives provide unaccompanied children in Europe with free legal support. In fact, in 2020, KIND launched KIND Mexico and opened its first offices outside of the U.S. This was prompted by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration.

KIND’s 2020 Impact

  • Provided services to 1,411 detained children
  • Worked with migrant children in 78 countries across the world
  • Assisted 194 children at the U.S.-Mexico border
  • Achieved a 95% success rate in legal cases

KIND works directly with policymakers to protect the rights of migrant children by advocating for durable policy solutions to child migration. Every decision it makes is grounded in the best interests of the child in order to ensure that no child is ever forced to migrate due to poverty or violence.

– Thomas McCall
Photo: Flickr

Uru People
For many years, Lake Poopo, Bolivia’s second-largest lake, has supported the Uru people, also known as the “people of the lake.” Large in size, the lake has always fluctuated, from a mere 1,000 square kilometers to over 3,500 square kilometers in its peak in the late 80s. With such a sizable resource, the Uru people were able to create a unique culture that enabled them to dominate the lakeshore and surrounding regions. In their culture, when two Uru would decide to marry, traditional customs called for the building of a “family of reeds” on Lake Poopo, surviving off what they could forage along the lakeshore. Fish, eggs and hunted birds supported the local populace, keeping the environment in a rich, harmonic relationship that the Uru people thought would last for their entire lifetimes.

This thought is now little more than a memory to Luis Valero, a local Uru community leader who remembers when his grandfather saw the Lake as sustaining him and his people for all of their lives. The memory is now slowly draining away as Lake Poopo suffers from human-accelerated pollution. It is leaving the waters dried up and the Uru people are floundering and grasping for anything to sustain them.

How Poverty Began

For generations, the Uru people lived off the bounty of the Lake, but after Lake Poopo dried up in 2015, things took a turn for the worse, forcing the Uru people to settle on what remains of a lakeshore. The Uru people survived largely from an independent lifestyle tin which they did not need to generate extraneous products for trade. The men would support their families through hunting and fishing while the women largely worked in small crafts and trades. Now, with Lake Poopo suffering from human-accelerated pollution, many of the local men, unable to sustain their families or entertain the possibility of one, leave and look for work elsewhere. The results of water diversion projects for farming have drained Lake Poopo of its vitality and accelerated the Uru people to poverty as more continue to face a new reality they did not anticipate.

Effects of a Global Pandemic

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only strained community bonds as the Uru people strive to replenish their cultural identity in the midst of deterioration. One of the consequences of the Lake’s accelerated pollution is the migration of cultural identity in the form of language. Speakers of the Uru-Cholo language have become less plentiful as young men, unable to find work around the lake as it dries up, explore opportunities outside the community in the mines and surrounding towns. This slow migration dissipates the community structure, leaving many women and men fighting to stay out of poverty. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, though, as the Bolivian government has teamed up with local organizations in an effort to keep the Uru people’s language alive.

The Good News

Bolivia’s industrialization has created more wealth for the country and its workers. However, as more Bolivians have moved to the cities for opportunities working in salt and mineral mines, more pollution emerged. The level of pollution has deeply affected Lake Poopo and the surrounding shoreline communities of the Uru people, so when a severe drought in 2016 deeply depleted Lake Poopo of water, local volunteers banded together with one goal in mind: clean up the surviving lakes.

The humanitarian effort to clean the lakes drew hundreds of diligent volunteers from around the world, even attracting a French social media personality. Many people are hopeful the Lake can be improved, with some like local volunteer Magali Huarachi saying, “I think that if we all do our little bit, by picking up our garbage or coming to help here, then we are going to make this place beautiful in a while.” The Bolivian government is on their side, taking steps along with local organizations to continue preserving the community’s language to the Uru children through local teachers.

Alex Pinamang
Photo: Flickr

El Salvador is First to Use Bitcoin as Legal TenderOn Wednesday, June 9, El Salvador made history by becoming the first country to authorize the use of bitcoin as legal tender. President Nayib Bukele’s proposal to utilize the currency was widely popular in Congress. The votes came to 62 out of 84 in favor of instating a law to adopt bitcoin as the country’s legal tender. The introduction of bitcoin will greatly help the facilitation of remittances sent back home from Salvadorians living abroad. This is important as one in four Salvadorians live abroad. In addition, more than $2 out of every $10 in the country’s economy comes from remittances. Therefore, incorporating bitcoin as legal tender should only improve access to financial resources throughout El Salvador’s marginalized communities. Shortly before the bill was passed, President Bukele tweeted about the economic benefits of having bitcoin as legal tender: “It will bring financial inclusion, investment, tourism, innovation and economic development for our country.”

