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opiate addiction in IranIn 2021, Iran is a nation beset by three converging circumstances that threaten to push it and its society to their very breaking points. With the ravenous sanctions and continued threat of COVID-19, poverty and opiate addiction in Iran, it will take nothing less than the world’s best efforts and cooperation to improve matters. At the same time, these efforts will potentially rebuild trust with the country as well.

A Three-Headed Monster in the Era of COVID-19

Poverty, sanctions, and opiate addiction in Iran are thriving with and, in some instances, because of each other. In an interview The Borgen Project held with a spokesperson for the Iranian Embassy to the U.N., they commented that “COVID-19 has spread over all provinces of Iran, leading to about 90,000 death toll so far. It has also been under the most devastating sanctions imposed by the U.S. Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to cope with different challenges, particularly economic ones, posed by both the pandemic and sanctions.”

Further, in regards to how the opioid crisis interacts with those aforementioned issues, this individual told The Borgen Project that “when sanctions have put our economy in trouble, and when we need to address, inter alia, economic problems associated with containing the pandemic, we do not have enough financial resources to fight the drug dealers as hard as before.”

Many of the statistics and information available from outside of Iran seems to confirm this. While sanctions cut off Iran from the international aid community and maximum pressure campaigns only further sour relations and trust between Tehran and the United States, internal resources become even more scarce. Unfortunately, these resources have never been more necessary for Iran in its fight against poverty, pandemic, domestic addiction, drug production and trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.

Opiate Addiction in Iran

According to award-winning author Maziyar Ghiabi, Iran could very well be considered to have “one of the world’s highest rates of drug addiction.” With an estimated two to seven percent of the nation’s population falling into this category, further support can be found for this conclusion in the statistical evidence recorded by many professionals over the years. According to one such 2014 study, about two million people could be considered daily drug users. This amounted to nearly three percent of the entire population. While not all of those two million suffer addiction to opiates in one form or another, eight out of every ten individuals questioned use opium and six out of every ten people potentially use heroin. Since then, usage has only increased, with Iranians using opium three times the global average in 2020.

When one combines this destructive hardship with the COVID-19 pandemic, one would likely be left with the impression that Iran is enduring a supreme domestic crisis. After adding the burdens of sanctions and extreme poverty, the conclusion that Iran needs international empathy, assistance and reconciliation is simply inescapable.

Iranian Poverty

Poverty is a pervasive and increasingly debilitating force in Iran. The aforementioned factors have coalesced to put real, tremendous strain on its government, society and people. According to internal studies, as well as individuals like Faramarz Tofighi, head of the wages committee of the Islamic Labour Council, “More than 60% of Iranians live in relative poverty because the workers’ wages are enough for about a third of their costs of living. Half of those who live below the poverty line struggle with extreme poverty.” That first percentage works out to close to 60 million Iranians, a truly sickening number. Between 2011 and 2019, poverty in Iran nearly doubled.

Fighting for Iran

Relief International is a global non-profit that focuses on aiding the poor in Iran, both citizens and refugees. Particularly at risk are the estimated three million Afghan refugees who crossed the eastern border over the last four decades. By providing cash assistance and rehabilitated facilities for education and economic training, Relief International does its part towards making a better Iran in the midst of historical traumas and issues inflicting the country. The United States Institute of Peace, alongside the Woodrow Wilson Center, has also offered greater insight and knowledge into Iran and its relationship with the United States.

The U.N. also helps where and how it can. It previously sent help in the form of materials and experts to assist Iran during this time of crisis. The millions of dollars pledged by the likes of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the EU as a collective has also helped in the fight, despite the greater EU and Iran’s squabble over sanctions.

While the United States has the most and best resources to act positively towards Iran, relations between both nations remain estranged and full of mutual distrust. For the United States to play its best global role, it may have to work on reconciling itself with Iran through mutual understanding and empathy for the nation’s people.

A Call to Action

Iran has a rich, sprawling history, going back thousands of years and spanning entire eras of human existence. With just over 85 million souls within its borders, its people are as richly diverse as its environment is. The beautiful capital city of Tehran has seen Shahs, Presidents, Ayatollahs and Prime Ministers throughout its centuries; yet, it has also seen war, trauma, hard times and true hardships. Not least of these hardships are the issues of poverty, COVID-19 sanctions and opiate addiction in Iran. Overcoming these issues will take the cooperation of not only global non-profits, European nations and international collectives, but also the United States.

– Trent R. Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Iran
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran is severe. The pandemic accelerated the decline of Iran’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the rise of unemployment. Despite the economic crisis, Tehran’s massive natural resources allow the country to effectively recover economically if the newly elected Ebrahim Raisi is willing to end the country’s decades-long hostility with the United States.

The US Sanctions and Economic Crisis Before COVID-19

Before analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran, one needs to understand the context in which the pandemic took place. In May 2018, under President Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As a result of the U.S. withdrawal, a “maximum pressure” campaign that consisted of unilateral sanctions against the Middle Eastern country replaced the Obama-era Iran foreign policy.

The sanctions contributed significantly to the downfall of Iran’s economy. The country’s GDP went down by 11% and average living standards have reduced by 13%. The “maximum pressure” campaign also caused an inflation shock. The sanctions cut oil exports, which reduced the supply of foreign exchange and resulted in hyperinflation. For example, the sanctions were one of the main reasons for prices rising by 41% in 2019.

How COVID-19 Worsened Iran’s Economic Crisis

The pandemic has further accelerated the crisis of the already declining Iranian economy. The mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in Iran being one of the worst impacted countries in the world, with almost 94,603 deaths and more than four million overall cases. Considering how widespread the highly transmissible Delta variant is and the fact that only about 4% of the country’s 83 million citizens are fully vaccinated, the future seems even more pessimistic.

Observing the health effects of the pandemic, it is not surprising how severely COVID-19 damaged Iran’s economy. In 2020, an estimated three to four million Iranians were at risk of losing their jobs, with the potential of increasing the actual (not official) unemployment rate from 20% to more than 35%. The country’s GDP shrunk by 5% in 2020 and inflation nearly doubled from February 2020 to February 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a decline in GDP and an increase in public spending led the government to take extensive debt and sell its assets on the stock market. As a result, the fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio more than doubled.

The Lives of Impoverished Iranians During the Pandemic

COVID-19 forced working-class, low-income Iranians to choose between their health and earning a basic income necessary for physical survival. In previous decades, the combination of charity work and welfare ministry, which provided financial assistance to economically vulnerable families, managed to maintain poverty below the 10% threshold. However, sanctions and the pandemic have put the survival of millions of Iranians, particularly informal and daily workers, at risk.

Around six million Iranians (a quarter of the overall workforce) work in the informal economy and earn daily wages. They often have no fixed salaries, minimal or no savings and little insurance from the social protection programs. Although these workers face a greater risk of infection, their financial situation does not allow them to stop working. Due to the fragile economic reality of Iranian people, particularly low-income citizens, the government cannot afford strict quarantine measures because these restrictions can push an additional 20% of Iranians into extreme poverty.

Moreover, according to a World Bank report, consumer price inflation stood at 30.6% from April to November 2020 and reached 46.4% in November 2020. The hyperinflation caused drastic price increases in food and housing, which disproportionally harmed working-class families.

The Way Out of the Economic Crisis

Various international and local nongovernmental organizations work tirelessly to alleviate poverty in Iran. One of the most significant NGOs that provides financial and educational resources for Iran’s vulnerable is Relief International. The organization has been particularly active since the outbreak of COVID-19. Relief International has provided multi-purpose cash assistance for 26,000 families who lost their income due to the pandemic.

Although the work of Relief International and other NGOs is significant for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Iran, NGOs have limited resources. Therefore, the Iranian government should play a greater role in the process of poverty reduction. For easing the short-term economic impact, the government should provide direct income assistance to its vulnerable citizens. More importantly, for a meaningful, long-term change, the Reisi administration should end the four-decade-long animosity with the U.S. and agree to the new nuclear deal. The precedent of the 2015 JCPOA agreement shows that lifting sanctions will reverse the negative economic impact of COVID-19.

