When a bike accident left Pascal Kassongo injured, out of a courier job, and nearly destitute, his prospects looked grim. But thanks to the Amandala Project, Kassongo has found a new source of income with the Ecoboxx.

Lightweight and portable, each Ecoboxx can supply up to 50 hours of power and comes with a fan, hair clippers and charging ports for cell phones and other devices. Since launching in January of 2015, the Amandala Project, whose name means “power” in Zulu, has distributed 300 solar power kits to South Africans in need, with plans to distribute almost 600 more kits in the near future.

The goal of the project is to supply the unemployed, and particularly the migrant, residents of South Africa with the means to start their own small businesses, free of any charge past the initial investment. An individual can make up to 1,600 rand (about $128) cutting hair each week, and another thousand charging phones and other devices. The average income in South Africa for unskilled workers is around $500 per month.

While some choose to stick with running a barbershop with their Ecoboxx, others have come up with creative alternative uses. Janet Bete, who came to South Africa from Zimbabwe, rents out her kit for lights to local businesses and churches operating when it is dark. The enterprising woman also takes time to give back to her community. “Whenever there is a funeral in my community and there is no power, I donate my lights—it’s my way of paying [people] back for living well together,” said Bete.

Kassongo has also opted to put his solar kit to an alternative use. Rather than run a barbershop himself, Kassongo, a father of four, rents his kit out to neighbors who do own barbershops, sharing the proceeds with them. “It helps put something on the table,” said Kassongo.

The Ecoboxx, which retails at around 4000 rand, is being distributed by the Amandla Project, a subsidiary of the South African organization Community Chest, for a nominal fee of 200 rand. Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids said he hopes the kits will “electrify” rural South Africa, and when combined with creative entrepreneurialism, help generate income in the regions that so desperately need it.

Gina Lehner

Sources: All About Africa, EcoBoxx
Photo: EcoBoxx

Impoverished Countries
The term “Third World” is often used to describe the impoverished nations across the globe. According to Business Insider, the following list represents the 20 most impoverished developing countries from lowest to highest by GDP per capita:

  1. Democratic Republic of Congo
  2. Republic of Zimbabwe
  3. Republic of Burundi
  4. Republic of Liberia
  5. State of Eritrea
  6. Republic of Niger
  7. Central African Republic
  8. Republic of Sierra Leone
  9. Togolese Republic (Togo)
  10. Republic of Malawi
  11. Republic of Madagascar
  12. Republic of Mozambique
  13. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  14. Republic of Guinea
  15. Republic of Rwanda
  16. Republic of Mali
  17. Republic of Uganda
  18. Federal Republic of Nepal
  19. Burkina Faso
  20. Republic of Haiti

Eighteen of these countries are in Africa. The widespread famine and war that have plagued the continent for decades, along with the hardships resulting from several nations’ recent independence from colonial European powers have all contributed to the poverty endured in the country.

Of the numerous conditions that perpetuate poverty within the countries listed above, three factors dominate: drought, political instability and failure to harness resources.

What Creates Impoverished Countries

Water shortage has long been cited as one of the leading contributors to poverty. Severe droughts afflict nearly every third world nation on this list, causing a domino effect of failed crops, health concerns and further impoverishment.

Governmental instability prolongs poverty by fragmenting nations. Lack of political security and centrality undermine every inferior structure within the national hierarchy. Corruption, dictatorships and military rule impede economic development by institutionalizing instability and failing to address the issues that arise from poverty.

Although some of these countries contain valuable resources, few third world nations possess the capital to develop proper infrastructure. This results in an inability to exploit these assets or yield any profit from them.

The three poorest countries in the world, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Burundi, all have a GDP per capita of $400 or less, according to Business Insider. This is less than one one-hundredth of the United States’ GDP per capita.

So what’s the good news? There are tangible solutions to these three problems, and several developing countries are already beginning to pursue them.

