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Instagram Accounts Raising Poverty AwarenessSocial media is a powerful tool used to spread awareness about many different topics. Many different organizations design accounts on Instagram to advocate for global poverty through powerful images and words. Here are five Instagram accounts raising poverty awareness.

5 Instagram Accounts Raising Poverty Awareness

  1. Doctors Without Borders (@doctorswithoutborders) – This organization works to provide medical care for patients all over the world, and it currently operates in more than 70 countries worldwide. Doctors Without Borders also conducts medical research on topics such as economic and social conditions in El Salvador and HIV in South Africa. The organization’s Instagram account has 581,000 followers. The account’s posts range from information about their health care projects to powerful photographs that illustrate different crises.

    A powerful animation video posted on March 18, 2020 describes the struggles that Rohingya refugee families face as they are forced to move to camps in Bangladesh, including being prone to COVID-19 and other disease outbreaks. The animation was created “to put a human face on the humanitarian crisis that devastated this community.”

  2. Pencils of Promise (@pencilsofpromise) – Pencils of Promise is a group that raises funds to build schools and combat education problems for people around the world. To date, Pencils of Promise has built 524 schools and has 108,643 students. The organization uses its Instagram platform with 210,000 followers mainly to share photos of children around the world who are receiving education and their stories. The Pencils of Promise Instagram showcases the great impact of the organization’s work.

  3. Oxfam (@oxfamamerica) – Oxfam is an organization that works to reduce poverty by providing grants to build infrastructure for the poor, encouraging the rich to allot money towards helping the poor, and helping communities recoup after disasters. The Oxfam Instagram account has more than 78,000 followers. The account creators share easy-to-read graphics, numbers and statistics related to global poverty reduction. The Oxfam Instagram also shares inspirational quotes to instill hope regarding the fight against global poverty. One of the quotes posted on the page is “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay.”

  4. Global Citizen (@glblctzn) – Global Citizen is an organization that relies on citizens all over the world to organize events and advocate to reduce global poverty. The account, which has 530,000 followers, includes many posts from musical artists who hold mini-concerts to spread global poverty awareness. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Global Citizen account is sharing videos with the hashtag #Togetherathome to promote social distancing and global health safety.

  5. Charity: Water (@charitywater) – Charity: Water is an organization that works to provide clean and safe water to communities of people in developing countries. The Charity: Water Instagram account has 457,000 followers. The organization’s posts show the success of its efforts and the importance of providing clean water to people worldwide. A post from April 3, 2020, celebrates the completion of “544 water projects across India, Ethiopia and Mozambique.”

With 1 billion active monthly users, Instagram can be a powerful way to spread awareness about global poverty. These five Instagram accounts raising poverty awareness are making the world a better place one post at a time.

– Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Challenging Poverty Issues in Mexico
Mexico is in the southern area of North America. It is a beautiful country famous for its cuisine and tourism. However, the country is continuing to address several challenging poverty issues in Mexico.

Obesity Problem

Of all the challenging poverty issues in Mexico, obesity and the related health risks are the most common. The January 2020 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report states that 72.5 percent of the population is overweight or obese. Poor diet has increased the obesity rate from one in five in 1996 to one in three currently; specifically, 34 percent of adults are morbidly obese. Childhood obesity has increased from 7.6 percent in 1996 to 15 percent in 2016.

Subsequently, diabetes-related hospitalizations occur at a rate of 249 per 100,000 people. Also, heart disease mortality is currently at 27.5 percent.

The OECD’s main concern is the accessibility of healthy foods for low-income households. The report recommends healthy lifestyle investment policies to restore health care resources, that the obesity pandemic is currently draining. A 20 percent calorie reduction has the potential to save as much as MXN$1.99 million per year in health care costs. Additionally, reduction of taxing sugary drinks and high-calorie non-essential foods would likely improve obesity rates.

Poverty Eradication

The next most challenging poverty issue in Mexico is that a large number of its population is in poverty. Of the 129.2 million citizens, an astronomical 52.4 million people are living in poverty and 9.5 million are living in extreme poverty.

For the year 2020, the government has mapped out a plan to address the complex poverty issues in Mexico. Specifically, devoting MXN$470,626 million to 25 ministry programs and trusts to reduce the poverty rates in the nation. Some programs will receive more funding than others, with 60 percent of the overall budget allocated for local government and pensions. The Well Being Ministry plans to distribute MXN$ 126.7 million for pensions to 6.8 million elderly and MXN$11,600 million to people with disabilities.

Health Insurance Problem

Another poverty issue in Mexico is health insurance coverage. With 89.3 percent of the population with health insurance coverage, the total out-of-pocket expenses are typically 41 percent.

The Health Ministry plans to distribute MXN$79,900 million to health care for marginalized communities through the Seguro Popular program. In 2018, this program reached 52.8 million people that Mexico’s Social Security Program did not cover. Seguro Popular provides primary and secondary care through state-run facilities. The goal is to reach as many uninsured citizens as possible, especially those over the age of 50, who now rely on institutions that the Secretary of Health manages.

The Elephant in the Room

The most challenging poverty issue in Mexico is the immigration of refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) which consists of three countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some 500,000 desperate people have taken the perilous 541-mile journey to flee the violence there only to find more violence en route.

In a heroic effort to help meet these poverty issues in Mexico, Doctors Without Borders maintains a large presence. Mobile clinics patrol the network of freight rail lines, dubbed La Bestia, that runs the length of Mexico from the border of Guatemala all the way north to the United States border. Migrants risk their life and limbs to jump the trains and shorten their trip to the United States. In the past, men typically used the railway, but women, children and sometimes entire families are increasingly using the route.

Besides the railways, and in many cases collaborating with the Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders maintains a presence across Mexico. Clinics for migrants and refugees exist at the northern border in Tijuana; the eastern border in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros; Coatzacoalcos on the gulf coast; Mexico City in the central-lower peninsula; Chalchihuitan and Tenosique in the lower peninsula; the Norte, Centro and Tierra Caliente regions of Acapulco; and Guadalajara on the western side of the upper peninsula.

The clinics provide food, medical and psychological care, occupational therapy, referrals for social assistance, legal advice and employment. Treatment for travel-related injuries and illnesses among the migrants and refugees run the gamut from respiratory infections, skin infections, foot injuries, injuries from falls and physical and psychological violence. In Mexico City, Doctors Without Borders runs a safe shelter specifically for victims of extreme violence and the Acapulco clinics have shifted focus to emergency response and treatment for victims of sexual violence.

Despite the challenging poverty issues in Mexico, the country is making real progress to ensure that its citizens get health care and opportunities that will help them rise above the fray. People should commend the Mexican government and the Mexican Health Ministry for their accomplishments and continued work under such difficult circumstances.

One way U.S. citizens can make a difference is to contact congressional leaders and voice a desire for an improved relationship between Mexico and the United States. An improved relationship will address poverty issues in Mexico through foreign aid.

– Lorna Kelly
Photo: Flickr

The Struggles of Single Parents in YemenThe current civil war in Yemen is a bloody one. Since the beginning of the civil war in 2015, the reported casualties reached 100,000 in October 2019. Among this number, about 12,000 were civilian casualties who attackers directly targeted. This ever-mounting amount of civilian casualties has multiple effects on many families in Yemen. On a surface level, these civilian casualties reflect the numerous children who lose their parents during the on-going conflict. Some reports suggested that there are currently more than 1.1 million orphans in Yemen. On the other hand, the casualty number also reflects the single parents in Yemen who are trying to raise their children in a war zone.

Single parents in Yemen are struggling due to many reasons including a lack of access to basic goods, or professional services such as maternal care during and after pregnancy. This struggle of being a single parent in Yemen falls mostly on many Yemeni women who lost their husbands in the on-going conflict.

Struggles of Single Parents in Yemen

Being a single parent, especially a single mother, in Yemen is difficult. Yemen’s female participation in the workforce is extremely low. This means that many women in Yemen rely on their husbands for financial support. However, the conflict in Yemen took many Yemeni men from their families. As casualties rise, both military and civilian, many women lose their husbands. However, because the majority of women do not have much work experience, they lack the experience or qualifications to go out and find employment.

The challenge of single parenting in Yemen begins even before a child is born. This is especially true for mothers, single or otherwise, in Yemen. According to UNICEF, one woman and six newborns die every two hours from complications during pregnancy and childbirth in Yemen. This is the reflection of poor conditions in Yemen where only three out of 10 births take place in regular health facilities. WHO’s 2016 survey of hospitals in Yemen reported that more than half of all health facilities in Yemen are closed or only partially functioning.

For mothers and newborns, this means that they lack essential natal care, immunization services and postpartum/postnatal interventions. This lack of natal care and medical services for newborns resulted in one out of 37 Yemeni newborns dying in the first month of their lives.

Malnutrition is another challenge that single parents in Yemen struggle against. Multiple factors contribute to malnutrition in Yemen. Some reports suggest that the Saudi coalition intentionally targeted Yemeni farms. A report suggested that the Saudi-led coalition launched at least 10,000 strikes against food farms, 800 strikes against local food markets and about 450 airstrikes that hit food storage facilities. This made civilian access to food extremely difficult on a local level. The Saudi-led coalition’s blockade of Yemeni ports and other entry points for food, medicine, fuel and foreign aid worsened this food shortage. Yemen’s impoverished civilians, 79 percent of whom are living under the poverty line, find it difficult to afford the ever-increasing food prices. For single parents in Yemen, this makes feeding their children a difficult challenge. An estimated 2.2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished.

Organizations Helping Yemen

Numerous organizations help single parents in Yemen. Doctors Without Borders, between 2015 and 2018, provided natal care for pregnant mothers and delivered 68,702 babies in Yemen. Oxfam provided multiple humanitarian services in Yemen. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, Oxfam provided cash to Yemeni families so that they could buy food. On top of this, Oxfam delivered water and repaired water systems in remote regions of Yemen. UNICEF launched the Healthy Start Voucher Scheme in 2019. This program provides coupons for poor and vulnerable pregnant women to help them cover the cost of traveling to hospitals for childbirth. The coupon also gives these women access to newborn care in case of complications.

The Future for Single Parents in Yemen

Single parents in Yemen struggle against the difficult daily conditions in the country. Lack of access to food, water, health care and basic goods makes it extremely difficult for single parents in Yemen to provide for their children. Malnourished children dying of hunger are truly a disheartening image of the current conflict in Yemen. However, there are signs of peace. In November 2019, the combatants of the conflict held behind-the-scenes talks to end the conflict in Yemen. In the meantime, the international community is relying on many relief organizations that work tirelessly to help the people of Yemen.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

8 Facts About Migrant Caravans from Central America
Over a year has passed since the migrant caravans from Central America arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. The migrant situation is complex and continues to have great effects on the economy, U.S. international affairs and the lives of thousands of people. The issue is far from resolving and continues to require attention, so here are eight facts about Central American migrant caravans.

8 Facts About Central American Migrant Caravans

  1. Central American Migrants: The first of the eight facts about Central American migrant caravans is that the migrants are mostly from Central America’s Northern Triangle, which consists of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The caravans began in Honduras and most of the migrants are Honduran but their Central American neighbors have joined them because they face similar issues of violence and poverty. These people traveled through Central America and Mexico until they reached the U.S.-Mexico border.
  2. The Largest Caravan: The biggest caravan, migrating in late 2018 and drawing international attention, started as a small grassroots social media movement in Honduras. One hundred and sixty Hondurans gathered at a bus terminal in San Pedro Sula on October 12, 2018. More and more people joined them along the route; the U.N. estimates that the group was as large as 7,000 people by the time it arrived in Tijuana.
  3. Reasons for Migration: Those who joined the caravans are migrating for a better future which they hope is waiting for them in the United States. Gang violence and persecution threatens them in their home countries; the murder rate in Honduras is 800 times higher than in the U.S. The migrants are leaving in an attempt to save their lives. In addition, there is widespread poverty in the Northern Triangle and the migrants are hoping for higher salaries and better lives for their children in the United States.
  4. Challenges on the Road: There are many hardships and health risks that the migrants face when traveling on foot, by bus or hitchhiking. The journey is arduous and results in road injuries and fatalities such as when a young Honduran man fell off a truck during the journey and passed away. Sunburn, dehydration and a continuous lack of access to clean water and sanitation are threats as well. The migrants also faced violence when crossing borders, such as when authorities used teargas. The group was dependent on local aid, such as church and civic groups or local government entities that provided food and water in the towns they passed.
  5. International Law on Asylum: International law on asylum states that anyone who enters U.S. soil or wants to enter U.S. territory to claim asylum must be able to do so and receive a chance to have a court hear their case. Because of this, the United States legally cannot ban asylum seekers according to their countries of origin or force asylum seekers to return to countries where their lives are in danger. However, President Trump labeled the caravans an invasion and the U.S. responded with a zero-tolerance policy and threats to close the border. The U.S. passed the Migrant Protection Protocol in January 2019 which forces asylum seekers to wait for their court date in Mexico. Between January and December 2019 only 11 migrants out of 10,000 cases at the border received asylum, a rate of about 0.1 percent in the whole year.
  6. Changes in Caravan Numbers: There was a swell of caravans until late 2018, but patterns in migration are changing. The caravans, while safer in numbers during the journey, were not successful at gaining asylum at the border. Current migrants have been traveling in smaller groups which are harder for others to track. Those who were in original caravans are now spread out, some suffering deportation back to their original countries, others opting to stay in Mexico or waiting in Mexico for a chance to apply for asylum or for their court date in the U.S. A small subset is even living in the U.S. undocumented or after gaining asylum.
  7. Doctors Without Borders: Health issues are a pressing concern for members of the migrant caravan especially as they are living in temporary camps near the border. Many migrants suffer from injuries and illnesses that they sustained through their long journey and exposure to the element along with violence they may have encountered on the way. Aside from physical issues, the migrant community is also suffering from many mental health issues including anxiety and depression, a result of the prolonged stress of their journey and precariousness of their position. Doctors Without Borders has sent an emergency team to provide aid and treatment, collaborating with the Mexican Ministry of Health to attend to the needs of the migrants.
  8. Border Kindness: Migrant caravan members at the border are not always able to meet basic needs. However, organizations such as Border Kindness have stepped in to provide immediate needs including shelter, food, water, clothing, medication and legal aid to a population with low resources. Its work is ongoing and pivotal in protecting and providing for the especially vulnerable including women, children and the elderly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

With so much happening globally all the time, people can sometimes push important issues aside as agendas shift. These eight facts about Central American migrant caravans are a brief overview of the basic situation and the changes occurring over time. The realities of the migrant crisis at the border continue to be relevant and pressing.

– Treya Parikh
Photo: United Nations

Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

The Syrian civil war has been ongoing since 2011, making the Syrian refugee population the world’s largest group forcibly displaced from their country. At the end of 2018, there were 13 million refugees from Syria, accounting for more than half of the country’s total population. The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon (70 percent) and Jordan (90 percent) are living below the poverty line. Fortunately, a number of groups are stepping in to deliver humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. Keep reading to learn more about these three nonprofits helping Syrian refugees.

3 Nonprofits Helping Syrian Refugees

  1. Sunrise USA – Founded in 2011, Sunrise USA is a nonprofit organization focused on providing humanitarian assistance for Syrians in need whether they still live in the country or not. The group is focused on sustainable development in areas including education and health care.
    • Health Care With help from donations, Sunrise USA built a full-time clinic in the Tayba camp in Syria, as well as a clinic in Istanbul and a polyclinic in Rihanli, Turkey. The organization has also established 22 trauma care facilities in Syria.
    • Education As of 2018, around 5.8 million children and youth in Syria were in need of education assistance. About 2.1 million of them were out of school completely. Sunrise USA has built four schools and provided books and supplies to students and families around refugee camps. In 2015, Sunrise USA was a lead sponsor in the creation of the Al-Salam School which had 1,200 students.
    • Care for Orphans The number of Syrian orphans, both in Syria and neighboring countries, has increased to more than 1 million since 2011. Through Sunrise USA’s orphan sponsorship, hundreds of orphans have been provided with food, clothing, education and medicine.
  2. Doctors Without Borders (DWB) – Officially founded in 1971, the organization’s core belief is that “all people have the right to medical care regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, or political affiliation, and that the needs of these people outweigh respect for national boundaries.” Here’s a look at DWB’s efforts to help Syrian refugees:
    • Jordan – In 2017, Jordan closed off the border connecting the country to Syria and in 2018 canceled all subsidized health care for Syrian refugees. Doctors Without Borders has three clinics in Irbid, Jordan that focus on non-communicable diseases, which are the leading causes of death in the region. In 2018, the organization provided 69,000 outpatient consultations, 11,900 individual mental health consultations and 2,690 assisted births.
    • Lebanon – Shatila refugee camp in South Beirut is home to Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese people living in poor and overcrowded conditions with minimal services. Doctors Without Borders has set up both a primary health care center and a women’s center inside the camp in 2013. The organization also launched a vaccination campaign around the camp, opened a mental health support branch in a clinic in Fneideq, offer family planning and mental health care services in the Burj-al-Barajneh refugee camp, and operate a care program in Ein-al-Hilweh refugee camp for patients with mobility issues.
  3. Concern Worldwide US – Founded in 1968, Concern Worldwide works in the world’s poorest countries to provide emergency response, education, water and sanitation, as well as help communities develop resilience to higher impacting climates. The organization works to help Syrian refugees in a few ways:
    • Lebanon – Concern Worldwide is not only focused on creating “collection centers,”–which are multi-family shelters–but also on improving water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in the highly concentrated refugee areas of the country. The organization has provided assistance for 56,000 refugees and is also helping hundreds of children get access to education.
    • Syria – Since 2014, Concern Worldwide has worked in Syria to tackle waterborne diseases by installing generators and chlorinated water sources and also providing hygiene supplies. The organization also provides basic necessities to Syrians by distributing food baskets and for families with access to markets, food vouchers.

– Jordan Miller
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Haiti
On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola lies two countries: Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR). Despite being on the same island, poverty in Haiti far exceeds that of its neighbor.

The Statistics

The United Nations evaluated Haiti and the DR for human development considering three factors: “a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.” The DR ranked 94th out of 182 countries, indicative of its high human development. Haiti ranks much lower at 168th. The average life expectancy in the DR is 74 years, in contrast to Haiti’s average of 63. The DR’s expected years of schooling are approximately 14 years, while Haiti’s is about nine years.

The difference in development is evident in each countries’ economies as well. In the DR, rates of poverty decreased from 21.7 percent to 19.9 percent from 2015 to 2016. Within five years, the DR’s average rate of GDP growth was 5.8 percent per year. This economic boost has translated into a decrease in poverty and income inequality. In contrast to the DR’s economic success, the Haitian economy is suffering, leading to the majority of its population (58.5 percent) being in poverty in Haiti. In Haiti, GDP has decayed at a rate of 0.2 percent. Rapid inflation also plagues Haiti, indicating its struggling economy.

Differing Geography

There are several reasons behind these stark contrasts in development. The geography of the island is one explanation. The mountains dividing the island are able to prevent rainfall from coming to Haiti. Northeast trade winds blow towards the DR, promoting rainfall on its side. Additionally, deforestation is a serious issue on the Haitian side of the island, creating environmental and agricultural roadblocks.

These geographical features make it troublesome for Haitians to grow crops, which takes a toll on their primarily agricultural economy. This lack of cultivation decreases opportunities for farms in Haiti. The deforestation also diminishes the scenic beauty in the country, while the DR uses its natural scenes to promote tourism additionally bolstering its economy.

Looking to History

Deforestation in Haiti began with its colonization by the Spanish. When the Spanish colony gave a part of Hispaniola to France in 1697, the French began to import an excessive amount of slaves into the land. Although the Spanish also used slaves, France used nearly 10 times as much. The French over-cultivated the same cash crops, coffee and sugar in the same soil, which led to the environmental devastation of the country today. Haiti was the first independent black state, which came at a large cost as well. Its extreme amount of debt to the French government deteriorated its economy, as well as disputes about how to construct its new autonomous government. Although U.S. occupation and political instability riddled both the DR and Haiti, Haiti has received continuous exploitation and its leaders have had little regard for economic development.

Although there have been many countries that have provided international aid and relief, notably the U.S., the country has not been able to solve much. This is mostly due to the country not having the necessary investment in its aid. In fact, Haiti has even pursued policies that actively diminish its economy.

Organizations in Haiti

Although many countries have not aided Haiti with its recovery from exploitation, several non-governmental organizations have pursued several projects to tackle poverty in Haiti. After Haiti’s disastrous 2010 earthquake, Global Communities implemented several initiatives to remove rubble. The organization has now removed over one million cubic meters of rubble, providing 20,000 locals with short-term jobs. Global Communities also created the Lavi Miyo Nan Katye pa’m Nan (LAMIKA) program, which translates to “a better life in the neighborhood.” It focuses on Carrefour-Feuilles, a poverty-ridden neighborhood greatly affected by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. It is reconstructing 1,500 meters of roads, almost 2,000 meters of pedestrian footpaths and nine schools. It has also worked to improve the water and sanitation systems of the country.

The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) has also conducted several projects to alleviate poverty in Haiti. To improve the economy, PADF implemented the LEAD program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). LEAD connects investors from the U.S. and Canada to Haitian businesses, helping them develop into larger enterprises. Collaborating with American Red Cross and USAID, PADF encourages “resilient urban development” in the area of Canaan under the program name, Ann Boust Canaan. The program has introduced vocational schools to better train residents for jobs. Additionally, it has created 1,500 new jobs and linked citizens to businesses to better access their finances.

To expand the limited medical treatment in Haiti, Doctors Without Borders manages three hospitals in Port-Au-Prince. There is a prevalence of burn victims that require medical care in this region, so, in 2017, the organization administered 1,300 emergency room visits and aided approximately 700 patients. Victims of sexual and gender-based abuse obtained care, with 769 patients receiving treatment in 2017. Doctors Without Borders educates hospital staff and has begun building a new hospital in Haiti as well.

What Individuals Can Do

For those who would like to be more involved in the process of reducing poverty in Haiti, they can make donations to programs through the organization Hope for Haiti. The program allows donors to choose where they would like their donation to go, such as health care, education and environmental development. Another more active approach is volunteering for Haitian organizations. The organization MedShare sends medical supplies to Haitian hospitals and clinics and requires volunteers to package the items in the U.S. before shipping.

Haiti has undergone exploitation throughout its history. The DR has experienced exploitation, but to a lesser extent, which its better economic and environmental conditions today show. Since countries have not aided Haiti sufficiently, there are several non-governmental organizations that have helped in recovery from its instability. Individuals can also help by volunteering their time or supplies to Haitians in need. Being born on different sides of the same island should not determine drastically different life outcomes.

Diana Piper
Photo: Flickr


May 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the first Mental Health Month in the U.S. While 70 years of mental health awareness activism seems like a long time, the Mental Illness Policy Organization estimates that there are 3.5 million adults with untreated schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in the U.S. on any given day. That figure excludes individuals suffering from other mental illnesses such as acute anxiety and depression. Untreated mental illness is a problem at the forefront of the U.S. health care system and improvement seems imminent for suffering Americans. For countries plagued with poverty and violence like Honduras, accessible and affordable health care is scarce. Lack of health care options in Honduras causes more barriers for those living with mental health conditions, which makes raising mental health awareness in Honduras extremely important.

Mental Health Awareness in Honduras

Mental health awareness in Honduras is an uphill battle. In 2006, the government allocated 6.61 percent of the country’s general budget to health care. Less than 2 percent of that amount supported mental health. As social security often lacks resources to treat mental health illnesses, most cannot afford to pay for medication. Unfortunately for those suffering from mental health-related issues, most never receive proper care.

Being one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world, Honduras is home to prevalent violence and poverty that specialists point to as key factors in an increase in mental illness in the country. Experts estimate that 10 percent of Hondurans suffer from mental illness or substance abuse.

Visit to a Mental Health Facility in Honduras

In 2018, this author had the opportunity to visit a local mental health treatment facility in a small Honduran town called El Porvenir. The facility was the only public mental health resource within five hours, which meant that many families dropped their relatives off with the prospect of going years before seeing them again. One nurse who came in twice a week monitored the treatment center. Between her visits, however, patients, including some who suffered from severe illnesses like schizophrenia, lived in the three-bedroom house unsupervised. For some patients, it was the only option their families could afford.

Doctors Without Borders

Luckily, change is starting to look imminent and mental health awareness in Honduras is increasing. Since 2011, Doctors Without Borders (DWB) prioritizes treatment for victims of violence and sexual assault, as well as for their family members. “We try to work on the emotions, feelings, and thoughts that people experience as a result of what happened to them,” said DWB mental health supervisor Edgard Boquín. “We use cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients take the detrimental elements and replace them with positive coping tools, such as anxiety control, breathing, and relaxation techniques, or by making small life plans which will allow them to cope with their environment again.”

In 2016, DWB expanded activities in the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa, and its sister city, Comayagüela. The number of patients suffering from mental illness treated by DWB jumped 117 percent from 2015 to 2016. Community Health Partnership Honduras, a nongovernmental organization, also travels to southwestern Honduras twice a year, which is among the poorest regions in the world. The organization partners Honduran and American volunteer medical workers to increase access to mental health care.

With those missions in mind, mental health awareness in Honduras is spreading from the cities to the rural regions. Consequentially, treatment and support are increasing as well.

Julia King
Photo: Pixabay

People Fleeing Central America
Many know Central America for its flourishing biodiversity and near-constant geological activity. This region is comprised of seven countries including Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are three countries that form the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA). Recently, the world is paying attention to the number of people fleeing Central America to surrounding areas like the U.S.

Every year, an estimated 500,000 people flee to Mexico to escape the NTCA. As involuntary witnesses to intense violence and economic instability, hundreds of thousands of citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala choose to make the perilous journey north in hopes of finding safer, more peaceful living conditions. Immigration through the U.S.-Mexico border is not a recent or new development. Migration levels are increasing rapidly each year. Many asylum seekers are women and children searching for a life without senseless violence.

The three countries of the NTCA are extremely dangerous, and all rank within the top 10 for homicide rates and dangerous gang activity. In 2015, El Salvador became the world’s most violent country, rampant with gang-related violence and extortion. Though El Salvador no longer holds this title, high levels of poverty and violence continue to cause a rise in people fleeing Central America.

Poverty in Central America

The NTCA includes three countries that are among the poorest in the western hemisphere. Though Latin America has seen improvement in the distribution of wealth among its citizens, many still face the devastating effects of economic inequality that plagues the region. In 2014, 10 percent of citizens in Latin America held 71 percent of the region’s wealth. As a result, one in four people live in poverty, concentrated in rural areas. The most oppressed of this population tend to be women and indigenous peoples.

Economic migration has long been a factor surrounding discussions on immigration. People often choose to live and work in places with more prosperous economic opportunity. In rural areas of the NTCA, the need for more economic opportunity leads to people fleeing Central America. Sixty percent of people living in rural regions of the NTCA is impoverished.

Unprecedented Levels of Violence

Violence within the NTCA remains a leading cause of migration to the Mexican border. Because of the high poverty level across this region, governments do not have enough funds and are rampant with corruption. Many flee from senseless, violent crimes, including gang activity, kidnapping and brutal homicides, which law enforcement does not always punish.

Gang activity within the NTCA also causes citizens to flee. Women and children are at the highest risk for rape and kidnappings. People commit gender-based violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to coerce or intimidate others. Many children make the trek to Mexico alone because they are desperate for asylum to avoid gang recruitment.

Providing Aid to the NTCA

As witnesses to the traumatic violence raging throughout the NTCA, many people fleeing Central America are in dire need of medical and mental attention. Since 2013, Doctors Without Borders has provided more than 33,000 health consultations to those fleeing from the NTCA. Care includes treatment for victims of sexual abuse and diseases caught along the way.

Additionally, Doctors Without Borders, the International Crisis Group and the U.N. Refugee Agency have made strides urging host countries, like the U.S., to provide protection rather than detaining asylum seekers and sending them back. This strategy would reduce illegal entry and allow host countries to manage the influx of asylum seekers.

– Anna Giffels
Photo: UN

MSF Uses Virtual Reality to Build Better HospitalsMédecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders to the English-speaking world, is a global organization that provides professional medical care wherever poverty, war, disasters or otherwise raise a need. According to the group’s International Activity Report, 6.3 million donors funded 11.2 million outpatient consultations, 750,000 inpatients’ treatment and more than 100,000 major surgical interventions in 2018 alone. MSF consistently achieves a huge global impact. While generous donors and devoted staff are part of this success, the organization also improves its operations to ensure progress. MSF takes every opportunity to evolve and utilize resources more efficiently. Most recently, MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals.

Building Innovation

One such evolution began back in November 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. After providing several weeks of emergency support from tent hospitals, MSF determined the municipality of Guiuan needed a more permanent solution. Plans to build a transitional hospital quickly began, and four months later, the organization completed the sturdier facility for use.

Two years later, MSF found an opportunity for innovation. With the help of design firm Pyxis, MSF’s technical team built a 3D printed model of the Guiuan hospital. Designers then turned the same 3D layout into an interactive virtual landscape, which was explorable through a virtual reality (VR) headset. But why should MSF redesign plans for an already built hospital?

Benefits of Creating a 3D Printed Model

These steps were not just for novelty; they served as a proof-of-concept for an innovative approach to the construction process. Since then, MSF has used this innovative virtual reality technology to build better hospitals. The tangible nature of the 3D printed model promotes a more user-friendly design stage. Planners can clearly determine if the facility’s design suits the environment it will serve.

On a more granular level, doctors can also optimize the facility’s layout before people start laying the foundation. The most immersive VR model supports this aspect. Is the main corridor wide enough to accommodate high traffic? Are the sterile processing rooms, scrub sinks and operating rooms in a useful order, or would doctors have to retrace their steps in situations where seconds matter? These details are crucial to the efficiency of a finished hospital.

The worst crises also benefit from the new approach. For example, the World Health Organization named the current Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a global health emergency, and the Ebola outbreaks require a quick response and reliable facilities. In this case, the best health care facility is the one that is operable first. Virtual reality expedites the construction process. Designers can create and build more nuanced plans potentially months faster than with traditional blueprints.

MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals by improving and expediting the construction process. VR landscapes and 3D plans are easier to visualize, edit and share amongst MSF staff around the world. Better yet, adopting VR technology now only makes it easier for designers to utilize future innovations. CAVE-CAD software, for example, is one such advancement that would allow architects to make changes to VR schematics while still inside the virtual environment. One thing is for sure; Médecins Sans Frontières continues to receive positive attention for the care it provides. As for hospitals, if MSF builds it, those who need it will come.

– Molly Power
Photo: Flickr

Why Refugees are Fleeing Central AmericaThe northern region of Central America is currently one of the most dangerous places on Earth. So, it’s no surprise that refugees are fleeing Central America. This circumstance has caused high levels of migration as many refugees are fleeing for their lives. In countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many people experience gang-related violence, human trafficking and extreme poverty. The brutality forcing refugees to leave their homes is constant and not improving.

Moreover, poverty in Central America is widespread. In some regions, half of the population lives below the poverty line. Consequently, the number of asylum-seekers is increasing in neighboring countries, such as Mexico and the U.S. In 2014, there were 2,000 asylum applications in Mexico. In 2017, applications escalated to more than 14,000. As this crisis continues, it is important to understand the reasons why refugees are fleeing Central America.

Gang Culture in Central America

In the 1980s, civil wars weakened countries in Central America, leaving a legacy of violence and fragile governments. Due to these civil wars and mass deportations from the U.S., organized crime groups flourished. These groups grew into the overwhelming gangs present today.

Over the last 15 years, gangs have taken over rural and urban areas within Central America. They target poor, and thus vulnerable, communities by imposing their own authority. They also recruit boys as young as 12 years old and living in poverty as they lack educational or economic opportunities. Because of gang violence, the Northern Triangle is considered one of the deadliest places in the world, outside a war zone. For example, between 2014 and 2017, almost 20,000 Salvadorans were killed due to gang-related violence.

Gang culture has deeply penetrated the social fabric of northern Central America. Their grip on society is so severe that many migrants fear that their deportation will result in death. For example, 82 percent of women reported they would most likely be tortured or killed if they were to return home. Despite decades of authorities trying to eliminate gang activity, these criminal groups remain defiant and seemingly unbreakable.

Extortion and Human Trafficking

Similarly, extortion-related crimes are common in this region. Gangs extort small businesses and local individuals by forcing them to pay protection payments. If these individuals cannot afford these amounts, the gangs will murder them. For example, it is estimated locals in Honduras pay $200 million in extortion fees every year. Extortion fees cost Salvadorans $756 million a year. This results in a significant financial loss for local businesses and endangers many lives.

Moreover, human trafficking is another common reason why refugees are fleeing Central America. Women and young girls are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Often, gangs target and traffick young children for the sex trade. In Guatemala alone, at least 15,000 children are victims of child sex trafficking networks.

Gangs also manipulate children. They subject children to forced labor, making them sell and transport drugs throughout El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Though widespread, authorities prosecute an extremely low number of people accused of human trafficking. In Guatemala between 2009 and 2013, police detained 604 human traffickers. However, only 183 went to trial and only 33 were convicted.

Helping Central America

A huge reason why refugees are fleeing Central America is lack of opportunity. Of course, this is largely due to the rampant crime and violence in the region. While the reality is grim, there is a reason to be optimistic. Many organizations and volunteers help these migrants in any way they can. In particular, Doctors Without Borders has been providing medical relief and mental health care to refugees traveling along migration routes through Mexico since 2013. The organization reported they provided more than 33,000 consultations at mobile health clinics and other facilities. Many patients need mental health care, especially women who are victims of sexual abuse. In fact, 31 percent of women reported being sexually assaulted along their journey.

UNICEF also recognizes the humanitarian crisis happening in Central America. UNICEF has offices in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In these countries, UNICEF is working directly with people to prevent violence and alleviate poverty. They also help reintegrate deported children into their home countries and support children in asylum countries, protecting them from discrimination and xenophobia. UNICEF’s work in Central America is necessary as it is bettering the lives of many vulnerable people.

Often times, the only ways for migrants to escape the persecution and violence plaguing their hometowns is to seek asylum in another country. No matter how bleak these circumstances may be, hope can be found through the compassion and understanding of volunteers around the world. By understanding why refugees are fleeing Central America, people and organizations can begin working to change the conditions in these countries.

Marissa Pekular
Photo: Flickr