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3 Benefits of LEGO Education in AfricaPlay Well Africa is an organization that donates used LEGOs to several countries in Africa. Through these donations, schools are able to enrich education through a proven learning tool.

LEGO as an education tool has been seen to improve the quality of learning in classrooms. Through LEGO, children are able to better express creativity, work as a team and solve problems.

Through Play Well Africa, LEGO education is able to benefit students in three ways:

Increase critical thinking skills

Learning with LEGOs requires critical thinking skills which are developed more through LEGO projects and challenges. For example, when building a project without instructions, it requires the students to consider structure and forces in order to create a stable solution.

In a 2001 study, a group of preschoolers were followed to assess the outcome of early block learning. The study showed that the students who participated in early block learning scored higher on standardized math tests starting in seventh grade.

While the effects of LEGO education may not be immediately seen, over time critical thinking skills develop and serve the children well.

Strengthen team building and communication

While LEGO building can be seen as an individual task, students tend to fare well when working on LEGO projects together. When working in a group, students must learn to communicate effectively to build a high-quality design.

A 2006 study used LEGO building materials to act as a medium for communication between autistic children. They were split into two groups, one using LEGO therapy and the other using more traditional therapy. In the end, both groups improved significantly in social skills; however, LEGO participants improved more than those not using LEGO.

LEGO has proven itself to be an effective means of not only building social skills, but helping improve social interaction as well.

Encourage long-term growth

LEGO is seen as an effective learning tool in schools through improving creativity, critical thinking skills, teamwork and problem solving. Through fostering these important learning skills, it allows permanent solutions to come about in underdeveloped countries.

As students grow and utilize these skills, they learn new ways to help their community grow into a more stable environment. While LEGO does an effective job building successful students, it also helps to create powerful members of the community.

Students benefit in multiple ways from Play Well Africa donating used LEGOs to schools. They not only grow as learners, but as active members in their community. While Play Well Africa currently only works with three countries, they are looking to expand in the near future.

Rebekah Covey
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Eritrea
Eritrea is a country in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south and Dijibouti in the southeast. The country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and has been led solely by unelected president Isaias Afwerki since 1991.

Eritrea has isolated itself from other countries and become one of the poorest in Africa. The most recent data on poverty, from 2004, showed that poverty in Eritrea affects more than 50 percent of the population. Between 1990 and 2001, 44 percent of children under the age of five were underweight and nearly two-thirds of Eritrean families experienced food insecurity.

Conflict with both Ethiopia and Djibouti has consumed Eritrea for more than three decades. The threat of war with Ethiopia has led to a large amount of defense spending that leaves very little room for economic development. Additionally, 18 months of military service is mandatory for men and often takes them away from making a livelihood for their families.

According to the World Bank, two-thirds of employment in Eritrea is accounted for by rain-fed agriculture. Around 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas and 80 percent depends on the agriculture to survive. In 2011, the worst drought in 50 years hit the Horn of Africa and devastated the agriculture and increased poverty in Eritrea.

While humanitarian groups tried to help during the drought, there was only limited data and communication from the Eritrean government. “[The Eritrean people] most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we’re seeing throughout the region [and] are being left to starve because there is not access,” U.N. ambassador Susan Rice told the BBC. “There’s a clear-cut denial of access by the government of Eritrea of food and other humanitarian support for its people.”

A constitution was developed in 1997 but has not been put in place and other countries are unwilling to have diplomatic relations. The regime has shut down the independent press, limited civil rights and allegedly denied basic human rights to its people.

The government has placed restrictions on religion, speech, expression and association. According to the Human Rights Watch, there were 474,296 asylum-seekers in 2015 — this is 12 percent of the population attempting to escape poverty in Eritrea.

Many families and children traveling alone have begun the dangerous journey across the ocean to Europe. Many European countries have attempted to accept Eritrean refugees, while countries such as Israel have refused to take any. Refugees who make an unwilling return to Eritrea are met with imprisonment and sometimes torture.

While times have been tough in Eritrea for a long time, awareness of the issue maintains important. The Human Rights Council for Eritrea was created in May 2016 and has condemned the deplorable human rights violations and totalitarian practices. Reports like this are what can help reduce poverty in Eritrea and lead to a more democratic system.

Economic growth and food security have been a part of Eritrea’s political agenda since its independence in 1993, despite various setbacks. The government continues to work on eradicating poverty by improving the export markets for livestock and produce, increasing the productivity of the agriculture process and receiving investments from the private sector.

Additionally, when poverty problems arise, Eritreans hold a strong sense of community. If the government solutions fail or are set back, wealthier people often loan livestock and money to poorer relatives and neighbors to keep them afloat.

Madeline Boeding

Photo: Flickr

In parts of the world where midwives and doctors are few and far between, traditional birth attendants (TBAs) play a critical though often controversial role in maternal healthcare. Though untrained, they function as medical leaders in their communities, sometimes delivering more babies than midwives. But as health experts reassess the functionality of untrained workers in the modern healthcare model, TBAs are at risk of being banned from assisting with births completely. Some African countries, such as Zambia and Sierra Leone, have already banned TBAs, although not without backlash. These bans have raised a very important and highly disputed question: are TBAs important or detrimental to the reduction of maternal mortality rates throughout the developing world?

TBAs, also known as traditional or community midwives, help pregnant mothers through delivery and the pre- and post-birth periods in areas where viable healthcare facilities are scarce or unreachable. They are typically older women who hold respect in their communities and often have children of their own. Unlike midwives and obstetricians, TBAs lack formal medical training and instead learn about the birthing process through oral tradition and delivery experience.

TBAs today work with mothers and their infants all over the world and are deeply rooted in the birthing cultures of many communities. TBAs are especially in demand in poor rural areas, where as few as 20 percent of births may be serviced by a skilled health worker. Much of their appeal comes from their accessibility, since TBAs offer their services at relatively low costs. TBAs are usually easier to reach than formal health professionals since they work within their communities, whereas bad roads, long distances and lack of transportation can deter women from seeking hospitalization. Women are especially unlikely to attempt the journey to a hospital if the care offered there is inadequate.

Some countries have attempted to make it easier for women to reach hospitals and receive inexpensive or free care, yet many women still seek out TBAs. This can most likely be attributed to the fear that is associated with clinics and hospitals, since many women are wary of facilities outside their communities, especially when surgery is involved. While there can be much trepidation and distrust surrounding doctors and hospitals, TBAs are well established and liked within their communities.

Mbarikit Eno of Nigeria was among the scores of pregnant women who feared hospitals when she was deciding where to deliver. “Two of my friends died in hospital during childbirth and I don’t want to die too,” Eno told the Global Health Next Generation Network in 2016. “Besides, those midwives in the hospital are very harsh; they shout at you and scold you as if you don’t know anything. They never use kind words on the woman despite the pain she experiences during labour. I know the traditional birth attendant that will deliver me. She is from within my community, she has delivered several women and they are all alive.”

Because there are both benefits and drawbacks to TBA-based care, health experts are divided on TBAs’ place in the modern healthcare model. TBA advocates claim that banning TBAs hurts mothers in disadvantaged communities, since TBAs are sometimes the only health workers available in these areas. This negative effect was demonstrated by a 2007 TBA ban in Malawi, which actually caused Malawi’s maternal mortality rate to rise. The country has since reversed the ban.

Experts also propose training and monitoring TBAs to ensure safe birthing practices. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have taken steps in this direction by increasing regulations on TBAs in recent years to integrate them into the modern healthcare model. These groups have implemented programs to improve TBA education and forge stronger links between health professionals and TBAs, among other measures.

On the other hand, many researchers argue that TBAs should be eliminated from today’s health system completely. Proponents of the TBA ban claim that TBAs are “untrainable” and too set in their ways to adapt to new healthcare methods. They also warn that TBAs cannot address the main causes of maternal death, such as eclampsia and hemorrhage, and that their often-characteristic illiteracy makes it difficult to keep records.

“It stands to reason that decisions must be made with an eye to the future and not just with a mind for the present,” said former Finnish obstetrician and gynecologist Kelsey A. Harrison in an article for the British Medical Journal. “Traditional birth attendants have no place in this future.”

As modern medicine progresses and new medical technologies enter the mainstream, health experts will need to further re-evaluate the role of more traditional workers in today’s healthcare model. While the best course of action currently remains unclear, banning TBAs and other unskilled workers is only a temporary fix for the low utilization of hospitals and clinics in developing areas. Until the underlying causes that send women to TBAs in the first place are addressed, women around the world will continue to turn to TBAs instead of trained health professionals.

Sabine Poux

Photo: Flickr

Africa has had a long history with AIDS and has struggled to find solutions to keep AIDS-related deaths low. However, in the past few years AIDS rates in Africa have decreased, and it is no longer the leading cause of death.

This achievement is mostly due to better diagnosis and treatment, along with more information and better education on the condition. Additionally, other preventive strategies, such as self-testing, have become more prevalent. In fact, 40 countries have already added HIV/AIDS self-testing to their national policies, with 48 more developing similar policies, almost double the amount in 2015.

With these strategies being implemented, the number of HIV/AIDS-related deaths in Africa have decreased by 24 percent over the last five years. In 2015, there were a reported 5.2 million deaths caused by group 1 conditions, which includes AIDS, with AIDS reportedly causing approximately 760,000 deaths in 2015, a decrease from 1 million in 2010 and 1.5 million in 2005.

With AIDS no longer the leading cause of death, lower respiratory tract infections have taken the lead. Yet AIDS is not the only disease that has decreased; malaria has also seen a decrease in deaths, reporting a drop of 60 percent in the last 15 years, accounting for about 6 million people saved from the disease.

With expanded education regarding AIDS prevention, treatment, and self-testing, Africa is on its way to fulfilling the U.N.’s goal of eradicating AIDS on the continent by 2030. Additionally, with funding from donor countries and supplying clinics with the proper drugs, AIDS in Africa will continue to see a drop in deaths over the next few years, meaning the continent can focus on other leading causes of death.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Flickr

Ghana's Prison Music ProgramIn celebration of his 40 years in the music business, gospel singer Yaw Sarpong has brought the Prison Project to life. The Prison Project’s main purpose is to teach Ghanaian prisoners how to express themselves through gospel music.

The Prison Project is a collaboration between the Yaw Foundation and Ghana Prisons Service, which intends to build music centers throughout Ghana’s prison system, beginning with Ankaful Maximum Security Prison. According to Joy Online, the Yaw Foundation is dedicated to transforming the lives of the prisoners with music. The Ghana Prisons Service wants to use this program to certify prisoners in music and other skills.

Ghana’s prison music program not will not only focus on music education; the Prison Project’s project and fundraising coordinator Esther Tettekuor Quayson states that the program will focus on other outreach programs as well. She also discusses how an education in music can lead to a desire for education in other areas – which is clearly a benefit to both prisoners and society as a whole.

Beyond education, the creators of Ghana’s prison music program hope to instill in Ghanaian prisoners leadership qualities. Quayson discusses in Ghana Web how she envisions prisoners becoming new leaders within the country.

What about the personal benefits of Ghana’s prison music program to the prisoners? According to Quayson, music gives them the opportunity to express the issues that they are dealing with. It also builds up their confidence and drive to succeed in their lives after they leave prison. Thus, the program is designed to assist with the prisoners’ ability to successfully re-enter society. Quayson states in Ghana Web that “There is therefore the need to provide solutions and programmes that will help society understand the plights of our prisoners and ex-convicts and take up their roles in shaping their lives to fit into society.”

Ghana’s prison music program is already off to a strong start. The Prison Project currently has an advisory board and a passionate group of young people willing to work with the program. Yaw Sarpong’s church is also planning a soccer game and a concert in support of the project. The Prison Project illustrates a commitment to rehabilitating prisoners in ways that will benefit the prisoners themselves and their society.

Cortney Rowe

African Students in China
The number of African students in China is on the rise.

In 2000, there were less than 2,000 African students enrolled in Chinese universities. In 2015, there were 50,000.

The number of African university students in China surpasses both the United States and the United Kingdom, which each host around 40,000 students. France remains the host of the most African students at 95,000.

The increase in African students in China coincides with the strengthening relationships between China and numerous African countries. China is focused on Africa, and has provided several African countries assistance in areas like government and education, which continues to this day.

An example of these partnerships is China’s gift of 65 scholarships to Ghanaian students for the 2017/2018 academic year. As reported by Xinhua News, the Chinese government has also provided other resources to Ghana’s government.

For the Chinese government, African students in China encourages strong times between the Asian country and the African continent. CNN highlights how China hopes that investments in Africa will create strong economic and political partnerships with the African people.

One of the benefits for African students in China is affordable education. Chinese education is relatively inexpensive, even without a scholarship.

African students in China also benefit their countries. Because Chinese laws discourage international students from remaining after their studies, many African students return home and use their skills and education in their home countries.

Many students feel that the business connections they make with China are valuable beyond education, along with learning the language of a country that is considered to be a rising power.

African students in China illustrate a growing, mutually beneficial relationship between China and Africa. China’s commitment towards assisting Africa and Africa’s receipt of resources and opportunities has created a multi-country network and a climate of exchange that is continually expanding.

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

African Informal EconomyThe informal economy in sub-Saharan Africa is booming. Comprised of jobs ranging from independent manufacturers to food vendors, the informal economy is responsible for nearly 70 percent of employment in the sub-Saharan. Additionally, it’s estimated that on average, the African informal economy accounts for nearly two-fifths of national GDP.

Working in the informal economy does come with certain challenges. Access to communication technology and money transfers is particularly difficult. Additionally, access to loans for ready liquid capital is slim. Most could be addressed with banking infrastructure and all are necessary services that businesses operating in the formal economy enjoy.

However, from the bank’s perspective, it is not in their financial interest to service many in the informal economy. Many unbanked Sub-saharan Africans, nearly 500 million of them, consistently make small transactions—usually less than $5  a day. For this reason and the cost of opening and maintaining banking branches, banks don’t consider these individuals serviceable.

That’s where companies like Nomanini step in.

Nomanini, meaning “Anytime” in saSwiti, is just one of several tech companies investing in the African informal economy. With the use of mobile point-of-sale (PoS) devices, individuals can become walking, talking ATMs.

Nomanini’s physical PoS terminal is no bigger than perhaps two smartphones put together and is fully wireless. The Google cloud also hosts the system, giving clients more stability.

Armed with the PoS device, vendors can sell pre-paid mobile airtime, electricity, facilitate banking transactions, and help others pay their bills. In some cases, clients are even granted micro-loans, allowing them access to working capital and the opportunity to build credit.

With the help of Nomanini’s digital PoS app, the African informal economy is exploding. Some vendors have seen their monthly incomes grow 20-30 percent.

Since launch in 2010, Nomanini has facilitated more than 16 million transactions. With the help of Nomanini, the African informal economy, armed with only smartphones and a wireless connection has shown its viability, It has also proven that its large number of unbanked shouldn’t be ignored by institutions just because of the size of their transactions.

Thomas James Anania

Photo: Flickr

USAID's Power Africa InitiativeWithin the entire continent of Africa, 57 percent of people have no access to electricity. In places like South Sudan, that percentage skyrockets to 97 percent. Power Africa, an initiative started by the USAID, is working to change this.

Power Africa has the goal of adding over 30,000 megawatts of clean energy capacity to African homes and businesses. These goals are achieved through partnerships with American private businesses. Power Africa works to facilitate private sector transactions and cultivate optimal investment climates. These partnerships help to further African development while saving U.S. taxpayer dollars and creating jobs here at home.

More specifically, as Power Africa notes in its annual report, “Applying U.S. Government resources in support of U.S. business growth in Africa, Power Africa has a hand in developing multi-million and billion dollar projects that are producing returns for U.S. investors and supporting job growth at home.”

So, far Power Africa has added 7,200 megawatts of energy. This means that 53 million people have access to electricity today who did not have access prior to the launch of the initiative. By 2020, that number is expected to more than double.

The work Power Africa is doing is vital. Access to electricity can be viewed as a stepping stone to lasting development. With electricity, people can run more efficient businesses, provide better health care and improve education for citizens. And the simple act of providing a community with electricity can be hugely empowering.

This is especially apparent in the story of Regina Tembo, a Zambian woman who is the manager of her local micro-grid. Members of Tembo’s community can purchase electricity from her. Tembo makes sure that her neighbors and local businesses are provided energy tailored to their needs. Not only is she providing her fellow Zambians with much-needed electricity, but Tembo also feels empowered. “Being a Standard Microgrid Manager has increased my status in the community and enabled me to share knowledge with people in different countries,” she told USAID.

Of course, Power Africa still has a long way to go. In the near future, Power Africa hopes to provide larger systems, like micro-grids and solar home systems. These systems allow people to power larger appliances.

USAID’s Power Africa goals may be ambitious, but they’re achievable. Building a brighter Africa will help to reduce poverty, increase development and create jobs here at home.

Adesuwa Agbonile

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Central African RepublicThe Central African Republic is one of the world’s least developed countries. The country has been economically unstable since achieving its independence from France in 1960. Aid from wealthier countries is often only enough to satisfy a few humanitarian needs. Causes of poverty in Central African Republic include poor agricultural and geographic conditions and an expensive, poorly-constructed medical system.

Agriculture is an extensive source of stress, making it one of the larger causes of poverty in Central African Republic. Their economy is based on the cultivation and sale of crops, such as yams, maize and millet. Around 67 percent of total income is from agricultural production for the rural poor.

The nation runs on export trade; however, it is difficult to develop enough revenue because CAR is a landlocked country. This leaves farmers with little to no opportunities for growth in the agricultural sector. Only 4 percent of arable land is used each year because of the lack of opportunity for exportation. Subsistence farming dominates for many communities. Additionally, one-third of all children under the age of five are underdeveloped and suffering from chronic malnutrition.

There is a sizeable demand for medical services in CAR; however, this demand remains unmet, and citizens of the Central African Republic are suffering. The unequal distribution of medical staff throughout the country is astounding. In 2004, there were estimates that there were no more than three physicians and nine nurses per 100,000 people.

HIV, malaria, hepatitis-A and rabies are the most common diseases in CAR, putting people in fatal situations without proper treatment. Treatment for these diseases is expensive, putting the families of these patients in financial strain. This compels them to give up other necessities, such as food. Preventative measures are often too expensive. The burden of disease is caused by a lack of preventative measures, and it pushes families deeper into poverty.

Some of the causes of poverty in Central African Republic cannot be fixed, such as their relative location to the coast, which affects the amount of exportation. However, other issues have the potential for change. The health care system, for example, can become more accessible, especially for rural communities. Accessible in two ways, one being that there can be a larger number of clinics throughout the country with more physicians per 100,000 people. The other way to become more accessible is for treatment and preventative methods to become free. There is still hope for citizens of the Central African Republic.

Lucy Voegeli

Photo: Flickr

Green Revolution in AfricaAs climate change threatens to alter weather patterns around the world, farmers face the challenges of increased frequency and intensity of droughts. Reliant on rainwater for crop production, these communities often struggle to produce food levels sufficient for even a subsistence farming lifestyle. However, drought-resistant crops may be the solution to negating the effects of these issues and ushering in the new green revolution in Africa.

In 2006, the DTMA (Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa) Initiative was launched with the aim of increasing crop output and negating the effects of drought in several countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The project has brought together all types of communities, from local agricultural groups and seed producers to research institutions and NGOs.

Of course, this ultimately raises the most the most important question of all: has the new green revolution in Africa succeeded?

“Green Revolution” is a term defined as the increased production of crop yields through the use of improved technological application, the use of pesticides and better management. There are a few areas where this definition applies more to the successes of the DTMA Initiative. In 2015, the drought-resistant maize improved crop output in 13 countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and others. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has reported that hybrid seeds will benefit an estimated 2.5 million people in the region.

“I was truly amazed. I harvested 110 kilograms of maize from the tiny demonstration plot,” 61-year-old farmer Jotham Apamo, whose farm previously yielded a mere 10 kilograms, told WIPO Magazine. “[Before] there was hardly any gain for me. I was pushed into debt. I couldn’t feed my family or pay for my children’s school fees.”

In the meantime, Kenyan scientists at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have been studying and perfecting the creation and application of this crop (as well as studying disease-resisting properties) since 2013. Researchers have stated that the hybrid seed responsible for Africa’s next green revolution will be available later this year.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr