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Improve Education in BangladeshIn a speech given at a Boston high school in 1990, Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For many of the world’s impoverished, education is not an option. Today, more than 72 million children of primary education age are not in school and nearly 759 million adults are illiterate. While many maintain the capacity to survive without an education, the knowledge and awareness garnered through school allows the impoverished to improve their living conditions and rise out of poverty. USAID and the World Bank are working to improve education in Bangladesh as a means of addressing poverty.

The State of Education in Bangladesh

In the last 10 years, there has been progress when it comes to improving education in Bangladesh. According to USAID, nearly 98% of children of primary school age are enrolled in school. In 2016, 50.9% of all enrolled students were girls, meaning total gender parity. Both of these statistics are major accomplishments but there is much more to be done to improve education in Bangladesh.

While enrollment is high, the quality of education that the children are receiving remains quite low. Reading fluency is the barometer that is used to measure a school system’s quality, and in Bangladesh, most students are unable to pass basic fluency assessments. To put exact numbers to this, USAID conducted an assessment and determined that “44% of students finish first-grade unable to read their first word and 27 % of third-grade students cannot read with comprehension.”

This lack of literacy not only puts these students at a great disadvantage but stunts prospects of economic growth for Bangladesh. Education plays a significant role in sustaining and developing countries and economies which is why USAID and the World Bank have invested in improving Bangladesh’s education system.

The World Bank’s Education Efforts

On January 18, 2021, Bangladesh signed an agreement with the World Bank, financing $6.5 million to help more than 39,000 kids receive primary school education. The package also allocates funds to vocational training schools for approximately 8,500 dropouts. Mercy Tembon, the World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, says that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the education of children from lower-income households. The additional financing will help slum children and vulnerable youth to build the foundations necessary to improve their lives and increase their opportunities. The World Bank has given Bangladesh the means necessary to improve the quality of their education system and thus support the greater economy.

USAID’s Educational Assistance

USAID has taken a more hands-on approach in improving the quality of education. It works directly with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Primary and Mass Education to improve early grade reading for children to ensure that all children learn to read in their first years of schooling. USAID’s education programs in Bangladesh have:

  • Expanded access to schooling to almost 30,000 out-of-school children
  • Increased the reading fluency of third graders by 18%
  • Increased the first-word reading fluency of first graders by 36%
  • Trained nearly 17,000 new teachers on how to teach early grade reading
  • Issued more than two million reading materials to primary schools

Education as a Key to Poverty Reduction

Every young mind deserves the opportunity for education and with the help of the World Bank and USAID, Bangladesh has the means to offer that. Efforts to improve education in Bangladesh will uplift an entire nation. The state of education in the world is progressing and thus bringing about poverty reduction success.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in ArmeniaHundreds of thousands of civilians fled in search of safety when violence broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, 2020. Following these first violent clashes, organizations stepped up to provide humanitarian assistance for displaced civilians arriving in the capital Yerevan. The extensive damage to infrastructure and disruption of daily life, coupled with a harsh winter climate and COVID-19, will require help from the international aid community for many months to come. One area that this incoming aid will go to is mental health education and support. In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that one in five people in conflict-affected areas lives with a mental health issue. The longer a person lives with acute stress, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the more difficult it is for them to successfully secure basic needs. Aid groups are addressing the issue of mental health in Armenia with various programs.

Mental Health Support for Armenia

The Armenian Red Cross Society is providing humanitarian assistance to help people with basic necessities. This includes psychosocial support for returning soldiers and civilians. As of late December 2020, it had provided around 1,000 psychological services to wounded soldiers and their families.

The International Medical Corps, another emergency aid response group, is working with the Armenian Ministry of Health to assess current needs. In October 2020, the organization expressed its plans to provide training in psychological first aid for frontline healthcare workers. The organization will also provide mental health and psychosocial assistance to people who need it.

