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Mental Health Resources Physical health is often the focus of healthcare advocacy groups, but mental health needs to be improved around the world just as much. While some still consider mental health a taboo subject, it is important to improve the lives and prospects of those in poverty. The violence and trauma that often go hand-in-hand with extreme poverty can cause mental health issues. Proper care is often lacking but organizations are stepping up to the challenge. There are several organizations providing mental health resources in developing countries.

The Africa Mental Health Research and Training Foundation (AMHRTF)

AMHRTF focuses on providing mental health services in developing countries like Kenya. The organization prioritizes community health, making it a point to educate and serve community members of all ages from children to the elderly. It puts special focus on pregnancy and postpartum mental healthcare and trauma-related mental health disorders. In addition, the organization employs professionals with a wide range of specialties in order to implement holistic care. AMHRTF aims to make mental healthcare in Kenya available and accessible.

Strong Minds

Strong Minds focuses on providing mental health services in developing countries throughout the African continent. Specifically, the organization works toward ending Africa’s depression epidemic and reaching the most vulnerable women with depression in sub-Saharan Africa. After conducting research on the most effective and cost-efficient ways to conduct programs, Strong Minds settled on a model of consistent group therapy for a period of 12 weeks that a trained community member led. Qualifying to receive training as a group leader does not require a high level of formal education beforehand and is therefore accessible to members of communities in extreme poverty. These groups are extremely effective at reducing the cases of depressive episodes and providing coping mechanisms.

The World Federation for Mental Health

The World Federation for Mental Health emerged in 1948 and has been active in several different areas of mental health services since. The organization’s focus is destigmatizing mental illness and advocating for international and national mental health policies for the underserved. The organization helps to organize mental health awareness activities and events around the world and educate the public on mental health conditions. It also aims to improve care, treatment and recovery of people with mental disorders.

Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry

The Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry initially provided mental health services in developing countries in Europe with a special focus on nations that were previously part of the USSR. The organization’s work has now spread to include other regions too. The organization advocates for mental health care as a human right and assists people with mental health disorders, intellectual disabilities and trauma-based disorders. Like Strong Minds, the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry focuses on improving mental health options and services on a community level by working with local negative forms of mental illness management and helping to create more positive treatment options. The organization’s decentralized approach makes solutions more sustainable in the long term.

Center for Health and Human Development

Mental Health International, under the umbrella of the organization Center for Health and Human Development, helps to provide mental healthcare in El Salvador and other developing countries like Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The organization aims to destigmatize mental illness and form a network of NGOs to provide care to people with mental health disorders like depression and schizophrenia. Mental Health International also provides self-empowerment techniques along with training and classes for mental health caregivers.

All the above organizations work to improve and provide mental health resources in developing countries and create a world in which everyone in need has access to sufficient care.

Che Jackson
Photo: Flickr

investing in BrazilThere are numerous reasons to invest in foreign aid in general. That can include partaking in growing the global economy, promoting international human rights and opening donor countries to potential investment returns. What makes Brazil a particularly good market to invest in is its promising role in the global economy. There are several reasons why investing in Brazil is beneficial.

COVID-19 Response

As of January 2021, Brazil has the third-most COVID-19 cases worldwide. The Brazilian economy was not in its best shape at the start of the pandemic because it has not fully recovered from the 2014-2015 recession. This made the economy vulnerable to precarious economic shocks that resulted in increased poverty, unemployment and small business fragility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left countries like Brazil with possible lasting economic damages. Many emerging and developing countries rely heavily on foreign aid for financial and humanitarian support. Offering foreign aid to Brazil will not only help pave the way for a domestic post-COVID recovery but also alleviate some of the negative impacts of the pandemic through humanitarian benefits.

Diversified Opportunities in Emerging Markets

The Brazilian economy is classified as an emerging market. Emerging markets are economies that are transitioning into a developed economy. Since the launch of the MSCI Emerging Market (EM) Index in 1988, which measures portfolio performances of emerging markets, investing in emerging countries proved to create new and diversified opportunities outside of common markets.

Market Expansion and Economic Growth

Since 2016, Brazil has shown an increase in GDP growth with approximately a 1.3% increase. In 2020, Brazil fell back into recession because of COVID-19. However, Brazil’s economy displayed growth and has played an important role in the growth of the Latin American economy as it makes up 35% of the Latin American GDP. It is approximated that the Brazilian market reaches 900 million consumers in just the Americas.

On how quickly the Brazilian economy rebounded, Bloomberg reports boosted domestic demand and exports with a 9.47% rise in economic activity index from July to September of 2020 in comparison to the previous months.

As Brazil recovers from COVID-19’s economic impact, it leaves opportunity for foreign investors to take advantage of Brazil’s growing market, especially with its low interests. Some of Brazil’s profitable sectors include real estate and agricultural goods like coffee, sugar cane, corn and soybean. Participating in these sectors expands Brazil’s domestic market and hence the world market size.

Geographical Location

Especially for the United States, Brazil’s proximity allows easier trade. For other advantages, Brazil’s geographical properties for the agriculture sector also make its commodities attractive. Approximately 28.7% of land is used for agricultural production which makes up more than 4% of the annual Brazilian GDP. Following China, the United States and Australia, Brazil has the fourth-most amount of agricultural land.

Foreign Investment Returns

Encouraging enterprises to invest in foreign aid can ultimately result in great returns. A common type of foreign aid for these corporations is Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Through FDIs, corporations can potentially gain lasting interests, multinational consumers and flexible production costs. This type of foreign aid also brings developing countries like Brazil innovative technology, investment strategies, jobs and infrastructure from investing corporations of developed nations.

Foreign investment is critical to developing and emerging markets. Investing in Brazil promotes development and sustainability and also benefits foreign investors greatly. Furthermore, foreign investment assists economic recovery following unforeseen economic shocks like that of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine Clinics in GuatemalaNew telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are providing vital resources to women and children living in remote areas with limited access to healthcare specialists. This advancement in healthcare technology increases Guatemala’s healthcare accessibility and follows a trend of a worldwide increase in telemedicine services.

Guatemala’s New Telemedicine Clinics

Guatemala’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS), in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization, launched four new telemedicine clinics in Guatemala in December 2020.

The clinics were designed to improve accessibility to doctors and specialists for citizens living in rural areas, where unstable or lengthy travel can deter patients from getting the care they need. Lack of staff is another barrier telemedicine hopes to overcome. Special attention will be given to issues of child malnutrition and maternal health.

The funding of the program was made possible through financial assistance from the Government of Sweden and the European Union. aimed at increasing healthcare access in rural areas across the world.

Guatemala’s State of Healthcare

Roughly 80% of Guatemala’s doctors are located within metropolitan areas, leaving scarce availability for those living in rural areas. Issues of nutrition and maternal healthcare are special targets for the new program due to the high rates of child malnutrition and maternal mortality in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s child malnutrition rates are some of the highest in all of Central America and disproportionately affect its indigenous communities. Throughout the country, 46.5% of children under 5 are stunted due to malnutrition.

Maternal death rates are high among women in Guatemala but the country has seen a slow and steady decline in maternal mortality over the last two decades. The most recently reported maternal death rate is 95 per 100,000 births.

Guatemala does have a promising antenatal care rate, with 86% of women receiving at least four antenatal care visits during their pregnancies. By increasing the access to doctors through telemedicine clinics, doctors can better diagnose issues arising during pregnancy and prepare for possible birth difficulties that could result in maternal death.

Guatemala’s COVID-19 rates have also impacted the ability of patients to seek healthcare. The threat of the virus makes it difficult for those traveling to seek medical treatment due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Trends in Worldwide Telemedicine

The world has seen a rise of telemedicine clinics as the pandemic creates safety concerns regarding in-person visits with doctors. Doctors are now reaching rural communities that previously had little opportunity to access specialized medicine. Telemedicine is an important advancement toward accessible healthcare in rural areas. While the telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are limited in numbers, they set an important example of how technology can be utilized to adapt during a health crisis and reach patients in inaccessible areas.

June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Bipolar Awareness in IndiaIndia is the second-most densely populated nation in the world, with more than 1.3 billion people. Of that number, more than 82 million citizens suffer from bipolar disorder, according to data from 2019. Bipolar disorder in India often goes undiagnosed and untreated for reasons ranging from ancient superstitions to the cost of treatment, but, bipolar awareness in India is steadily progressing.

Bipolar Disorder in India

Improved bipolar awareness in India exemplifies how a concerted effort can reduce stigma and create an affordable and readily available avenue for treatments such as therapy and medication. Indians, mostly women, have been disowned and abandoned by family or a spouse after receiving a bipolar diagnosis. In a country where the consequences of a mental condition are isolation and disconnection, the need for awareness and education is paramount.

A nation that once attributed bipolar disorder to demonic spirits, planetary alignments or a sinful past life, has come extremely far in its understanding of the illness. But, the stigma surrounding the disorder is still prevalent in India, and many, especially those from rural locations, believe bipolar disorder is a choice or an illness reserved for the rich and privileged.

BipolarIndia Organization

One resource improving bipolar awareness in India is the organization BipolarIndia. The community was created in 2013 by Vijay Nallawala, an Indian man that suffers from bipolar disorder, and his mentor and friend, Puneet Bhatnagar. BipolarIndia’s mission is to create an empathetic, judgment-free environment for bipolar people to find information, treatment, and most of all, support from those that can relate to their struggle.

BipolarIndia hosts a National Conference every year on World Bipolar Day to create awareness for the illness and educate residents from all over the country. In 2015, the organization began hosting monthly support meetings for individuals to speak with peers that can understand their struggle. It has also recently developed a way for patients to receive real-time support through the Telegram App when they feel they may need immediate help. Resources such as the Telegram App are invaluable due to the lack of mental health professionals in India.

The Mental Health Care Bill

Data from a 2005 report shows that there are only three psychiatrists per million citizens and only 0.06% of India’s healthcare budget goes toward improving mental healthcare. The Indian Government passed a Mental Health Care Bill in June of 2013 laying out a mission to improve bipolar awareness in India as well as reduce stigma surrounding all mental health issues. The bill has been undergoing revisions and policy modifications based on the guidance given by the Indian Association of Psychiatry.

Efforts to Raise Awareness

The government’s efforts to raise awareness about the complexity of bipolar disorder and the number of Indians that suffer in silence is vital to the disorder being understood. The Indian government aims to provide communities with adequate care and reliable information, leading the nation to a better understanding of a complicated mental disorder.

Bipolar awareness in India has improved with private organizations such as the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) funding research on effective treatments and raising awareness across the globe.

Also fighting for bipolar awareness, Indian celebrities, including Deepika Padukone, Rukh Kahn, Yo Yo Honey Singh and Anushka Sharma, have stepped forward and opened up about their personal battles with bipolar disorder, combatting the stigma surrounding the illness.

The Road Ahead

Bipolar awareness in India has slowly improved but still has a long way to go. If the government aims to change the attitude toward bipolar disorder and improve treatment, a significant investment in research is vital as well as a comprehensive understanding of the disorder.

–  Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

 Address Neglected Tropical DiseasesOn November 12, 2020, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) voted overwhelmingly to adopt a bold set of plans to address the threat of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) throughout the next decade. With this vote, the WHO endorsed a “road map” written by the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases team to address neglected tropical diseases in the world’s most vulnerable regions. The decade-long project aims to establish global programs with international partners, stakeholders and private organizations. These partnerships will work to accomplish an ambitious set of goals that will end the spread of certain neglected tropical diseases and improve the quality of human life in regions susceptible to neglected tropical diseases.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)

Neglected tropical diseases are commonly defined by global health organizations such as the WHO and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as a group of diseases that primarily affect those living in tropical and subtropical climates and disproportionately spread in remote areas or regions afflicted by poverty. Among the 20 diseases that the WHO categorizes as neglected tropical diseases are dengue, rabies, leprosy, intestinal worm and sleeping sickness.

Tropical and subtropical regions include Central America and the northern half of South America in the Western Hemisphere, most of sub-Saharan Africa as well as island nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Many of the countries in this range are developing or impoverished nations. A lack of development and healthcare infrastructure in nations that lie in tropical regions, such as lack of access to clean water and health education, creates a more fertile breeding ground for the spread of dangerous diseases.

The reason that these diseases are considered “neglected” is that regions where neglected tropical diseases cause the most damage are populated by people with little political power or voice, a result of widespread poverty, location and other socioeconomic factors. As such, the spread of these diseases goes largely unnoticed and there is little incentive at the international level to take measures to combat these ailments. Though NTDs do not receive high-profile attention in the larger medical community, the WHO estimates that more than one billion people are affected by NTDs. The WHO sees the urgency to address neglected tropical diseases.

WHO’s 2021-2030 Road Map

The WHO outlined a set of “overarching global targets” that it will pursue over the course of the next decade in work with foreign governments, community organizations and NGOs. These overarching goals, to be accomplished through achieving a number of “cross-cutting targets” are the primary effects the WHO hopes to achieve by 2030:

  1. Reduce number of people requiring treatment for NTDs by 90%. To attain a 90% reduction rate of those requiring treatment for neglected tropical diseases, the WHO altered its approach to disease treatment from a vertical, single disease eradication method to a horizontal, cooperative effort across several countries. This would require 100% access to water supply, greater international investment in healthcare and action at the federal level to collect and report data on infection.
  2. Eliminate at least one NTD in 100 countries. There are a number of neglected tropical diseases that the WHO lists as “targeted for elimination”: human African trypanosomiasis, leprosy and onchocerciasis. In the WHO’s road map, elimination of a disease means complete interruption of transmission, effectively stopping a disease’s spread. For eliminating diseases such as leprosy, the WHO hopes to assist 40 countries to adopt epidermal health strategies in their healthcare systems.
  3. Completely eradicate two NTDs. The two diseases listed as “targeted for eradication” by the WHO are yaws, a chronic skin condition, and dracunculiasis, an infection caused by parasitic worms in unclean water. Both diseases are, according to the WHO, either easily treatable or on the verge of eradication. Dracunculiasis, for which there is currently no vaccine or medical treatment, only affected a reported 54 people in 2019. Yaws is still endemic in 15 nations but can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics.
  4. Reduce by 75% the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to NTDs. The implementation of increased prevention, intervention and treatment can increase the quality of human life in tropical and subtropical countries. This final overarching goal aims to create nationwide efforts to alleviate or eliminate the chronic symptoms of those infected with neglected tropical diseases as well as prevent the further spread of debilitating neglected tropical diseases.

Ending Neglected Diseases

To address neglected tropical diseases, the fulfillment of the goals outlined in the WHO’s road map will require a multilateral and thorough implementation as well as cooperation and leadership from each of the partner countries affected. The WHO seeks to encourage each tropical and subtropical nation to take ownership of their healthcare programs, which will create a sustainable, international network to strengthen global health in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. Putting the fight against neglected tropical diseases in the spotlight as well as dedicating time and resources to taking on these diseases, can remove the “neglected” from neglected tropical diseases and put the global community on a course toward eradicating these diseases.

– Kieran Graulich
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

the END FundNeglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of diseases caused by a variety of pathogens that are common in low-income regions. The World Health Organization WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) categorize 20 diseases as NTDs. They affect more than one billion people around the world, with more than a third of people affected by NTDs living in Africa. While about one-sixth of the world’s population suffers from at least one NTD, more attention is often brought to other diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. While these other diseases require a high level of attention, NTDs need prioritization too. The effects of NTDs can last for decades if proper care is not sought out as many have the ability to bring on permanent blindness and disfigurement. It is of the utmost importance that NTDs are addressed and one such organization putting in the work is the END Fund.

The END Fund

The END Fund is a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the lives of people at risk of NTDs. It delivers treatments by working with local partners, understanding that these groups have regional expertise and know the needs of their area best.

The END Fund helps its partners design programs so that they can expand their capacity to collect important data regarding NTDs. Further, the END Fund provides technical support and monitors progress so its partners can fight disease in the most effective way possible.

It also collaborates with non-governmental organizations and seeks to involve all stakeholders in order to improve the lives of those at risk of contracting NTDs. The END Fund is active across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as India and Afghanistan. It has programs in Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and others.

NTDs in Nigeria

The country with the greatest prevalence of NTDs in Africa is Nigeria. With a population of 195 million people, five of the most common NTDs are present: intestinal worms, lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, schistosomiasis and trachoma. These diseases can cause severe pain that inhibits people from going about their daily lives. Children miss out on their education and adults miss out on economic opportunities. NTDs can cause the already impoverished to sink even deeper into poverty.

In 2013, the END Fund arrived in Nigeria. Two years later, it partnered with Helen Keller International to support local partners, the Amen Foundation and Mission to Save the Helpless (MITOSATH). It has since helped build the capacity of these groups so that they can respond to the issue of NTDs even stronger. It engaged with local leaders across many levels to make people aware of the treatment plans that are available. Among traditional groups, leaders took medication in front of many people to show that it was safe.

The End Fund’s Impact

In 2019 alone, the END Fund was able to treat 121 million people. The END Fund also trained 2.7 million healthcare workers between 2012 and 2019. Its workers have performed almost 31,000 surgeries during that same time period, with the treatments valued at more than $1 billion.

NTDs pose a great threat to people in developing countries. The END Fund has been able to accomplish a lot through its collaborative projects in Nigeria and across other countries. The END Fund will continue to work toward its vision of ensuring that people at risk of NTDs can live healthy lives.

– Evan Driscoll
Photo: Flickr

Helping Hand“My favorite part of Helping Hand packing days is seeing everyone work together. The entire group helps each other with deciding which category an item should go into and where to find that category’s box.” In an interview with The Borgen Project, Bisma Ahmed talked about her experience participating in the packing events organized by Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). “It makes me feel great knowing that children in need across the world will be wearing the very clothes I am packing.”

Helping Hand for Relief and Development

Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) is a nonprofit organization that fights global poverty by improving access to clean water, feeding the hungry, providing healthcare and rebuilding places affected by natural disasters. In addition to emergency relief, it also has long-term development programs. These include efforts to promote education and literacy, orphan support campaigns and rehabilitation and disability programs. In the 15 years that it has been in service, Helping Hand has worked in more than 85 countries across the globe.

Focusing on the Vulnerabilities of Asia and Africa

The main areas that Helping Hand addresses are countries in Asia and Africa as most of the 689 million people living below the poverty line are in these two continents. A few notable countries that have benefited from Helping Hand’s work include Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Somalia, Tunisia, Kenya and Haiti. The organization also provides benefits to refugees including the refugees of Rohingya, Syria and Palestine.

In 2019, through the long-term empowerment program, Helping Hand assisted 6,140 vulnerable people with skills development training in Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and Kenya. In 16 different countries, 19,100 children, including orphans and refugees, received an education through Helping Hand scholarships and education programs. The organization also provided daily healthcare to 160,900 Rohingya refugees and benefited 1.2 million people through its water, hygiene and sanitation programs.

The organization’s recent campaigns include the Beirut Relief Fund, the HHRD COVID-19 Crisis Response, and most recently, Global Winter Revisions, a campaign allowing donors to send winter packages to places where they are needed most.

Packing Day: The Mid-Atlantic Region

Every year, the U.S. regions of Helping Hand set a goal for how many containers of clothes to send as aid overseas. The 2020 goal was to send 10 40-foot containers.

Now and then, the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region of Helping Hand has packing days where volunteers come together and sort donated clothes for shipment to the needy all around the world. Naveed Ahmed, the regional manager for Helping Hand’s Mid-Atlantic area, explained the benefit of the Helping Hand packing days. “The purpose is many, in my opinion. We’re engaging the local community and we’re opening our doors to show what Helping Hand is all about.” According to Naveed Ahmed, most of the success of the packing days comes from the organization’s personal connections with local donors, including large businesses and companies.

Helping Hand packing days have been going on in all of its U.S. regions since its founding in 2005. In 2019 alone, the $55 million worth of clothing items or in-kind gifts benefited 12 million people in 10 different countries.

The clothing items go wherever the team believes the need is. Helping Hand holds offices in Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Haiti and Kenya, making the organization fully part of the clothes distribution process. The teams in those areas inform the U.S. national team of the amount and types of clothing that are needed. The U.S. regions then start collecting, packing and sending the clothes out.

Typically, the packing events surround a specific global issue or national relevance. For example, the last packing event that the Mid-Atlantic region had was for Giving Tuesday. The packed donations went toward the Helping Hand Winter Relief Campaign. A week later, they had another packing event, this time dedicated to loading the boxes into the containers.

Packing for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The Mid-Atlantic region has a packing day for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January. “We usually like to have a day of service on that day,” Naveed Ahmed said. “Usually, students and volunteers from all over the state will come out and be part of the packing day. It is a great day to show appreciation to a great leader like MLK and for us all to do the part of service he and many others have done over decades.”

The efforts of Helping Hand give hope for the future, ensuring that the lives of struggling people around the world are made a little easier.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

the debt crisisBefore the COVID-19 pandemic, the poverty rate was expected to drop to 7.9% in 2020. But, according to the president of the World Group Bank, the pandemic may cause more than 1.4% of the world’s population to fall into extreme poverty. Since March 2020, these countries have seen lower export prices, less capital and remittance inflows and shrinking tourism revenue. Many low-income countries are facing limited resources and weak institutions that prevent them from supporting their economies. Furthermore, the debt crisis has only worsened the economic situation of developing countries during COVID-19.

The Global Debt Crisis

Half of low-income developing countries entered the pandemic with high public debt. The U.N. hoped to raise $10.19 billion to help the poorest countries during COVID-19 but only managed to raise $2.8 billion. With 150 million people threatened to fall into extreme poverty, experts are worried about the long-term economic effects of the debt crisis.

The debt crisis is becoming increasingly more destructive in many countries. The borrowing of money is occasionally controversial because citizens are not always aware of the purpose of a loan or its terms and conditions.  Sometimes these loans are used to benefit a small group of people in the country. In 2020, low-income nations were expected to pay at least $40 billion to service debts. The 76 countries with the lowest incomes owe at least $573 billion in debt. These economies are forced to handle massive amounts of debt while facing rising domestic demands, dwindling tax revenues and shrinking economies.

Consequences of Defaulting on Debt

Failure to repay a debt, including interest or principal on a loan, is called debt default. According to research from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), waiting to restructure debt until after a default is associated with larger declines in GDP, investment, private sector credit and capital inflows. Several studies have suggested that debt crises result in a substantial drop in economic growth. For example, failure to repay debts will decrease a country’s rating. Debt defaults affect a country’s ability to borrow money, exclude countries from international capital markets and increase borrowing costs.  Furthermore, since international debts have to be paid back in the creditors’ currencies, it could force governments to mine their natural resources to generate hard cash, thus continuing harmful environmental practices.

The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI)

The World Bank has proposed a new idea for countries suffering from “unsustainable” debt. The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) is a tool that global institutions have created to stave off the debt crisis, which would allow countries to pause debt repayments to creditors interested in participating. According to The New Humanitarian, if all eligible countries join the initiative, it will free up approximately $11 billion for social spending by governments. Those who sign up for the DSSI will be expected to open its books, reveal its debt and refrain from taking more commercial loans on the side. Debt intervention for the poorest countries is, however, not a new idea.

The debt crisis affects a wide group of people, many of whom already face extreme poverty. The Debt Service Initiative may be expanded at future World Bank meetings. According to analyst and executive director for global policy, David McNair, “Countries need money now to respond to the pandemic and the quickest way to do that is to basically stop debt repayments.”

Pausing Repayments to Prioritize Pandemic Recovery

The debt crisis demands attention, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic interferes with access to resources while highlighting weaknesses in developing countries’ institutions. The World Bank is focused on using a new initiative to pause repayments in hopes of freeing up money for social spending. The initiative will also steer countries away from the consequences of debt default, such as declines in investments, capital inflows and lowered ratings. The goal is to see leaders in developing nations using the pause from payments to access resources necessary for solving prominent issues in the country.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation ProgramOf the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the first one sets an ambitious target. To end poverty in all its forms, everywhere and to leave no one behind. One such organization embracing this challenge is Bangladesh’s BRAC. BRAC is one of the world’s largest nongovernmental development organizations founded in Bangladesh that has done a tremendous amount of work fighting extreme poverty in Bangladesh. BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program has seen success globally.

Poverty Progress in Bangladesh

Nestled between India and Myanmar in South Asia, Bangladesh has made enormous strides in combating extreme poverty in a relatively short amount of time. In a little over a decade, 25 million people were lifted out of poverty. Between 2010 and 2016, eight million people were lifted out of poverty in Bangladesh.

Although poverty rates were seeing a steady decrease, those living in extreme poverty in Bangladesh still lacked basic safety nets and support from NGO services.

BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) Program

In 2002, BRAC introduced the innovative Ultra-Poor Graduation (UPG) program in an attempt to apply innovative approaches to solve extreme poverty in Bangladesh and across the globe.

The UPG program aims to provide long-term holistic support for those in extreme poverty to lift themselves out of poverty and graduate to a more resilient and sustainable life. This is done by addressing the social, economic and health needs of poor families while empowering them to learn new skills and better financial management.

BRAC believes that while traditional government interventions such as food aid and cash transfers are impactful and have a role to play, these benefits, unfortunately, remain out of reach for many in extreme poverty and are certainly not a long-term solution.

BRAC’s UPG program sets to build skill sets and assets to ensure families are equipped to become food secure, independent and achieve economical sustainability.

The Success of UPG Programs Globally

The program has found success inside and outside Bangladesh and has received praise and acknowledgment in some of the world’s most impoverished regions.

Take for example the country of South Sudan. From 2013 to 2015 BRAC piloted a project involving 240 women. The program provided support for the women to receive food stipends, asset transfers and various skills training that included financial and basic savings skills.

Shortly after the women received training and support, the South Sudanese Civil War escalated, ravaging the country and causing inflation and food shortages.

Despite these shocks, 97% of the 240 women were still able to increase their consumption thanks to the resources, assets and skills they obtained during the program. Also, their children were 53% less likely to be underweight and malnourished, compared to those who had not been in the program.

More Success in Afghanistan and Other Countries

Another example comes from Afghanistan, where a widowed woman in the Bamiyan province received a flock of sheep and training from BRAC. Since then, she has been able to generate enough income to feed her family, send her grandchildren to school,  sell additional products and save for the future.

From 2007 to 2014, a large-scale UPG program across Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Pakistan and Peru saw a 4.9% increase in household consumption, 13.6% increase in asset values and a 95.7% increase in savings pooled across all countries.

The success of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation program can be clearly seen from the results. It is an innovative program that aims to end all poverty and leave no one behind and is successfully on its way to doing so.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr