housing in GuatemalaGuatemala is a country rich with ancestral heritage and Indigenous peoples, but the poverty crisis has debilitated many of the citizens. Housing in Guatemala is undergoing a crisis, which has widened the housing gap to well over 1.8 million homes. With 54% of people living under the poverty line, housing access is a rarity. This also affects other major areas like sanitization, food security, finding jobs and accessing education. The main priorities of humanitarian organizations in Guatemala are housing, education and health care.

Bill McGahan

Bill McGahan is an Atlanta resident and involved community serviceman. McGahan is also the leader of an annual mission trip that takes high school students to create housing in Guatemala. The long-term commitment to building housing has also highlighted other areas of need. On the trips, students work alongside From Houses to Homes. The student volunteers spend their time holistically addressing the needs of Guatemalans, including health and education.

Housing

Housing in Guatemala is the essential building block to finding permanence and stability. Many Guatemalans live in inadequate housing, are homeless or depend on makeshift shelters built from gathered materials. Housing lessens the risk of diseases from fecal contamination, improves sanitation, strengthens physical security and provides warmth in winter months. These benefits are imperative to stabilizing external conditions and lessening poverty’s effects.

The mission trips each year incorporate the students from the very start of housing to the finishing touches. Each year the participants first raise the funds for building materials. Then the volunteers construct a house in as little as five days. At the end of the building projects, keys are handed to each family, which reflects a new reality for them. In this way, these students “don’t just build houses, they provide a home.”

Education

A home is so much more than four walls and a roof. It is the place to help grow and nurture individuals, including a safe space for learning. Children in Guatemala face constant challenges to their education. The average Guatemalan education lasts only 3.5 years, 1.8 years for girls. Nine out of 10 schools have no books. Accordingly, the literacy rate in rural Guatemala is around 25%. Education is an investment in breaking a pattern of poverty, which is an opportunity not afforded to many Guatemalan children.

Children pulled out of school work as child laborers in agriculture. This provides short-term benefits to families in terms of income but has a high cost in the future when finding work. Contributions to local schools have long-term paybacks for children and their families. Children can further their education, secure future employment and create stable homes for themselves and future generations.

Health Care

Housing in Guatemala is relevant to health as well. The goal is to solve homelessness by providing homes, not hospital beds. Access to quality health care is imperative to providing housing stability. Guatemala needs to improve its health services in order to solve its housing issue, especially since they lack effective basic health care.

Clinical care for Guatemalans is often inaccessible, particularly in rural areas with limited technology. With approximately 0.93 physicians per 1,000 people, there are extreme limitations for medical professionals to see patients. Even in getting basic nutrition training or vaccinations, Guatemalans are severely lacking necessary access. Basic health care is a priority that will be a long-term struggle, but each advancement will create higher levels of care and access for the many Guatemalans in need.

Guatemala is readjusting its approach to finding better access to housing, health care and education, all of which are important for a home. Humanitarians, like Bill McGahan, are finding solutions and implementing institutions that will uplift Guatemalans. Increased housing in Guatemala has been encouraging stability, prosperity and new outlooks on life. The country is seeing great progress in eliminating poverty, one home at a time.

Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Lentil as AnythingRecently, The Borgen Project spoke with Emilie Elzvik. She is a 21-year-old student at Northeastern University and former volunteer at Lentil as Anything. Elzvik never imagined herself serving gourmet vegan meals to a table filled with backpackers, refugees and homeless people in Newtown, Australia. But Lentil as Anything changed everything for her.

The Company

Lentil as Anything embodies a rare business model. The menu does not have any set prices. Everyone is welcome to “pay as they feel,” either through a financial donation or volunteering their skills. The founder, Shanaka Fernando, was born in Sri Lanka before becoming a restauranteur and world traveler. In 2000, Fernando began the first Lentil as Anything in St. Kilda to provide a space for local communities to come together and share a meal “disregarding any existing economic and social barriers.”

At the time, Fernando’s concept was a wild idea. Twenty years later, and it has become a booming success. The restaurant chain now claims four restaurants around Australia. Additionally, Lentil as Anything provides over 1000 free meals a week to those people most in need.

Elzvik’s Story

Elzvik began working for Lentil as Anything when she was studying abroad for a semester. “It’s like every hippie’s dream cafe, except customers are not just wealthy teenagers. They are from various socio-economic backgrounds. Some live on the street outside. Some are just traveling through.”

Elzvik points out that many of the volunteers were once customers themselves. “When they can’t pay, they offer their time,” said Elzvik. Lentil as Anything provides just as many employment opportunities as they do meals. Elzvik comments, “I think many people come to volunteer because it gives them a sense of purpose.”

According to Elzvik, there is no such thing as a boring day at Lentil as Anything. “It is no gloomy soup kitchen,” she states. Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon waft through the kitchen. Volunteers twist lemons and grate ginger. Servers dance around the floor, jotting orders down on their notepad. It is always noisy inside; laughter bounces across the walls. On some late nights, there is yoga or an open-mic night in the upstairs space.

So how exactly does this seemingly utopian cafe operate?

Sustainable Food Sourcing

Elvzik recalls that the kitchen being full of “bruised apples” and “funky looking eggplants” that would get thrown out by most restaurants or stores. “Lentil as Anything takes them and turns them into something beautiful,” says Elzvik.

The Department of Agriculture in Australia reports that food waste costs the economy around $20 billion each year. That amounts to about 300kg per person or one in five bags of groceries.

To stock their kitchen, Lentil as Anything takes in the unwanted leftovers from nearby stores. The chain stands by it’s all-vegan menu. The diet is both inclusive and nutrient rich. Elzvik mentions that many visitors would not be able to afford something as “dense and hearty” as a Lentil as Anything meal. Fast food is typically the most affordable option and Lentil as Anything aims to change that.

Volunteership

The restaurant relies heavily on volunteer servers and cooks, like Elzvik.  CNBC reports that around 60% of new restaurants fail within the first year. By a restaurant’s fifth year, that rate jumps
to 80%.

Lentil as Anything is not an exception. The restaurant can’t stay afloat on its own. The Daily Telegraph reports that “it costs Lentil as Anything up to $23,000 a week to keep their doors open – and customer contributions do not come close to covering costs.”

Before coming to Lentil as Anything, Elzvik had no prior customer service experience. She says that volunteering at the restaurant requires no experience at all. Volunteers attend an orientation and receive the necessary training. “What you learn at Lentil can be applied to any future job, especially working with people in a busy environment,” states Elzvik.

Location Matters

Restaurants like Lentil as Anything might not work anywhere. “You need the perfect equilibrium,” claims Elzvik. She explains that in order for this business model to work there has to be enough people donating above the requirement to cover those who cannot afford it.

One of Lentil as Anything’s strategic locations is Newton in Sydney. Newtown is a diverse neighborhood, socially and economically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that 67% of the Newtown population works full time, 24% part-time and only about 10% identify as unemployed for away from work.

Looking forward

Like many businesses, the pandemic hit Lentil as Anything deeply. On September 25, the restaurant reached out to their social media followers and asked for help to keep Lentil alive.

Lentil as Anything is facing its most significant financial challenge to date. The restaurant is working to raise $300,000 by the end of October. If they don’t reach their goal, they may face closing their doors forever. Donations can be made through their GoFundMe campaign.

The restaurant’s motto is that everyone deserves a seat at the table. Hopefully, Lentil as Anything can serve as a successful business model for many restaurants around the world to address food insecurities.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Unsplash

Operation Christmas ChildFor most of the world, Christmas comes once a year. A day full of red bows and snow glistening in the December sun. Not so for Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit headquartered in North Carolina. For them, Christmas is not merely a holiday, but a lifestyle. Operation Christmas Child began as a mom and pop project in the United Kingdom. It quickly grew into a worldwide phenomenon under the umbrella of Samaritan’s Purse. Over 150 countries annually take part in the program. Every year volunteers fill shoeboxes with toys, basic care items and a message of hope for the eager hands of boys and girls living in underdeveloped countries.

Volunteers from around the world spend the months leading up to Christmas filling boxes to the brim. Schools, churches, community organizations and individuals all work to bring a glimmer of light to poverty-stricken countries. Last year, Samaritan’s Purse was able to collect 10.5 million shoeboxes to give to the world’s poor.

Operation Christmas Child in Madagascar

One country in particular that reaps from Operation Christmas Child’s generosity is Madagascar. Madagascar is an African island nearly 800 miles from the shoreline of Mozambique. It is home to exotic species, the deciduous baobab trees and unfortunately, overwhelming statistical poverty. According to The World Bank, 70.7% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2012. Three factors that play a role in the rise of poverty in Madagascar are political crises, climate shocks and a sharp increase in global food prices.

With all the compounding factors that exacerbate poverty, Madagascar is a perfect destination for Operation Christmas Child to focus its energy.

Students in Madagascar

It was the summer of 2017. Mary Patton Murphy, a rising high school junior, packed her bags for her first trip across the world. Murphy is one of around thirty students that was able to be a part of the competitive week-long student vision trip with Samaritan’s Purse in 2017.

For years, Murphy had packed shoeboxes in the months leading to Christmas and dropped them off during National Collection Week. One year, a child that received one of her boxes sent Murphy a letter thanking her. This personal experience made her fall deeply in love with the organization. Murphy’s trip to Madagascar allowed her to see the ins and outs of the organization.

“It is such a well-run process,” says Murphy, “[the organization] truly maximize[s] their resources.” Murphy witnessed this first-hand during her time spent in Madagascar. Volunteers visited two distribution centers a day where each shoebox is diligently cared for and searched to ensure the safety of the delivery.

Murphy illustrated the process, noting that it “is a long one.” She expounded adding that “the shoeboxes travel to a local collection center. Then they are consolidated into carton boxes and sent to a processing center to make sure there isn’t anything harmful in any of the shoeboxes like toothpaste because the kids will try to eat it. They might add to a box if it is low on supplies or toys. Then the shoeboxes are shipped across the world. Some of these kids have never received a present before.”

Wrapping Up

Volunteers of all ages are the driving forcing behind this operation from beginning to end. They all advocate to make a difference in the lives of impoverished children across the globe. For individuals who would like to advocate on behalf of these children, they should visit this website.

The leaves fade from various shades of red and yellow and the morning air turns crisp and cool. The collection of shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child will soon be underway. Make an early start to the season of giving with a mere shoebox, a few toys and a heart for the world’s poor.

Chatham Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Ecuador
There are currently 17.7 million people calling Ecuador home — but a home with a poverty problem. The overall population living on less than $3.20 per day in Ecuador has been decreasing since 2010 but poverty remains an issue. The result is severe homelessness in Ecuador. It is a struggle many who live there have in common. The poverty rate of people who live on $5.50 a day has fluctuated between 24% and 23% since 2015 according to some figures. This has forced many to live on the streets with no place to call home. Natural disasters and unemployment are other risk factors one can point to — causing people to lose their homes.

Natural Disasters

The main natural disasters that play a role in the high rate of homelessness in Ecuador are floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Natural disasters impact almost 87,000 people in the country, every day. From 1980 to 2010, about 2.6 million people suffered from natural disasters. In 2008, more than 300,000 people required movement to temporary housing due to a flood. In 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed 700 people and crushed many buildings — a big portion of them being homes. The earthquake destroyed around 35,000 homes. At the time, it was the worst earthquake in almost three decades. Many people had to leave their destroyed homes, changing their whole lives in just a moment.

Unemployment Rates

An increasing unemployment rate exacerbates the issue of homelessness in Ecuador. The unemployment rate in the country was declining — dropping from 5.21% in 2016 to 3.69% in 2018. Since then, it has increased from 2018 with the current rate being at 6.48%. Taking that percentage out of the current population results in 1.1 million people unemployed. Likewise, these people are prone to having to leave their homes or unable to afford housing.

A big part of this issue is the fact that the economy is not growing at a comfortable or suitable rate. This is due to companies having to leave the country and Ecuador’s inability to manage its resources. These living conditions make it incredibly difficult to afford available housing and provide for children and other life needs.

Solutions

While these problems seem very difficult to improve, some are undertaking projects to bring available housing to Ecuadorians who do not have it. The shelter support volunteer project in Quito, Ecuador is a one to 12-week program where participants travel to Quito and help local shelters feed and support local Ecuadorians. The program places 10 to 20 volunteers per month to help out the communities, five hours per day. Tasks for the volunteers include: serving meals, doing laundry, cleaning, maintenance and other living essentials. Volunteers also help educate the youth and work to provide housing for the children and many other Ecuadorians experiencing homelessness.

The Manna Project International is another organization that focuses heavily on bettering the lives of Ecuadorians. The project has two teams — one that works in Ecuador and the other in Nicaragua. Roles on the team involve an Ecuador Site Coordinator, a community development fellow, program directors and volunteer community advisors. In response to some of the shortcomings such as homelessness in Ecuador, the team puts together professional job development workshops. This way, they educate the people there and develop small businesses to help people find jobs. The end goal is to provide Ecuadorians the ability to gain an income suitable enough to afford housing.

Dorian Ducre
Photo: Pxhere

 

COVID-19 disrupts volunteer workAs the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the world, no area of life has been left untouched. From millions of people working remotely to the severe curtailing of international travel, COVID-19 and its impacts are inescapable. One area of work in particular has been impacted. In many ways, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work around the world. Efforts to fight the pandemic have been absorbing much of the global community’s attention and resources. However, the global community is now in danger of neglecting some of the most essential and under-appreciated workers in the word: volunteers. As wallets tighten due to the economic impact of the coronavirus, volunteerism may experience harsh cutbacks.

In some cases, volunteer organizations are finding that their previous model of activity, usually focused around bringing people together, is no longer possible due to social distancing requirements. This has sparked creative and thoughtful solutions about how to serve people who most need help without further endangering their health, overcoming the ways in which COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work.

Who Are the Volunteers?

While these solutions are helpful, there is another problem that is more difficult to confront: the general decline in volunteers. American senior citizens volunteer at a rate of 23.9%, as opposed to the 18.8% of people in their early 20s who volunteer. This rate is consistent in other countries, such as in Northern Ireland, where an estimated 25% of volunteers are over 65, and in France, where the vast majority of regular volunteers are over the age of 55. CDC data shows that COVID-19 becomes far more deadly as people age, with hospitalizations per 100,000 increasing exponentially past the age of 50. Regardless of creative solutions, the essence of volunteer work requires close contact between volunteers and the people they are trying to serve. Thus, the crisis in volunteerism becomes evident: older people are the majority of volunteers but are also those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Consequently, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work.

A Local Impact

Ms. Violaine Motte, a volunteer at the Église de la Sainte Trinité, understands how COVID-19 has disrupted volunteer work. The Parisian church distributes food four times a week to any who ask. Motte, who has worked with the church for six years, says that they have been distributing food for over 30 years.

The church sees a large variety of visitors seeking help, from workmen who cannot afford local prices to homeless people to retired people living on a fixed income. In the time of quarantine and social distancing, people coming from such diverse and varied backgrounds present a danger of infection. It is impossible to control or even fully know their movements and contacts. This is a particularly relevant risk for the volunteers at the Trinité church, as they fit the global trend of volunteers. Ms. Motte says that, before the pandemic, volunteers “were getting quite old because the average of the ladies coming is more or less 70 years old.” This creates a serious risk for volunteers at the church, who are thus unable to help while protecting themselves from infection.

As a result, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work at the church. “The day of the confinement, due to the fact that we have old people in the volunteers, they were no longer allowed to come,” Motte says. “They’re too old; it’s a risky population. The priest decided not to have them anymore preparing the meal or serving the food.” Furthermore, Motte says that as a result of the new rules, the group was forced to take its operation out of the church and into the street, as well as drastically reduce the size of the team preparing food.

In addition, COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work through forced quarantine, which impacts many elderly volunteers. “For the old volunteers, it’s something very sad because they were told not to come anymore. In my point of view, the service is very important for the people who receive the service, but also for the people doing the service,” said Motte. “A big part of them are people living alone, and to come to the church and prepare food for others is a way to be inside their lives.” As the church moves forward in its activities, it remains unclear what can be done to ensure the participation of older volunteers.

This is a problem for the church, as they find it difficult to attract new volunteers. Motte says, “Since I’ve worked there, it’s still quite the same volunteers.” As a result, while older volunteers have been compelled to stay home, there hasn’t been anybody coming to take their place. Motte is frank about the challenges the church faces as a result of the coronavirus: “Now the rules are totally changing, and we don’t know what’s going on in September.”

However, Motte is equally frank about what needs to be done in order to ensure that this important work continues, despite the ways in which COVID-19 disrupts volunteer work: “Encourage more young people to volunteer.”

– Franklin Nossiter
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Impact global poverty
Many non-governmental organizations that work to fight global poverty ask for donations, including The Borgen Project. When someone is living paycheck to paycheck, even donating a dollar can seem like too much. In 2017, about 78% of workers in the United States reported that they are living paycheck to paycheck. What can individuals do if they want to make an impact but don’t feel they have the capital to do so? Here are five ways to impact global poverty without spending money.

Stay Informed

The United Nations published a piece called “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.” One of the organization’s recommendations of something everyone can do from their couch is to stay informed on the issues they want to impact. Unfortunately, misinformation can actually harm global poverty. The UN Foundation reported that many people think global poverty has been increasing when, in actuality, it has been cut in half. Staying informed is important in recognizing the common myths about global poverty and informing others.

Volunteer Time

The Face and Voices of Recovery Organization, the Charities Aid Foundation and the UN recommend volunteering as a way to impact causes without spending money. In 2018, the Charities Aid Foundation reported that 39% of people in the United States volunteered their time. In addition, UN volunteers wrote that volunteering can be formal or informal. People can work directly with an organization to impact global poverty, like offering to create digital media for the cause. Alternatively, they can work informally by putting posters about the cause around their community.

Spread Awareness

Another way to impact global poverty is by spreading awareness. In addition to volunteering, the organizations above suggest sharing information about the cause on social media. Heather Weathers, the director of communications at HopeKids Incorporation, wrote a report about how social media is a place where people can first get involved with supporting a cause. Of those who are social media supporters, 37% use those sites to learn more about the organization and cause they’re supporting.

Call and/or Email Congress

If you speak up, your local legislators will keep track. Every time someone calls or emails about a specific bill, Congress members keep a tally of the number of people who voiced support for or rejected the bill. You can find your representatives by putting your ZIP code into the House of Representatives’s “Find Your Representatives” page. The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote an article providing tips for anyone considering calling Congress. The article reported that reaching out to local representatives, researching the issue first and being concise are some good ways to go about calling Congress. Similarly, there is a wealth of templates online for anyone interested in emailing Congress, including The Borgen Project website.

Inspire Others to Give

There are also ways to impact global poverty by convincing others to donate. One donation strategy, for which Facebook created a platform in 2017, is the concept of donating your birthday. This process includes choosing an organization and asking people to donate through either an online platform or fundraising letters. From 2018 to 2019, Facebook birthday donations raised about $1 billion for charities.

Even when someone is unable to fight against poverty financially, there are other ways to support the cause. Being informed, volunteering, spreading awareness, contacting Congress and inspiring others to give are all ways someone can impact global poverty without spending money.

– Melody Kazel
Photo: Flickr

Five Easy Ways to Help End Global Poverty

Global poverty is affecting millions of people, and those affected are often living on less than $1.90 a day. The epidemic has been ongoing for centuries, and people continue to die due to starvation, disease and many other issues brought about by poverty. Fortunately, the percentage of people in the world living in extreme poverty is declining. There are easy ways for anyone to help in the fight to end global poverty.

Donate

Donations come in all forms and are taken by all types of organizations. They can be in the form of money, books, school supplies, clothing, blood, organs, time; the list goes on. Each donation, whether it is the spare change from your pocket or clothes that were going to be thrown out, can help immensely.

Sponsor

Sponsoring an event, a charity, a child, you name it, it can make a difference. Sponsoring an event can be a way to end global poverty by raising money and sending the proceeds to people throughout the globe living in severe conditions. Children can also be sponsored, which means the child would receive money each month from their sponsor and is able to use it towards medical care, education and other needs. The sponsor receives a photo of the child and letters from the child with annual updates and can possibly meet the child.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a hands-on, and often life-changing, experience people partake in to end global poverty. Volunteers are needed in the medical field, teaching and advocacy. Even just mentoring and spending time with children makes a huge difference in poverty-stricken countries.

Spread Awareness

This may be the easiest way to join the fight to end global poverty. With social media at our fingertips, we can publish whatever we choose on a platform that is seen by a lot of people. Why not use it to make a difference? Anything from sharing articles, links to donation pages, or even a handwritten post can give a spark to others and encourage them to contribute.

Improve Governance

How many emails and phone calls does the average person make in a week? What if one of those was to Congress? Taking five minutes out of one day of the week could really make all the difference. Researching the issues related to global poverty and reaching out to members of Congress can have the power to bring change and make the difference as to whether or not a bill passes.

Chloe Turner

Photo: Flickr