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With the tragic and irreplaceable loss of Nelson Mandela, the world now must take to his words and memories to keep his inspirational message of hope alive.  Thankfully, his spirit lives on in Long Walk to Freedom, his sensational autobiography, and Conversations with Myself, a collection of his most private essays and letters.  Mandela will forever be available for any one to access.  His words will resonate on the page for long-time followers or perhaps someone not yet familiar with the great leader.

In the spirit of Nelson Mandela and his written legacy, the following is a list of five essential works by African authors:

1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Perhaps the single most famous piece of African literature, Achebe’s first novel is a two-part story about Ibo tribesman Okonkwo.  The story narrates African life prior to the arrival of colonial powers, and then the subsequent colonization of Nigeria by Britain.

2. Native Life in South Africa by Sol Plaatje

Sol Plaatje was a political activist and intellectual fighting for the freedom of native Africans during colonization by both the British and the Dutch.  Plaatje was in many ways a forefather for Nelson Mandela, and Native Life in South Africa is one of the most important works in African literature.  In it, Plaatje makes an emotional plea for enfranchisement and basic human rights for black Africans suffering at the hands of colonialism.

3. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie is considered an important figure in contemporary African literature, as she represents the next generation of authors following Achebe.  Purple Hibiscus takes place in post-colonial Nigeria, and is the painful coming-of-age story of a young girl in a disintegrating family.

4. The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

This novel is a story about a hairdresser named Vimbai and her struggle to make a living and raise her son in modern day Harare, Zimbabwe.  Described by many critics as “bittersweet,” the novel is both humorous and dark at the same time.

5. Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Petals of Blood looks at the interconnectedness between four murder suspects in the wake of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.  The novel is a skeptical look at postcolonial Kenyan politics and the impossibility of escaping a colonial past.

– Taylor Diamond

Sources: Good Reads
Photo: Kubatana Blogs

This Friday marks the premiere of the second film installment of the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire. While thousands of people will wait in line to see its midnight premiere, the film is more than just a blockbuster.  The film partners with Feed America and the World Food Programme to raise awareness and advocacy for world hunger.

While the films’ website is a favorites spot for fanatics, it also offers an educational aspect, exploring hunger worldwide.  The site specifically targets the younger audience, aiming to educate fans of the film about hunger and poverty. The site features a world map with five interactive factoids and links to both Feed for America’s county-level hunger map, and the World Food Programme’s interactive map of worldwide hunger.  The five hunger facts are as follows:

Fact #1

1 in 5 kids suffers from hunger worldwide.

Fact #2

1 in 6 kids is underweight.

Fact #3

700 billion pounds of food are wasted every year in the U.S.

Fact #4

It costs 25 cents a day to provide a child with proper nutrition

Fact #5

This one is a video factoid. It features the personal impact of Feed for America in rural communities across the country.

Facts 1, 3 and 5 are sponsored by Feeding America and feature links to the organization’s interactive county-by-county hunger map.  The map is the first of its kind to investigate the effects of hunger and poverty at a county level.  Web users are able to explore how the most impoverished counties in America are affected by hunger and learn about Feeding America’s efforts to serve those communities.

Facts 2 and 4 are sponsored by the World Food Programme (WFP) and lead readers to the WFP’s world hunger map. More than 842 million people go hungry every night, and the WFP’s hunger map explores the severity of hunger country by country. The interactive map ranks countries based on prevalence of hunger and offers pertinent demographic information about each country. The site also provides information about WFP’s efforts and accomplishments to reduce hunger in each country.  The map is easy to navigate and clearly communicates the need for hunger advocacy and awareness.

The Hunger Games also sponsors charitable merchandise for sale.  The limited edition “Love Thy Neighbor, Feed Thy Neighbor” fan t-shirt is available for purchase, with all proceeds going towards Feeding America.  The film’s star actress, Jennifer Lawrence, also partners with several charitable organizations.  She has donated to DoSomething.org, Feeding America, the World Food Programme, and the Thirst Program. The film’s website presents a strong message to film fanatics that they must be educated and active against world hunger.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Hunger Games, Feeding America, WFP, Look to the Stars
Photo: Forbes

Nelson Mandela Dead
Nelson Mandela dead? Yes, the unthinkable has occurred. Arguably the world’s greatest advocate and symbol of compassion has passed away.

On Thursday December 5, 2013, Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95. He was one of the most revered men in the world, for he was an example of dedication, forgiveness, and triumph. He sacrificed his own freedom, so that others who were less fortunate could obtain their own freedom. After spending 27 years of his life in a prison cell, he was released to the cheers of billions around the world. He was the ultimate symbol of hope for a region that was on the brink of destruction. His leadership ultimately averted a racial civil war.

As the first democratically elected president of South Africa, he faced many obstacles, but was ambitious in his presidential vision. During his presidency, Nelson Mandela set out to elevate his countrymen and women from poverty. He petitioned for foreign governments to invest in his countries resources. He pushed for fair distribution of farmland to include those who were impoverished. He was successful in implementing free health care access to children under the age of six, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, giving healthcare to the poor.

After retirement from the Presidency in 1999, he focused his attention on other noteworthy causes. He created the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which through education has brought people together to combat HIV and AIDS in his home country. Through the organization, the 46664 campaign (his prison-issued number) has staged many prominent concerts to stimulate South African youth awareness to AIDS prevention. His example of perseverance in eradicating AIDS in South Africa has brought the country closer to an AIDS-free generation.

He also urged governmental leaders across the world to do more to alleviate global poverty. In a 2005 speech in London, Nelson Mandela pushed for leaders across the world to support global poverty reduction initiatives. He said, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is manmade and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings… While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” His words were a call to arms for leaders of more developed nations to extend their posterity to poorer nations.

The world has lost a true leader, a champion of equality, and a hero for the poor. Nelson Mandela’s example has inspired millions worldwide, and he will be missed but not forgotten.

Travis Whinery

Sources: Forbes, NelsonMandela.org, Huffington Post, BBC, The Economist, CNN
Photo: ABC World News

One of the best ways to begin the fight against global poverty is to immerse yourself in another culture.  Eastern Europe is region rich with folklore and literary tradition.  Whether you are looking to become further acquainted with Eastern European culture, or have an interest in promoting development and human rights in the region, curling up with some of Eastern Europe’s best works is a wonderful place to find inspiration.

1. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Kafka was one of the foremost existentialist authors in the world.  Czech by heritage, Kafka wrote many novels and short stories, but none more famous than his novella The Metamorphosis.  The novella is the story about a salesman named Gregor who wakes up one day and discovers that he has transformed into a giant insect.

2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Taking place during the Prague Spring of 1968, this novel is a classic story of a man torn between his love for a young woman he has just met and his old playboy habits.  But much more than that, it is an exploration of our choices as humans and chance events that influence our lives.  The “unbearable lightness of being” is when we forget the weight of what happens in our existence.

3. Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Although Patrick Leigh Fermor was a British author, Between the Woods and the Water is a story about the Balkans and Eastern Europe at its core.  It is a memoir about Fermor’s attempt to cross all of Europe on foot.  Stories about crossing the Danube, Budapest, and the mystical landscape of the Balkans and Carpathian mountains all abound in this exciting journey.

4. Café Europa: Life After Communism by Slavenka Drakulic

This work is a collection of essays by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic.  A humorous, but always poignant work, Café Europa is an exploration of how former U.S.S.R. states are dealing with post-Communism.

5. The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

This piece is a biting satire on war and politics.  Written by Czech author Jaroslav Hasek, the book tries to piece together the devastation of World War I by creating a fictional story about a well-meaning Czech man in the Austrian army.

Taylor Diamond

Sources: Good Reads, Rick Steves

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), in general terms, are nonprofit organizations composed of like-minded individuals that seek to influence society on the local, national, or global level. NGOs serve a wide variety of functions, but their main focus is to foster accountability and to inform the public of social issues. There are thousands of NGOs around the world, and each has its own particular goal. Some organizations may follow a general mission such as gaining equality for all women, while others have a specific focus such as providing clean water to Ugandan youth.

Each organization maintains a certain orientation in order to carry out its goals. These may include a basis of service, participatory, charitable, or empowerment orientation. Charitable groups may donate food or clothes to the poor. Participatory organizations focus on self-help programs in their area and are usually on-going. Service groups normally give time and provide much needed services in an area needing improvement. Empowerment focused organizations generally focus on the outside forces that contribute to an issue, such as social pressures and policies.

Organizations can also be classified as operational or advocacy based. Operational NGOs follow specific guidelines in order to design and carry out projects. For instance a local group hosts literature nights in order to increase female literacy in the area. In contrast, an advocacy based organization may utilize the media to inform the public of the low literacy rates and increase public support for education.

NGOs are defined by their lack of government affiliation or control. However, business leaders may become involved in several ways, such as serving as board members. Because each country has its own guidelines determining NGO status, the exact number of current nonprofits remains unknown but they usually fall into three levels:

1. Local NGOs

Local or Community-based NGOs focus on the needs of the immediate, regional area. These groups often have a particular focus group or membership such as a women’s group or a farmers association. Success is often inclusive and beneficial only to the members involved.

2. National NGOs

National NGOs operate on a wider plane and target policy in order to influence a cause or issue. They often serve the role of mediators between the public and policy makers. For example, The Borgen Project advocates an end to global poverty by directly informing American citizens of the effects of poverty and directly urging US lawmakers to maintain policy in support of foreign aid.

3. Global NGOs

Global NGOs, such as Amnesty International, advocate and design programs in order to deal with global issues. Focused primarily on developing countries, it is common for these groups to conduct several programs simultaneously in different regions of the world. Also, many of these organizations work in conjunction with the United Nations, following predetermined guide lines like the Millennium Development Goals.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: NGO.org, Amnesty.org, NGO Handbook

Photo: X-Pert Services

Top Ten Most Searched People Google Morgan Freeman
Who is the world intrigued with? Look no further than the top searches on Google. The top 10 searched for people provides a very interesting sampling of who represents humanity.

1. Whitney Houston. She became a beloved artist, actress, producer, and model. Guinness world records called her the most awarded female of all time. In later years she had a drug problem but recovered. She was posed to become the next judge on the show “The X-Factor” and revive her career right before she died.

2. Kate Middleton. She is a modern day Cinderella. Now Kate has been voted number one on the Vanity Fair’s best dressed list for three years in a row. Before she won the prince’s heart, she was considered simply “a beautiful commoner.” Today she works closely with five charities which mainly work with children.

3. Amanda Todd. Released a YouTube video about how she was bullied before she committed suicide. The video went viral and is now used to support anti-bullying movements.

4. Michael Clarke Duncan. Became famous when appearing in “The Green Mile” which won him an Academy Award nomination. He was an avid advocate for PETA. Michael died at age 54.

5. One Direction. Popularized by the show “The X-Factor,” the boy band has sold over seven million records. The teenage heart throbs are avid advocates for the organization Comic Relief.

6. Felix Baumgartner. Broke the world record height for sky diving. During his decent, he became the first person to break the sound barrier without using mechanical power.

7. Jeremy Lin. A lesser known professional basketball player until he led a winning streak for the New York Knicks.

8. Morgan Freeman. He acts, directs, and narrates. Some of his recent films include Oblivion, Now You See Me, and The Dark Knight Rises.

9. Joseph Kony. Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. He was made famous by an Invisible Children documentary that went viral.

10. Donna Summer. Known as the “undisputed queen of the Seventies disco boom.” Four of her singles topped the billboard chart within a thirteen month period. She held five Grammy Awards.

How can this diverse group of people be summarized? They usually come from the entertainment business. The good outnumber the bad. They are overwhelmingly represented in the media. When given power or influence most chose to represent the underprivileged and fight for inequality. Many gain a following in the wake of their death. Their lives read like a very dramatic story. The kind of story that gets them on the top ten Google searched list.

– Nicole Yancy
Sources: Biography, Wonder’s List, Fox News, E Online
Photo: LoL Forum

Technological capabilities in developed countries continue to evolve, changing the way our economies operate. These new tools give citizens the power they need to innovate even further. What’s more, the ability to access and use new technology properly is more and more becoming a requirement in the workforce.

Developing countries in Africa have citizens who haven’t been able to receive the positive impacts that this technology has to offer. Just seven percent of the African population has consistent access to the Internet. It is an impact that can change their individual lives and the lives of those in their communities. The 4Afrika initiative, powered by Microsoft, hopes to get these citizens up to speed with modern day technology. 4Afrika works to empower African youth and set them up for the future through three focus areas.

1. World-Class Skills

The 4Afrika Initiative works to develop a competitive, academic environment that generates young entrepreneurs. The Afrika Academy, where technological capabilities flourish, can be accessed by those with strong academic merit. Research institutions and local African universities partner to fund this innovative project. The Academy will provide advanced training that will help citizens gain employment in the workforce, benefitting the communities they live in.

2. Access to Technology

The initiative plans to make smart devices, including Windows PCs, slates, and smartphones, affordable to African communities. Injecting these capabilities into the communities is an important step in empowering the citizens. Developing stronger Internet connections and access in local African communities is also important to the initiative.

3. Innovation

Innovation is something constantly occurring across the globe, and something that Africa desperately needs. Microsoft has recently been developing new Microsoft applications that will be beneficial to developing nations. The 4Afrika Initiative plans to give the technological capabilities and market support needed to allow African communities to flourish.

Click here  for more information on this innovative campaign.

– William Norris

Sources: Microsoft, Internet World Statistics
Photo: Biztech

Why do Slums Exist?
Put simply, the term “slum” refers to “a heavily populated urban area characterized by substandard housing and squalor.” But why do slums exist? In an effort to include quantifiable data in the definition, a group of UN experts suggested expanding it to refer to areas that combine inadequate access to safe water, sanitation and other infrastructure, structurally poor housing, overcrowding, and an unstable residential population.

Today, slums are becoming the most obvious materialization of urban poverty in developing world cities; in Nairobi, Kenya, 60% of the population lives in slums. That 60% is crowded onto only 5% of the land.

The existence of slums is caused and sustained by a number of forces, including rapid rural-to-urban migration, insecure tenure, and globalization.


Why Do Slums Exist? 4 Illuminating Facts


Rural-to-urban migration amplifies slum formation because city planning and management systems are unable to effectively manage the considerable population influx. For perspective, consider these facts:

  • UN-HABITAT projects that by 2030, Africa will no longer be a rural continent, as more than 50% of its population will be in cities.
  • Today, 75% of the population of Latin America lives in urban areas as the result of a significantly rapid rate of urbanization since the 1970’s
  • Asia, home to 80% of the world’s population, currently sustains 36% of their population in cities.
  • Mumbai, Calcutta and Bangkok are home to over 10 million people; between one-third and one-half of them live in slums.

Insecure tenure means tenants are not protected from unpredictable rent increases and eviction processes. Insecure tenure inhibits opportunities for residents to acquire credit, which limits tenants’ ability to improve upon their homes. A revolving door of tenants does little to inspire feelings of community or pride in one’s home.

Globalization also promotes slum living. Global economic booms and busts lead to uneven wealth distribution. Historically, global economic cycles have been responsible for creating many of major city slums in the developed world, and it is likely globalization will do the same to the developing world.

Addressing slums and their contributing factors are keys to sustaining progress toward the Millennium Development Goal to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Although the percentage of people living in urban slums has decreased from 39% in 2000 to 33% in 2012, 863 million people are estimated to still be living in slums as of 2012.

– Dana Johnson

Sources: UN-HABITAT, Business Dictionary, UN
Photo: Portal OZK

Sorcery-Related Violence in Papua New Guinea
To most Americans, conversations surrounding witchcraft and sorcery seem antiquated. Such hysteria appears to be from a different time, a puritanical period in the earliest colonies that persists only through something like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. However, in Papua New Guinea, where belief in the preternatural is widespread, discussions of witchcraft— called sanguma in the local language—is quite common.

In a community where any misfortune can be blamed on a person with little tangible evidence, human rights violations are rampant, and systems of fair trial and justice crumble. The sorcery-related violence that comes as a consequence of this belief in the supernatural often translates to gender-related violence. The most targeted citizens are often the weakest in a society: women, widows, and the elderly, those who are unable to adequately protect against violence.

The constant fear of being targeted tears communities apart. Those convicted with crimes related to witchcraft can face sexual violence, live burial, stoning, drowning, mutilation, and beating. Should a convict survive his or her punishment, they often also lose their property, livelihood, and homes. In the Simbu province in Papua New Guinea, roughly 10 to 15 percent of the population has been banished from the community in consequence of accusations made against them of witchcraft and sorcery.

Reversing the deeply ingrained systems of belief has proved to be difficult. However, alleviating poverty in Papua New Guinea and performing interventions to prevent needless violence, would make their communities safer and more prosperous. Organizations like Oxfam New Zealand are working to better understand New Guinea’s culture and what motivates sorcery accusations in order to help reshape the culture’s attitudes at an institutional level. Oxfam seeks to change laws and promote intervention between citizens that might prevent sorcery-related violence.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: Vice, Oxfam

The struggle to access clean water in many developing nations is no secret.  Every year, between six to eight million people perish due to water-borne diseases or lack of water.  Another cause of concern lies in the fact that over two thirds of the global population lives on the driest half of earth.  Experts estimate that 2.5 billion people lack proper water sanitation, and another 783 million completely struggle to locate access to any source of water.

In response to these alarming facts, the United Nations has declared 2013 the UN International Year of Water Cooperation to bring a revitalized focus and attention to these water issues.  The purpose of using water as the year’s theme is to ignite change in this crisis.  The plan is to draw more attention to successful water projects that have worked in various areas in an attempt to spark innovation and spread ideas in areas needing water development.  Other initiatives in the Year of Water Cooperation include increasing water education, working with regional leaders to develop relationships focused on addressing issues, settling border disputes involving water, and fundraising and developing necessary legal limits.

The UN chose the name International Year of Water Cooperation to highlight the necessity of forming regional bonds and of leaders working together to address the problems.  The theme is meant to inspire countries to share and work as a team to save millions of lives.  Since there are many different cultural, political and social factors at play in this global issue, cooperation remains the key to moving forward.

This initiative was started back in December 2010, among a United Nations General Assembly delegation.  The idea began by thinking of water as a chain: connected by various water basins, rivers and groundwater flow all around the world.  One objective of the year is to increase collaboration over sharing these resources to reach a maximum number of people, effectively creating a chain reaction.

If the water initiative goes successfully, not only will millions of lives be saved from simple prevention of disease, diarrhea and dehydration, but conflicts over water and ethnic fighting will simultaneously decrease.  The UN chose a strikingly important issue to focus on during 2013, with the potential to make an impact on the lives of billions of people around the planet.

Allison Meade

Sources: UN News Centre, UN Water, United Nations