Posts

Sesame Street's Rohingya MuppetsSesame Street is developing two Rohingya muppets to help refugee children overcome trauma. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by fostering access to education. Poverty affects all aspects of life. Children who live in poverty suffer from many physical, intellectual and emotional complications. Child stunting, for example, is a result of nutrient-deficient diets, repeated infection and a lack of psychosocial stimulation in the first years of a child’s life. This has dire long-term outcomes for children, including impaired intellectual development. Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets aim to improve the intellectual development of Rohingya children, which directly affects education, and in turn, poverty.

Stunting and Malnutrition in Rohingya Children

The Rohingya people are a stateless Muslim minority group who have lived in a state of flux, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, since they were forced to flee Myanmar. They were violently persecuted by the Myanmar military, an instance of ethnic cleansing. Close to 800,000 Rohingya refugees have escaped to Bangladesh. It is common for refugees to live in refugee camps within Bangladesh.

A group of refugee camps, located in Cox’s Bazar, was the subject of a 2017-2018 study on the rates of stunting and malnutrition in Rohingya children. The study found that the rate of stunting “dropped from 44% to 38% in the main camp.” Although it is positive that the rate of childhood stunting declined, the rate of childhood stunting still remained dangerously close to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) critical health emergency threshold of 40%.

Additionally, the rate of acute malnutrition dropped from close to 20% to nearly 10%. Childhood deaths declined. The rate of diarrhea, caused in some instances by dehydration or bacterial infection, also declined. Nonetheless, these rates remain too high to relieve concerns and the situation is still described as dire.

Malnutrition affects a child’s developing brain, impacting education and reducing the ability of a person to lift themselves out of poverty.

Sesame Street’s Rohingya Muppets

The majority of humanitarian funding is deployed to address acute effects of poverty like stunting and malnutrition. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing on education and intellectual development. Sherrie Westin is the president of social impact for Sesame Workshop and she identified that “less than 3% of all aid is used for education.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets consist of two characters, Noor Yasmin and Aziz, to connect with Rohingya children on an intellectual and emotional level. Westin feels that without intervention by Sesame Street, Rohingya children risk growing up unable to read and write or do simple math.

Westin cited scientific research as the basis for her concern. Similar to the way inadequate dietary nutrition and disease lead to physical stunting, stress and trauma stunt brain development. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by providing emotional and intellectual support to Rohingya children who have endured trauma.

BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Lab

In Bangladesh, Sesame Street partnered with BRAC. BRAC’s Humanitarian Play Labs are designed to help children learn through play and recover from emotional trauma in the process. BRAC designs its play labs to resemble settings that are familiar to the children it works with. In Bangladesh, this means that Rohingya children are surrounded by “motifs and paintings significant to Rohingya culture.”

Sesame Street’s Rohingya muppets reflect an integral part of BRAC’s approach. Children relate best to characters that they can identify with and they flourish in settings that are familiar and comfortable. BRAC’s success speaks for itself. Close to 90% of the kids that BRAC works with complete the fifth grade of schooling.

Sesame Street Addresses Rohingya Poverty

While the humanitarian crisis among Rohingya refugees is ongoing, recognition of the long-term effects of stress and trauma on intellectual development is crucial to lifting the Rohingya out of poverty. Education alleviates poverty and negating the effects of trauma will allow for proper intellectual development to take on educational endeavors. Sesame Street aims to address the effects of poverty by focusing its attention on the intellectual development of Rohingya children.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Digital Gender GapAs the world becomes more technologically advanced and digitally connected, access to technology remains an issue, especially in developing countries. More so, the digital gap between women and men continues to expand, with 300 million fewer women than men using mobile internet, creating a 20% gap. The lack of access to digital devices for these women means being denied essential services including employment opportunities, financial resources, educational resources and medical information. There are several global initiatives trying to bridge the digital gender gap between women and men.

Safaricom

In Kenya, women are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet despite women making up 51% of the Kenyan population. Safaricom, a mobile network in Kenya, therefore created a partnership with Google to offer an affordable smartphone, the Neon Kicka with Android GO, compromising 500 megabytes of free data for the first month. The mobile network believes that empowering a woman empowers an entire community and focuses on the following three barriers: affordability, relevance and digital skills. The company ensured that the price point was the lowest it could be and featured important content including access to health information and educational content to highlight the smartphone’s daily relevance for women. Safaricom recognizes that many women are not familiar with Gmail accounts and therefore developed a guide covering the basics of smartphone use.

Novissi

Togo, a country in West Africa currently run by its first female prime minister, launched a digital cash transfer program called Novissi. Its goal is to provide aid to informal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, covering residents of three urban areas under lockdown. Many underserved women tend to be excluded from COVID-19 relief digital cash transfer programs launched by governments since they either do not have access to digital bank accounts or are uninformed. Through Novissi, women receive a monthly sum of $20, whereas men receive $17, to support the cost of food, communication services, power and water. The three additional dollars allocated to women account for the fact that women are more likely to be informal workers and take care of a family’s nutritional needs.

Wave Money

In Myanmar, Wave Money has become the number one mobile financial service, with 89% of the country benefiting from its agents. Since Wave Money deals with 85% of rural areas in the country, money enters and leaves from nearly every state and facilitates familiarity with the service. The financial service created a partnership with GSMA Connected Women to allow greater access to financial services for women. Through this partnership, women are encouraged to run Wave Money shops in Myanmar, providing them with extra income even if they live in very remote areas of the country.

Telesom Simple KYC Account

It can be challenging for women to acquire the identity documents necessary to open accounts with service providers. In Somaliland, Telesom created a simplified know-your-customer (KYC) account, allowing women that do not possess an ID to sign up for mobile money services. The service solely requires a name, date of birth, image and contact details, favoring accessibility and reducing the digital gap between women and men.

Equal Access International Partnership with Local Radio Station

In Nigeria, women and girls are denied access to technology due to the fear of moral decline that accompanies the widespread culture. Equal Access International recognizes the need to address societal norms for women and amplify women and girls’ voices. In an effort to do so, Equal Access International partnered with a local radio station in order to create a show that tackled cultural taboos and promoted women and girls using digital technologies. The episodes last 30 minutes and cover weekly themes including common misconceptions about the internet, internet safety and moral arguments regarding women and the internet.

Closing the Digital Gender Gap

Despite a digital gender gap that exists between women and men, organizations around the world are making an effort to foster a sense of inclusion and empowerment for women and girls to become familiar and encouraged to take on the digital world that is constantly emerging.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr


For decades, Myanmar’s Rohingya minority has suffered from discrimination; in 2017, an ethnic cleansing began. Three years later, with more than a million Rohingya refugees forced from their homes, the International Court of Justice declared a way forward for Myanmar — Will there be justice for this Rohingya crisis?

The Persecution of the Rohingya

Forced from their homes, thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh. In 2017, Myanmar’s security forces attacked the ethnic minority in the western state of Rakhine, triggering the Rohingya crisis. Myanmar’s armed forces, otherwise known as the Tatmadaw, participated in abuses against the Rohingya, inciting massacres, gang rape, burning and looting. More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh, while other Rohingya were internally displaced in Myanmar. Most fled without any belongings, so the refugees rely on Bangladesh’s refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to provide life-saving assistance: food, water, healthcare, shelter and proper sanitation.

The U.N. considers this conflict to be an ethnic cleansing with “genocidal intent.” Yet the Rohingya had endured ethnic persecution for decades. In 1982, while Myanmar was governed by a military junta, the government passed a Citizenship Law stating that citizens in Myanmar could only be from certain ethnic groups — the Rohingya did not make this list. With their citizenship rights taken away, institutionalized discrimination began as the Rohingya were labeled as foreigners, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Because of this, the Rohingya were often denied access to healthcare and education; permission was also needed before marrying or traveling to a different village. Now, for the thousands of refugees, returning to their country seems impossible. For the half-million Rohingya that remain in Myanmar, targets of laws and practices that overlook their abuse, the threat of genocide persists.

Will Myanmar be Held Accountable?

While Myanmar’s civilian government and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, adamantly deny any ethnic persecution or cleansing, in January 2020 the International Court of Justice ruled that Myanmar must protect the Rohingya from persecution and prevent the destruction of any evidence related to the genocide allegations. The case was brought to the ICJ by The Gambia on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to advocate for the Rohingya Muslims, as Myanmar ignored previous international calls to investigate human rights violations.

With this ruling, Myanmar’s government is required to do everything possible to prevent the persecution, killing and any other bodily or mental harm of the Rohingya by the military or any other civilian group. For further accountability, Myanmar must submit a report to update the ICJ on its proceedings, and then send in additional reports every six months until the court is satisfied that the Rohingya crisis has ended. It will take several more years before the ICJ can determine whether Myanmar committed genocide.

However, the ICJ does not have enforcement power, which means that Myanmar faces a choice: to comply with the ICJ rulings or ignore them and continue the current treatment of the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi believes that the case presented before the court showed “an incomplete and misleading factual picture” of the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine. She assured the ICJ that military leaders would be put on trial if found guilty; however, the court’s ruling suggests that the case was not misrepresented and that Suu Kyi’s assurances may not be fulfilled. Therefore, the future remains uncertain for the Rohingya.

Looking Forward

While it is up to Myanmar alone to comply with the ICJ, the international community can still pressure Myanmar to follow the court’s ruling. In 2019, Senator Benjamin Cardin introduced the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act (S.1186) which aims to address the Rohignya’s humanitarian crisis. If passed, it will provide needed aid and help with resettlement. This aid will only be given once Myanmar and its military can prove they have made progress in keeping to international human rights standards. Showing support for this bill is key to get it through Congress, so contacting local representatives by calling or emailing is imperative.

The Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, stated “it is not too late for the country to change course and reorient itself to transform into a democracy that embraces human rights for all.” They believe that by addressing issues of discrimination, implementing victim-centered justice mechanisms, rewriting laws and holding those who have violated human rights accountable, Myanmar can build a new future where the Rohingya are welcome, and the refugees, like Aziza, can return home without fear of persecution.

Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts about Poverty in Myanmar
Myanmar is a country in Southeast Asian and is is one of many developing countries facing the same issues as those on other continents. Poverty in Myanmar can be solved with greater access and investment in resources such as food and safe drinking water. Here are 5 facts about poverty in Myanmar.

5 Facts about Poverty in Myanmar

  1. Living under $1 per day. In Myanmar, the percentage of those living on less than $1 per day was 24.8% in 2017. Although this is a large drop from 48.2% in 2005, there is still a long way to go to measure up to other developing countries. The Myanmar economy has improved, however, since 1987 when ill-prepared monetary and fiscal policies sent the country into a depression.
  2. Wars with the Rohingya Muslims. One of the most significant and recent culture wars was with the Rohingya Muslims. This event happened only 3 years ago, with the Myanmar military burning down villages and abusing women. As a result, three out of four of Rohingya Muslims were chased out of their homes and forced to find a new life.
  3. Maternal mortality rates. In 2017, the maternal mortality rate was 250, which is significantly better than in 2000, when the number was 340. Improved healthcare access was the main driver for saving Myanmar mothers. However, there is a lot of room for improvement.
  4. Agriculture factor. Poverty in Myanmar persists because farming, which can serve as an economical boosting point and form a tax base for a more ambitious industry. A worker in Myanmar can only harvest 23 kg of rice per day. Additionally, this is around 20 kg less than in neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. Increasing agricultural output will promote self-sufficiency and political stability. There are many programs in place that try to provide such solutions through loans and community outreach. For example, the World Bank approved $200 million in loans to farmers that were facing increased animal feed prices and the inability to move food to local markets, hoping to prevent an economic contraction because of COVID-19.
  5. Access to sanitation. Mobilizing local citizens to improve sanitation, improving health for small communities and limiting dependence on foreign aid can be extremely beneficial. That is what WASH (Wash, Sanitization and Hygiene) services aim to do. They give technologies such as anti-defecation water pumps and toilets to community centers. As a result, this improved conditions for more than 150,000 Myanmar citizens in 2018 alone. Such programs help in many other sectors than public health. Children stay in school longer when proper hand washing reduces disease. In addition, this creates even more positive effects in the country such as reduced poverty rate and maternal mortality rates.

Reducing poverty in Myanmar through actions such as improving access to proper sewage treatment is a manageable goal. All it takes is the improvement of existing infrastructure to make measurable and positive impacts on the world.

Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr

Himalayan Cataract ProjectIn 1995, Dr. Geoff Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit launched the Himalayan Cataract Project to eliminate curable and preventable blindness in under-resourced Himalayan communities. The two founded their innovative campaign after recognizing that cataracts account for 70% of unnecessary blindness in Nepal. Cataracts, or cloudy, opaque areas in the eye that block light entry, occur naturally with age. Poor water quality, malnutrition and disease tend to exacerbate the issue in developing countries.

For years, Dr. Tabin and Dr. Ruit had seen Nepalese villagers take blindness as a death sentence. “It was just accepted that you get old, your hair turns white, your eyes turn white, you go blind and you die,” Dr. Tabin told the Stanford Medicine magazine. But after Dutch teams arrived in Nepal to perform cataract surgery, he explained, “People came back to life. It was amazing.”

The Strategy

The Himalayan Cataract Project delivers sight-restoring cataract surgery at a low cost. Dr. Ruit’s groundbreaking procedure lasts 10 minutes and costs just $25. Today the organization has succeeded in providing permanent refractive correction for well over 500,000 people.

In an effort to leave a more sustainable impact, the project works from a “train the trainer” model that empowers community health providers and enhances local eye care centers. Rather than simply treating patients in need, specialists introduce new methods and technology to strengthen the practices of existing clinics.

As a result of these and other advances, the blindness rate in Nepal has plummeted to 0.24%, similar to that of Western countries. The Himalayan Cataract Project now operates in India, Tibet and Myanmar. Dr. Tabin has also initiated training programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Ghana and Ethiopia. He hopes to see the same successes here as achieved in Asia.

The Link Between Blindness and Poverty

Addressing blindness is a critical step in the fight against poverty. Blindness prevents able-bodied workers from supporting themselves, shortens lives and reduces the workforce. Children of blind parents often stay home from school as they scramble to fulfill the duties of household caregivers and providers. In short, blindness worsens poverty, while poverty magnifies the risk of blindness.

The Himalayan Cataract Project aims to break the cycle of blindness and poverty. Studies have shown a 400% return on every dollar that the organization invests in eradicating curable and preventable blindness. Their procedures stimulate the economy by helping patients get back to work.

Individual success stories continue to power the organization. Adjoe, a 40-year-old mother from Togo, traveled to Ghana for surgery when she determined that her blind eye was hurting business. As a street vendor selling beans, she saw customers avoid her stand for fear of contagion. She consulted Dr. Boteng Wiafe, a partner of the Himalayan Cataract Project, who performed oculoplastic surgery and gave her a prosthetic eye. Carefully matching the prosthetic to the size, color and shape of her good eye, Dr. Wiafe ensured that Adjoe could return home to provide for her family once again.

Response to COVID-19

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to live clinical training and elective surgeries, but the backlog of blindness continues to grow worldwide. Meanwhile, concerns about the virus may dissuade blind patients from seeking treatment for the next several years.

While eye care has been suspended, the Himalayan Cataract Project is using this time to redesign and restructure their programs so as to emerge even stronger than before. The organization is also working to equip partner clinics with information and resources to keep their patients safe. Some communities have even taken part in the shift to remote education and implemented a virtual training system.

Despite the uncertainty of the months ahead, the Himalayan Cataract Project remains firm in its commitment to fighting blindness and poverty. Its partner clinics around the globe have been tireless in their efforts to affirm that the poor and vulnerable will receive the eye care they need once patients can receive in-person treatment again.

Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Myanmar
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a nation with 32.1 percent of the population living below the poverty line, according to 2015 data.

Accessing water in Myanmar has always been difficult, despite the country’s natural resources. It once was recognized to have the fourth-richest supply of groundwater in the world, holding more than 19,000 square meters per capita. This is 16 times the available levels of Myanmar’s neighboring country, Bangladesh.

A typical summer season in the last few years would introduce water shortages in only central Myanmar, but now, deforestation – as a result of urbanization – and hot temperatures contribute to water shortages in other additional areas of the country, leaving hundreds of thousands in danger.

However, recent changes to the water system have significantly improved water quality in Myanmar:

Fixing the Irrigation Systems

Myanmar’s agriculture industry provides jobs for 60 percent of workers, so it is crucial that irrigation systems are functional. In the past, Myanmar struggled with irrigation upkeep and water distribution, so The Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation Project stepped in to improve irrigation infrastructure, reform water management and provide education to farmers. Since its implementation, farmers and the government have worked together to make sure water distribution is fair and regulated, and farmers have learned how to use land efficiently to increase crop growth. The agriculture industry has improved as a result: the gross domestic product for agriculture increased from 12,316,081.8 MMK mn to 13,964,771.2 MMK mn in just five years.

Purifying Wastewater has Increased Access to Water

Proctor & Gamble’s Children Safe Drinking Water program and World Vision teamed up to give Myanmar residents a tool to clean non-potable water: a powder mixture invented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The powder transforms 10 liters of contaminated water into clean, drinkable water in just half an hour, providing a day’s worth of resources for a five-member family. This means that poor families living in Myanmar can purify water from rivers and streams instead of spending a lot of money on bottled water. P&G has helped with improving Myanmar’s water since 2008, and the water purification tool has helped 200,000 people gain access to safer water.

Decreasing Illness

Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, is a common occurrence in Myanmar because of people’s tendency to collect water in their homes. Stored water attracts mosquitoes and creates a large breeding ground for the disease. Myanmar is labeled as a high burden dengue country, and citizens take preventative measures by learning how to protect their water against mosquitoes and to keep their spaces dry and clean. In 2015, there were 42,913 cases of dengue, but after a year of water education and awareness, the number dropped to 10,770.

Looking Ahead

Access to clean water has increased in the last 15 years, but there is still more to be done. In 2000, 47.31 percent of citizens in rural areas had access to potable water, and that number has increased to 59.85 percent as of 2015, but it is still low. The Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene plans for universal access to water by 2030, and improving water quality in Myanmar may be achieved with increased awareness and action.

Katherine Desrosiers
Photo: Flickr

 

Rice Self-Sufficiency

Côte d’Ivoire is a West African nation of 23.7 million people. It is the largest producer of cocoa in the world and has a significant agriculture industry. However, Côte d’Ivoire has struggled to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of rice, a staple crop for many Ivorian people. Côte d’Ivoire imports about half of its rice supply from other nations. This can lead to positive trade relationships, but relying on imports for staple crops can also create problems, as the government discovered in April 2019.

The Côte d’Ivoire Rice Ban

In April 2019, the government of Côte d’Ivoire banned rice imports from the Singapore-based company, Olam International, for a year after it found that an 18,000-tonne rice shipment from Myanmar was inedible. “The unique circumstances relating to the recent rejection of cargo rice were unfortunate and not representative of the shipments of rice,” a company spokesperson told Bloomberg.

“[W]e should exploit our natural potential,” said Agriculture Minister Mamadou Coulibaly, citing Côte d’Ivoire’s substantial agricultural resources and the fact that Ivorians consume an average of 63 kilograms (about 139 pounds) of rice per person per year. By comparison, Americans consume an average of 197 pounds of grains per person per year.

Côte d’Ivoire’s Economy and the CFA Franc

Côte d’Ivoire won its independence from French colonial rule in 1960. It has since become Africa’s fastest-growing economy, but times of prosperity and growth have been punctuated by authoritarianism and political violence.

Like many nations emerging from colonial rule, Côte d’Ivoire has also struggled with the legacy of colonialism, of which difficulties with rice self-sufficiency are one aspect. A 2017 report from an international coalition of NGOs found that business profits, debt payments and other financial flows to the rest of the world still outweigh the investment in and aid to African nations to the tune of $41 billion per year.

One difficulty that Côte d’Ivoire faces in achieving economic independence is the CFA franc. The CFA franc is an outgrowth of French colonial rule in Côte d’Ivoire and other African nations and is a common currency that 14 African nations use. Technically, the CFA franc refers to both the West African and Central African CFA franc, but these two currencies are, in practice, interchangeable. The system requires that member countries hold 50 percent of their foreign exchange reserves in the French treasury. People have long criticized this as a threat to member nations’ sovereignty, impeding development. “[F]or those hoping to export competitive products, obtain affordable credit, find work, work for the integration of continental trade, or fight for an Africa free from colonial relics,” writes development economist and former technical advisor to the President of Senegal Ndongo Samba Sylla, “the CFA franc is an anachronism demanding orderly and methodical elimination.”

One consequence of this system is that the French government can choose to devalue the currency without the consent of member nations, as it did in 1994. This led to widespread discontent, as it increased prices for many everyday goods. A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that devaluation “did not stimulate local production, or decrease rice imports.” Indeed, concurrent policies required by the World Bank actively “recommended abandoning the goal of self-sufficiency.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) plans to replace the CFA franc with new shared currency next year. Demba Moussa Dembele, an economist, and president of the African Forum for Alternatives writes that, in order for the new currency to be successful, “[t]he consumption habits of citizens and states should focus on…goods and services produced locally. This is especially important for agricultural products in order to develop agriculture that can be both a great source of employment and increase demand for the industrial and service sectors.”

Other Initiatives to Increase Rice Self-Sufficiency

In addition to ECOWAS adopting a sovereign currency, there are many initiatives working to increase rice self-sufficiency for many African nations, including Côte d’Ivoire. For example, Mali, which borders Côte d’Ivoire, has seen great success from a subsidy program it adopted after the 2008 financial crisis increased the price of rice. This program subsidized both the purchase of fertilizer by rice farmers and the purchase of rice products by consumers. Today, Mali has not only achieved rice self-sufficiency but is actually a net exporter of rice, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The System for Rice Intensification is a method for increasing the amount of rice that farmers can grow in the same amount of space while maintaining eco-friendliness. A 2018 study of the method by the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development found that the method increased rice yields by 56 percent for irrigated rice and 86 percent for rain-fed rice. The researchers studied rice yields from more than 50,000 farmers in 13 different countries, including Côte d’Ivoire. ECOWAS has adopted a goal of achieving rice self-sufficiency by 2025, and the study projects that if all rice farmers in ECOWAS member countries adopted the method, not only could they achieve rice self-sufficiency, but there would be a five percent surplus in the rice supply.

So, while achieving rice self-sufficiency remains a formidable challenge for the people of Côte d’Ivoire, there are many reasons to be optimistic, including a new currency, the example of a neighboring nation’s stimulus programs and more efficient farming techniques.

– Sean Ericson
Photo: Flickr

Radio Naf
At the start of 2017, the refugees of Rohingya fled in the thousands from Myanmar. Today, many of their lives are still in disarray as they search for family, look for new homes and deal with the trauma from the violence that drove them out of their country.

Rohingya refugees often lack the information to take the next steps towards these goals. The use of media within camps has been vital to dealing with the emergency and keeping refugees connected with each other and the outside world, so Rohingya refugee media has been given a new voice: Radio NAF.

Radio NAF: A Voice for the Voiceless

In times of crisis like this one, access to information is almost as vital as food, shelter, and water. Local media can and has been used as a platform to update refugees on the status of their hometowns, educate them on sanitary practices and guide them toward necessary resources. Moreover, media has been used as a platform for refugees to voice their experiences and call the rest of the world to action.

Radio NAF is a community-based radio station in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. The station serves the rural and underserved communities in the region, which also happens to be home to the largest Rohingya refugee settlement, Kutupalong. The station interviews refugees and discusses the issues that affect them.

Due to the poor radio reception in these areas, all of the shows are prerecorded and brought to the communities through seven “listener clubs.” While the population in the settlement has declined slightly, listenership and attendance have risen, indicating that this is an invaluable source of information for those that come to and remain at the settlement.

But, another reason for the influx in attendance could also be the station’s ability to provide a voice to the voiceless. The station’s interviews allow individuals and groups in the settlements to make statements and send messages that reach far beyond the Rohingya refugee community. Its programs also tackle important issues like violence against women, and it also provides entertainment of the children in among the refugee, who comprise more than half of the population.

British Broadcast Corporation Media Action

Radio Naf is backed by the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC). BBC’s international development charity, BBC Media Action, has worked in conjunction with local Radio Naf employees—some of whom are refugees themselves—to analyze the issues and needs of the Rohingya refugees as told by the Rohingya refugees themselves.

The charity focuses its efforts on alleviating these specific problems, but it also shares all of its information with the United Nations, NGOs and governments working to mitigate the crisis. Through Rohingya refugee media, the people have the ability to make their voices thoroughly heard and get the message out to these organizations for swift and proper actions.

BBC backed Radio Naf has uncovered sanitary, financial, linguistic and logistic issues that continue to persist in the Rohingya refugee camps while sharing crucial necessities and calls to action to key players in the relief, which has been the focus of Radio Naf and its interviews. But, in order to bring about progress, this hope must be met with an eagerness to hear their voices and act on those issues.

Rohingya refugee media is an essential component to connecting refugees and working to alleviate some of the pain and misfortune that they have lived through. It has developed a platform for the spread of hope. This hope, after even a year into the crisis, echoes from community to community, from settlement to settlement.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr

Girls Finishing Primary School
The importance of education in lifting a country out of extreme poverty has been well established. Specifically, girls’ education promotes gender equality, raises wages and results in smaller, healthier families. There is an unprecedented increase in girls finishing primary school, allowing them to get educated alongside their male peers.

Income Levels and How they Affect Girls Finishing Primary School

The percentage of girls who can afford to attend (and finish) primary school is directly tied to their country’s income level. Level 1 is extreme poverty; the family can barely afford to eat and must get water from wells. Level 2 is lower-middle income; the family can afford decent food and shoes. Level 3 is upper-middle income; the family can afford running water and basic appliances. Level 4 is high income; the family can afford a nice house and cars.

Level 4: Oman

One hundred percent of girls in Oman finish primary school. Primary school starts at age 6 and continues until age 18, and girls can go to one of 1,045 schools as of 2011. However, back in 1973, when Oman was a Level 1 country, there were only three primary schools with no girls attending them at all. Oman has experienced phenomenal advances in both poverty reduction and girls’ education.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said ascended the throne in 1970 and did not like what he saw. He vowed to improve life for the Omani people. This included, among many other things, opening more schools and allowing girls to attend them. Additionally, he made public school free, allowed private schools to exist and created a comprehensive kindergarten curriculum. With the availability of free education for girls, 100 percent of girls attend and complete primary school.

Level 3: Iraq

In Iraq, 58.8 percent of the nation’s girls finish primary school. This is down from 68 percent in 2004, but it is higher than the 0.722 percent that it was in 1974. At present, girls make up 44.8 percent of students in primary schools.

The Iraqi school system is far from ideal. Uneducated girls, when asked why they do not attend school, cite abusive teachers, poverty, the presence of boys and concerns about domestic and national safety. Those who do go to school endure dirty bathrooms, a lack of clean drinking water and the aforementioned abusive teachers. Despite this, there are enough girls finishing primary school in Iraq to keep the country out of extreme poverty in the next generation.

Level 2: Morocco

In Morocco, 94.7 percent of girls finish primary school. This is a stark increase from 22.9 percent in 1972. After King Mohammed the Sixth ascended the throne on July 30, 1999, he began placing more focus on the education of his people. His efforts have impacted girls more than boys, as shown by the fact that only 9 percent of girls have to repeat any grades in primary school, which is less than the 13 percent of boys who have to do so. Although this has done little to improve women’s reputations as workers thus far, it is still a victory for the country.

Level 1: Myanmar

In Myanmar, 89.3 percent of girls finish primary school. This number was only 30.8 percent in 1971 for a simple reason: extreme poverty. While schooling itself is technically free, parents still need to pay for uniforms and supplies, and boys are favored over girls in terms of whom parents will spend money on. Sometimes, girls as young as 4 years old are sent to schools in Buddhist monasteries, which means being separated from their families.

However, help is being provided by the international community. Educational Empowerment is an American organization dedicated to promoting educational equality in Southeast Asia. It develops and supports schools in Myanmar, publishes books, and gives microloans to mothers to help get their daughters into school. This has helped girls catch up to their male peers and finish primary school.

For girls, getting an education has historically not been an easy task. Between the cost of school attendance, the existence of extreme poverty and general gender inequality, girls often fall behind their male peers when it comes to receiving an education. However, thanks to new government rulings and help from nonprofit organizations, there are now more girls finishing primary school than ever before, and the number is set to rise even higher. In the near future, girls’ education will be on par with that of their male counterparts. This is important because educating girls leads to educated women, and educated women can help lift a country out of extreme poverty.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

7 Facts about the Rohingya GenocideThe Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is not just persecution, but a genocide. According to an April 2018 Al Jazeera feature article, Myanmar has taken part in “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya people by not recognizing the group as people and stripping away basic human rights such as food, shelter and clothing. There is also extreme military violence to eradicate the Rohingya, which has led to seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

7 Facts About the Rohingya Genocide

  1. The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries. They speak Ruaingga, which is distinct to other Myanmar languages, and they are primarily Muslims. According to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, evidence of a 1799 document shows that the Rohingya have resided in Myanmar since the 18th century and possibly earlier, considering the earliest records of Muslims in Myanmar are from the 12th century. Today, there are 1.1 million Rohingya living in Buddhist Myanmar.
  2. The Rohingya have had no state identity since 1982. The British rule (1824-1948) considered Myanmar as a province of India, and there was a high volume of Indian and Bangladeshi migration of laborers to Myanmar, which was considered an internal migration. After independence from the British, the Myanmar government recognized the migration as illegal. According to a 2015 report from the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, The Union Citizenship Act was passed in 1948 following independence, and the Rohingya were not included. A 1962 military coup required citizens to obtain national registration cards, and the Rohingya were only given foreign identity cards, which limited jobs and educational opportunities. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, which did not recognize the Rohingya as one of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic groups.
  3. Religious violence plays a large role in the tension between the Rohingya and the Myanmar government. Since 1982, the Rohingya have been persecuted and victims of violence. The Rohingya make up 2 percent of Buddhist Myanmar’s population but represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar. Often overlooked, religious violence has been key in the tension between the Rohingya and the military. In 2012, Muslim men had allegedly raped a Buddhist woman, which created massive religious violence against the Rohingya, forcing about 140,000 into camps for internally displaced people. According to CNN, from August to September 2017 alone, 6,700 Rohingya were killed by the Myanmar government while 2,700 died from disease and malnutrition.
  4. The majority of the Rohingya live in the Rakhine state, one of the poorest states in Myanmar, and it is illegal for the Rohingya to leave. In addition, 362 villages have been destroyed by the military. Rakhine is filled with “ghetto-like camps” and lacks access to education, healthcare, services, homes, water, etc., stripping the people of basic human needs.
  5. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace laureate and Burmese leader, has kept quiet on the genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi has neither criticized nor praised the Myanmar government for the genocide and does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group. The Myanmar military claims it “maintains peace and stability,” although the U.N. states that the Myanmar military has committed crimes against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi and her government, in fact, recognize the Rohingya as terrorists, in particular to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
  6. The U.N. states that the Rohingya genocide is the “world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.” UNICEF estimates 687,000 have sought refuge dangerously by boat, primarily in neighboring Bangladesh, and over half of them are child refugees. However, Bangladesh has presented resistance to the refugees, because a poor, densely populated country such as Bangladesh will be unable to sustain them. In August 2017, the U.N estimated that there are at least 420,000 Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Additionally, there are around 120,000 internally displaced Rohingya. An estimated half a million Rohingya are still in Myanmar.
  7. International aid has provided 700,000 Rohingya with food, and aid is imperative to save the ethnic group. International help has greatly impacted the Rohingya community. In addition to food, countries, such as Pakistan and India, have helped with providing refugee camps for the Rohingya. Almost 100,000 people have been treated for malnutrition. By January 2018, 315,000 children have been vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. The U.K. has provided 59 million euros for those fleeing Myanmar, and the U.N. Security Council has appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence against the Rohingya.

The Rohingya genocide is described as “the world’s most persecuted minority.” Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity with ongoing violence, refugees, disease, malnutrition, poverty, etc. The Rohingya genocide must be seen through a humanitarian and moral lens to put an end to the atrocities being committed.

– Areina Ismail
Photo: Flickr