The Benefits of Bitcoin

The authorization of bitcoin as legal tender may be a developing trend across emerging economies. This is because bank penetration and access to traditional financial institutions are remarkably low. In El Salvador, more than 70% of the population lacks any connection to traditional financial services. It is due to these circumstances that Salvadorians have found themselves so reliant on remittances. In the past year alone, remittances contributed a fifth of El Salvador’s total GDP. With the domestic economy so dependent on remittances, it is clear why Bukele would craft a bill intended to ease the process for sending money back home from abroad.

Through cryptocurrency, Salvadorians will be able to send money to impoverished loved ones at a much affordable and quicker rate. No longer will those working in the global north have to rely on remittance firms. Rather, converting local currencies to and from bitcoin requires only an informal broker.

President Bukele will use significant domestic resources to help train the Salvadorian population to carry out bitcoin transactions. El Salvador’s commitment to cryptocurrency will not only forecast the future relevancy of cryptocurrency but act as a case study for other emerging economies that may be interested in eventually adopting bitcoin as legal tender. “The market will now be focused on adoption through El Salvador and whether other nations follow,” said Richard Galvin of crypto fund Digital Asset Capital Management. “This could be a key catalyst for bitcoin over the next two to three years.”

Moving Forward

In the past, people have criticized bitcoin mining for its harmful environmental footprint. However, El Salvador has made a concerted effort to ensure its bitcoin operation uses complete renewable energy. President Bukele has repeatedly stated that El Salvador’s state-run geothermal energy mechanisms will convert power derived from volcanoes for bitcoin mining. Scorching steam generates the power that can spin turbines and generate electricity. Going forward, bitcoin holds enormous potential in driving renewable energy projects across the world, especially in emerging economies.

– Conor Green

Photo: Flickr

Providing Meal Kits
After Ecuador rounded its first full year in the coronavirus pandemic, citizens found themselves struggling to survive. Since the pandemic started in March 2020, the Ecuadorian government has repeatedly failed to protect and care for its citizens. It has been neglecting the sick and dead, spreading rampant misinformation, severely underreporting coronavirus cases, and most recently, allowing corruption to occur in the vaccine rollout. As a result, reports have determined the existence of more than 320,000 coronavirus cases along with nearly 17,000 deaths. Health care facilities have become overrun with desperate families and patients seeking care. As a response, the organization Kahre Org is providing meal kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) in Ecuador to help alleviate the suffering of its citizens.

COVID-19 in Ecuador

The pandemic and the blunt of the Ecuadorian government’s lack of responsibility has fallen upon its citizens, most notably, those living in rural areas. The pandemic has upended rural society and displaced many citizens. Communities lack basic necessities such as meal kits, PPE and education. The government has failed to provide citizens with information about the virus. Moreover, rural Ecuadorians, who are typically farmers, have faced an economic crash. This is because their typical markets and routes have closed to prevent the spread of the virus. Many rural Ecuadorians have had to face a harsh economic situation as they are no longer able to sustain their livelihood.

Kahre Org is providing Meal Kits and PPE in Ecuador

When the initiatives of Kahre Org, a nonprofit organization located in Ecuador, came to a halt at the beginning of the pandemic, they had to readjust their scope of work to suit the new needs that arose. Before the pandemic, Kahre Org offered community outreach. This included providing communities with access to legal services, shelters, education and provisions. The organization has adapted and refocused its efforts to now provide meal kits and PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization started with those in rural Ecuador and continued its efforts to frontline workers and the medical community. Consequently, the Kahre Org minimized food insecurity while also creating additional jobs for impoverished and unemployed individuals.

How it Works

By partnering with the Ecuadorian armed forces, Kahre Org was able to deliver more than 100,000 meal kits across Ecuador. These meal kits offer stability to vulnerable individuals. It meant they could focus on finding employment, recovering from the pandemic or taking care of their families rather than worrying about where their next meals would come from. Along with these meal kits came important medical supplies. This included sanitization products and PPE to further help Ecuadorians stay fed and healthy. As many of these rural communities are far from hospitals and medical care, such protective equipment is extremely important.

Moreover, the Kahre Org saw an opportunity with the pandemic to expand their preexisting Child Food Programme. This initiative provides more than 100 Ecuadorian children with two meals a day. It was able to travel to small, local communities and offer children food to minimize their food insecurity. This simultaneously creates more job opportunities for Ecuadorians who wish to work with the organization.

To further the hard work of the Kahre Org in Ecuadorian communities, the local organization extended its helping hand past rural communities to the frontline workers. The organization managed to provide hundreds of Red Cross workers, government corps, doctors and other health care providers with meal kits.

Looking Ahead

By amassing donations and formulating a thorough response plan, the Kahre Org mobilized and inspired Ecuadorians to give back to their communities. In the process, the organization was able to educate rural Ecuadorians of the dangers of the virus and how to minimize the spread and stay healthy. Through providing meal kits and PPE, thousands of Ecuadorians are receiving the resources they need to fight the pandemic.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

South American Clothing Brands
Many young entrepreneurs in South America have employed local craftsmanship and design to create beautiful garments under ethical circumstances. These three sustainable South American clothing brands are not only exclusively elevating the fashion industry in the region, but are also providing jobs to locals.

VOZ – Santiago, Chile

The first of the South American clothing brands is VOZ, which is located in Santiago, Chile. This clothing brand’s main premise of employing Mapuche artisans is to create and design the garments. VOZ respects indigenous traditions and ancestral weaving techniques. As a result, it has become a pioneer brand in the region with ethical and sustainable business practices.

The designs are a product of collaborative and educational workshops for Mapuche women. In addition, VOZ has high-quality standards and sustainable materials. Furthermore, VOZ ethically and locally sources raw materials and fabrics from Temuco, Chile. These materials make sleek and elegant outfits for women. The entire supply chain employs Chilean work through this approach. Thus, local artisans are involved in the manufacturing procedure and the design processes of VOZ collections.

VOZ employed over 100 women artisans in its supply chain as of 2021. Additionally, these women have improved their quality of life as the brand pays them ethical and dignified wages. The CEO and founder of VOZ said, “A lot of brilliant women have not had the access provided to other Chileans, and this especially affects the way in which they can support their families. Offering a training program to these talented and motivated women is game-changing to the people here, and has a positive impact on the local economy.”

NIDO – Buenos Aires, Argentina

This slow fashion brand creates beautiful knitwear crafted from local sustainable wool. Additionally, this wool comes from the provinces of Chubut and Patagonia. Argentine weavers from the provinces of Santa Fe and Córdoba make NIDO’s clothes. The merino wool is hand-dyed and woven in spinning wheels.

NIDO strives to maintain a personal link with the artisans and weavers, as most women working for the brand come from vulnerable poverty situations. Additionally, NIDO grants them a craft to make a living and earn a fair wage for their work. In this way, the brand manifests itself against fast fashion supply chains that create their clothing in sweatshops.

NIDO manages to employ artisans who receive fair salaries by charging an honest price for their sweaters and blankets. Thus, it has become a pioneer brand in Argentina that maintains an ethical supply chain. The company launched the school of textile crafts in Buenos Aires in 2016. It trained more artisans in vulnerable conditions and spreading traditional Argentine weaving techniques to younger generations.

Artemera – Asunción, Paraguay

Artemera is a new sustainable clothing brand that provides feminine clothing for women and girls. It has now expanded its collections for men as well. Artemera has made 100% artisanal garments with colorful Paraguayan motifs and textiles since 2016. Furthermore, local artisans hand-make collections, while founder Luciana Abente creates the designs.

While the brand started by exclusively making t-shirts inspired by national folklore, art and customs, the brand has now broadened its line to include pants, dresses and sandals with excellent quality ideal for the hot tropical climate. Moreover, one can attribute Artemera’s uniqueness in design to its quick success among locals and foreigners alike.

Artemera has donated a significant amount of revenue to social and environmental projects, such as the #ConservemosLoNuestro campaign. This business committed itself to a reforestation campaign in the Morombí national reserve in Eastern Paraguay, which is home to more than 60 endangered species. Furthermore, this collaboration protects forest resources and promotes tourism in the region.