UNICEF Addresses Child Trauma

The UNICEF Armenia team and a local arts and music school called the Nexus Center for the Arts offer art and music-based support groups. These support groups give children and teenagers a chance to express themselves without having to talk. UNICEF reported testimonials of students who upon arriving were too afraid to open up but after participating in the support groups felt ready to talk about the trauma they had experienced. The groups also give students a chance to hang out, decompress and enjoy music in a comfortable and safe environment.

To help school teachers, UNICEF partnered with several civil society organizations to teach them how to address trauma in the classroom. UNICEF offered virtual lessons on trauma-informed teaching. The lessons gave 150 school psychologists and 900 public school teachers the skills to work in high-pressure situations and strategies to provide better psychological support to their students.

UNICEF Armenia also put together a psychological first aid guide. This guide has clear and concise information on how to respond to children in a mental health crisis. It emphasizes the importance of responding to children in an age-appropriate and individualized way.

The Increased Need for Mental Health Support in Armenia

Mental health in Armenia, especially following the conflict, is an issue that requires prioritization. The conflict and displacements have left 39,000 children out of school. The trauma caused by displacement has affected children in multiple ways. Ensuring the well-being of these children is a top priority for UNICEF and other organizations addressing mental health in Armenia. The hope is that these initiatives will combat the negative impacts of traumatic experiences in conflict-ridden areas like Nagorno-Karabakh.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

lunik IXAn uncomfortable reality is that there are many children in the world who do not have essentials such as food, water, electricity and a safe, sheltered home. This is the reality for the people living in Lunik IX in Slovakia.

Roma People in Lunik IX

There a several reasons why Lunik IX is an area that is neglected and overlooked by Slovakia. One is due to the large population of Roma people, a minority group unfairly discriminated against and long labeled as a reason for many problems in the country. The slum mostly consists of Roma people who lack the very things they need to rise out of poverty. The Roma population’s 97% unemployment rate is the biggest reason for poverty in the area. Many try to get jobs but are denied them purely based on their ethnicity.

This, as a result, heavily impacts children in Lunik IX. Their parents cannot provide for them, forcing them to live in a rundown area where there is little to no electricity and basic needs go unfulfilled. There is also little opportunity for them to break the cycle of poverty. All these issues have made the area a seemingly hopeless place for many of the children who live there.

Recreational Developments in Lunik IX

In the past few years, significant progress has been made in Lunik IX to improve living conditions for people. For one, there have been a lot of projects built purely for the purpose of giving children safe spaces to play in instead of playing in garbage and rubble. A gym, ping pong tables, a playground and a park have all been built, giving the residents safe recreational spaces. While these seem like small solutions to big problems, these spaces allow kids to be kids. The children of Lunik IX do not live typical childhoods and these projects allow them to engage in children’s play activities.

Other Key Developments in Lunik IX

Three important new developments in the area are the implementation of regular garbage disposal, the establishment of clean drinking water facilities and new construction projects. Lunik IX has been long plagued with poorly disposed of trash and a regular garbage disposal system eliminates this problem entirely. This alone can improve the health of people tenfold, as many of the diseases they face arise from unsanitary living conditions.

Clean drinking water is a necessity and it is something that Lunik IX lacks. There are plans for the reconstruction of water pipes with a prepaid system, which will ensure nobody accumulates debt from water payments.

Newer construction efforts are on track to solve the decay of many buildings and the lack of employment opportunities. Many of the newer buildings can be worked by residents, allowing them to have jobs they have previously been denied based on ethnicity.

Despite Lunik IX’s reputation as on of Europe’s worst slums, efforts are being made to change this and improve living conditions for the people.

– Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

restorative dentistryLow-income countries have long been the victims of poor health care systems. Along with this health care system neglect has also come a large amount of dental care neglect. Both dental staffing and dental resources are scarce resources for those living below the poverty line in low-income countries. Smiles Forever is a nonprofit working within Bolivia in order to provide restorative dentistry as a way of increasing resources to a  population desperately in need.

