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

Elderly Poverty in ArmeniaArmenia 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. More than a quarter of Armenia’s population is older than 54 and one-half of this demographic is older than 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 older than the age of 65 was 2% 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 older than 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. More than 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 anticipating 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, it offers psychological and physical health care to patients with chronic diseases. These methods 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 never experience marginalization. The organization shares its methodology of elderly care with Armenian medical colleges and institutions. In this way, elderly care is part of 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 reach a resolution 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. Amid all of that, the country must not forget about older Armenians. There is hope for an end to elderly poverty in Armenia. However, concerted, sustained efforts are necessary 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