Rwanda, rich with minerals and having received external aid after the genocide, shows signs of hope. Guinea and the Central African Republic show promise as well, if they can advance their industries and attain political stability. The Togolese Republic, working to repair its relationship with the international community and improve productivity through market privatization and foreign donor support, is experiencing some economic progress.

External contributors, such as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, are supporting industry development and helping lay the groundwork for business in third world countries. Local governments are slowly shifting from military leadership to democracy. The progression of technology is creating more efficient ways to grow crops and utilize existing water sources.

The third world countries listed above are still far from escaping the bondage of poverty. Their greatest setbacks are their limited means for improving their conditions. But with the intervention and assistance of external powers, the improvement of infrastructure and the development of autonomous governments, there is potential for progress.

– Zoe Smith

Sources: Business Insider, One World Nations, The World Bank
Photo: World Knowing

worst dictators current
The world’s most repressed countries live in a dictatorship. Citizens suffering under the rule of harsh dictatorships are often stripped of political rights and civil liberties. Those who express views differing from the state suffer consequences of physical and psychological abuse. Though the number of dictatorships has been on a decline, there is still much progress to be made. Listed below are some of the worst current dictators.

Worst Current Dictators

  1.  Kim Jong-un is arguably the most well-known current dictator in the world with the antics of his late father being publicized in world news all too often. As Supreme Leader of Korea, Kim Jong-un runs his government with a totalitarian rule ranging from his pursuit of nuclear weapons to unapologetic and even public execution of his citizens. Hope for more lenient domestic and foreign policies following his father’s death has since changed as Kim Jong-un continues the ruthless administration his father started years prior.
  2. Bashar al-Assad, leader of Syria came to power in 2000 and was seen by many as a potential reformer by domestic and foreign observers alike. There were high hopes that with Assad in power, the drastic changes that Syria needed would come about sooner rather than later. Instead, Assad has tightened his political reigns and enforced harsh consequences for political opponents and potential challengers which heavily contributed to the civil war that broke out in 2011. It is believed that Assad has tens of thousands of political prisoners being held and tortured in prison.
  3. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe since 1980, came to power following the end of a civil war which ended white minority rule. Mugabe gained much attention from pursuing land reform policies that focused on reclaiming property and land owned by non-black Zimbabweans. Though some deemed his actions as racist to say the least, Mugabe seemed to gain quite a bit of support from those who felt his actions were making amends to the people of Zimbabwe from the previous abuses by European colonists. However, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party turned the heads of many in 2008 when presidential elections came about versus Morgan Tsvangirai, a pro-democracy supporter. Tsvangirai received much support resulting in Mugabe only receiving 43 percent of the vote in the first round of the election. However, after allegations of fraud, voter intimidation, beatings and rape conducted by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, Mugabe swept the election with 90 percent of the vote.
  4. Vladimir Putin of Russia is known most for the staggering amount of control he has over his country through his political actions regularly linked with corruption. After serving two terms from 2000-2008, Putin decided to create a loophole in the constitution by deeming himself Prime Minister when Dmitry Medvedev became the next president of Russia following the end of Putin’s final term. Medvedev consequently made an amendment to the constitution allowing presidents to serve six terms and giving Putin the opportunity to serve as president for a third term. To no one’s surprise, Putin won the presidential election in 2012.

– Janelle Mills

Sources: Forbes, Kizaz, Freedom House
Photo: Toon Pool 

Girl Child Network
In Zimbabwe, it’s hard to be a girl. With a population of mostly youth, the country and its economy have been decimated by the AIDS epidemic. Up to 80 percent of the population in rural villages is unemployed and women are subordinated with gender violence and rape.

The Girl Child Network (GCN) is trying to change things. Founded by Betty Makoni, the network is designed to help change the policy and acceptability of rape. The program has grown to assist girls with education and housing.

Featured in the documentary Tapestries of Hope, Girl Child Network is trailblazing the way rape survivors are treated: with dignity and with agency. One of the easiest ways to explain GCN is through its use of the color blue. In Zimbabwe, blue is a color mainly for boys; GCN uses it everywhere.

While health and support are provided, Makoni emphasizes that access to education is among her priorities. A donation as little as $50 could provide a girl with tuition for a year.

Expanding upon the original goal of getting justice for survivors, GCN allows girls to envision futures for themselves. Many of these girls are orphans and some are even mothers themselves, but GCN empowers them. Girls are encouraged to dream and pursue education and careers.

While GCN’s staff advocates for the girls, the girls themselves have emerged as advocates. Some have publicly spoken out against violence against women at the United Nations. Others courageously shared their stories on the documentary.

The solution to the poverty they face isn’t simple. Will achieving a degree make a difference? Will they be able to get a job with the extraordinary high unemployment rate? The answers are unclear. The philosophy of GCN, however, is to maximize the potential and resources for these girls.

Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Tapestries of Hope
Photo: TeachAids

A pair of conjoined twin boys in Zimbabwe were safely separated during a complicated and arduous surgery last month, overcoming a number of obstacles in the country’s healthcare system.

Kupakwashe and Tapiwanashe were born four months ago at a district hospital in Murehwa, Zimbabwe. The boys exited the womb of their mother, Agnes Mongoro, 25, connected from the pelvis to the breastbone.

The team that performed the surgery consisted of 50 nurses and doctors, all of those involved were from Zimbabwe. The surgery was completely free for the family, thanks to the donations of several charities and the generosity of the hospital.

Harare Hospital, where the surgery was performed, has struggled with drug shortages and “doctors at most state hospitals generally lack the tools of the trade,” according to health personnel.

The World Health Organization reports that between 2000 and 2010, Zimbabwe had fewer than two doctors for every 10,000 people. Zimbabwe natives commonly resort to traditional healers, herbal remedies and spirituality for their medical needs.

Zimbabwe’s nursing program has been frozen since 2009, thus, the 500 nursing graduates that leave school each year are unable to do their practical training. This freeze is due to the country’s high wage bill “that is gobbling up 73 percent of the national budget,” says Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

According to health experts, only about 25 percent of conjoined twins can be successfully separated. Oftentimes the surgery results in the death of one child, in order to save the vital organs of the other.

Itae Rusike, executive director of the Community Working Group on Health in Zimbabwe, believes that the success of the surgery could “signal a turning point for the health sector.”

Praise for the success of the separation “may result in a sustained political will that is urgently needed in reviving the fortunes of the public health system that has been on a decline for over a decade now,” says Rusike.

The doctors at Harare Hospital see no major health complications in the future of the babies, and with hope the hospital will be able to continue performing lifesaving surgeries like this in the years to come.

– Grace Flaherty 

Sources: Al Jazeera, World Bank, Our Africa
Photo: Al Jazeera

mobile assistance
During the hungry season, the period of low crop production from October to March, over 2 million people in Zimbabwe need food assistance. But this year, the U.N. World Food Programme and USAID took a new approach to the seasonal food relief.

The aid organizations utilized mobile assistance on top of direct food aid to help individuals maintain food security. WFP and USAID offered cash transfers in villages where the food supply was high enough to meet consumer needs.

This was a pilot run of the country’s first mobile money assistance program.

Drought and poor harvests in certain regions in the nation critically threaten food security. With low production, food becomes more and more expensive and many to go hungry. Many in Zimbabwe need assistance during these tough times to make it until the more fruitful harvesting season.

The way the program worked was that about a week prior to food distribution, recipients of the mobile cash received a text message that said the $4 for each person in their family was now available in their e-wallet. The individuals could then go directly to the closest EcoNet agent to receive the hard cash.

To make the money accessible, the international organizations worked with EcoNet, the biggest cell phone provider in Zimbabwe, and its partner Steward Bank. With cell phone coverage in over 92 percent of the country, providing direct cash to help families from going hungry proved efficient and reliable.

With the food supply a critical factor in Zimbabwe’s economic state, a new program could only be implemented in regions where food production was high. If the mobile money was to be used in areas where food was scarce, the cash supply would be greater than the food stock.

Instead, the agencies maintained their normal food distribution programs for these regions.

Many receipts greatly appreciated the advantages that came with this new system. Mobile money allowed people in Zimbabwe to directly manage their own funds as needed and gave them the control over what their families consumed, instead of simply taking whatever food was being handed out during distributions.

The combination of mobile money and food assistance also helped to better stimulate local economies. The program grew businesses because it increased cash flow in both local markets and EcoNet businesses. With more Zimbabweans spending money and buying products, the regions hopefully will be able to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on direct food assistance.

From the experience and lessons learned from the first trial run, USAID, WFP and EcoNet plan to use and expand the approach for the next hungry season. Improvements include better verification of recipients and their associated phone numbers and more readily available cash for EcoNet agents.

Though still in its testing stages, the mobile cash program offers a new way to manage aid in Zimbabwe and provides a model to be used in other countries. With the program’s ability to make fewer people reliant on direct food handouts, the goal of the WFP and USAID is to assist Zimbabweans in maintaining food security.

Kathleen Egan

Sources: USAID, WFP, UN
Photo: MercyCorps


Artisanal gold-mining is nothing new to Zimbabwe; in fact, it’s a practice that is centuries old. What is especially interesting about the practice today, though, is how innovative Zimbabweans are using mining as a means of supporting their families in difficult economic times.

The correlation between economic strain and accelerated entry into the mining sector is strong. Zimbabwe has undergone a decade and a half of economic turmoil that began in 2000 with the collapse of its agricultural economy when the government forced out large farms only to replace them with much smaller ones run by inexperienced staff.

As a result, swaths of the population were forced to seek alternative employment, such as small-scale mining. By 2018, it is estimated that so many Zimbabweans will have adopted artisanal gold-mining that Zimbabwe’s gold output will double.

As an industry, gold-mining has the power to support thousands of hard-working Zimbabweans. According to the South African Institute of International Affairs, which in May 2014 published a comprehensive policy briefing on the topic, “artisanal gold-mining has emerged as one of the few means of poverty alleviation for poverty-stricken people in mineral-rich communities.”

Despite this, however, the government of Zimbabwe has yet to support the industry – in fact, it has criminalized small-scale mining altogether.

Government opposition to mining is a result of concerns that mining leads to environmental degradation and political instability. To some extent, these concerns are legitimate – mining relies not only on the use of dangerous chemicals but can also lead to water pollution and landscape erosion, as well as result in community tensions when workers of differing ethnicities and ideologies flood into mining towns.

Traditionally, Zimbabwe has enforced the criminalization of artisanal mining, arresting those who are caught engaging in the practice. However, because artisanal miners move between gold mines very quickly, law enforcement alone has not managed to end non-commercial mining in Zimbabwe.

The government of Zimbabwe would be smart to regulate rather than criminalize artisanal mining, as it benefits the country as a whole. Increased gold output over the past several years has earned Zimbabwe a reputation for being mineral-rich, and in turn, has led to increased international investment.

Mining gives individuals who would otherwise face unemployment an income, allowing them to participate in local economies, perhaps put down roots and in some cases, even undertake their own entrepreneurial ventures.

Lacking the violence with which it is often associated, supporting mining would be a no-brainer for Zimbabwe. Regulation (including environmental regulation) as a means of “formalizing” the mining industry could be incredibly effective in reducing its social costs and in turn, make the industry even more productive. Zimbabweans have found a way to ward off poverty – their government should listen.

— Elise L. Riley

Sources: Eldris, Info Please
Photo: The Zimbabwe Mail

According to sociologist Johan Galtung, structural violence occurs when there is a difference between actual reality versus potential reality. If the actual reality is unavoidable, then no violence is present. If the actual state of affairs is avoidable, then violence is present. Today, vaccines exist to prevent diseases such as measles, diphtheria, polio and tuberculosis, yet 2 million people from all over the world die annually from these conditions.

These deaths are not the result of a vaccine shortage, but rather are due to the inability to properly store the vaccines. In order to effectively prevent disease, vaccines need to be stored at very specific temperatures, controlled through refrigeration, from the time they are manufactured to the time of injection. This is typically described as the cold chain, and is difficult to maintain when traveling to more remote regions.

In an attempt to eradicate the structural violence, and in response to an outraged Sean Penn following the death of Oriel, a 15-year-old Haitian boy, by diphtheria, Harvey Rubin, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, sought to address the problem. Rubin realized how prevalent cell phone towers were around the world and because in developing nations there are often blackouts, telephone companies often provide their own sources of power. After consulting engineer and mathematician Ali Jadbabaie, the two discovered that the power generated from these cell phone towers would be enough to power a refrigerator that could store vaccines. Moreover, the high frequency with which cell towers are distributed provides a chance to prevent the cold chain from breaking. Through delegating responsibilities to a larger team, spearheaded by undergraduate student Alice Conant, their efforts resulted in creating the nonprofit organization Energize the Chain.

Energize the Chain aims to form secure relationships with cell phone companies in order to increase the correlation between the number of cell towers in a given region and the successful preservation of the cold chain. They launched one of their first major projects in Zimbabwe in 2011. By pairing with cell phone company Econet Wireless, they were able to boost the number of viable vaccines that were distributed to 10 villages in Zimbabwe. Additionally, after partnering with the National Healthcare Trust of Zimbabwe, Energize the Chain was able to issue refrigerators that could stay cold for up to 10 days without power in order to maintain the precise temperature of the vaccines. There are currently 110 working sites in Zimbabwe and by December of this year Energize the Chain expects to install 100 more working sites.

By supplying these refrigerators to more rural regions of Zimbabwe, the partnership between Energize the Chain, Econet Wireless and the National Healthcare Trust of Zimbabwe provides greater accessibility to working vaccines. Moreover, the success in Zimbabwe provides the promise for expanding the program to other regions where high mortality rates are caused by an inability to receive necessary, lifesaving vaccinations.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: Philly, Energize The Chain, Econet Wireless, JPR
Photo: All Africa

child labor facts
The act of using children for free or cheap labor has been around for centuries, and while it is not often brought up in conversation, this dirty little secret lives on in numerous countries, including the U.S.

Here are eight Child Labor facts from all over the world:

1.  Child labor is not just something that happens overseas
China, Asia and Africa are not the only nations that use children for cheap labor. Tobacco fields in the U.S. use young children to pick the plants. These children are exposed to dangerous pesticides and nicotine on a regular basis and sometimes get so sick they can hardly stand.

2. Child labor in tobacco fields is legal in the U.S.
The U.S. allows children as young as 11 to legally work in tobacco fields where they spray harmful chemicals so close to them they can hardly breathe. To put this in perspective: a child working in tobacco fields is illegal in countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, but is legal in the United States.

3.  Pakistan participates in selling children as slaves
Children in Pakistan can be sold by their parents or, more often, are abducted and sold into slavery to companies for profit. Companies that have utilized this backwards practice include Nike and the Punjub province, which is the largest seller of stitched rugs, musical instruments and sports equipment.

4.   Afghanistan gives away young girls to pay off debts
Another fact about child labor comes from Afghanistan where children make up roughly half of the population. Children often work in the textile industry, the poppy fields, cement and food processing. Parents may also sell their underage daughters into slavery in order to pay off a debt.

5.  Zimbabwe’s Learn as You Earn Program
The Learn as You Earn Program in Zimbabwe may not sound too bad at first glance, but it is another ploy to bring in children for cheap labor. The program brings children into the forestry and agricultural sectors so they can “learn” about those markets. Children often choose this in place of a formal education.

6.  Child Soldiers
Children who are displaced in war-torn countries like Afghanistan or Sudan are often put to work as child soldiers. These children are given guns and minor training and are told to defend their country. Some children may even be used as suicide bombers.

7.  Underage girls and sexual slavery
Young girls from all over the world who are either displaced by war, abducted while visiting foreign countries or even sold by their parents for money often find themselves in forced sexual slavery.  This problem is growing in Sudan, Somalia, Thailand, Japan, India and the United States.

8.  North Korea outlaws underage labor, continues to hire children
The government of North Korea officially outlawed child labor, but children still make up a large percentage of the people who work in factories. They also have labor camps where they send children to work in order to be re-educated for any type of political offenses.

These facts about child labor around the world can seem gruesome and a maybe a little far-fetched, but the point is that there are children who live these nightmares every single day.

– Cara Morgan

Sources: Business Insider, CNN, The Nation
Photo: Flickr

Education in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980 and immediately began an educational transformation that resulted in unprecedented coverage for the nation’s young minds.

A residual disenfranchisement of black students remained after nearly a century of colonial rule defined by “white supremacy, racial segregation, institutionalized violence and oppression” of the African majority. A redistribution of social inequality (as manifested in a corrupt education system) was of paramount importance in the first decade of independence.

System at a Glance

Exposure to education in Zimbabwe begins at age 6 in grade one of primary school. By grade three, reading and writing in English accompanies coursework in the mother tongue. Primary education continues through grade seven, when completion is marked with examinations in mathematics, English, science and social studies.

Secondary education is comprised of four “forms,” numbered I through IV. Forms I and II, equivalent to grades eight and nine, develop more involved skills in mathematics, English, history and other practical subjects. Marks earned in Forms I and II determine placement for Forms III and IV (grades 10 and 11,) advanced study years that culminate in subject-specific tests, gatekeepers for university acceptance.

Post-secondary education may be completed at one of Zimbabwe’s seven public universities or four religiously-affiliate universities. Alternatively, the pursuit of a university degree abroad is a viable option for some.

The 1980s: Dramatic Transformation

The face of education in Zimbabwe changed dramatically between 1980 and 1990. Primary schools and secondary schools sprouted up across the nation, increasing in numbers by 42.5 percent and an unfathomable 662 percent, respectively, during that time. On an aggregate level, student enrollment rose by over 200 percent.
Naturally, the demand for teachers rose with the increasing numbers of young minds. By 1990, 15 teaching colleges (10 for primary school teachers and five for secondary school teachers) were established. The Zimbabwe Integrated Teacher Education Course employed innovative approaches to teacher training, which in turn resulted in an overall improvement in the quality of education in Zimbabwe.

Residual Effects of Radical Change

Strides made prior to 1995 established Zimbabwe as a model for participation in public education. To this day, primary school participation hovers around 88% for both males and females. Retention is relatively stable as well; just over 82 percent of students complete their primary school education (this figure drops dramatically as the secondary education arrives; only 48 percent of males and females participate.)

Zimbabwe’s literacy rate, approximately 90.9 percent for youth and 83.6 percent for adults, is highest in sub-Saharan Africa. The nation also sends the fifth-largest number of students to the United States for continued study.

Areas Needing Improvement

Unfortunately, the apartheid era’s widespread inequality resulted in disparities in education quality. “Group A” schools (formerly white) have access to greater resources and better teachers than their “Group B” counterparts, which are typically government-sponsored. Lack of funding, poorer outcomes and lower pay result in perpetual staff shortages and turnover in B-level schools.

Education access in rural and urban areas is similarly unequal. For the approximately 60 percent of Zimbabweans in rural areas, government-funded schools are the only alternative. Higher-fee private schools are out of reach for agricultural families whose livelihoods allow no room for educational spending.

A post-colonial Zimbabwe embraced education as a human right, a premise that is worthy of emulation by developing nations. That said, education in Zimbabwe has room for growth in terms of quality and equity.

– Casey Ernstes

Sources: OSSREA, U.S. Embassy, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Education Forum
Photo: Flickr