Dental Care in Developing Countries

Most dental care within developing countries is given at hospitals that are either centralized or regional. This dental care does not do much to prevent or restore dental issues within the general population of a country. The dental care staffing is so low in many developing countries that trained dental professionals are forced to do the work that would normally be the job of dental assistants. This creates an ever-increasing cycle of dental worker unavailability. The creation of programs to train dental hygienists has been identified as a major solution to the extreme lack of restorative dentistry and dental care within struggling countries.

Major Dental Issues in Developing Countries

Throughout impoverished countries, there are a few dental issues that are seen most often and are in need of the greatest amount of restoration and prevention. These issues are dental caries, periodontal disease and tooth or gum abscesses.

  • Dental Caries: In simpler terms, this is when a tooth decays and leaves behind a cavity. Acids in the mouth that are present from sugar residue cause the enamel of a tooth to break down. Having access to simple dental materials like a toothbrush, floss and toothpaste greatly decreases an individual’s likelihood to develop dental caries. Fluoride provided at dental offices is also key in protection against dental caries.
  • Periodontal Disease: This disease is caused when there is a lot of plaque build-up on an individual’s teeth. The build-up causes an infection to infest the gums or bones throughout the face. Plaque build-up can only be properly removed by someone who has been training as a dental professional.
  • Tooth/Gum Abscesses: These are caused when tooth damage, usually from dental caries, allow for bacteria to invade a tooth or the gums. The bacteria causes pus to build up within the teeth or gums which causes a lot of pain and swelling. An abscess of this sort can only be treated by a professional and can cause sepsis if an individual is not given proper care.

The Mission of Smiles Forever

Smiles Forever is a nonprofit dental organization mainly working in Bolivia to provide free preventative and restorative dentistry. Its mission is to allow for a better quality of life, specifically for children growing up in Bolivia. Smiles Forever hopes that its work will act as a model for increased dental care in poor countries within South America.

Sandy Kemper, a dental hygienist from Seattle, is the founder of this nonprofit. She was inspired by a service trip that she took to Bolivia in 1999 in order to provide free dental work in the Madre de Dios shelter. A couple of years after her trip she returned to Cochabamba, Bolivia, in order to develop the Smiles Forever program after seeing how desperately in need the citizens were of restorative dentistry.

Programs Created by Smiles Forever

Smiles Forever has three main programs that it runs in Bolivia. These programs are its dental hygiene training program, its community partnering programs and its public fee-for-service clinic.

The dental hygiene training program was created in order to teach and train selected indigenous women to become dental hygienists. Each of the women is offered a full scholarship and the materials needed in order to become properly trained. The program is only conducted for half of each day so that the women can use the other half to support their families while being trained. Not only does this program allow for an increase in dental professionals in Bolivia but it also helps raise indigenous women and their families out of poverty by giving these women the opportunity to find full-time professional jobs.

The community partnering that Smiles Forever does is where a lot of its free dental work is provided. This organization works with other nonprofits throughout Bolivia that provide life-improving services. Through this partnering, it has been able to have a more widespread influence in providing dental care throughout Bolivia as its partners are very influential.

The public fee-for-service clinic was set up as a way to provide hands-on experience for individuals working in the dental hygiene training program and as a means of income to support the free community outreach efforts of the nonprofit. Individuals who attend the clinic pay in order to receive necessary preventative and restorative dentistry care.

Smiles Forever and Women’s Empowerment

Smiles Forever greatly supports the reduction of poverty and the provision of essential services through the uplifting of indigenous women. It recognizes that economic growth greatly increases when women play an empowered part in society. So far, 37 indigenous women have successfully completed the dental hygiene raining program and some have gone on to fully complete dental school. Overall, Smiles Forever has an all-around positive effect on the communities of Bolivia not only from a health standpoint but from a social and economic standpoint as a result of its efforts to empower women.

–  Olivia Bay
Photo: Flickr

Child Refugees in MexicoIn recent years, Mexico has become an increasingly significant place of asylum. More than 70,000 refugees have submitted asylum applications in 2019, and despite an initial drop in applications in 2020 due to the pandemic, COVID-19 claims for asylum in December 2020 hit a record high. The well-being of child refugees in Mexico is of particular concern.

Child Refugees in Mexico

People are arriving in Mexico from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela in search of safety, local integration, Mexican residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. In 2020, one in five refugees were children. With such alarming demographics, it has been essential for Mexico to address its overwhelming influx of asylum-seekers and find solutions to protect those vulnerable, especially children.

COVID-19 has heightened poverty among child migrants. Child refugees in Mexico are escaping forced recruitment, gang violence and crime that is a daily reality in their Central American countries. This has resulted in displacement, food scarcity and poverty. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of insecurity amongst these children have only increased, with about 5,000 children (60% unaccompanied) returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

COVID-19 has devastated children and families as extended lockdowns, school closures, stalled essential economic activities, neglected migrant reparations and rising violence has escalated vulnerability. Children seeking asylum are most affected by the virus due to the lack of access to safe water, sanitation and other essential services. Restricted access to international protection and regular migration pathways are other obstacles they are facing as they search for safety.

UNICEF has responded with efforts guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action that focus on providing 2.3 million children and their families, including children affected by human mobility,  protection from the exposure of COVID-19.

Trump Policy Endangers Child Refugees

Since the Trump administration’s 2019 Remain-in-Mexico program, 70,000 non-Mexican refugees have been waiting in asylum camps for their U.S. court hearings in northern Mexico. Within this group, 700 children have crossed the U.S. border alone as their parents wanted them to escape the terrible camp conditions and show themselves to U.S. border officials since unaccompanied minors cannot be returned to Mexico under U.S. policy and law.

CBS News reported that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been able to house all children who had left their parents in Mexico and 643 of them have been released to family members in the U.S. Although this is good news, the Justice Action Center has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its plan to deport children with circumstances like these, threatening their safety if they go back to their home country. The NGO, Human Rights First, has complied more than 1,300 reports of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and assault against migrants returned by the U.S.

Mexico Enlists Reforms to Protect Child Refugees

As of November 2020, Mexico has approved reforms that apply to children in all migration contexts, accompanied or not. The reform will put an end to immigration detention centers for boys and girls and instead will be referred to alternative accommodation. It will also allow international protection and eligibility for temporary humanitarian visas to prevent deportation or return until the migrant child’s best interest can be resolved.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is collaborating with associated government agencies, U.N. sister agencies and civil society organizations to certify that referral procedures and appropriate shelter capacity are arranged.

Mexico’s Solidarity Plants Seeds for Progress

For a country that has been overwhelmed by the influx of migrants desperately seeking asylum, Mexico has responded with compassion and an assertion to reform its immigration policy. This combined with other humanitarian efforts will provide monumental aid and help eradicate the suffering of child refugees in Mexico.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Vulnerable Children in KenyaOrganizations like UNICEF and ACAKORO have been providing educational resources to Kenyan students despite the immense difficulties in the country due to COVID-19 and 2020’s locust invasion. On March 15, 2020, the Kenyan Government forced schools to shut down due to COVID-19. Due to school closures, millions of students risk losing out on education during the pandemic. Organizations stepped in to provide resources, remote learning services and sanitation facilities to vulnerable children in Kenya.

Education in Kenya

Over the past decade, poverty in Kenya has improved due to the country meeting many of its Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals are goals created by the United Nations to help underdeveloped nations improve and one of these goals is to achieve universal primary education. A key issue that Kenya needs to address is education disparities. According to a UNICEF study conducted in 2014, low educational attainment of the household head and living in rural areas is the highest indicator that predicts child poverty.

Impoverished children struggle to gain an education. More than 1.2 million primary-school-age children do not attend school. Even more vulnerable children like orphans have increased susceptibility to experiencing education disparities.

Employment in Kenya

Young people in search of employment experience difficulties finding a job that lifts them out of poverty. Only 1% of Kenyan youth have a university education and many young people are entering a job market with few hirable skills. A whole 40% of the youth in Kenya either did not go to school or failed to complete primary education and the largest percentage of people unemployed in Kenya is represented by those aged between 15 and 24. Higher education in Kenya is expensive and not accessible to disadvantaged children.

UNICEF Provides Aid

Nationwide access to quality education is key in reducing poverty and investing in the futures of vulnerable children in Kenya. UNICEF alleviated education burdens during the COVID-19 crisis by providing remote learning to students and giving solar-powered radios and textbooks to vulnerable families. Through UNICEF’s solar-powered radios, 40,000 vulnerable children were reached with educational resources that are necessary for remote learning. On December 23, 2020, UNICEF provided 700,000 masks to be distributed in time for schools to reopen on January 4, 2021. Improved access to sanitation is an ongoing issue, and due to the pandemic, the need for sanitation is of crucial importance. UNICEF foresaw the issue and provided handwashing facilities to hundred of schools.

ACAKORO

ACAKORO is a community-based organization, supported by UNICEF, that uses football as a tool for development. ACAKORO works with the community of the Korogocho slum and has been tutoring vulnerable children during COVID-19 so that they can continue their learning. UNICEF is also supporting the government and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) with remote learning and getting schools ready to reopen safely.

The Kenya Jua Kali Voucher Programme

The Kenya Jua Kali Voucher Programme, implemented between 1997 and 2001, was a revolutionary comprehensive policy designed to provide vulnerable youth with vouchers to pay for training courses. A similar modern-day strategy can be put in place in order to address the lack of access to essential education in Kenya. Providing equal access to education for all children in Kenya is essential to lift people out of poverty.

Organizations such as UNICEF and ACAKORO are addressing education-related disparities amid the pandemic, thereby addressing overall poverty in the nation.

– Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Toys for ChildrenFor kids of all ages, making a list of toy requests for Santa is one of the most exciting times of the year. Yet for children living in the world’s poorest regions, there is no Santa, presents or toys. UNICEF estimates that across the world, nearly one billion children live in multidimensional poverty. That equates to 13% of the global population. During the holiday season, three organizations are working to make sure that impoverished children have toys to call their own.

Samaritan’s Purse

For more than 25 years now, the Samaritan’s Purse annual “Operation Christmas Child” has provided toys for children living in poverty. Franklin Graham, the president of this organization, began the tradition in 1993 by sending gifts to young kids experiencing the violence of war in Bosnia. Since then, the project has grown to spread gifts all across the world to more than 150 countries, including some of the poorest areas. Samaritan’s Purse asks donors to fill a shoebox with various gifts for either a boy or girl which then gets distributed to congregations located in these impoverished nations.The initiative has brought more than 178 million children toys throughout the years. In many cases, the gifts provided by Samaritan’s Purse will be the only toys these children receive in their childhoods. The work done by this organization embodies the true meaning of the holidays and acts as a Santa for the poor.

Play Well Africa

One of the most successful companies in the toy industry is Lego. Lego’s plastic colored bricks are educational and creative opportunities for children. Play Well Africa is dedicated to bringing these Lego pieces to the less fortunate living in Africa. Unlike other toys, which can break, stop working or require electricity, Lego’s offer a unique ability to allow children to play in any circumstances. Young Micah Slentz, a child himself, started Play Well Africa when he asked his father to buy his favorite toy, Lego bricks, and donate it to children in Africa. A simple kind gesture has grown into a massive project that receives both new and used Lego bricks and sends them to impoverished children in developing countries. With offices in both the United States and Australia, Play Well Africa is a multinational organization. Thousands of children in countries such as Uganda will build, create and have fun with Lego bricks, all thanks to a boy who wanted to share his favorite toy with the world.

The Toy Foundation

For decades now, the Toy Foundation has strived to create avenues to bring children of the world toys to play with. One of its most successful campaigns has been the “Toy Bank” which started back in 2003. The foundation relies on donations from top toy companies and in turn spreads these gifts to existing agencies located in impoverished countries. Donations come from all sorts of brands, including Hasbro, Lego and Mattel. Children surviving some of the worst living conditions receive brand new toys, an opportunity made possible by the Toy Foundation. Children with diseases, orphans and those in war-torn nations are the top priority for the Toy Bank, making the organization’s work imperative. Ensuring toys for children in the most vulnerable situations is the organization’s focus.

Toys for the Most Vulnerable Children

Toys can be a healthy outlet for children who live in some of the world’s poorest regions. Toys can provide both emotional support and stress relief. Whether it be a teddy bear to hug, a doll to dress up or Legos to build, the psychological benefits of playing with toys are something all children need. These organizations all help to make dreams come true for the young children who need toys the most.

– Zachary Hardenstine
Photo: Flickr

Sesame Street's Rohingya MuppetsSesame Street is developing two Rohingya muppets to help refugee children overcome trauma. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by fostering access to education. Poverty affects all aspects of life. Children who live in poverty suffer from many physical, intellectual and emotional complications. Child stunting, for example, is a result of nutrient-deficient diets, repeated infection and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child’s life. This has dire long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development. Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets aim to improve the intellectual development of Rohingya children, which directly affects education, and in turn, poverty.

Stunting and Malnutrition in Rohingya Children

The Rohingya people are a stateless Muslim minority group who have lived in a state of flux, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, since they were forced to flee Myanmar. They were violently persecuted by the Myanmar military, an instance of ethnic cleansing. Close to 800,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to Bangladesh. It is common for refugees to live in refugee camps within Bangladesh.

A group of refugee camps, located in Cox’s Bazar, was the subject of a 2017-2018 study on the rates of stunting and malnutrition in Rohingya children. The study found that the rate of stunting “dropped from 44% to 38% in the main camp.” Although it is positive that the rate of childhood stunting declined, the rate of childhood stunting still remained dangerously close to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical health emergency threshold of 40%.

Additionally, the rate of acute malnutrition dropped from close to 20% to nearly 10%. Childhood deaths declined. The rate of diarrhea, caused in some instances by dehydration or bacterial infection, also declined. Nonetheless, these rates remain too high to relieve concerns and the situation is still described as dire.

Malnutrition affects a child’s developing brain, impacting education and reducing the ability of a person to lift themselves out of poverty.

Sesame Street’s Rohingya Muppets

The majority of humanitarian funding is deployed to address acute effects of poverty like stunting and malnutrition. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing on education and intellectual development. Sherrie Westin is the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop and she identified that “less than 3% of all aid is used for education.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets consist of two characters, Noor Yasmin and Aziz, to connect with Rohingya children on an intellectual and emotional level. Westin feels that without intervention by Sesame Street, Rohingya children risk growing up unable to read and write or do simple math.

Westin cited scientific research as the basis for her concern. Similar to the way inadequate dietary nutrition and disease lead to physical stunting, stress and trauma stunt brain development. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by providing emotional and intellectual support to Rohingya children who have endured trauma.

BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Lab

In Bangladesh, Sesame Street partnered with BRAC. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are designed to help children learn through play and recover from emotional trauma in the process. BRAC designs its play labs to resemble settings that are familiar to the children it works with. In Bangladesh, this means that Rohingya children are surrounded by “motifs and paintings significant to Rohingya culture.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets reflect an integral part of BRAC’s approach. Children relate best to characters that they can identify with and they flourish in settings that are familiar and comfortable. BRAC’s success speaks for itself. Close to 90% of the kids that BRAC works with complete the fifth grade of schooling.

Sesame Street Addresses Rohingya Poverty

While the humanitarian crisis among Rohingya refugees is ongoing, recognition of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on intellectual development is crucial to lifting the Rohingya out of poverty. Education alleviates poverty and negating the effects of trauma will allow for proper intellectual development to take on educational endeavors. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing its attention on the intellectual development of Rohingya children.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

The Spreeha Foundation of Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, millions of children are living in poverty without any assistance. That is where the nonprofit organization, Spreeha Bangladesh Foundation, comes in and fulfills its mission. Spreeha greatly supports Bangladeshi children; the organization uses creative solutions to empower people to reach their full potential.

