Education in Costa Rica
Education in Costa Rica has come leaps and bounds from its past. The highly-rated education system in Costa Rica continues to lead Central and Latin America by example, striving to provide both highly accessible and high-quality education to all.

Costa Rica’s literacy rate is approximately 95 percent, one of the highest in Latin America. In 1869, the country was one of the first in the world to make primary education mandatory and free. Costa Rica is also one of the few countries in the world without a standing army, and part of the funds that would have been spent on the military is instead redirected to education.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), almost seven percent of the country’s GDP is spent on educational programs. The government has also issued a mandated goal for allocated funds to rise to eight percent by 2018. This percentage of GDP spending on education is exceeded only by Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark.

In the book, “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica,” it is said that every Costa Rican pueblo is known to have five things: a local store, a football field, a church, a bar and a school. Some schools in the most rural parts of the country only have two students, but regardless of the number of children in the pueblo, they will always have access to education.

While accessible schooling for all children is a noble goal, the quality of education must also be upheld. The smaller the school, the fewer resources the school and its teachers have. Children in rural areas often miss days or weeks of school to work or ultimately drop out to help support their families.

According to the 2015 U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Report, Costa Ricans spend an average of 8.4 years in school, and only 50.6 percent of the population receives at least some secondary school education.

While the necessary amount of money is being spent to ensure education in Costa Rica is a priority, according to the OECD the gap in educational outcomes based on family income has grown significantly larger in the past 20 years. It is critical that Costa Rica not only increases education funding but also focuses on how that money is spent, specifically by spreading resources more equitably across schools.

The Costa Rican Ministry of Education is working alongside UNICEF and other international organizations to confront the factors contributing to students permanently leaving school and to provide quality education to all.

Yo me apunto” (“I’m in”) was launched in 2015 with the hope of encouraging students to stay in school and to reintegrate young adults back into school. The program reaches 155 schools and offers educational programs for students living in areas of poverty.

By continuing initiatives like “Yo me apunto” and increasing focus on establishing better educational outcomes, education in Costa Rica will continue to be an exemplary model for the rest of Latin and Central America and beyond.

Erica Rawles

Photo: The Costa Rica News

Conditional Cash TransfersIn development assistance, there is always a hand that gives and a hand that takes away. Policymakers now face the fact that up to 20% of foreign aid administered by NGOs and government agencies can end up in the hands of corrupt local leaders. However, conditional cash transfers may be the solution.

A recent report by the Inter-American Development Bank suggests that conditional cash transfers offer a way out of this dilemma. This form of foreign aid offers cash grants to citizens in exchange for compliance. This could mean enrolling their children in school, completing regular medical exams, or attending job skills training.

In Latin America, where youth unemployment hovers around 14%, this means lower risks of radicalization. Roughly 60% of the young adults in this region work in the informal sector, where there are markedly low wages, no benefits and job insecurity.

When this occurs, many of those who might have been productive citizens turn to more lucrative (and illegal) activities. And so the conditions for terrorism flourish.

Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) for the poor in Latin America have posted consistent gains over the past 15 years. They provide money for nearly 129 million individuals of working and post-working age. In addition, some of the countries suffering from the harshest degrees of poverty are taking advantage.

UNICEF reports from 2008 found that in Paraguay, CCTs increased household per capita income by 31% while reducing food expenditure by four percent.

Child school attendance also rose, as beneficiary families were able to save 20% more than without assistance. UNICEF also reports that families enjoyed seven percent greater access to credit. Finally, they invested 45% more in agricultural production.

These are significant results for a country tackling one of the most corrupt and poverty-stricken parts of the continent. Home to radical groups such as Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, the tri-border area—between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina—is a perfect case for why the United States should ramp up its aid to Latin America.

The endemic poverty in this area allows one to bribe a local security agent for $35 ($15 for Paraguayan officers), buy an AK-47 for $375, or solicit women under 23 years of age for as little as $15.

In this sort of environment, traditional aid projects for nutrition or housing are less effective.

Researchers from Transparency International reveal that in areas like the tri-border, local leaders inflate the amount of requested aid, inviting speculation by gangs and smugglers.

Much of the aid is then misused: corrupt leaders sell food surpluses for personal profit, award housing contracts under threat. In addition, other goods (such as prescription drugs) enter the tri-border $1.5 billion black markets.

Conditional Cash Transfers offer immunity from these abuses by requiring greater accountability from both local leaders and the community. Because they are cash benefits, municipal officials are unable to divert goods as “losses” or favor particular groups.

Instead, they ensure that valuable U.S. aid reaches the hands of those who need it most—citizens doing their part to break the cycle of poverty.

Alfredo Cumerma

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Central America
The area of Latin or Central America includes the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Central America also includes the Caribbean Islands. Poverty in Central America is pervasive: half the population lives below the poverty line.

In rural areas, the figure rises to two-thirds. Seventy-five percent of rural people struggle to meet basic food needs. Income from traditional exports, agriculture and textiles is in the control of a few of the most powerful and richest.

Despite considerable advancements in wealth distribution, vast inequalities still exist. According to a report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “The poorest 20% of the population receive only 3% of all income; the wealthiest 20% receive 60%.”

The farms generally belong to the wealthy; the poor work on them. Small farmers often work deteriorating plots that produce low yields. This leads to food insecurity, hunger and the need for other wage-producing work.

Rural poverty in Central America is widespread, but percentages differ within separate countries.

Honduras is the worst affected: 75% of the country’s rural population lives in poverty and 63% live in extreme poverty.

Guatemala is next: 54% of its rural population lives in poverty.

Nicaragua and El Salvador both have 47% of their rural population living in poverty.

Panama has 37% and Costa Rica has 23% of rural poverty rates.

Indigenous populations have the highest rates of poverty in Central America. They also have the lowest income and lack access to much-needed services. Some of these include housing, schools and healthcare.

Indigenous peoples account for more than 40% of the total population in Guatemala and 75% of them live in poverty. In Panama, indigenous peoples make up eight percent of the population and 95% live in poverty.

Agriculture is a major employer of the rural poor, providing jobs for more than 30%. As a result, IFAD believes that agriculture could be used to help ease poverty in Central America. The area is a major producer of the world’s bananas, coffee, maize and sugar.

IFAD reports, however, that the area is “highly vulnerable” to the world market. It is also vulnerable to other factors it has no power over, such as climate change and natural disasters.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced in June that there has been much progress in reducing poverty in Central America. Despite these advancements, the area still desperately needs more social services.

UNDP called on the governments of the area to invest in “better employment opportunities, in financial systems that prevent over-indebtedness and reducing gender gaps.”

In a press release on June 16, 2016, UNDP stressed that “The main threat to progress in Latin America and the Caribbean is the relapse of millions of families back into poverty.”

The poor and those who are not considered living in poverty but who are not cushioned from external forces need four important elements to keep them from falling back into poverty: public security systems, healthcare systems, economic assets and job skills.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Pixabay

 Latin AmericaAccording to a recent UNDP report, 25 to 30 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are at risk of slipping into poverty. This number represents more than a third of those who began living on more than $1 a day since 2003 in the region.

These at-risk Latin Americans are a part of a group of over 220 million people in the region who are vulnerable, living on more than $4 a day but less than $10 a day: not technically poor, but not part of the middle class.

The report noted that between 2015 and 2016, the number of poor people in the region rose for the first time in decades. This year, Latin America is expected to experience economic contraction for the second year in a row.

While the economic slowdown is part of the reason these people are threatened with looming poverty, the report emphasizes that a large contributing factor is a lack of economic resilience. Much of the region’s jobs revolve around small enterprises the service sector, which have low productivity and high rates of informality. Also, the report noted that taxes laid an undue burden on the region’s poor.

The report stressed four factors, called a ‘resilience basket,’ that are essential in preventing regression into poverty among at-risk populations in Latin America. These four factors are: social protection, care systems (particularly for children and older persons), physical and financial assets (such as owning a car, a home, savings or bank accounts that act as ‘cushions’ when crises hit) and labor skills.

Overall, the report highlighted the importance of ‘multidimensional progress’ as a means of poverty reduction and prevention. It demonstrated that the circumstances that promoted initial economic growth in Latin America were different from factors that would create a sustainable environment for prolonged economic prosperity.

The report’s proposed solutions included improved tax policies to allow room for the region’s poor and vulnerable classes to grow without government obstacles, as well as increases in productivity of low-skilled labor jobs. It also advocated for investment into women’s policies, considering that Latin America and the Caribbean women work three times more at home than men and, despite studying on average more than males in the region, still earn less in the labor market.

Jessica Faieta, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and Caribbean, said at the report launch, “The challenges of sustainable, holistic and universal development do not end at a certain income threshold: we don’t ‘graduate’ from development challenges unless we can respond accordingly to the multiple dimensions that enable people to live the lives they consider valuable.”

Latin America, while a diverse region without a single pattern of development, still lacks many of the necessities for sustainable prosperity. Outside of improved economic growth in Latin America, improved conditions to sustain progress and further eliminate poverty in the region are necessary.

Adam Gonzalez

Photo: Flickr

Social Entrepreneur CorpsFounded by Greg Van Kirk, the Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC) diagnoses needs and implements innovations that help marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable families build a better life for themselves.

The volunteers and employees of the SEC play an important role in creating impactful social innovation. They can “gain the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to become the high impact leaders and social entrepreneurs of the future.” In addition, the SEC has been “leading innovative and dynamic impact immersion programs for 10 years and over 1,000 participants have joined [their] diverse programs.”

The organization utilizes well-structured programs where participants are mentored by field leaders, who are experienced development professionals.

One of the SEC’s initiatives includes a needs and feasibility analysis, in which participants perform research through observations, surveys and informal conversations in order to analyze needs of impoverished communities.

Another is an innovative-design initiative, in which participants use their research to develop and give consultations to local community members on ways to improve their state of poverty.

As one SEC participant states, “from giving presentations in Spanish to local organizations to going on campaigns in rural regions, every activity gave me the chance and the courage to step out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries as far as I could.”

Communities in Latin America, for example, are reaping the benefits. The Jutiapa region in Guatemala had a successful village campaign which benefited women entrepreneurs in the region. In one day, participants “served over 150 people and helped the women to sell 69 pairs of glasses, 35 eye drops, 30 packets of vegetable seeds, 8 solar lamps/cell phone chargers and one water purification bucket.”

The female entrepreneurs earned nearly $240 in net profits, which is the equivalent of over two months’ wages for the average rural Guatemalan.

The Social Entrepreneur Corps has played an important role in breaking the cycle of poverty in Latin American countries. The organization’s efforts continue to inspire families and communities.

Vanessa Awanyo

Mexico's Poverty Rate
The number of Mexicans living in poverty increased by two million between 2012 and 2014, according to Reuters. These figures of Mexico’s poverty rate highlight the challenges President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing in meeting pledges to help millions in need.


President Enrique Peña Nieto Struggles with Mexico’s Poverty Rate


“With his six-year term half over, Enrique Peña Nieto is trying to rally public confidence in his government’s economic plan amid lackluster growth projections,” said International Business Times.

While his efforts have focused on making Mexico a competitive nation, “the government is flailing in its battle against staggering income inequality and poverty rates that have remained virtually unchanged over the past 20 years,” according to International Business Times.

In 2014, Mexico’s poverty rate increased from 45.5 to 46.2 percent, corresponding to 55.3 million people in the country of approximately 120 million, said a spokesperson for the government’s social development agency.

According to Oxfam Mexico’s executive director, “while the wealth of Mexican multimillionaires is multiplied by five, 48 percent of state schools have no access to sewage, 31 percent have no drinking water, 12.8 percent have no bathrooms or toilets and 11.2 percent have no access to electricity.”

Under Peña Nieto’s administration, the problem has only worsened. While many Latin American countries have diminished their levels of poverty, Mexico’s have continued to increase.

Peña Nieto recognizes that income inequality, global economic turmoil and corruption have prevented Mexico from both an economic boost and a diminished poverty rate.

Jonathan Foxx, a political science professor at American University in Washington, D.C. suggested that “neither inequality nor poverty reduction have been major priorities of this administration, nor the previous administrations.”

The government has been criticized for being too focused on attracting foreign investment and strengthening large-scale private industries, rather than concentrating on reducing its poverty rate.

Professor Foxx added that Mexico’s poverty rate remains the largest concern, regardless of wide income disparities. “If the government was more effective at reducing poverty, then people would worry less about inequality,” he said. “But since neither is getting better, it’s hard to disentangle.”

A major shift in focus and strategy is needed if Mexico is to succeed in combating its increasing poverty rate.

Isabella Rölz

Sources: International Business Times, Reuters, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

Reports of Chikungunya Fever are on the rise in Peru, raising concerns at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC has added Peru to the Level One Watch List for Chikungunya Fever, as the disease moves toward epidemic proportions in the country. The Peruvian Ministry of Health is taking precautions to limit the spread of the disease in the country, which may have spread from neighboring countries.

Minister Velasquez of the Peruvian Ministry of Health and Minister Candace Vance of Health Ministry of Ecuador have signed an agreement to jointly fight the disease. This agreement allowed Peru to identify the first indigenous case of Chikungunya Fever.

The Peruvian Ministry of Health of has put together a national plan to combat the disease including a surveillance agency MOH to monitor infectious disease coming across the border. They have also placed an epidemiological fence in areas where the disease is prevalent and spray shops and homes to eradicate the disease.

In partnership with Ecuador, the are closely monitoring outbreak and implementing vector control in areas where the outbreaks arise in. Ecuador has suffered more than 15,000 cases of Chikungunya Fever this year alone.

Across Latin America, rates of mosquito-borne disease are increasing; the joint action plan between Ecuador and Peru marks a first step in interstate cooperation to combat mosquito-borne diseases.

Chikungunya fever, much like malaria, Yellow fever, Typhoid fever and Dengue is spread by the bite of a mosquito. Chikungunya symptoms begin about 3-7 days after being bitten by the Aedes Egypti mosquito.

The symptoms include fever, joint pain, headache, muscle ache, rash or swelling. These symptoms left untreated can severely disable an individual. Symptoms can last anywhere from a week to a month depending on the severity of the case.

Robert Cross

Sources: CDC, EL Universo, Outbreak News Today, PMOH, Peru This Week
Photo: Información desde América Latina

Five Unique Facts about Extreme Poverty around the World
1. More than 1 billion people around the world live on the price of a vending machine candy bar.

Many people have only a $1.25 per day for food, medicine and shelter. Although there are 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, the number of people living on this amount has drastically decreased over the last three decades.

2. Poverty in India is different than poverty in China–and still different from poverty in other countries, too.

India has 179.6 million people living in poverty. India has a greater share of the world’s poor than it did 30 years ago. In the 1970s and 80s, India had about one-fifth of its people living in poverty. Now, that number has increased to one-third.

When living in poverty in India, families have to deal with many harsh conditions. Due to poor weather conditions, lack of water and misuse of insecticides, many families can’t grow the crops needed to live a sustainable lifestyle. Families suffering from these poor conditions may move to the slums of Mumbai to get away, where they face other harsh conditions like overcrowded communal bathroom facilities and the lack of proper sewage systems, meaning much of the water they consume is contaminated.

Many residents in India living in poorer conditions have put off things like health and education to keep on basic survival necessities. According to the World Bank, more than 70 percent of the 22 million people living in Mumbai live in the slums.

China, however, has 137.6 million people living in impoverished conditions. Poverty in China differs from poverty in India in that, as of August 2015, it had wiped out the majority of its poverty, but there are still people living in poverty in China’s rural regions. Between 50 and 55 percent of its people live in rural areas.

Over the last decade, the number of females has drastically increased as much of the male population has left to urban areas to find work. This has caused a decrease in farming knowledge among the general population. Farmers are also victims of devastating natural disasters that result in unpaved roads, decreased farm sizes and depleted resources.

3. There are people in the United States living in extreme poverty.

In 2012, a legislator in North Carolina stated there was no such thing as extreme poverty in the state. However, North Carolina is home to three of the top 10 poorest areas in the United States. Other areas include Nacogdoches, Texas; Dalton, Georgia and Gallup, New Mexico.

Over the last few years, the number of women living in extreme poverty in the United States increased from 5.9 percent to 6.3 percent from 2009 to 2010, meaning there are 42 million — about one in three — women living in or on the brink of poverty. One of every six of these women is elderly. In 2010 alone, more than 7.2 million women fell into extreme poverty.

4. More than enough food is produced in the world to keep everyone healthy.

Enough food in the world is produced to keep everyone on an adequate diet, but nearly 854 million people, or one in seven people, go hungry. About 2.8 million people still rely on wood, crop waste and other biomass to heat and cook their food, which can also lead to malnutrition. Luckily, there are many organizations, like Stop Hunger Now and World Hunger Organization, fighting hunger.

5. Poverty in Africa is caused by different effects than poverty in Latin America.
One of the major causes of poverty in Africa is unsustainable agriculture. Poverty in Africa takes place primarily in Africa’s rural regions, where citizens rely heavily on agriculture for sustenance and income. When the weather is harsh on crops, poor agricultural techniques are practiced or soil erosion prevents hearty crops, and many families suffer because of it.

In Latin America, one of the major causes is the inequality of wealth distribution. While poverty in Africa is mostly in rural areas, poverty in Latin America plagues both rural and urban regions. Other causes of poverty in Latin and South America are internal conflicts and issues with structural adjustments.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Mic, Gabriel Project Mumbai, The Guardian, Yahoo
Photo: Flickr

You Don't Have to have an MD to Improve Global Health
The term “Global Health” conjures up a number of images: sterilized hospitals, syringes, people with advanced degrees saving lives clad in scrubs and stethoscopes.

Medical professionals are without a doubt integral to the success of global health efforts; they are responsible for the lifesaving techniques and knowledge that have essentially eradicated polio and controlled infectious diseases like cholera and yellow fever.

However, they are not the entire picture but only a very important piece of the complicated puzzle that is global health.

Researchers are increasingly finding that people skilled in other disciplines, such as the social sciences and humanities, are just as important in combating poor health worldwide.

Where medical expertise was once deemed the ultimate key to improving lives around the world, groups such as Global Health Corps (GHC) have identified non-medical links in the public health chain that need overhauling to allow current medical science to unlock its potential.

That’s why only three of the Africa-bound GHC fellows this year are MDs.

“Global health issues are very complex,” said CEO of GHC Barbara Bush. “They’re so rooted in poverty, they’re so rooted in education — or lack of education — issues. There’s a lot of gender issues that play into poor health outcomes. I think that’s why we need very different thinkers and different folks at the table.”

These “different thinkers” include architects to former Restoration Hardware employees. Bush has called these people “systems thinkers” — the kind of people who can improve health outcomes by attacking barriers to health that lurk below the surface.

These GHC fellows, all under the age of 30, have already taken this challenge onto the ground. In Rwanda, architects have worked to prevent the spread of airborne illness by redesigning airflow in hospitals. Former retail employees, skilled in the arena of logistics and organization, have already begun an overhaul of logistical systems that failed to contain the Ebola outbreak.

GHC’s Africa initiative is not the only organization to recognize the need for interdisciplinary thinking in global health. Rafael Rangel-Aldao, scientist, entrepreneur and owner of R&D Health Holdings Ltd., is calling for a “systems-based” approach in Latin America as well.

“Many developing countries in the Americas have yet to benefit from biotechnology not because of inherent problems with either the science or technology, but rather because most nations lack a system for integrating the different participants in the research, development and manufacturing chain,” wrote Aldao in Nature.

“…The relative strength in trained personnel and laboratory facilities present in some countries in no way guarantees a successful capability for biotechnological applications of economic value or impact on development.”

Research has suggested that biotechnology could be used to greatly enhance the agri-food sector in the economies of many nations in Latin America, yet the isolationist natures of research, enterprise and the public seem to have prevented this.

It is problems like these, not simply a lack of new remedies, technologies, and medical techniques that are holding public health back.

Emma Betuel

Sources: Nature, Fast Company, PRWEB, CDC, Grupo de Ciencia Digital,
Photo: Flickr

Migration Patterns in Latin America
Although immigration is a major concern for policymakers in the United States, immigration and emigration have a significant impact on the economy and communities throughout Latin America.

Over the last 25 years, in particular, migration patterns in Latin America show that immigrants have moved from unstable economies and governments into bordering states that have greater economic stability and prosperity. This continues to be the case in Chile, with migrants flowing in from neighboring countries.

The Southern Cone of Latin America is famous for its continued movement of people across country borders. This region includes Chile, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay. Chile has seen an influx of immigrants, particularly from Peru, since the 1990s. This was the turning point in the Chilean economy and government, transitioning over from a military regime to a more stable, democratic system.

This change in government led to more overall economic stability in Chile, creating more job opportunities and more money per household. Neighboring countries, such as Peru, have not seen such success.

This influx of immigrants has been accompanied by its own issues, particularly with regard to security concerns. Large groups of immigrants easily travel across state borders, because of geographic proximity, as well as insufficient border policies. For example, Peruvian immigrants that have migrated to Chile have created cultural enclaves within cities and populated areas of the country. These transnational communities as they are described have created a concern for not only governments of receiving nations, but also the citizens of said countries.

Social marginalization is one of the biggest obstacles many immigrants of said transnational communities report facing, forcing such cultural enclaves to emerge. This, in a way, defeats the purpose of many immigrants, in search of new opportunities, as they are almost forced to stay within the confines of communities that are primarily made up of other immigrants.

Though this is the case, many immigrants in Latin America continue to migrate to neighboring countries, because despite social and cultural obstacles, many do find more economic potential and opportunities for jobs that they have the qualifications and skillsets for.

Immigration is a concern that faces not only the United States and its borders but also persists as an issue throughout intraregional Latin America. Not only that, but the circumstances in which Latin Americans find themselves make immigration that much more appealing and feasible.

– Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: Migration Policy Institute, Money Market, Bloomberg,
Photo: Flickr