These three sustainable South American clothing brands have significantly improved the lives of women and the economy. These companies have provided jobs for locals who are living in impoverished areas. Furthermore, the companies hope to expand their reach for the future.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Poverty in South America
A long history of imperialism, turmoil and instability has manifested itself into modern issues of poverty in South America. Countless grassroots and nongovernmental movements are providing help to the poor in this region. Many funds often drown in the complexities of bureaucratic and organizational structures, unfortunately. One individual is repurposing the term “influencer culture.” This refers to the social leverage that internet users with clout have. Aaron Murphy is creating mini-docuseries for awareness and sharing his personal payment service usernames. He is raising funds at a global scale that he directly pumps into the community. He is fighting poverty in South America through social media and videos.

Aaron Murphy

Aaron Murphy traveled to South America on a backpacking trip to learn Spanish. He now wanders across states in the region — mainly Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela — to empower families and communities. His entire journey is available for public access on his social media, specifically his YouTube and Tik Tok accounts. His posts and videos often include an effort to promote awareness along with a call to action. Notably, the content available on these platforms provides a candid view into the everyday life of people living in poverty in South America.

The intent is not to romanticize a serious issue. Instead, he aims to connect with his viewers, sharing the very human reality beyond the understanding of people who live with less. He includes mini-documentaries and conducts interviews with residents. Murphy willfully makes an effort to understand the communities he is in. Murphy has also vocalized part of his videos’ purpose is to remind viewers of the privileges and blessings they experience daily.

Vlogs and Awareness

Murphy’s posts calling people to action have gained large traction recently, especially on Tik Tok. The app’s algorithm works to boost trending videos and topics. His audience is growing along with efforts to support his organization. Murphy provides continuous updates on different projects, giving followers a transparent view of where their proceeds go. His videos also focus on documenting dialogue between individuals and families. He also translates what they say into English subtitles.

Murphy films his videos into vlogs. They cater to a younger audience and have a natural look. One series of videos prompted a wave of global action at the beginning of March 2021. Murphy was following a Venezuelan native community without quality access to housing and food. In the first video and caption, he showed the livelihood of the struggling community. He then urged followers to donate through Paypal and Venmo. Followers raised $12,000 after Murphy posted the video. This gave the Murphslife team the ability to provide the community beds for 112 huts.

The Murphslife Foundation

The Murphslife Foundation accepts funds through Patreon, Venmo, Paypal and Cash App to go towards its efforts fighting poverty in South America. It is a largely unique approach to tackling poverty in South America, though an effective one for convenient participation among younger activist communities. The organization has no connection to any tax-exempt status. Perhaps a testament to its efficacy, the organization is a young and rapidly growing one.

Oftentimes, there is little opportunity to provide direct help for international causes. Initiatives to eradicate poverty in South America have become saturated and commodified in ways similar to that of an enterprise. The nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations affect the people negatively. This takes place, though the organizations are important within the larger picture of a long-term solution to poverty.

It has an association with nationalities and governances, forced through sanctions and other diplomatic complications. Potential donors dull the impact of a donation when dissuaded from giving to charities for these political complications. Murphslife shows how short-term results are also incredibly effective solutions to help those in need. Going forward, hopefully, other organizations and influencers will follow Murphy’s model of fighting poverty in South America. This will help them anchor their support in the fight to end poverty as a whole.

– Danielle Han
Photo: Flickr

Helping the Homeless
When topics of direct involvement to relieve global poverty come up in casual conversation, young people sometimes find new and innovative ways they can volunteer. Since young adults and teenagers often do not have a lot of disposable income to donate to causes that speak to them, they may choose to involve themselves with an NGO they can give their time and energy to. This is where Un Techo Para mi Pais, or TECHO, comes in as it has an impeccable volunteering model. Techo is a South American nonprofit that emerged in 1997 in Santiago, Chile. Since 2001, the organization began its expansion throughout Latin America, and by 2010, TECHO was one of the most prominent entities providing natural disaster relief to nine South American nations and helping the homeless.

About TECHO

TECHO’s main aim is to decrease homelessness rates on the South American continent, while improving the quality of life of those in comunas and favelas, building sanitary and safe communities and employing the work and energy of volunteers. As of 2021, Techo operates in 19 Latin American countries, with over a million volunteers across the continent helping the homeless and impoverished communities.

TECHO’s initiative consists of not only providing marginalized and impoverished communities with the dignity they deserve but also linking the volunteers with the communities they are aiding. The organization discusses each community’s specific needs as it helps design a unique action plan for each neighborhood and settlement. Joint action occurs as volunteers and settlement dwellers construct paved roads, community centers and emergency homes. The latter is their most popular project: modular prefabricated spaces that are easy and fast to build and provide shelter and insulation from the elements to families in need.

How Young People Can Participate

One does not need formal training in construction or city planning, as teenagers as young as 14 can participate by following a simple guide and plan of action. Young volunteers can do a wide range of jobs, such as asking for pecuniary donations as individuals or with their schools, collecting construction materials and assisting at construction sites to lend a hand. It is through this hands-on model that TECHO has become a very popular “club” to be part of within Latin American cities, as young people dedicate a lot of their time to campaigns fighting extreme poverty while learning about systemic and structural problems their particular societies face at a community level.

Anyone Can Help

Professionals are also necessary at TECHO for the most ambitious plans, and the organization accepts almost all areas of expertise including volunteer firefighters, cooks, construction workers and nurses. Even those with no experience in humanitarian aid or those without a formal profession can help, as according to the organization, “The first step is to get to know the organization’s model very well, and the tools necessary to carry out your role. Then, TECHO seeks to offer various activities that will help you to deepen your knowledge on topics such as poverty and human rights. No previous experience is required to lend a hand.”

The Inter-American Development Bank recently gave TECHO the rank of fourth most visionary organization of Latin America. Moreover, the organization is currently working on more than 500 settlements across Latin America hoping to expand its reach into the most precarious areas of the region, helping the homeless and providing many more families with dignified services and homes.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 In Ecuador
Since early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Ecuador has exemplified how important testing is for regulating the number of coronavirus deaths. Ecuador is a small country on the western coast of South America. It is a country that was already struggling with an uncertain economy. Its greatest generator of wealth is crude oil exportation, which underwent severe damage when oil prices drastically fell at the beginning of the pandemic. Ecuador has continued to produce low numbers in terms of virus cases per capita. However, the huge rise in deaths recently is an alarming sign that the test numbers provided are not capturing the whole picture of COVID-19 in Ecuador.

Numbers vs. Reality

Ecuador has reported a total of 130,000 COVID-19 cases since February 2020. Doctor and public health specialist Esteban Ortiz estimates that the actual number is around 2.1 million. This estimate comes in part from the number of deaths being much higher than it should be for the given numbers of cases. Part of the issue is that the country is lacking the infrastructure necessary to handle the pandemic. Since Ecuador was already struggling financially, the government was not able to properly staff and equip hospitals. This meant that it was not able to provide enough outreach and testing locations.

The lack of testing also meant that Ecuador was not able to keep up with the number of deaths occurring. This resulted from its inability to accurately predict what would happen. Between March and mid-April 2020, the Guayas province, where Ecuador’s largest city Guayaquil is located, reported around 14,500 deaths. The average number of monthly deaths in this province was 2,000. The health system became overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the rise in deaths coming from an unknown number of cases. The number became so overwhelming that estimates determined that the actual death toll is 15 times higher than the official number of COVID-19 deaths the government reported.

Tracking the Effects of the Virus

One can also track the impact of COVID-19 in Ecuador by looking at unemployment. By June 2020, unemployment reached 13.3%, drastically higher than 3.8% where it was just six months earlier. Statistics also found that around 67% of workers were underemployed during this time. Additionally, extreme poverty in Ecuador nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020. These economic pressures brought great stress upon the country. It was clear that the economy and the people were struggling monetarily. Reopening the country also seemed to be a massive risk, however, due to the unknown number of cases.

Another factor is the large population of refugees in Ecuador. Ecuador has one of the highest South American refugee populations at around 70,000 and close to 385,000 asylum seekers. These people have entitlement to government medical assistance but do not always receive the aid in practice. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is working to detect COVID-19 in these communities and provide services. UNHCR has also worked to train and equip six other community organizations around Ecuador to work at a more local level. These groups work through phone hotlines and home visits to identify cases and notify the community in an effort to slow the spread of the virus in these at-risk communities.

Ecuador in Recovery

In recent weeks, Ecuador has begun to regain control as the number of deaths has dropped off. The government has received money from private donors and other governments to bolster its medical system by better funding and equipping its hospitals. As Ecuador begins to build back, it is worth noting how a country with an already unstable economy and an ill-equipped medical system can experience devastation in a short period of time by the virus. It seems that the worst is over for COVID-19 in Ecuador, but its story serves as a warning of the possible dangers of pandemics in developing countries.

Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Poverty With Soap OperasGlobally, it is estimated that at least 150 million people, or 2% of the world’s population, are homeless, with another 1.6 billion people, or over 20% of the world’s population, lacking adequate housing. However, at the end of 2018, 51.2% of people worldwide and 45% in developing countries were using the internet. Almost 60% of households had internet access in their homes in 2018, which is up from less than 20% in 2005, and broadband access continues to grow with a penetration rate of 69.3 per 100 participants. A report by the International Telecommunication Union found that almost 80% of households had a TV by the end of 2012. This percentage is 69% in developing countries, while “virtually all” households in the developed world have TVs. Over two-thirds of households with TVs took digital signals in Sub-Saharan African in 2016, and estimates report that TV penetration will reach 99% in 35 forecast countries by 2021. Especially in impoverished areas, internet and television, and more specifically soap operas available across many different providers, help people stay up-to-date on both current events and employment opportunities, learn more effectively and, rather surprisingly, escape poverty.

Soap Operas Aid Poor Turkish Women

In a study by Ozgun, Yurdakul and Atik, the researchers found soap operas affected young women’s self-perception and social advancement who lived in impoverished neighborhoods of Izmir, Turkey. The study found that due to their local income, the women overall viewed these soap operas as tools of information gathering without the emotional burden of heavier news. The study suggests that soap operas become their primary connection with the outside world, exposing them to consumer culture and marketing that are useful skills to have when entering the workforce.

More profoundly, these women were often able to connect on a cathartic level with the characters in these soap operas who endured the same economic struggles but were able to escape poverty. Some women noted that the soap operas reminded them of their difficult pasts, which prompted them to “review and assess” their current life conditions and deal with daily problems. The shows also revealed to the women what they lacked in life, whether it be a job or power, and exposed them to the affluent “other life,” which led some to feel dissatisfied with their condition and ultimately try to come up with solutions to escape from it.

However, the study also reveals that while soap operas empower some women, they can also exacerbate poverty even more, as some women try to mimic the lavish lifestyle of some characters without the finances to do so. Thus, the authors suggest that it may be more impactful for television networks to showcase culturally accessible public programming with more informative, advice-filled narrative content to better reduce poverty.

Combating Poverty Through “Edutainment”

Similar to the suggestions of Ozgun et al., Bilal Zia and Gunhild Berg experimented with “edutainment,” or entertainment with an educational aspect, by working together with the production company of “Scandal!,” a popular South African soap opera, to incorporate financial education messages throughout the plot. Since making financial decisions can be challenging for impoverished populations that lack education in finance, “Scandal!” hoped to develop better habits within viewers through a subplot about debt and gambling.

Zia and Berg ran a study in which one group of people would watch this soap opera while a control group watched another show, and the researchers found that viewers of “Scandal!” showed significant improvements in financial knowledge and behavior. Viewers of “Scandal!” started to borrow from others less and reduce unnecessary expenditures like gambling. Viewers reportedly connected with the main character of the show and ultimately made more economical life decisions that could in the future help them escape poverty.

Fighting HIV with Soap Operas

In addition to increasing financial literacy, soap operas can also improve health and medical awareness among impoverished populations. A study in Nigerian found that people who watched the soap opera “MTV Shuga” were twice as likely to get tested for HIV and were overall more knowledgeable about HIV transmission. The show, which has been broadcasted in more than 70 countries, focuses on an impoverished woman and her HIV-positive lover as she navigates the complex reality of HIV’s role in daily life.

The show, which has been supported by organizations like UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, raises awareness of the dangers of risky sexual behavior especially in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, which has approximately 1.5 million new HIV/AIDS cases each year. In addition to HIV testing, “MTV Shuga” also contributed to a reduction of chlamydia infections by 58% and a reduction in having concurrent sex partners by 14%. The study reveals that edutainment like “MTV Shuga” is more influential and cost-effective than more traditional educational campaigns, which keeps people both entertained and informed.

Lowering Fertility Rates Through Soap Operas

A 2012 study by La Ferrara, Chong and Duryea explored the impacts of telenovelas, or Brazilian soap operas, on fertility rates in Brazil. After a year that the signal for Rede Globo, the main telenovela producer in Brazil, became available in municipalities across the country, the researchers found that fertility rates sharply declined. This effect was strongest for women of low socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom lack proper education regarding safe sex and childbirth.

The research found that among the telenovelas studied, 62.2% of main female protagonists did not have any children, while 19.8% only had one child. Data reveals that telenovelas contributed to the decline in the number of live births particularly among 30 to 34-year-old women from around 4.4 to around 3.2. The study concluded that these soap operas helped mothers make more educated decisions surrounding raising a family, which could lead mothers to seek future employment or save monetary resources for child education.

– Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

Viral Outbreaks During COVID-19While COVID-19 has received much attention in the global health discussion, many developing countries continue to fight other viral outbreaks. This highlights why foreign aid is so crucial. Although COVID-19 has affected every nation, some countries will suffer more than others. This article will highlight three of the deadliest viral outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic that have been announced by the WHO in 2020 and the current, global efforts to combat them.

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Since the largest Ebola outbreak killed 11,000 people in West Africa during 2014–2016, the virus has been successfully contained in most countries. This, thanks to the efforts of front-line workers and organizations, such as the WHO.

However, the DRC has been fighting its 10th outbreak since August 2018. As of June 2020, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has infected 3,470 and killed 2,280 people. In 2019, the WHO named the viral outbreak a global health emergency. Then, in April 2020, just as the Ministry of Health neared the end of the countdown to end EVD, there was a new outbreak in the city of Mbandaka.

In the DRC, EVD has a current fatality rate of more than 60%, which is more than five times that of the new coronavirus or influenza. However, the transmission rate is much lower. Advancements in vaccines and “CUBE” containment rooms have helped stop the spread of the Ebola virus. By vaccinating more than 14,000 health workers in neighboring countries, the WHO contained the disease in the DRC. Yet notably, the organization stresses that controlling the epidemic requires more international collaboration and support.

Measles in Africa, South and Central America and Beyond

In addition to COVID-19 and Ebola, the DRC is also battling the world’s largest measles epidemic. Another of the viral outbreaks, which started during COVID-19 (in 2019) and infected around 300,000 people. Since then, the numbers are fewer in the DRC. In 2020 however, more measles outbreaks surfaced in Burundi and the Central African Republic. Additionally, new outbreaks resurfaced in Mexico, while Brazil still recovered from an outbreak of measles in 2019 that infected over 50,000 people in Sao Paulo. The virus has also emerged in Asia and Eastern Europe in 2019.

Similar to the new coronavirus, the measles virus has a high transmission rate and causes complications in a minority of infected individuals. War and displacement also contribute to the spread of the disease. In Burundi, the outbreak started in a refugee camp where refugees from the DRC were thought to have carried it into the country. Other factors such as malnutrition also contributed to the increased mortality rate of measles in these areas.

Yellow Fever in Africa

This mosquito-spread disease is endemic to tropical parts of Africa as well as South and Central America. However, the majority of outbreaks occur in sub-Saharan Africa where 610 million people are at risk of contracting the virus. Yellow fever has long been a challenge in these areas where it infects around 200,000 and kills 30,000 — every year. For instance, in 2020 alone, reports indicated new viral outbreaks of yellow fever in five African countries.

A safe and effective vaccine has been developed and helped reduce outbreaks in the 20th century. However, due to shortages of the vaccine and poor government implementation, the majority of the population does not receive it. Alternatively, it is usually only compulsory for travelers. Furthermore, since the virus is re-occurring, more research is required to keep adapting the vaccine to different strains of yellow fever.

The Takeaway

As evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, viral outbreaks are disruptive and have major economic and social consequences. Poor health reduces the life-span, productivity and life satisfaction of any population. These effects usually fall hardest on the world’s poor — who have less access to treatments or safe water access and sanitation.

Due to the commoditization of the pharmaceutical industry, the populations that need medical intervention most receive it the least. This is simply because they can not afford such expensive treatment. Specific antiviral treatments rarely exist. The best method to reduce the impact of viral outbreaks in impoverished countries is by building better healthcare systems and reducing poverty. As stated by Tedros Adhanom, director of the WHO, “Unless we address [the] root causes – the weak health system, the insecurity and the political instability – there will be another outbreak.”

Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr