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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

Impact Investing in RwandaImpact investing is a growing industry with huge potential for combatting poverty around the world. The practice consists of firms and individuals directing capital to businesses and enterprises that have the capacity to generate social or environmental benefits. Traditional businesses tend to avoid such investments due to the high level of risk, low liquidity and general difficulty to exit if returns are not satisfactory. Most impact investing is done by particularly adventurous capitalists as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that aim to create social change. Impact investing in Rwanda, in particular, has yielded positive results.

AgDevCo

AgDevCo is an example of a social impact investing firm that aims to invest with the intention of reducing poverty and increasing opportunity in developing regions. Based in the United Kingdom, AgDevCo was incorporated in 2009 and has engaged in numerous projects since.

The firm’s specific area of investment is in African agriculture, where it believes that impactful investments have the potential to be a significant force in reducing poverty. The firm is currently investing in eight different African countries. Its portfolio includes $135 million worth of funds in 50 different companies. These investments have engaged more than 526,000 customers and have created or sustained more than 15,000 different jobs.

Uzima Chicken Limited

One of its investment projects is a partnership with the East African poultry company, Uzima Chicken Limited. Uzima Chicken produces and distributes the Sasso breed of chickens. Sasso chickens are resistant to disease and can feed through scavenging. These beneficial traits make Sasso chickens particularly useful in the struggle to reduce poverty in East Africa.

In 2017, AgDevCo invested $3 million to support Uzima’s establishment in Rwanda. As a result of the investment, Uzima gained funds necessary for rapid operational growth as a domestic producer of poultry. This is in line with the government of Rwanda’s strategy to achieve poultry self-sufficiency in two to three years. Uzima has also been able to expand into Uganda, where its business is rapidly scaling upwards.

The Uzima Business Model

The Uzima model of business involves the employment of company agents who raise the chicks for six to eight weeks before selling them to low-income households in rural areas. Such a model provides benefits to farmers, who can increase income through the sale of the more valuable Sasso chickens, as well as the agents.

Agents typically make a 25% profit from selling chickens. A survey of Uzima agents found that, on average, 27% of household income came from selling Sasso chickens. By providing a reliable source of extra income for employed agents, Uzima helps to alleviate the burdens of poverty for these people. As of 2017, the efforts had created 150 new jobs, 40% of which are held by women. Rwandan women have benefitted significantly from Uzima’s employment with 64% of women agents reporting that the income they earned from selling Sasso chickens led to a positive change in the decision-making power they had in their households.

Impact Investments for Poverty Reduction

Uzima’s Sasso chickens grow faster, live longer, produce more eggs and have higher market prices. They are disease-resistant and thrive in local, rural conditions. Out of all the customers buying these chickens, 54% live below the $2.50 poverty line. AgDevCo investment gave Uzima the capital necessary for operational expansion, and as a result, a greater quantity of impoverished people in East Africa could buy superior chickens and increase income. Uzima’s business also has clear potential for women’s empowerment, making it a great tool in the effort to reduce poverty and inequality in the region.

The impact investments made by firms like AgDevCo have clearly measurable impacts in impoverished regions, particularly noting the success of impact investing in Rwanda. This makes impact investment firms an important part of the global effort to reduce all poverty.

Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

Lab-Grown MeatIn the effort to reduce poverty around the world, scientific innovations and technological solutions are welcomed. Developments in technological capabilities provide new potential approaches to reducing poverty. One such development that has received increased attention is the emergence of lab-grown meat as an alternative source of food for populations in developing countries. Lab-grown meat has only emerged as a potential solution quite recently, and even at this young stage of development, there are many who argue both for and against its potential effectiveness and applicability in the effort to reduce poverty.

Lab-Grown Meat

Lab-grown meat, known alternatively as cultured meat, is an alternative application of stem cell technology typically used in medicine. Stem cells are extracted from an animal and converted to muscle cells. The cells are then cultured on a scaffold with nutrients and essential vitamins. From this point, they grow and can eventually be shaped into any desired form, such as sausages, hamburgers, steaks or mince. Lab-grown meat is being considered as a potential solution to food insecurity in impoverished countries as it takes much less time to grow, uses fewer of the planet’s resources and no animals need to be farmed or slaughtered.

The Arguments Against Cultured Meat

Those against the implementation of cultured meat as a tool in the struggle against world poverty point firstly to the impracticality of current production. The world’s first cultured burger, cooked on live TV in 2013, cost $330,000 to produce and more of its kind might not be commercially available for decades.

In addition to the practicality issue, critics also argue that providing meat grown in foreign labs to developing countries is not ultimately constructive. It creates a dependence on exports for food when most developing countries have the capabilities to produce their own food.

Most African and Asian countries used to be self-sufficient with regard to food production but this has changed over the last 30 years. Subsidized western-grown crops have been pushed on developing countries and barriers to markets have been lowered, allowing U.S. and European firms to export crops to developing countries.

Poverty Reduction Applicability

Kanayo Nwanze former president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), presented an argument in 2013 which has maintained support today. The argument is that the decline of agriculture in developing countries has been an effect of underinvestment as a result of structural adjustment programs pushed by the World Bank. The World Bank has funded numerous investment programs in recent years that aim to provide developing nations with western food as a means of poverty alleviation. Some argue that this is not a sustainable solution and will only lead developing nations to be dependent in the future. Instead of investing in big science, those looking to reduce global poverty should focus on supporting rural regions and small farmers.

Eat Just: Cultured Meat

Despite the existing criticism of cultured meat, supporters of this developing technology have reason to be optimistic. In December 2020, U.S. startup, Eat Just, became the first in the world to gain government approval to sell its product to the public. This approval came from the government of Singapore, which means cultured chicken will soon be available at an unnamed restaurant in Singapore. This is a landmark development for the cultured meat business. Following this gain of approval, more governments around the world may follow suit. According to Eat Just, cultured chicken nuggets will be available at “price parity for premium chicken you’d enjoy at a restaurant.”

The Potential of Lab-Grown Meat

The debate around the effectiveness of cultured meat as a tool in poverty reduction is justified and indeed necessary. Only after serious consideration and scrutiny does any new idea earn approval and the right to be implemented. Though right now it may seem that there are more arguments against its implementation than for, this is largely due to the novelty surrounding the idea. The technology and industry with regards to lab-grown meat as a whole are still in the early stages of development. The idea of lab-grown meat as a potential solution to hunger and poverty is being followed eagerly by supporters and skeptically by critics. Only time will tell whether this novel idea succeeds or falls short.

– Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Foreign AidIceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, has a population of fewer than 400,000 people. The small Nordic island is home to some of the most sought after natural landmarks and tourist attractions such as the northern lights. Although small, the country has provided big backing to countries triple its size through its foreign aid programs. In 2008, Iceland experienced what economists considered to be the most severe economic downturn in its history. After years of hard work, Iceland was able to rebuild its economy and rebounded successfully. Aside from the financial crisis in 2008, the country has been able to maintain relatively low poverty rates with rates remaining at 0.10% from 2013 to 2015. Iceland has paid its good fortune forward by offering assistance to countries experiencing economic fragility. The Icelandic government is committed to fighting poverty by providing support to nations in need. The main objective of Iceland’s foreign aid pursuits is to reduce poverty and hunger while advocating for human rights, gender equality and sustainable development. Three countries, in particular, have been supported by Iceland’s foreign aid.

Syria

Syria has a long history of political turbulence with numerous uprisings dating back to the 20th century. One event, in particular, was especially tumultuous. In 2015, Syria had experienced a major political uproar in one of the largest and oldest cities in the country, Aleppo. “The Battle of Aleppo” began in 2011 in the city of Deraa. Citizens who opposed the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad decided to rebel. This led to a civil war between the Syrian government and protesters who the Syrian government referred to as rebels. The civil war that lasted six years had a detrimental impact on the citizens. There were massive food and gas shortages. Multiple buildings were victim to mass bombings, including schools and hospitals. Civilians were caught in the crossfire and suffered greatly as a result. Iceland stepped in to offer assistance and allocated $600,000 to support civilians impacted by the war in 2015. The country continued in its efforts by supporting Syria with $4 million worth of humanitarian aid in 2016.

Malawi

Malawi holds one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, at 51.5.% in 2016. Malnutrition and infant mortality impact Malawi’s 18.6 million population. The country has experienced notable economic growth in the past three years, with a 4.4% increase in economy in 2019. Unfortunately, these economic gains have been stalled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November 2020, the Icelandic government donated $195,000 to the World Food Programme to assist with the COVID-19 response in Malawi.

Uganda

Uganda and Iceland established their relationship in the year 2000. The Icelandic government is committed to enhancing the livelihood of Ugandan fishing communities located in the Kalanga and Buikwe districts. Uganda is one of the largest recipients of Icelandic foreign aid with an annual distribution of $6 million. Iceland’s contributions have seen monumental success with safe water coverage now standing at 77%, up from 58% in 2015. The primary school completion rate in Buikwe is up from 40% in 2011 to a staggering 75.5%.

Iceland: A Foreign Aid Leader

While Iceland may be small in comparison to its peers, Iceland has been tremendously influential in its foreign relations. The three countries above are just a few of the nations that Iceland has assisted. Humanitarian efforts continue to provide support to countries in need through Iceland’s foreign aid.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

NanoseenIn Sopot, Poland, co-founders Bartosz Kruzska and Mikolaj Granuszewski are leading innovations that could change access to clean, drinkable water forever. Startup firm, Nanoseen, is developing the NanoseenX, a water filter made of recycled metal wafers that can desalinate water. The startup, which was ranked as one of the top “15 Chemical Engineering Startups Positioned to Make it Big in 2021” by the Welp Magazine, aims to revolutionize the use and development of nanotechnology to build the most modern products. “Nanoseen is a team of nanotechnology engineers and scientists who prove remarkable properties of NanoseenX nanomaterials as a core component of the company’s products that will help solve many problems related to climate change such as water shortage and plastic pollution,” Kruszka told THEfirstNEWS. The company plans to begin mass production of its water desalination devices in 2021, making it one of the most highly anticipated startups of the upcoming year.

NanoseenX Water Filter

The filter can desalinate both brackish and seawater, giving it the potential to become essential to both disaster relief and combating global poverty. Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source and one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water, making clean water one of the chief obstacles of under-developed nations. Countries like Papua New Guinea, Mozambique, Tanzania and Somalia struggle with clean water but border the oceans so they can benefit greatly from the filter. The provision of clean water will not only improve sanitation but consequently improve health and infant survival rates, which is fundamental to fighting poverty. The product could also aid natural relief teams in tropical countries that are prone to hurricanes and typhoons. For example, crises like the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which cut off access to clean water in Puerto Rico for months, can be resolved. Removing clean water as a pressing concern will also give destitute communities a better opportunity to develop and escape poverty.

Other Innovative Initiatives by Nanoseen

In addition to the water filter, Kruzska elaborates that Nanoseen is tackling research on a method of damaging micro and nano-plastics in water, with the use of NanopowderX. Such development could help clear pollution in oceans, which contain 25-50 trillion macro and microplastics. Being able to filter such microplastics from the water will be the most effective way to curb this new atmospheric pollutant. The team is also pioneering unique paints that will remove pollutants from the air to fight atmospheric pollution, a phenomenon that disproportionately affects impoverished people.

Innovatively Addressing Global Issues

Nanoseen’s ingenious filter is paradigmatic of innovations in STEM creating solutions to global poverty. The startup also offers other eco-friendly and problem-solving materials. The startup’s website offers viewers more in-depth descriptions and applications of its products and states its goals of creating innovative nanomaterials to build modern products that solve the main problems of today’s world.

– Christine Chang
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

Health Concerns During COVID-19COVID-19 has understandably been the main focus around the world. In developed countries, many are new to health epidemics and the disruptions caused by them. But, in some parts of the world, widespread disease is not new at all and COVID-19 is not the only health concern. There are several other global health concerns during COVID-19. Some seem obvious, like malaria or HIV/AIDS. But, some have made less news, like a toxic goldmine in Ethiopia. These health crises also require assistance and aid from the international community.

HIV/AIDS in South Africa

In 2019, it was estimated that more than seven million people in South Africa were living with HIV. Roughly 200,000 of those people were newly diagnosed in 2019, and in that same year, 72,000 people died. Though 70% of people receive antiretroviral therapy (ART), the disease remains incurable. Its prevalence makes it one of the priority health concerns during COVID-19.

Though South Africa has the largest population of people living with HIV in the world, it has made a lot of progress. Data indicates that in 2018, 90% of infected individuals were aware of their status and 87% of people receiving treatment were virally suppressed, meaning they do not transfer the virus. Despite this success, rates continue to increase and it disproportionately affects women and young girls.

In 2016, South Africa made treatment for HIV free to all, where it used to be available only to those with advanced infections. This comes after South Africa made pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available to all sex workers to prevent HIV contraction in the first place. Though it did take years for South Africa to acknowledge this epidemic, the country is making progress. However, more focus and attention needs to go toward addressing HIV/AIDs in South Africa as it is a significant health crisis.

Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa

COVID-19 severely affected sub-Saharan Africa’s access to insecticide-treated nets (ITN) and malaria treatments. The World Health Organization (WHO) urged nations to resume the distribution of these things, in fear that mortality rates in 2020 would reach 769,000, which is double the rates of 2018.

Preventative treatments, which deliver antimalarial medication to asymptomatic people, aimed at school-aged children, has shown to significantly reduce the risk of contracting malaria. Health officials in sub-Saharan Africa have been urged to take heed of this, but the poverty affecting the region limits progress.

A whole 90% of global malaria deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa, and of that figure, 78% of victims are children. Malaria is a treatable condition, but those most susceptible to it usually live in a state of poverty, unable to afford treatment. Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most pressing global health concerns besides COVID-19.

Toxic Gold Mine in Ethiopia

Gold mining is an important industry in Ethiopia. The export of gold and similar minerals makes up 7-10% of Ethiopia’s export earnings. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the mines, both skilled and unskilled.

But, in Ethiopia’s most populous region, Oromia, a gold mine has released harmful contaminants that have severely affected people. Serious deficiencies in mine management have left the soil and water contaminated with dangerous levels of cyanide, arsenic and mercury. This contamination resulted in high rates of miscarriage, stillbirths and infant mortality, birth defects, the destruction of livestock and crops and locals are afflicted with debilitating illnesses. Residents say there was no warning about potential toxins,

The mine was considered so toxic that the situation was deemed a violation of human rights. After pushback from the citizens, it was temporarily shut down, but there was no accountability or treatment for those affected. There remains doubt whether the air and water are now safe and residents anticipate that the mine will be reopened. In August 2020, mineworkers were asked to attend a meeting, cementing this assumption. In collaboration, human rights organizations submitted a document to the Human Rights Committee entailing Ethiopia’s violations of rights in regard to the contaminated mine. It documents Ethiopia’s failures and necessary reparations that should be made to people.

To safeguard the well-being of the Ethiopian people and ensure that aid is provided to the affected people, it is essential for the international community to get involved.

COVID-19 and Other Global Health Concerns

The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the health of nations globally, no matter the resources a country has. But, it has also overshadowed some pressing issues. There are other major health concerns during COVID-19 that need international attention and aid as well.

– Maddey Bussmann
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