One Spreeha-run program that guarantees support for Bangladeshi girls is called Progga. The program is meant to empower young girls with important life skills, especially leadership values. Approximately 13.7 million Bangladeshi girls feel disorganized and vulnerable during their adolescent years and are lacking the correct guidance. Those who go without counsel are more likely to perform poorly or drop out of school. Additionally, they have a higher risk of mental and physical abuse. This inevitably leads to lower possibilities of female representation in leadership positions.

Spreeha’s solution is to motivate young Bangladeshi girls to become leaders through an interactive method. Progga groups educate young girls on how to make proper judgments that enhance their socio-economic situations and overall security. They achieve this goal by encouraging awareness of developmental changes in Bangladesh. They mentor young girls using group collaboration with speech and debate which develop their leadership skills and improve their self-confidence.

COVID Complications

The Covid-19 pandemic has made life hard to bear, especially for children in Bangladesh. Thankfully, Spreeha has developed solutions to combat the crisis. Doctors and healthcare workers make up the primary components of the organization. They engage in door-to-door visits, providing counsel and consciousness to the community. It also informs the community on how to prevent infections during the pandemic. In an attempt to support Bangladeshi children, Spreeha has helped prevent infection by temporarily shutting down the before and after-school programs, as well as adolescent girls’ clubs. Urban populated areas of Bangladesh are very dense, therefore they are more susceptible to coronavirus. The young children are unaware of how dangerous the virus is, which is why Spreeha is working tirelessly to make sure they are safe. With the economy in disarray, the daily wage-earning Bengali workers have been affected. Spreeha urges the communities to stay together during these uncertain times.

How It Began

Tazin Shahid is the founder of the Spreeha Bangladesh Foundation. He desires to help more Bangladeshi people and ensure that Spreeha can support the children. Along with education and job training services, Spreeha has developed a business incubator called Spreeha Studios. The company promotes startup companies. These services have helped over 125,000 people, including business owners with families. Prior to the founding of Spreeha, Shahid worked for Microsoft. This profession pushed him to contact one million people by the start of the new decade. He accomplished this by “hitting refresh”, meaning to start anew in a world with less poverty. According to Shahid, the first stage of Spreeha involved ending the succession of poverty. The second was to shatter social obstacles. Finally, the third involves encouraging people to follow whatever dreams and desires they possess.

The organization began in 2011 when Shahid still worked for Microsoft. He yearned to build a world where those living in poverty can be inspired to improve their lives. At first, Spreeha was a small transportable health clinic with only one doctor and very little medicine. Early on, the funding came from Shahid’s Microsoft companions. The medical center was generous enough to aid 10,000 – 20,000 people in two provinces.

Eventually, Spreeha was reworked to include many other ways to help Bangladeshi families. The Bangladeshi children received affordable health care from the Sneho Diagnostic Center as well as medical diagnoses from the mobile Amar Lab. New ventures included the aforementioned leadership program, Progga, and the early childhood development and daycare center for children and education center for mothers, the Udoy Center. Shahid has reached his objective of helping one million people by providing education to 3,669 children, in addition to 65,119 receiving health care and 68,033 gaining counseling.

The Overall Mission

The CEO of Spreeha, Ferdouse Oneza, spoke with The Borgen Project. He says, “Our mission is to break the cycle of poverty. We look at the root causes of poverty. Right now we have a clinic in Bangladesh as well as pre and after-school programs. We educate them for fun and teach them social skills”. With the pandemic, issues have worsened. Spreeha continues to create safe spaces for the less fortunate. It is a pivotal reason why the communities of Bangladesh are still intact. One issue of safety Bangladeshi children face is the legalization of child marriage. Girls in Bangladesh are in danger of being forced into arranged marriages with a significantly older man. Millions of these girls are under the age of 15. This is currently legal, as there is a loophole in the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

Ferdouse Oneza stated that the way Spreeha addresses child marriage is, “Raising awareness of the issue. Educating the children. Counseling with parents, go door to door. One of our girls was working for Spreeha but was engaged to someone way older than her. She dropped out of her university but after some campaigning, she was allowed to finish her education first and then get married. During the pandemic, a lot of families are moving to the villages. This puts the girls at risk because they don’t have the Spreeha service so their parents marry them off”. The nonprofit is unable to engage in policymaking, such as the Borgen Project. The Bengali government doesn’t abide by changes. Regardless, Spreeha supports Bangladeshi children through active community involvement and inspiring individuals to be better.

Shalman Ahmed
Photo: Flickr

Children in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso, a small, landlocked country in Western Africa, is one of the least developed countries in the world. About 45% of the over 20 million who live in the nation face poverty. Nearly 2.2 million people live in dire need of aid, with children half of those in need. This crisis has only worsened due to the ongoing conflicts in the Sahel region of Western Africa, which have displaced millions of Burkinabé people and put them at a higher risk of poverty.

Children in Burkina Faso, who make up 45% of the population, face more challenges than nearly any other group of children on Earth — many of them have low access to nutrition, education, and healthcare, and are often subjected to child labor and marriage.

Hunger and Malnutrition

While Burkina Faso has always struggled with hunger, with 25% of children stunted from malnutrition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The number of people in need of food aid has tripled to 3.2 million, and many of those suffering from malnutrition are children. Doctors and nurses in Burkina Faso are reporting extremely high numbers of malnourished children entering their healthcare facilities each day. Prior to the pandemic, Burkinabé children experienced hunger as a result of displacement from the conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region.

Education

While attending primary school is compulsory for children in Burkina Faso between the ages of seven and fourteen, this rule is not enforced, and about 36% of children do not attend. Additionally, 67% of girls over the age of fifteen do not know how to read or write. The high levels of poverty in the country lead to low levels of education. Furthermore, the conflicts in the area have only made it harder for children to access and attend their schools. Attackers have raided the schools, injuring teachers and putting Burkinabé children at risk.

Healthcare

Burkina Faso has the tenth-highest under-five mortality rate in the world, with 87.5 out of every 1,000 children in 2019 dying before their fifth birthday. About 54 infants die for every 1,000 live births . That majority of these deaths are from communicable diseases and malaria, which the nation has struggled to prevent and control. While the number of healthcare workers in the area has increased in the past few decades, particularly between 2006 and 2010, it has not been quite enough to combat the need of the ever-growing population, and many children in the area are left without healthcare access.

Child Marriage

Over half of Burkinabé children are married before their eighteenth birthday, and the country has the fifth highest rate of child marriage in the world. One in ten girls under nineteen have already given birth to at least one child. Girls with limited access to education have a higher chance of marrying as children. The same holds true for girls who live in impoverished households. Both of these trends remain common in Burkina Faso. The apparent social value ascribed to girls in the region is considered lower than their male counterparts. As a result, young girls who enter child marriages often do not have a choice in their future husbands.

Child Labor

42% of children in Burkina Faso are engaged in child labor rather than attending school. Though the government adopted a “National Strategy to End the Worst Forms of Child Labor” and raised the legal minimum working age to sixteen, these high rates of child labor have not decreased significantly over the past few years. These children work as cotton harvesters, miners of gold and granite, domestic workers, and in some rare cases, sex workers. Child labor puts children at risk of serious injury, and, in some extreme cases, even death.

While children in Burkina Faso face all of these challenges, work is being done to help them live safe, healthy and educated lives. Save the Children, UNICEF, Action Against Hunger and Girls Not Brides are just a handful of the organizations working in Burkina Faso to ensure that these children receive the care they need and deserve. Childhood in this region is, in fact, difficult. Yet, all is not lost as these groups work to improve the lives of children across Burkina Faso.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr