Globally, between 1999 and 2011, the total number of children not attending school decreased from 106 million to 57 million. Programs to encourage school attendance and improve the quality of education in developing countries are working.

Nevertheless, there is a country in Central America that retains the title of the second most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. Honduras’ children continue to face many barriers to education. There is still much work to be done.


Top 5 Barriers to Education Access in Honduras:

1. Lack of physical school buildings

2. Lack of school supplies (desks, chalkboards, clean water)

3. Shortage of adequate teachers

4. Gang epidemic pulls young boys from school

5. Lack of proper toilets and sanitation at schools dissuades young girls from attending school

The good news is that it is very possible to breakdown these barriers so that children may be able attend school.

Students Helping Honduras, a nonprofit organization that recruits college students to build schools, is addressing each of these barriers. The nonprofit was started by Shin Fujiyama when he was a college student, and he has since been named a 2009 CNN Hero. Their goal is to build 1,000 schools in Honduras by 2020. Over 3,000 college student volunteers have worked in Honduras and the program is expanding.

In addition to the schools under construction, the organization also currently runs a bilingual elementary school, 2 homes for orphaned and abandoned children, a scholarship project and a villa project.

One of the strongest barriers to education access in Honduras is related to the gang epidemic spreading throughout the country. Young boys are persuaded to join gangs such as MS13 or Mara 18 with the proposal of protection from older boys. When the prospects for their education seem low in the first place, some boys will not attend school at all.

SHH works with boys in the community of Villa Soleada and offers them the opportunity to gain an education. Villa Soleada serves as an alternative form of protection to gang life.

With a commitment to local empowerment, community members work together with student volunteers. SHH is building schools one at a time to help decrease the 66.2% of Hondurans who currently live in poverty. When these barriers are addressed, children can receive an education that will help them secure jobs and support their families and communities.

— Iliana Lang

Sources: Students Helping Honduras, Save the Children Care Plancanada
Photo: Project Trust

On April 25, Nepal experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake with several devastating aftershocks over the next month. The damage destroyed the central part of the country, killing over 8,000 people and leaving thousands of others homeless without proper access to water and food.

Before the earthquake, Nepal already had some of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. Of the children under five, 41 percent have stunted growth, 29 percent are underweight and 11 percent are considered wasted. The nutrient deficiencies are high in expectant mothers as well, which puts babies at a disadvantage before they are even born.

The malnutrition rate in Nepal can be attributed to agricultural problems. The crop production is poor, infrastructure is in deteriorating conditions (making it hard to transport food and aid to areas in need), and climate changes affect the harvest. The recent earthquake has only propagated the lack of agricultural security in Nepal. Landslides have blocked roads and rivers. Flooding is a major concern. Cracks and rubble make it difficult to navigate through cities. All of this accumulates to slow down aid and food supplies reaching people.

While Nepal has been making some progress with the issue of malnutrition, the recent earthquake threatens the past positive movements forward. Currently, about 70,000 children are at risk for malnutrition. In total there are over 1.7 million children in need of aid after the earthquake. In the worst hit areas, like Sinhapalchok and Kathmandu, children live in such dire conditions that they need therapeutic foods–one being a peanut-like paste with high energy and lipid content.

UNICEF is working to combat the downturn in malnutrition rates caused by the earthquake. They are providing therapeutic foods to children in need, screening children to determine who is at risk, providing vaccines and clean water, and handing out supplements. UNICEF is working with national and international aid donors as well as the Nepalese government to reach those who need the most help most. So far, the World Food Program has been able to feed 1.8 million people in difficult to reach places in Nepal.

Aid groups are working double time to decrease the malnutrition rate. The focus is on protecting the children, as they are the most vulnerable during calamitous times. There is still hope that Nepal can begin to see the positive steps forward that had been made before the devastating earthquake and tremors hit, and attempts to re-gain its momentum in combating malnutrition.

-Katherine Hewitt

Sources: UNICEF, BBC, World Food Program
Photo: Expo

refugees in lebanon
While the current international focus in the Middle East has centered around Syria and the recent violence in Iraq, the impact of increased civil strife across the region will have serious implications for Lebanon.

The Syrian civil war has been going on for four years now, bleeding out into other areas as millions have been displaced from their homes. A huge influx of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon over the past several years, contributing to rising tension within Lebanon’s borders.

In order to escape the violence in their country, nearly 2.5 million Syrians have fled. There are currently over one million refugees in Lebanon alone; nearly half of the total number.

Lebanon’s current political system will not have a high tolerance for conflict as the country has just recently come out of a 15-year civil war.

The problem with Syrian refugees in Lebanon will come with challenges beyond the normal problems associated with displaced people. Refugees from Syria have the potential to increase sectarian violence among Sunni and Shiite communities. The Shiite militant organization Hezbollah supports Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This provokes violence in Lebanon from an outraged Sunni community. The Sunni faction ISIS has been taking advantage of a weak government in both Syria and Iraq in order to take control of areas in hopes of creating their own Islamic state.

When leaders of Lebanon’s religious factions lose control over their territories, historically, chaos breaks out. Attacks occur in the form of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings.

Apart from violence, the refugee overflow overwhelms Lebanon’s already fragile infrastructure. Water, electricity and waste management systems have the potential to break down. This could lead to a disastrous shortage of water and electricity which in turn would allow for the spread of disease and contamination.

The United States knows that preventing escalating conflict in Lebanon is necessary to avoid further violence across the region, and to decrease the likelihood of extremists groups expanding. Renewed conflict in Lebanon could also threaten Israel, a U.S. ally, if religious extremists groups continue to grow.

There is no easy solution to growing tension in Lebanon due to the increasing number of refugees. In order to avoid a renewed conflict in Lebanon, state institutions must be effective in calming the growing violence and tension between religious groups. Additionally, public healthcare and sanitation services must be enhanced.

According to Council of Foreign Relations Senior Advisor Monica Yaccoubiana, avoiding a conflict in Lebanon will take a huge effort to mitigate spillover effects of the Syrian conflict. These efforts must include ensuring humanitarian access to civilians inside Syria, working with the United Nations to improve access for aid groups, increase funding for assistance and initiating high level meetings between global political leaders and Lebanese officials in order to encourage consensus building and implement solutions.

– Caroline Logan

Sources: CFR, BBC, UNHCR
Photo: Al Jazeera