Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid
Armenia primarily controls Nagorno-Karabakh, a portion of land in Azerbaijan. This area experienced a major war conflict. The war has plagued Armenia and Azerbaijan for the past three decades. Additionally, Armenia and Azerbaijan have struggled with humanitarian crises including food insecurity, repairs for local shelters and medical support since 1988. However, the U.S. granted $10 million to humanitarian crises to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to those the conflict heavily affected. Additionally, the European Union provided €3 million in aid for food, clothing for winter and medical supplies. In addition, Japan’s emergency grant aid has helped aid people in Azerbaijan.

According to BBC, Azerbaijan sought to suppress the separatist movement, while Armenia backed it. This led to ethnic clashes and after Armenia and Azerbaijan declared independence from Moscow, a full-scale war ensued. Nagorno-Karabakh remains part of Azerbaijan while still under Armenian control. However, a ceasefire occurred in September 2020 and Armenia and Azerbaijan received additional aid.

Aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan

A study that the country’s Statistical Committee conducted revealed that 23.5% of Armenia’s population was living below the poverty line as of 2018. While much of the population lives below the poverty line, only 1% of the population lives in extreme poverty. However, access to education, security, neglect and freedom of speech factor into what contributes to the impoverished cities in Armenia.

Aid to Armenia’s population can benefit from hospital supplies, winter clothing and food could begin the process of rebuilding Armenia and its people. As a result of the destruction caused by the conflict, many had to flee their homes. Countries provide emergency support to give Armenia humanitarian needs and basic supplies. Furthermore, it can spread awareness to help those in need in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The need for food, shelter and medical supplies is evident.

Japan’s Emergency Grant Aid

Japan implemented a $4.8 million emergency grant aid to help those in Armenia and Azerbaijan in February 2021. Armenia is receiving $3.6 million of Japan’s grant aid whereas the remaining $1.2 million is going towards Azerbaijan. This aid goes toward medical training in six hospitals and supplies medical equipment. Furthermore, there are new hand-washing stations in three elementary schools to ensure safe water access, hygiene kits, renovation repairs to evacuation centers, relief supplies for winter and educational supplies for 15 schools.

The Asian Development Bank states that 5% of Azerbaijan’s population lived under the poverty line in 2018. This country is a developing country facing many issues. Azerbaijan’s healthcare is among the top two priorities in efforts to maintain a well-rounded economy. Budgeting for healthcare has increased by 44.5% since 2019.

Japan’s emergency grant aid of $1.2 million to Azerbaijan goes toward medical equipment for one hospital, access to safe water, relief items for during their winter and food assistance for about 800 people.

– Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

Landmine-Free WorldThe threat of stepping on landmines understandably leaves communities in fear of utilizing valuable farmland, traveling freely to school or rebuilding after conflict. Landmines affect impoverished communities significantly more than others as it is often the poor who are pushed into these dangerous areas. A landmine-free world is the goal of several organizations.

Landmine Policies and Campaigns

In 1997, the problems associated with landmines rose to international attention when Princess Diana walked through a minefield in Angola. Shortly after, the Ottawa Treaty was signed by 122 countries. As the most exhaustive measure for prohibiting landmines and the trade and clearance of them, the treaty has since led to clearance in 33 countries and the destruction of 51 million stockpiled landmines. Still, 58 countries remained contaminated, which is the fact that sparked the Landmine Free 2025 campaign. As of 2020, countless charities continue to work toward a world where no one has to live under the fear that a single step could kill them. Organizations and programs have formed to help make the world a landmine-free place to live.

The HALO Trust

Working across 26 territories and countries, this once small charity has grown into a top landmine-clearing organization since its founding three decades ago. HALO’s history began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1988 when troops were pulled out of Afghanistan leaving behind explosives that killed thousands of refugees. Guy Willoughby, Colin Mitchell and Susan Mitchell saw the devastation unfolding in Kabul and established HALO to clear landmines and allow humanitarian aid to access the region.

Through its partnerships, HALO has greatly expanded its capacity to make the world landmine-free. The organization creates jobs in the communities it works in and provides skill-building opportunities for women through projects like 100 Women in Demining in Angola, a program that trains and employs all-women clearance teams. Likewise, concerned with landmines’ ecological impact, HALO works with partners to rehabilitate habitats such as the Okavango Delta. Clearing the southwest minefields in Angola, it supports National Geographic’s Okavango Wilderness Project, which will protect the headwaters that provide water for hundreds of thousands of Africans.

In the 2019/2020 fiscal year, HALO cleared 11,200 hectares of land, a 28% increase from the previous year. An example of the organization’s dedication is the clearance of the Site of the Baptism of Christ on the River Jordan. In April 2020, after four years of work, worshippers were able to return to this holy site for the first time in 50 years. HALO does much more than clear mines, it enriches the lives of communities and allows for healing after violent conflict.

Mines Advisory Group (MAG)

MAG is the response to horrific first-hand experiences witnessed by British Army engineer, Rea McGrath, during his NGO service in Afghanistan. As a promise to a young boy who had been “absolutely shattered” by a Soviet-laid mine, McGrath founded MAG in 1989 to educate the world about landmine issues and mobilize governments to respond. It is renowned as the first landmine-clearing organization to create community liaisons as a way of understanding levels of contamination.

The devastating truth is that almost half of all victims of landmines are children. To combat this, MAG provides educational sessions for children, to teach them how to recognize mines, what to do in emergencies and alert them of the areas of contamination. Beyond that, MAG continuously supports those injured by mines, like Minga who was blinded and dismembered at the age of six. Now a paid intern, she explains that teaching risk education classes, “made me feel important in our community.”

Across 68 countries, MAG has helped 19 million people to date. The organization actively responds to crises such as the 2009 conflict in Gaza and the ISIS/ Daesh Insurgency of 2014. In 2019 alone, MAG cleared 101,031 landmines and unexploded devices, which released 9,711 hectares of land. MAG’s work shows the organization’s commitment to a landmine-free world.

Odyssey2025 Project

Not a charity, but a one-of-a-kind project with the goal to accelerate landmine clearance through the use of drones, innovative survey methods and low-cost, accessible technology. Odyssey2025 is intended to compensate for the timely process of scoping minefields by enabling teams to initially fly drones over hazardous areas.

Recently awarded a million-dollar prize for its humanitarian work in Chad, the project was applauded for its breakthroughs in infrared data that enabled teams to locate over 2,500 buried landmines, a feat never before accomplished with drones. To achieve a landmine-free world by 2025, Odyssey2025 intends to continue capacity building in order to export its projects to other countries.

– Anastasia Clausen
Photo: Flickr

Maya Artisanal WeavingWhat do the 365-day calendar, the mathematical concept of “zero,” chocolate and rubber all have in common? All of these innovations are credited to the Maya, a civilization that survived for over 2,000 years in Mesoamerica. This article will feature another innovation: Maya artisanal weaving. 

At the turn of the 11th century, war disrupted the mighty rule of the Mayas. Unfortunately, after centuries of dominance, the Maya culture fell into disrepair. Furthermore, what was left of the civilization was decimated through conflict and epidemics brought by Spanish colonizers a few centuries later. In 1960, the Guatemalan Civil War began, during which the Guatemalan government attempted to exterminate the Maya culture through savage village bombings and genocidal executions. Of the 200,000 people who died amidst the war, 95% were Maya. This article discusses the modern-day history of the Maya and highlights a group of women practicing their culture and making a living with Maya artisanal weaving.

Modern Day Marginalization of the Maya

Thankfully, the Maya people have survived their tragic near-extinction. However, the Maya continue to face marginalization. Most of the poorest families in Guatemala are Maya families; the average Maya family has eight children, making necessities costly. Generally, these indigenous families remain in isolated, rural areas and receive very little government aid for medical care and quality education. Throughout Guatemala, there is a 60% drop off between the attendance rates of primary and upper secondary school. This statistic is even more drastic for Maya students. While teachers speak Spanish, most ethnic Maya children speak one of the twenty Mayan dialects. This additional obstacle contributes to these early dropouts. Unfortunately, many Maya children also drop out before the end of primary school.

Connecting Maya Artisanal Weaving with Global Markets

The Ancient Maya created a complex weaving machine. Modern-day indigenous crafts-women and men still employ this machine, working to combat endemic poverty in the region of Panajachel, Guatemala. Today, the backstrap loom, foot pedal loom and needlepoint hand-embroidery create the bold cloth which tourists and global shoppers adore. Hiptipico is a company that connects these works of art with the global market. Founded in 2012, Hiptipico, a certified B-Corps company, aims to preserve and develop Maya communities through sharing and protecting their cultural practices. The company’s namesake “tipico” comes from the Spanish word for the traditional clothing of the Maya.

Artisans Earn Fair Wages and a Global Platform

The artisan weavers that work with Hiptipico are small business owners, as well as the Quiejel and Chontala Weaving Cooperatives. Maintaining close relationships with these individuals and small cooperatives of women weavers allows Hiptipico to maintain fair wages when pricing products for the global market. 

Socially-conscious shoppers can purchase a wide variety of products from Hiptipico’s fashion line including woven greeting cards, camera straps, bags, totes, and face masks; all available in brightly colored, hand-woven patterns. Production of each Hiptipico product is incredibly time-intensive. A camera strap can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to complete. Nevertheless, purchases provide a stable income for the artisans. The high-quality merchandise of Guatemala’s indigenous artisans has brought Hiptipico attention from all over the fashion industry. For instance, Hiptipico has organized collaborations with large brands such as Free People. By earning fair, stable wages and establishing a global platform, artisans of Hiptipico are empowering themselves and celebrating their culture.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr

Elderly poverty in Armenia
Armenia is not a country at peace. For the past three decades, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have increased. As the border dispute turned deadly in September 2020, rumors emerged of potential involvement from outsider countries, such as Turkey and Russia. However, the country struggles with a concurrent problem. Elderly poverty in Armenia is a stifling issue in the country, which needs just as much attention.

The Current Crisis

In addition to a looming war, Armenians have suffered a vast diaspora. More Armenians live outside Armenia than inside the country. Armenians who live outside the country total anywhere from double to quadruple the number of those living within Armenia. The older generation is the main group still residing within the border. One reason is that older groups have fewer professional opportunities outside of Armenia, so they often stay put. This affects a large portion of society. Over a quarter of Armenia’s population is over 54, one half of this demographic is over 65 years old.

The global recession of 2008 led to increased poverty rates across all demographics in Armenia. At that time, the rate of extreme poverty among Armenians above the age of 65 was 2.0%, and the rate of non-extreme poverty for this group was 29.5%. By 2017, the rate of extreme and non-extreme poverty had fallen, for Armenians over 65, but either increased or remained the same for Armenians between the ages of 50 and 59.

All of these crises leave the elderly in Armenia underserved. However, there are organizations fighting on behalf of this group.

Armenian Caritas

Armenian Caritas, a community-based NGO, operates in Shirak, Lori, Gegharkunik, Ararat, and Yerevan. Over a third of its staff are volunteers, and the organization’s goal is to provide “social inclusion and care of the elderly.”

Armenian Caritas uses a comprehensive method to address elderly poverty in Armenia. Since 1995, the NGO has taken a long-term approach to anticipate the needs of its clientele. Thus, it recognizes that by 2050, a quarter of Armenia’s total population may be between the ages of 60 and 64.

Armenian Caritas focuses on providing “rehabilitative items,” like crutches and moving toilets, to elderly patients. Similarly, they offer psychological and physical health care to patients with chronic diseases. These tactics are part of a larger strategy of social inclusion.

Elderly Armenians represent a large and growing percentage of Armenia’s domestic population. As such, Armenian Caritas works to ensure that elderly Armenians are never marginalized. The organization shares its methodology of elderly care with Armenian medical colleges and institutions. In this way, elderly care is woven into an Armenian practice — the tradition of caring for its vulnerable and aging populations.

An End to Elderly Poverty

A solution to the border skirmish between Armenia and Azerbaijan will hopefully be resolved through international mediation and earnest peace talks between the belligerents. Since the economy is still recovering and has continued to focus on growth, the government must address the diaspora by providing opportunities to draw the younger generations back to the country. In the midst of all of that, the country must not forget about older Armenians. There is hope for an end to elderly poverty in Armenia. However, it needs concerted, sustained efforts to address it.

Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

human trafficking in Syria
In March 2011, protests against the Bashar al-Assad regime began in Syria. Since then, more than 500,000 people have lost their lives. About 5.6 million people are refugees in Syria and 6.2 million people have experienced displacement from the war within the country. These factors make human trafficking in Syria for the purpose of both labor and sex more prevalent due to the Syrian people’s vulnerability.

The Situation

The Syrian government has not held anyone accountable for these crimes. In fact, the government is often complicit in trafficking. Traffickers often force children displaced within Syria’s borders into combat as child soldiers. On the battlefield, regime soldiers use children as human shields or suicide bombers. The regime soldiers also trap women and young girls into marriage or force them into prostitution.

Due to the size of refugee populations, surrounding countries have reduced the number of visas they grant, leaving refugees with no choice but to cross borders illegally. Doing so means their fate is in the hands of smugglers. But, staying in Syria would mean having to survive unconscionable levels of violence and struggling to attain even the most basic resources.

How to Prevent Human Trafficking in Syria

The U.S. Department of State laid out the groundwork for breaking the cycle of abuse in its 2019 report on human trafficking in Syria. The first step is to identify the victims as quickly as possible followed by holding the government of Syria accountable for its own part in the problem. In addition, the report determined that victims should not receive prosecution for any crimes they committed. The final stretch to ensuring human trafficking becomes part of the past is for all those guilty of trafficking to experience prosection. So far, Syrian officials have not enacted any of these policies.

A large part of the issue is that there are no official laws banning human trafficking in Syria. This makes it difficult to identify victims, let alone perpetrators. When prosecuting criminals (such as prostitutes or beggars), the Syrian government does not make efforts to differentiate between trafficking victims and true criminals.  Too often, it punishes people for crimes they would not have willingly committed. The government has not spoken out against human trafficking, making it easy for victims of human trafficking in Syria to fall through the cracks, especially given the state of the civil war.

The Implementation of Sanctions

The lack of attention that Syria has paid to human trafficking has put it at risk of facing American sanctions. This means that the country could potentially face steep tariffs or limits on trading with the U.S. Currently, Syria already faces sanctions due to its association with and sponsorship of terrorist organizations.

Sanctions only worsen the state of poverty in Syria, causing the prices of necessities and goods to skyrocket. Organizations such as Caritas aim to provide food and shelter to anyone who war has affected, but it is an uphill climb. Human trafficking victims receive assistance from organizations like Caritas, but only when victims come forward themselves. Syrian officials make no effort to refer victims to organizations that may help them.

Despite the efforts of the U.S. government and charitable organizations, human trafficking in Syria remains an alarming situation. The government of Syria prevents meaningful change by not taking efforts to aid victims or prosecute traffickers. In order for the situation to improve, the government must stand up to protect its own people. Until then, the state of affairs will continue.

– Maddey Bussmann
Photo: Flickr

Alleviate Poverty in Syria
Syria has been in a state of civil war for nine years, since March 2011. Dire consequences meet civilians from all sides; from danger and violence if they stay and closed borders due to an overflow of refugees if they try to leave. Due to this humanitarian crisis, poverty has affected more than 83% of the population. In this same vein, 8 million Syrian children are in need —both inside and outside the country. As of April 2020, the WFP reported that the cost of a staple basket of food has risen by 111% in comparison to the previous month, due to Syria’s COVID-19 crisis. With these factors at play, initiatives to alleviate poverty in Syria are a welcome respite.

While it may seem that good news is hard to come by, there are a few initiatives in Syria working against the effects of high poverty rates. They tackle these issues from several angles, such as rewriting stereotypes, entrepreneurial education, resource allocation and community development. Here are four initiatives that are working to alleviate poverty in Syria, today.

4 Initiatives to Alleviate Poverty in Syria

  1. MeWe International and the #MeWeSyria Movement: Rewriting Stereotypes – MeWe International Inc. aims to rewrite the narrative about poverty in Syria and Syrian refugees. By using communication skills and narrative interventions as tools, it encourages and promotes healthy psychological skills, leadership efforts and community engagement. The training networks are hosted within Syrian communities and gear toward refugee youth and caregivers, especially within the facets of mental health. Storytelling is a tool MeWe International uses to help people to heal, grow and dream of a better future within communities in poverty in Syria.
  2. The Remmaz and Mujeeb Programs: Entrepreneurial Education – Programs from 2016 and 2017 are continuing to focus on equipping the younger generations in Syria with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their country and support their communities. Leen Darwish founded Remmaz, which teaches students how to code. “This programme is providing young people in Syria with critical business, leadership and entrepreneurship skills and directly linking them to opportunities to generate income,” says Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Global Coordinator for the Data for Development Platform. Aghyad Al-Kabbani, Eyad Al-Shami and Zeina Khalili co-founded Mujeeb, an AI program that creates customer support chatbots in Arabic. Al-Shami quoted, “On the human side, it’s hard. It’s not about building the next Google. But I want to exist. I want to do something.” Their hard work has led not only to easier online communication for people in Syria but also to a great success story for other young, Syrian entrepreneurs. This is a great example of how to alleviate poverty in Syria from the inside.
  3. United World Food Program Initiatives: Resource Reallocation – The World Food Program USA (WFP) has brought a few innovative solutions to Syria that have improved quality of life and the procurement of resources. Technology has been a valued instrument through NGOs like WFP. Moreover, the extension of aid is very much necessary to alleviate poverty in Syria. To counter the needs of 11.1 million people, iris scans prevent robbery while truck convoys carry supplies to hard-to-reach communities. Furthermore, both bakeries and greenhouses (under construction) increase the flow and availability of food. The WFP feeds more than 4.5 million people inside Syria and more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees every month. By addressing hunger on this scale, the most essential needs of the poor are met. Further, they can slowly grow and rebuild their homes and businesses.
  4. UNDP Leaving No One Behind Resilience Program: Community Development – The 2018 Resilience Program based in Syria focuses on four large-scale areas to alleviate poverty in Syria. The initiative works to promote self-reliance through socioeconomic recovery, improving the quality of basic services. Also, it aims to reinforce social cohesion in the community and strengthen local partnerships. The interventions were able to reach around 2.8 million people and contributed directly to around 111,000. The area-based approach rated certain geographical areas by need and ensured that the most crucial needs were met first. The communities with the highest beneficiaries include Aleppo, Al-Hakaseh, Rural Damascus and Lattakia. One of the projects included the improvement of basic services to crisis-hit areas, and these services included:
    • Solid waste and debris management;
    • Repair of water, sewage and electricity networks;
    • Rehabilitation of local businesses;
    • Supporting clean and renewable energy sources; and
    • Emergency repair of electricity and infrastructure.

Washing Away the Stain of War

Two million Syrians alone have benefited from the improvement of basic services. The remnants of war and violence are being cleaned up and removed. Moreover, the stones in the debris that were removed from Bab Al-Hadid were collected on-site. Notably, these stones will be reused in future rehabilitation projects in the same area.

After nine years of civil war and the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, the contributions of these organizations provide relief to Syrians.

Savannah Gardner
Photo: Pxfuel

afghan womenAlthough Afghanistan’s Constitution, ratified in 2004, forbids discrimination and declares that “man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law,” gender inequality still persists. Women are repeatedly denied opportunities for social, educational and economic advancement, leaving 80% out of the workforce and only 8% with more than a primary education. Gallup surveys conducted in 2018 identify Afghan women as the “least satisfied women in the world,” with more than half reporting that they would permanently leave the country if given the opportunity due to discrimination, food insecurity and violence. The good news, however, is that the United Nations Mine Action Service has enacted a new initiative in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province that mobilizes women to escape poverty and empowers them to clear war-torn communities of the remnants of war.

Poverty and Conflict

The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in areas overwhelmed by conflict has doubled since 2007, a rate that has increased alongside poverty expansion. People living in fragile and conflict-affected situations, or FCS, are 10 times more likely to be poor. Forty-three of the world’s most impoverished countries are classified as FCS regions. Proximity to conflict directly affects education, infrastructure, health and the economy. In violent areas, children are less likely to travel to school, families are more likely to suffer long-term medical conditions and communities lose valuable opportunities for monetary mobility and advancement.

The Taliban has sustained a significant presence in Afghanistan for over a decade and has remained a constant threat. More than 1,400 people were killed or injured by landmines in Afghanistan in 2018, a number that has tripled since 2012. Mines and other explosives are certainly detrimental to infrastructure after detonation, but unexploded devices can be equally as destructive. Construction projects are largely avoided for fear of encountering an explosive during the building process. This leaves many areas without roads, essential buildings and airports, all assets that could play a role in reducing poverty.

Dauntless De-Miners

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) began a de-mining pilot program in 2018, featuring 14 brave Afghan women in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province. After receiving training from the UNMAS de-mining experts, the women strap on Kevlar vests and sport protective face shields that enable them to search the soil using massive metal detectors. Once a detector beeps, the team member will kneel and sift through the dirt until the mine or explosive is found and deactivated.

The primary goals of the program are to clear mines, educate villagers and equip Afghan women with the tools they need to escape poverty. The team works approximately nine hours per day, but depending on location, mine removal projects may be short-term. In circumstances where land can be swiftly searched, the team uses the remaining time to learn vocational skills taught by UNMAS workers, training that has the potential to change their status. Additional education for Afghan women, who would otherwise receive very little, is crucial to broadening their job opportunities, increasing household income and helping them rise out of poverty. UNMAS also requires women to participate in meetings that decide how to use the land that is newly mine-free, which showcases their growing presence and immense contribution to their historically war-torn communities.

Fatima Amiri was one of the Bamiyan province’s first team members, and she is frequently highlighted for her dedication. She works tirelessly for her team after witnessing the devastating effects of hidden and unexploded devices. A member of her community traveled to a mountain on the Day of Eid, or the end of Ramadan, and never returned. Amiri realized that day she wanted to rid the surrounding area of mines, and she notes that now, “no one says that women are weak.”

Brace for Impact

Afghanistan’s fearless team is looking to expand its efforts beyond the Bamiyan province in the coming years. Since its inception, the team has covered more than 51,500 square meters and is projected to clear their land of mines and explosives by 2023. Most of the cleared region is now being used to build infrastructure or for farming, a lifestyle that boosts community economies and indirectly improves Afghan women’s social status. The de-mining women are recognized for their success and newly respected for providing their fellow community members with safety, food security and ways to maintain a steady income, three things crucial to overcoming conflict-induced poverty. The community’s appreciation erodes traditional gender norms that have restricted Afghan women for centuries by proving their value as productive members of society capable of protecting thousands in war-torn communities.

Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Displacement in Yemen and Somalia
In 2019, an estimation concluded that 29 million Americans would spend a total of nearly $500 million to dress up their pets on Halloween. Half a billion dollars is equivalent to 25% of the money needed to fund the U.N.’s June through December 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan assisting Yemen. War and displacement in Yemen and Somalia have caused a lack of funds and resources in these countries. However, some organizations are attempting to provide aid.

The History of Yemen and Somalia

Yemen’s poverty rate increased from 47% of the population living in poverty in 2014 to 75% at the end of 2019. The war in Yemen is contributing to poverty, and if it continues, Yemen could become the poorest country in the world by 2022. Yemen has been in a civil war since 2014 when Houthi rebels took over the capital. The conflict took off when a Saudi-led military coalition fought back against the rebels to defend the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The combat has been going on ever since and has plunged Yemen deeper and deeper into poverty.

The nearby country of Somalia has been struggling as well. General Siad Barre led a military coup and took over the government in 1969. In 1988, northern tribes rebelled against the dictator, and then in 1991, tribes from the north and south fought and brought down Barre. From 1991 on, a civil war has ravaged Somalia, with different factions fighting throughout the country.

The Displacement of Somalis

As the Somalian civil war has been charging on, Yemen, despite its instability, has been a place of refuge for around 200,000 fleeing Somalis. The action and displacement in Yemen and Somalia have caused many hardships for these countries’ citizens. The incoming Somalis, as well as the Yemenis, are facing dire conditions due to circumstances in Yemen. For example, Yemen imports most of its food, but since the beginning of the war, the cost of wheat flour has increased by 120%. The high poverty rate, combined with rising food prices, is leading to malnourishment affecting 3.2 million children and women.

Along with war and displacement in Yemen and Somalia increasing the risk of famine, Yemen is struggling with health care facilities. The war caused damage to more than half of Yemen’s health care facilities; as a result, these facilities were unable to provide sterile water and sanitation to 20.5 million people. Poor sanitation leads to many disease outbreaks, and this threat compounds the already-present risk of COVID-19. This situation is not only dangerous for Yemenis but also affects Somalian refugees residing in the country.

Aid for Yemenis and Somalis

Mercy Corps has been helping people in Yemen by providing them with food vouchers, repairing their water systems and educating them about health. In 2019, Mercy Corps assisted 1.2 million people, and the organization is now working to limit the effects of COVID-19.

Besides Mercy Corps, the UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, is also helping to mitigate the effects of displacement in Yemen and Somalia. The UNHCR began its Assisted Spontaneous Return (ASR) program in 2017. The ASR program assists Somalis on their return home from Yemen. By 2019, the ASR program had organized 37 trips, and more than 4,800 refugees had returned from Yemen to Somalia.

Fashion designer Gabriela Hearst has also decided to pitch in to help Yemen. From December 2 to 9, 2019, she donated all of her proceeds to Save the Children. Save the Children is a nonprofit organization that works towards relief on the ground in Yemen. To make the initiative more successful, she decided to “make her eclectic handbags” available at her online store. Typically, she only sells this handbag collection by request giving it a high value.

There is more the world can do to combat the war and displacement in Yemen and Somalia; however, Mercy Corps, the UNHCR and individuals such as Gabriela Hearst are making significant strides toward improvement.

Hailee Shores
Photo: Flickr

Yemeni child soldiers
Yemen is a young country struggling through many internal problems. A civil war began in 2015 between the Yemeni government, with backing from Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebels. Now, it has become a conflict involving international leaders and is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the last 100 years. This is partly due to the mass exploitation of Yemeni child soldiers. It is very difficult to discover the exact number of recruited children due to the fluid roles of children, associated with family shame and fear. However, numbers ranged from about 3,000 to 50,000 children as of 2019.

Growing Up

Many Yemeni child soldiers have faced unfathomable hardships even before fighting. They have been constantly fleeing their homes to avoid airstrikes and war zones. Because of this, 3.4 million children are out of school and many are trying to earn the little money they can like Salah, who is about 11, and whose family cannot afford meals every day. Starvation and disease-ridden camps have been the way of life for thousands of families since the war began five years ago.

Conversely, schools recruit children in regions with access to education through “indoctrination” from lectures. The Houthi movement’s founder gives these lectures and transcribes them into booklets known as “Malazem.” During this, children as young as 10 view graphic images of the war and others who have died for the cause. This encourages them to do the same. A mother told the Group of Experts, a partition of the U.N. Human Rights Council, that she fears for her son’s future. She also said that such practices are prevalent across the region.

Recruitment also occurs in surrounding countries like Sudan, a country also struggling from domestic conflicts. Approached at 14, Hager Shomo Ahmed had received an offer of $10,000 in exchange for his service in the war. Like many children, this was dire for his family, as they became penniless after others stole their cattle.

Persuaded and desperate for food, purpose and money, thousands of children like these entered the war.

During the War

From both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels, many Yemeni child soldiers went to the front lines. More than 1,000 have been coerced to fight.

Some dragged bodies from the field (sometimes even their own family), others would do kitchen services and others trained to use rifles. Naji, Younis and Saleh, Yemeni child soldiers who were around 11 and 13 at the time, recounted stories like these. A Saudi rehabilitation center that has helped about 400 boys has created a safe space for these stories.

A psychiatrist at a Marib rehabilitation center, Mayoub al-Makhlafi, says children have suffered as fighters and servants. Staffers recount children’s descriptions of experiencing beatings and sexual abuse from their own commanders.

Many, promised with money and non-combatant roles, find themselves in traffickers’ hands and training camps. Some are sent to patrol checkpoints 12 hours a day. Others are the first to be dispatched as human bodyguards. The young foot soldiers have no other option since they are lured with knowledge of a steady income sent home or depicted as martyrs.

The war has killed over 2,000 Yemeni child soldiers, as UNICEF reported in 2018. However, due to poor access to Yemen and limited data collection, these numbers are could be much higher.

Surviving After

Younis and his mother, Samira, shared the nightmares he used to have about the Houthis taking him again and how his mother would comfort him back to sleep.

In Dhamar, Yemen, a teacher places a photograph on desks of 14 former students during the Week of the Martyr, a celebration that the Houthi government enforces to continue its propaganda about the honor of fighting. The children, mostly fifth and sixth graders, mourn their friends. Those who do not die find themselves in displacement camps, like 14-year-old Morsal. Like many of his comrades, Morsal suffers from panic attacks, aggressive behavior and hearing loss from airstrikes and explosions.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammad’s father, Ali Hameed, details a time before the war and how his son had started working after graduating high school. He sadly continued to when his son left to join the Saudi coalition and then went missing. Some of the boys from Mohammad’s unit were able to flee and return home and the Houthis captured others. Mohammad was not part of either group.

Others like Hager, who had lost 180 men in his unit, were able to return home. By earning some money for his service, he was able to buy his family 10 cattle to restore their livelihood.

Relief Efforts

Coping with such traumatic events is extremely difficult for adults. However, the horrors are greater for children. Fortunately, The Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation developed eight rehabilitation centers across Yemen. As of 2019, it has helped 2,000 Yemeni child soldiers in psychological support and children’s rights education.

Internationally, the Child Protection and Children Friendly Spaces programs, initiatives of UNICEF, have given over 600,000 children psychosocial support through individual counseling, reading, cooperative games and family reunification, as of 2018 in Yemen.

Victim assistance is another crucial sector for children who have lost limbs. Such assistance is possible through Prosthesis and Rehabilitation centers in Yemen for children with disabilities as a result of the war. These centers receive support from the International Committee of the Red Cross. In just 2019, they have been able to provide over 1.1 million Yemenis emergency care in 18 hospitals that the IRC supports, and given food, essential home supplies, cash grants and access to clean water to 5.7 million Yemenis.

Broadly focused groups like War Child, working in North and South Yemen, have offered assistance to more than 30,000 children and families. War Child provides psychosocial support through coping mechanisms for trauma, recreational activities and legal support to enable school enrollment. Through school restoration and cash assistance to families, it is able to provide better futures for children.

Supporting these groups and others, vital for long-term recovery, is essential to nurturing the Yemeni child soldiers who have fallen victim to this waging war and the millions of civilians in the entire region suffering from starvation, displacement and great loss.

– Mizla Shrestha
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in SyriaSyria has been a center of conflict for years, and with so much unrest, poverty in Syria is an unfortunate given. War has torn the country apart and citizens are paying the price. The percentage of Syrians living in poverty sits at an astounding 80%. The war in Syria has destroyed much of its wealth, infrastructure and workforce. From the beginning of the conflict in 2010 to 2014, the unemployment rate rose by 42.8%, leaving as many as three million Syrians jobless.

It is unsurprising then, that with poverty this severe, many citizens are attempting to escape. After four years of war in Syria, the country’s population has lowered by 15%. Syria is second only to Palestine when it comes to emigrating refugees, with as many as 5.6 million fleeing the country. More than three million Syrians have fled to Turkey as it shares a border with Syria. However, there are organizations and foreign governments working to remedy this issue and aid these citizens in their escape from violence and poverty in Syria, including Paper Airplanes.

Humanitarian Aid

Paper Airplanes is a Non-Governmental Organization that teaches refugees English and other skills to help them thrive in places where they have relocated. While poverty in Syria has caused many to become refugees, Paper Airplanes has risen to the challenge of educating these people in order to give them a chance at a better life. Bailey Ulbricht founded Paper Airplanes in 2014 after tutoring some students she met in Syria. Ulbricht then got some people to volunteer and the organization has grown since then with the goal of giving refugees the opportunity to continue their education.

So far, Paper Airplanes has been able to work with 2,411 students. More than three-fourths of the students finish a minimum of one semester. The organization offers several different programs to increase their students’ likelihood of getting a better job and of being able to pursue more advanced education. Refugees from Syria can choose from a to participate in one or many of its programs. Programs include:

  • English Program – English speakers tutor a refugee in the English language over the internet

  • Women in Tech – women are taught coding

  • Citizen Journalism – students are taught how to write good articles and have them published

  • Turkish – Since many Syrians often find safe haven in Turkey, students can enroll in this program to help them adjust to their new environment

  • Youth Exchange – similar to the English Program, but with high school English tutors

  • Student Advising – volunteers help students with things like their resumes or scholarship applications

Tutoring with Paper Airplanes

This author had the opportunity to partner with Paper Planes for one month in July, working a few hours a week with a student. The student’s willingness to learn was inspiring. The orientation process thoroughly prepares the tutor for tutoring a refugee over Skype and the staff is extremely helpful and supportive. Tutoring a student in English when one has little to no experience can be daunting, but the staff at Paper Airplanes makes people feel very prepared while also allowing them to tailor the semester’s curriculum to the students’ needs.

It is inspiring to see people taking initiative and truly enjoying helping people to better their lives and the lives of their families. While hearing about how so many people go hungry and are affected by poverty, hearing what is solving those tragedies and healing people gives people hope for the future and makes them not only want to be a part of it but to bring it about. Hope truly does inspire people greater than sorrow and fear.

Looking Forward

The extreme poverty in Syria along with the crisis has caused many of its citizens to flee and seek shelter elsewhere. Amid all of the horrors, cultural shock and trauma, some individuals and organizations have risen up and answered their cry for help. Paper Airplanes gives refugees the tools that they need to succeed, educating and therefore empowering them for their future. Paper Airplanes understands that when you educate refugees, the impact goes far beyond individual students. It sets up the next generation to succeed.

Moriah Thomas
Photo: Flickr