Albania’s bunkersFrom the 1960s to the 1980s, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha fortified Albania by building more than 750,000 bunkers in anticipation of an invasion from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece and NATO. In the event of an invasion, rather than relying on the services of the army, Hoxha believed that citizens should take up arms and seek refuge in the bunkers scattered across the entire country. The invasion did not occur and Albania’s bunkers, serving no purpose, faced abandonment and decay. Four decades later, Albanians have found a new purpose for them. In addition to individuals using the bunkers for personal needs, the growing tourism industry would facilitate a new use for the abandoned structures.

Albanian Tourism

From 1946 to 1992, Albania was under the rule of a strict communist regime that barred the country from international tourism. Albania’s past significantly tainted the international community’s image of the country. However, in the past two decades, the Albanian government has managed to improve the attractiveness of the country as reflected by the increase in tourists.

Between 2007 and 2017, the number of tourists to Albania increased fivefold from about 1.1 million annual visitors to about 5.2 million annual visitors. The increase was stimulated by direct actions from the government such as fiscal incentives for constructing new hotels in the country as well as concrete development plans advertising the geographic location of the country and its rich cultural heritage. While in 2002 the poverty rate stood at 49.7%, the country made major strides with a poverty rate of 33.8% in 2017.

Revitalization of Albania’s Bunkers

To earn an income, many Albanians turn to tourism for work. In particular, the free-standing historic bunkers are undergoing refurbishing to serve as house tattoo studios, cafes, restaurants and even accommodations for tourists. In 2012, professors and students from the POLIS University and FH-Mainz in Germany embarked on the Bed & Bunker project to repurpose Albania’s bunkers as bed and breakfast hostels for tourists. The group began this project with the mission of preserving Albania’s heritage, succeeding in raising awareness for this cause.

Albanian-Canadian architect, Elian Stefa, has come up with further step-by-step guides and proposals for revitalizing the bunkers. In other words, people are recognizing the bunkers’ value and transformative plans have already come to fruition while other repurposing plans will soon occur.

Economic Growth

The demand for Albania’s bunkers as hotels and service amenities for tourists is growing. Bunkers, as displays of the country’s convoluted but rich history, has helped bring down the unemployment rate and stimulate economic growth in Albania. Between 2014 and 2020, the unemployment rate almost halved, decreasing from 18.06% to 11.7%. Furthermore, the GDP has risen as well with growth from about $12 billion in 2010 to roughly $15.3 billion in 2019. With more people working, Albania was able to decrease its poverty rate to 33.8% in 2017. Furthermore, since the bunkers are scattered throughout the country, the economic growth is not only limited to urban centers, with communities in the countryside also benefiting.

Using History to Serve the Present

Built in the 20th century, Albania’s bunkers were abandoned as the anticipated war they were built for did not manifest. This, however, did not discourage individuals from revitalizing Albania’s bunkers to serve the growing tourism sector. This growth had a positive effect, incentivizing individuals to ensure the preservation of the bunkers and uphold the rich Albanian heritage. Moreover, the resulting increase in revenue from tourism has created new jobs, reducing the poverty rate by 16% in 15 years.

– Max Sidorovitch
Photo: Flickr

military robotsResearchers have recently discovered that military-designed robots have the ability to save lives. Humanitarian assistance through robots can help tackle poverty and provide support to those in need on land, air and sea. These robots are especially important in impoverished, war-ridden areas. Overall, robotic resources can help tackle crises that would otherwise be dangerous, deadly or impossible for humans to enter.

Terrestrial Robots

Terrestrial military robots, also called throwable robots, serve as life-saving engines on land. The robots work by entering confined spaces, searching through debris and disposing of bombs and hazardous waste. Throwable robots are light, easily transportable objects that are shock-resistant and often remote-controlled. The robots are designed to enter tight spaces and transmit live audio and video to users. Footage from throwable robots can help rescue teams locate people who are trapped in confined spaces and monitor their wellbeing until the civilians reach safety. Currently, more than 550 U.S. law enforcement agencies and military units use throwable robots to assist in their missions and help preserve human life.

Bomb squads also use military robots to locate, defuse, detonate and dispose of bombs. Occasionally, bomb squads deploy throwable robots before bomb disposal robots to inspect the scene and search for potential bombs. Amid war and natural disasters, terrestrial military robots can offer ample humanitarian assistance. The military robots can douse fires, enter small spaces and search through rubble without experiencing the harm of smoke, dust or extreme heat. The future of terrestrial robots is promising as recent innovations of better sensors and robust agility will elevate the technology to the next level.

Aerial Robots

Aerial military robots impact people’s quality of life in areas hit badly by natural disasters. One example illustrates drones transporting humanitarian aid and collecting data to assist in natural disaster recovery. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) started using aerial robots in 2012 to measure the extent of displacement and physical damage from natural disasters in Haiti. Furthermore, the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières have used aerial robots to deliver medical supplies to Papua New Guinea and Bhutan.

Aerial robots can also assist in search and rescue efforts in a similar way to terrestrial robots. In war and disaster zones, aerial robots can quickly locate people in need of medical assistance. Drones are often faster and more affordable than other modes of transportation. In many circumstances, drones can capture higher quality data better than humans, for instance, detailed aerial view photographs of flood zones and refugee camps. Aerial robots can also protect humans from entering dangerous situations. Alongside terrestrial robots and bomb disposal robots, drones can scope out potential explosives and identify the best strategy for removing the explosives.

Maritime Robots

Nicknamed “robotic lifeguards,” maritime military robots can save lives at sea. In 2016, a fast-swimming maritime robot named Emily saved more than 240 refugees from drowning on the coast of Greece. Maritime robots have the potential to endure extreme temperatures and are not vulnerable to exhaustion, allowing these robots the capability to become highly effective lifeguards in the future. Additionally, maritime robots are significantly faster than human swimmers. With this ability, robots can use heat sensors to quickly locate people underwater. In shipwrecks or other sea accidents, maritime robots can carry several people to shore. Maritime robots are still relatively rare, but as they become more popular, the robots can be especially effective in places like the Mediterranean Sea where refugees are frequently at risk of drowning.

Overall, robotics technology has the potential to transform disaster and crises relief efforts. Able to withstand vulnerabilities that humans cannot, these robots illustrate the increasingly important role of technology in rescue, relief and aid endeavors.

Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

International adoption
As the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs stated, “Intercountry adoption is the process by which you adopt a child from a country other than your own through permanent legal means and then bring that child to your country of residence to live with you permanently.” International adoption has been an apparent phenomenon between countries since World War I and World War II. This type of adoption developed as an aftereffect of war and migration that made orphaned children more visible to U.S. citizens. The subject of international adoption contains insights arising from scenarios of rooted controversy.

5 Facts About International Adoption

  1. Intercountry adoption can grant foreign children the chance to escape poverty. It aids small groups of children worldwide to reduce child poverty nationally. Intercountry adoption is a micro-solution for world poverty that primarily affects the adopted child and their community. It is a requirement that countries’ policies and independent agencies respect children’s best interests in regard to adoption.
  2. International adoption lacks general oversight for children across countries. It exclusively takes place between independent agencies across countries. All agencies have different standards to execute the process of international adoption. Agencies have limited restrictions and additionally do not require accreditation. The lack of efficient governing for this type of adoption opens possibilities including child abuse, homelessness and continued unethical behavior involving a child with adoptive parents.
  3. Rehoming internationally adopted children is a process that is becoming a commonality surging through the U.S. for unwanted children. It leads children open to becoming once again impoverished or without a parent if there are no other means of adoption. It also puts the child at a disadvantage of being in a foreign country with less familiarity with the culture.
  4. Some international adoption practices receive classifications as child trafficking. This is because of the exchange of a child from an impoverished country to a rich country. For instance, there are records of children being adopted abroad and stolen from their birth parents. However, often the parents who fall victim to this crime do not have the money nor means to launch an investigation. Practices of this variety vary based on the validity and policies of specific adoption agencies.
  5. International adoption has declined by over 72% since 2005. Some key reasons are the misrepresentation of impoverished children, child abuse and humiliation. Nearly half of international adoptions happen for parents in the United States. Multiple claims of child abuse and exploitation of impoverished children occur within the United States. As a result, countries have improved ways to execute the process of international adoption. Cost is a significant restriction affecting international adoptions, which reaches at least $20,000 for a child.

What People Know Today

The process of international adoption is currently undergoing a reform that lowers the overall rate of abuse toward those children. More exploitative cases of intercountry adoptions happen where impoverished, kidnapped and orphaned children in their own countries are advertised solely for monetary gain. While the demand for intercountry children is still high, the supply still exists but is significantly more controlled than before 2005.

– Trever Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

TusseThe 19-year-old singer Tusse recently represented the country of Sweden at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. Tusse first rose to fame after advancing to the semi-finals of Sweden’s Got Talent and later winning Swedish Idol in 2019. With the song “Voices,” Tusse took 14th place at Eurovision. As a Congolese refugee, Tusse uses his platform to educate and empower young people facing similar challenges as he has.

Tusse’s Journey

Tusse, whose real name is Tousin Michael Chiza, was born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2002. At 5 years old, Tusse and his family fled to a Ugandan refugee camp due to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He left with his aunt, siblings and cousins. The escape effort separated Tusse from his parents. The family spent three years in the refugee camp until Sweden granted them asylum. The family then settled in Kullsbjörken, Sweden, in 2015 when Tusse was 13 years old. Tusse says that retaining his Congolese culture, filled with music and dancing, is what drove him to become a performer and singer, ultimately leading him to the Eurovision stage.

Civil War-Torn Country

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second-largest African country and has faced conflict for decades. The country experienced its second civil war from 1997 to 2003, only a year after the end of the First Congo War. Sometimes called the “African World War” due to the involvement of several neighboring countries, the war claimed close to six million lives directly through the effects of fighting or indirectly through malnutrition, financial despair or disease. Economic and political reasons surrounding the nation’s vast mineral wealth fueled the war.

Despite a peace deal at the war’s conclusion, violent conflict continued in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This conflict was due to poor governance, weak institutions and rising corruption. Armed conflict rose among dozens of rebel groups, consequently affecting and disrupting civilians’ lives. More than 2.1 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, nationally. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest number of internally displaced people at more than five million.

Overall, the conflict has subjected Congolese residents to significant human rights violations, extreme poverty and widespread rape and sexual assault. Efforts from the African Union and the United Nations to help implement sustainable development and defuse tensions have struggled to see success. As a result, most civilians are forced to flee and seek asylum elsewhere.

Sweden’s Relationship with Refugees

Sweden has one of the most generous refugee policies in Europe. Sweden has actively welcomed refugees seeking asylum in the country. However, there has been some domestic pushback to this hospitable policy, particularly in 2015, following the migration crisis when Sweden received more than 160,000 refugees, the most per capita in the European Union. This tension was heightened when many other European countries were unwilling to accept the influx of refugees. As a result, the Swedish government passed a temporary measure limiting refugee rights to the bare minimum of what the country had previously agreed to under international conventions. Despite this, Sweden continues to receive significantly more refugees than the rest of Europe.

Tusse’s Advocacy

Tusse uses his platform and story to empower other young refugees and educate his fans on refugees’ challenges. He works with UNICEF and recently performed at Sweden’s UNICEF Gala. UNICEF utilizes partners on the ground to deliver assistance to displaced families and support children’s needs and rights. Among other projects, the organization provides and distributes hygiene kits, clean water, vaccinations for children and treatments for malnutrition.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported Tusse and two other Eurovision performers with refugee backgrounds prior to the competition. Manizha, a singer representing Russia, fled Tajikistan in 1994, and Ahmad Jodeh, a Dutch ballet dancer, is a Syrian refugee.

Tusse uses his music to share and voice his experiences as a refugee. At Eurovision, he sang “Voices,” which is about “fellowship, freedom and the importance of all voices being heard.” By gracing the Eurovision stage, Tusse brought awareness to the struggles of his home country, the challenges of adjusting to life as a refugee abroad and the resilience of young refugees.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: UNHCR

The Armenia Fund
The Armenia Fund was established shortly after the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1994 following Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The conflict had left the newly independent nation in shambles and needing assistance. The NGO based out of Los Angeles sought to alleviate the lasting repercussions of the recent conflict. Its primary focus was to connect the large Armenian diaspora population to its homeland in order to further develop Armenia. With an Armenian population of roughly three million, the estimated seven million Armenians living in other countries around the world are crucial to assembling an improved Armenia. With this goal in mind, the Armenia Fund plays a vital role in extending support to Armenia.

Armenia Fund Supporters

During the recent reoccurrence of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, the Armenia Fund provided $80 million in immediate relief to the Armenian people. The imminent need for access to food, medical supplies and clean water was widespread as the war had lasting effects on the country. Many donations were influenced by the awareness raised from Kim Kardashian’s $1 million pledge to the Armenia Fund, along with the support from several other celebrities. Kim Kardashian is Armenian through her late father, Robert Kardashian. She advertised the efforts of the Armenia Fund and invited her fans to sponsor the nonprofit. Other prominent contributors consist of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, the Armenian Assembly of America, Inc. and The Manoogian Simone Foundation.

Armenia Fund Projects

Projects initiated by the Armenia Fund include rebuilding schools and churches in the nation. The NGO strives to supply resources to as many Armenians as possible while rendering aid to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. A recently completed project is the reconstruction of the Talish village. In restoring the once destroyed village, the Armenia Fund revived the historic and ancient town. Several other villages and buildings destroyed or affected by past war conflicts are primary areas the fund intends to repair.

US Assistance to Armenia

In addition to the Armenia Fund, the U.S. has long provided Armenia with support. The U.S. Embassy highlighted that the U.S. has given $2 billion in assistance funding to Armenia since 1992, aiming to develop Armenia’s democracy and sustain its economy. A 1998 foreign aid bill provided more than $45 million straight to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. At the time, the U.S. was the only country to grant such a relief package. More recent assistance includes the Valadao Amendment in 2017 and the Cox Amendment in 2019, which offered direct aid from the U.S. to the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. The legislation provided more than $1 million in direct relief. The Speier Amendment in 2019 was another notable contribution, as it allocated $40 million to democracy programs.

Armenia has had no shortage of challenges in establishing its planned democracy and strengthening itself after gaining independence from the Soviet Union. The Armenia Fund, principally supported by Armenians living outside the country, has helped shape a better Armenia. The U.S. has also been crucial, helping Armenia’s progression through foreign aid. The Armenia Fund continues to serve as a meaningful surveyor to sustain Armenia’s flourishment. The nonprofit supports Armenia by reaching the large diaspora population and continuously fighting for a more stable Armenia. Rebuilding the country physically is an investment in the Armenian people.

James Van Bramer
Photo: Flickr

Children in GazaMalala Yousafzai is an activist who works to provide educational opportunities to girls around the world. Yousafzai began the Malala Fund in 2013. The Malala Fund helps girls gain access to 12 years of free, quality education in a safe environment. Today, Yousafzai continues to help children in developing countries with access to education. In May 2021, Yousafzai made a significant donation to safeguard children in Gaza. With the assistance of Save the Children, Defense for Children International Palestine and KinderUSA, Yousafzai’s $150,000 donation will help children and families in Gaza rebuild their lives.

The Conflict Between Israel and Palestine

The Gaza bombings since May 10, 2021, caused devastating damage to infrastructure and depleted resources for the two million people living in Gaza. The violence between Israel and Palestine is worse than it was during the Gaza War in 2014. While the tensions reached a ceasefire on May 20, 2021, the conflict stems from more than 25 years of issues between Israel and Palestine. The U.N. reports that 72,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in search of safety in the aftermath of the violent outbreak. Gaza’s hospitals are running low on resources to treat the thousands of wounded victims impacted by the bombings and violence. Many of these victims include children.

Malala Yousafzai Supports Children in Gaza

In May 2021, it was reported that “six hospitals, nine health clinics and about 50 education facilities were damaged in Gaza.” Furthermore, crucial infrastructures were destroyed and water pipes burst, all while hospitals struggle to care for those in need of medical attention. In order to address these issues, Yousafzai donated a total of $150,000 to three nonprofit organizations in order to help children in Gaza. These organizations are working to provide clean water for children and rebuild schools that were damaged during the conflict. The organizations will also provide medical resources for the children in Gaza.

Organizations Helping Children in Gaza

Yousafzai donated $100,000 to Save the Children, a global nonprofit organization addressing the needs of children in areas where children receive few resources. Save the Children creates programs with families, community leaders and local councils to foster successful and long-term change. As a result of Yousafzai’s donation, Save the Children will provide clean water access and food vouchers for children in Gaza. Moreover, the children will receive mental health support. The organization will also provide nutritional support for pregnant women and new mothers.

Other organizations aiding Gaza are Defense for Children International Palestine (DCI Palestine) and KinderUSA. Yousafzai donated $25,000 to each. DCI Palestine safeguards the rights of Palestinian children. Additionally, KinderUSA is an American Muslim organization with a goal to help “children in crisis through development and emergency relief.” KinderUSA responds to emergencies involving children in Pakistan, Turkey, Uganda, Somalia, Syria and beyond. In 2013, the organization provided winter clothes to Syrian children to protect them from the potential impacts of the harsh weather.

Hope for Children in Gaza

Save the Children asserts that a ceasefire on its own is not enough and that more must be done to safeguard the fundamental rights of children in Gaza. Yousafzai believes that Palestinian children deserve to live in peace and safety with opportunities to pursue an education and reach their full potential. With the help of organizations fighting to protect children’s rights, children living in Gaza have hope of a better tomorrow.

Nia Owens
Photo: Wikimedia

famine in TigrayThe term genocide describes the systematic mass murder of a racial, political or cultural group. Genocides have been witnessed in countries such as Germany, Russia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But, the concept of genocide is more than an abstract term for something long passed. Acts of genocide occurred more recently in Rwanda and the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are also recent victims of such violations. Acts of genocide were also recently reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, which borders Eritrea and Sudan, as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front looks to wrest control of the region from the Ethiopian government. Furthermore, the war in Tigray, which has also involved Eritrean military units, is not only taking lives through violence, it is causing a potential famine in Tigray.

Conflict Causes Famine

Tigray, home of the Tigrayan ethnic group, comprises only around seven million people, equating to 6% of the Ethiopian population. However, in the past months, its people and infrastructure have felt the force of the entire Ethiopian military. Furthermore, when a nation of 118 million people is wracked by conflict, there is bound to be difficulty transporting resources to all the rural and urban areas in need. Compounded by violence and displacement, famine puts Tigrayans at risk of malnutrition, exposure to the elements, illness and death. As the threat of both man-made and natural famine looms, the international community must intervene to address it.

Rising Poverty in Ethiopia

The famine in Tigray is occurring during a civil war further complicated by an externally intervening nation. While Ethiopia experienced famine in the 1980s, the current famine differs in that it results not only from natural causes but from human violence, creating desperate circumstances for Tigrayans living in poverty. Over the past few decades, Ethiopia had been making great strides in reducing poverty, with the national poverty rate dropping from 45% in 1995 to roughly 24% in 2015. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent military conflict, extreme poverty is back on the rise, not only in rural areas but also in the country’s largest city, Addis Ababa.

An Opportunity to Intervene

Despite the vast damage inflicted on the Tigray countryside by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, the powerful and committed Tigrayan Liberation Army “regained control of the regional capital” in late June 2021. This significant moment in the civil war marks a potential transition period and a crucial time for humanitarian organizations to step in and provide vital resources to the region.

Getting water and food to Tigrayans will be crucial during any lull in the violent outbreaks that have displaced nearly two million and killed more than 50,000 people across the region. The starvation-induced by both Ethiopian government actions and natural circumstances has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians into near-death situations.

In June 2021, 12 NGOs, including Amnesty International, signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) calling for a robust international response to the crisis in Tigray. In particular, the letter calls on the HRC to address reports of human rights violations and acts of genocide in Tigray. Until peace is restored, NGOs and government agencies will do their best to sustain life in this historically and culturally rich region of Africa.

Trent R. Nelson
Photo: Flickr

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