– Aleksandre Jgarkava
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Iran
Menstruation is a normal, healthy part of life. However, for women and girls worldwide, having a period can be a barrier to attaining true gender equality. Period poverty in Iran is the result of many factors including misconception, lack of training and education, stigma and traditional, conservative religious beliefs. With “millions of women and girls [continuing] to be denied their rights to water, sanitation, hygiene, health, education, dignity and gender equity,” some are directing attention and resources to the menstrual equality movement.

Misconception and Restriction

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, taboos, misconceptions and social and cultural restrictions shadow menstruation for many women. A study among school girls in West Iran found that “41.2% of girls understood that menstruation is a normal physiological process in women,” leaving the majority of pubescent girls in this study to form inaccurate perceptions about this normal bodily function. In a similar study, 48% of Iranian girls stated they believed that menstruation was a disease. The feelings of confusion, panic and fear that accompany such beliefs can inhibit girls from experiencing true dignity and comfort in their bodies.

Cultural, religious and traditional beliefs have a significant impact on norms and attitudes. Islamic rules dictate various prohibitions for menstruating women. During menstruation, women cannot bathe, pray, enter a mosque, fast during Ramadan, touch the Quran or have sexual intercourse. Certainly, the level of restriction varies amongst communities and families, however, much of these restrictions predominate.

A study that occurred in secondary schools in the city of Tabriz, the most populous city in northwestern Iran, indicated that the majority of female students were able to access menstrual hygiene products. Specifically, out of the 1,000 students included in the study, two-thirds reported a favorable economic status and 95.6% reported using disposable pads during menstruation. Though these rates are encouraging, Iran’s poverty rates remain very high. After the last census in 2016, an Iranian economist estimated that 30 million Iranians were living in relative poverty and 12 million in absolute poverty. High poverty rates correlate to less access to water, sanitation and hygiene resources, including menstrual pads.

The Impact of Education

While organizations and governments can best tackle the complex issue of combating period poverty in Iran through collaboration across disciplines of education, urban planning, water and sanitation, a study out of Iran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services states that “health education is among the fundamental and successful approaches to health promotion.” It is promising, then, that in early 2019, a group of officials from the Iranian Ministry of Science and Health as well as the Vice President for the Women’s and Family Affairs, collaborated to create a document aimed at promoting sexual health awareness and education. The document provides guidance to empower teachers and parents, implement education packages and establish policies and interventions to promote indirect sexual education through media. This document is the first of its kind and marks a critical undertaking of improving adolescents’ sexual health education in Iran.

Training and education have a considerable influence and can help mitigate period poverty in Iran. One study found that the use of sanitary pads, as well as bathing and washing after urination or defecation during menstruation, were practices significantly elevated in groups of young girls that received training. The stakes of proper training are beyond fostering hygienic practices; education has a direct impact on health outcomes. Young girls who are first learning about menses are a particularly vulnerable group. Lacking information about menstruation can lead to anxiety and lowered self-esteem but also reproductive tract infections and pelvic inflammatory diseases. The International Journal of Pediatrics found that “young girls with better knowledge and practice toward menstrual hygiene are less vulnerable to adverse health outcomes.”

The Importance of Mothers

Iran can best take on the task of providing reproductive education to its youth by utilizing a critically helpful source: mothers. Countless studies state that the most efficient, culturally and religiously sensitive strategy to convey information to girls about menstruation involves families, mothers in particular.

A study by the International Journal of Preventive Medicine compared different training sources for adolescents’ menstrual health education. Its findings indicate that partnering parents and school trainers as equal stakeholders “leads to more successful results in health implementation.” Another study based out of Iran suggests that education to mothers could be even more effective than directly training adolescent girls themselves. With 61% of Iranian girls reporting that their mothers are the best source of information about menstrual hygiene, it is critical that mothers receive sufficient education so they can share accurate information with their daughters. It is urgent, ethical and resourceful to prioritize education and training for menstrual health management.

Organizations Addressing Women’s Health

While there are over 2,700 NGOs working in Iran on women and family affairs, including Relief International and Center for Human Rights in Iran, the work of Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society, IAPSRS, has been substantial in the area of reducing period poverty in Iran. This prominent group includes 12,000 volunteer university students and graduates. It aims to promote social and economic justice by supporting marginalized children and women in the most problematic, marginalized neighborhoods in Iran. The organization has provided workshops about personal hygiene, birth control, maturity and sexually transmitted disease prevention, as well as deployed volunteer gynecologists for biannual disease screenings.

The work of this group is currently in jeopardy, however. In early March 2021, a court verdict dissolved the NGO, stating that it “deviated from [its] original mission and insulted religious beliefs.” The Human Rights Watch has already called on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to reverse this action and reinstate the organization.

The Period Equity Movement

The last decade has illuminated the need for a growing focus and global movement on menstrual health management. Significant developments have occurred to address the barriers facing girls and women all over the world, but the need for major overhauls in programming and policy agenda persists.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Sanctions prevent humanitarian aid
When looking at what contributes to poverty in a nation, one might first look at the government and economy to try and figure out what is inhibiting the state’s growth. Sometimes though, the hindering factor does not lay within the developing state’s own government or economy, but a neighboring one’s, or perhaps in one with a substantial trade relationship with the state. Many struggling countries establish trade relationships with more economically stable nations to help foster their own economies. When others impose sanctions on these ‘helper’ countries, this can impact how quickly or how much they can still receive these resources. Moreover, sanctions can prevent humanitarian aid.

Sanctions Set Ripples

The U.S. and Iran’s relationship soured following the broken agreement between them regarding nuclear arms. Afterward, the U.S. killed top Iranian general, Soleimani, and imposed sanctions against 18 Iranian banks. The intention was to keep Americans from engaging with the banks. Meanwhile, the U.S. government imposed secondary sanctions on other countries to prevent them from doing business with those same banks.

While the U.S. issued a statement in December 2020 that stated the sanctions would not apply to humanitarian aid, Iran claimed that the U.S.’s sanctions have strained its relationship with South Korea, a U.S. ally. As a result, $7 billion from oil sales is still in South Korea due to U.S. sanctions. Iran claims this money was for humanitarian goods such as COVID-19 vaccines.

Influenced by the U.S. sanctions, South Korea’s relationship with Iran has deteriorated and inhibited the economic relationships, and assumedly others, since the U.S. secondary sanctions on nations engaging with the 18 Iranian banks do not exclusively apply to South Korea.

Effects On Humanitarian Aid

The act of imposing sanctions poses a threat to humanitarian aid in a variety of different ways. The most obvious is if an organization or staff member has sanctions directly or explicitly against them, although this remains hypothetical.

Another threat involves the fear and paranoia surrounding the idea of sanctions. In trying to avoid sanctions, many humanitarian organizations act with more caution than is necessary. As a result, this stringent self-policing ends up making their work less effective, which is counterintuitive to the purpose of humanitarian aid. This is observable in the case of Afghanistan, where groups avoid working in areas where the government does not have control – although that does not mean that people do not require aid there. Therefore, the sanctions directly prevent regions in Afghanistan from receiving humanitarian aid.

Corruption and Sanctions

Studies found a correlation between corruption and GDP, meaning the poorer the country, the more likely it has a high level of corruption. A high level of corruption, on the other hand, harms economic growth, creating a possible cycle of corruption and economic stagnation. However, the graphs and knowledge that experts have presented do not indicate the causality of low GDPs leading to corruption. One cannot say a country is corrupt because it is poor. Since fighting corruption is one of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s priorities, corrupt countries receive more sanctions than their counterparts, damaging the affected nations’ economy even more.

However, this does not only mean that corrupt countries lose money but it also most likely results in people in need receiving less aid. Reducing aid and applying sanctions also means that people have less money and trade options. Countries that receive sanctions may also lose jobs as industries suffer and businesses shutter, leaving the people and humanitarian workers to take the brunt of the consequences that those imposing the sanctions intended for their governments.

Relief International is Helping Iran

Regardless of the sanctions against Iran, Relief International has been working in Iran since 1990 when it emerged to help respond to the Manjil-Rudbar earthquake, the worst national disaster in the country’s history that had a death toll of 50,000 people. From there, Relief International has taken it upon itself to send whatever resources Iran might need, considering that it is a disaster-prone area. In 2019, 12,400 people received assistance from Relief International in the wake of the Nowruz floods. About 11,500 Afghan refugee students enrolled in Relief International’s education programs, while 2,500 were able to increase their income due to Relief International’s job programs. The organization has rehabilitated 27 schools after natural disasters ravaged them.

Avoiding Sanctions

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, Relief International has prioritized sending medical supplies to frontline healthcare workers in Iran. Items as simple as masks, gloves and hospital coveralls are basic but essential to protecting healthcare workers as they fight on the pandemic’s frontlines. Relief International sent 1,000 kits with protective equipment, such as protective wear, hand sanitizer and shoe covers. Furthermore, it gave 40,000 testing kits to the Pasteur Institute of Tehran. To further help support healthcare workers, Relief International has started an Iran program to produce medical supplies and equipment locally, mitigating the delivery times and logistical hurdles of donating resources.

With mainly focusing on medical components, Relief International can avoid the negative effects that U.S. sanctions cause. However, with the sanctioning of banks, financial aid programs can face more difficulties with these measures and financial transactions to NGOs may only occur after catastrophes. The example of Relief International shows how crucial it is to protect organizations that deliver humanitarian aid. Alternatively, to put it more directly, sanctions can complicate and prevent humanitarian aid and others’ ability to save lives.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

US Sanctions on Iran
In a 2018 interview with Stephen Colbert, former president Jimmy Carter said that “sanctions exhaust rulers, and hurt the people.” More recently, the maximum pressure policy on Iran of former President Donald Trump marked a shift from Carter’s view on U.S. sanctions. The Carter Administration did coincide with the collapse of U.S.-Iranian relations. At the time, however, both countries had reasons to be hopeful. Here is some information about U.S. sanctions on Iran amid the novel coronavirus.

The Fall of the Shah and Jimmy Carter

The U.S. was pressuring Tehran to demolish despotism, and the Shah was compliant. The Nixon doctrine, a doctrine that stressed military support for authoritarian proxies as an impediment to the spread of communism, was eroding.

Despite these transformations, shows like “60 Minutes” were exposing the Shah’s human rights abuses. The most salient of these abuses was the SAVAK, a clandestine police and intelligence service devoted to the torture and murder of suspected communists, which the U.S. funded.

Additionally, the shah had more focus on military strength than social and economic reforms. In hindsight, the Iranian revolution and the collapse of U.S.-Iranian relations may seem inevitable. Critics of Carter argue that his failure to save the hostages signaled the death knell of his Administration.

The Obama Sanctions and the JCPOA

Since that time, the chasm between both countries has grown wider. Washington and Tehran have been rapidly heading toward collision; disaster feels imminent. During the Obama Administration, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the sale of oil and the funding of Iran’s nuclear program. The intent was to bring Iranian officials to the negotiating table.

In 2012, Obama deemed the “grinding” of the Iranian economy a success. During this time, the value of Iran’s currency plummeted. From 2011-2012, the rial lost 38% of its value, deterring many corporations from doing business with Tehran and plunging the economy into economic isolation.

In 2015, the P5+1—the U.S., Germany, China, Russia, France and the U.K.—reached an agreement that would ease U.S. sanctions on Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear program. This agreement became known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or colloquially as the nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency praised the deal. CIA director, John Brennan, and former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, voiced their support for it.

Trump’s Withdrawal from the JCPOA

In 2018, President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, famously calling it the “worst deal ever.” Critics of the deal argue that in spite of the deal Iran continues to provide support to various terrorist proxies, such as Hezbollah, the Houthis and the Badr Corps, in addition to the Assad government. As Iran’s sphere of influence burgeons in the Arab world, Tehran draws nearer to the Saudi Kingdom’s sphere of influence. Saudi Arabia has been an ally of the U.S. since World War II. Critics of the deal also contend that a sunset clause will leave open the possibility of Iran continuing its nuclear program in the future.

Now, after pressuring the U.N. to multilaterally reimpose sanctions, the Trump Administration has prolonged the arms embargo previously scheduled to end on Oct. 18, 2020. The administration has also reinstated U.S. sanctions on uranium enrichment and ballistic missile development.

The Impact of the Sanctions on Iran’s Coronavirus Response

As the value of the rial continues to dwindle and inflation continues to soar, the price of food and medicine is skyrocketing. In addition, U.S. sanctions have impaired Iran’s ability to afford humanitarian supplies amid the novel coronavirus. Relief International is providing tens of thousands of masks, coveralls and test kits to frontline workers, as well as giving thousands of hand sanitizer bottles to Afghan refugee camps in Iran to mitigate this dire situation. At the moment, the death count in Iran due to COVID-19 is over 60,000.

Conclusion

U.S. sanctions impinge on Iran’s response to the novel coronavirus. From the revolution until now, amicability between Iran and the U.S. has deteriorated. The Iranian people are the victims of this decay. Today, the Iranian economy is suffering from the novel coronavirus, while Iranian and U.S. officials continuously make accusations toward one another.

Blake Dysinger
Photo: Flickr

Lesser
When thinking about the growing issue of poverty, classic humanitarian organizations come to mind like the Red Cross, UNICEF and Oxfam. However, there are many other deserving and impassioned groups who do not receive the same media time as these large organizations, but who should be noticed for their work and compassion. Here are five lesser-known humanitarian organizations working to reduce global poverty.

Hunger Plus, Inc.

Hunger Plus focuses its efforts on reducing global hunger and deaths caused by it. It is Hunger Plus’ goal to find a way to reduce global poverty by promoting access to a simple, yet very necessary thing: food. The organization also spends time and effort bringing medication to those in need to provide care against preventable and communicable diseases. Hunger Plus focuses its outreach both domestically and internationally and recently aided victims from Hurricane Harvey.

Save the Children

Save the Children is an aptly named organization as it focuses on just that – saving the children and bringing a future to every child born. The group works in 120 countries, providing access to education, food and safety from violence. The majority of donations within the organization go directly to children in need and Save the Children is quick to mobilize their funds. The organization works in times of crisis and in everyday life as a first responder to protecting children in harm’s way. During a crisis, Save the Children ensures children and their families are protected and have the resources necessary to survive the emergency.

Action Against Hunger

While Action Against Hunger works internationally, it is still one of the lesser-known humanitarian organizations. It works to reduce hunger by providing hands-on assistance and by shifting the focus from groups to individuals. Action Against Hunger believes that world hunger can be reduced by focusing efforts on mothers in developing countries. One of its goals is to educate women to accurately diagnose hunger needs and assist in reducing malnutrition. Action Against Hunger has won numerous awards and has been the leading force against hunger for approximately forty years.

Relief International

Relief International is an international organization that works in 19 countries to prevent human suffering. It is one of the lesser known humanitarian organizations and focuses on implementing the RI Way, a method used by the organization to encourage communities to discuss solutions for current situations. The group then assists in implementing the solutions. Its method is to deliver immediate access to basic resources like money, food, water and medication. Relief International also remains until a long-term solution has been established as a success. The aim is community-based, so individuals within the community are thinking of the best solutions for their group instead of accepting existing solutions that may not work.

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders is a volunteer-based humanitarian organization that focuses on delivering medical care where necessary around the world. While it is a large organization, Doctors Without Borders is one of the lesser-known humanitarian organizations because it rarely uses the media as a means of promoting itself. The organization does not receive funding from the U.S. government in an effort to remain impartial and independent in times of crisis. Doctors Without Borders treats many medical issues from stitching up a cut to providing emergency services to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria, meningitis and more. The group also teaches medical education to ensure safety standards are maintained when it leaves.

There are many lesser-known humanitarian organizations outside the media’s influence that are worthy of donations and assistance. More widespread focus on certain issues and attacking the same problem from different angles may just be the way to reduce global poverty.

– Kayleigh Mattoon
Photo: Flickr

 Build Rebuilds Refugee Education from the Ground Up
One of the main priorities for families living in refugee camps in the Middle East is the education of their children. Architects, nonprofit organizations, and a scaffolding company have teamed up to create the Re:Build construction system, a project that creates low-cost durable buildings built of readily available resources such as sand and soil. The buildings, which are planned to house schools, are easily set up and can be transported to other locations.

Children consist of a large proportion of refugees from Syria, and many of them have been out of school for several years. Building schools and providing them with education provides them with vast opportunities and empowers them to create their futures for themselves.

In order to better refugee education, these mobile, easily constructed schools can be expanded by adding extra modules, built by the refugees themselves, use sustainable materials that are locally and widely available, are weatherproof even in areas with seismic activity, and are designed with their communities in mind.

How do these systems work? They use wall frames filled with natural materials such as sand, gravel, or stones. The roof frame is topped with soil to provide insulation and a fertile place for micro-crops to grow. The structures have structures to reroute rainwater, come with solar panels, and have plywood flooring.

The Re:Build construction system was designed and implemented by architects Cameron Sinclair and Pouya Khaezli, nonprofits Save the Children and Relief International, and scaffold company Pilosio Building Peace. Together, they have constructed two schools in Jordan: one at Za’atari camp and another at Queen Rania Park in Amman. The Za’atari camp is the Middle East’s largest refugee camp which has now been existence for three years.

They are not only cost-effective but also mobile–they do not require construction crews to set up. According to Sinclair, many parents of the school’s new students helped construct the building. The cost of each school is still quite high – $30,000 each – but with crowdsourcing campaigns and local nonprofit donations, these schools are beginning to effect great changes for the children who use them.

In times of conflict, when many people feel as though they have no control over their situations and destinies, education can serve as an anchor for the heart.

“We victimize refugees by treating them as second-class citizens instead of understanding that they are some of the most resilient and hardworking people on the planet, said Sinclair. “By engaging the refugees as paid laborers ensures that they once again feel in charge of their own destiny and leave with the skills to reassemble the school back in their home country.”

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: Huffington Post, “Building the Peace” Award
Photo: Flickr

Relief_International
Relief International, or RI, is a humanitarian nonprofit committed to serving the world’s most vulnerable by providing emergency relief, rehabilitation, development assistance and program services.

This nonprofit’s mission recognizes that providing multi-sectoral, pro-poor programs that bridge emergency relief and sustainable development at the grassroots level is the best approach to empower the communities they serve.

By increasing local resources in both program design and implementation, the most vulnerable can then become self-reliant. This applies especially to communities that have been hit by natural disasters, which are subject to the most negative impact on those already in poverty.

But RI sees this as opportunity to bring about positive, social change using disaster as a catalyst for profound humanitarian efforts that foster an environment of self-help and sustainability.

They do this through six sectors:

  • 1. Emergency, Health and Sanitation
  • 2. Food and Agriculture
  • 3. Education and Empowerment
  • 4. Livelihoods and Enterprise
  • 5. Shelter and Infrastructure
  • 6. Protection and Human Rights

RI believes that by working through these sectors focused on large-scale crises, they can then provide the high-impact development emergency programming to communities in need.

According to their website, they claim to be the first U.S.-based agency to do this. Since its founding in 1990, their team has grown to be around 17,000 professionals working in 24 countries around the globe.

Though these numbers prove to be impressive for any nonprofit, RI continues to seek enthusiastic and committed individuals to join their team. There are a variety of ways to join by volunteering and interning in both the U.S. or abroad. This can be in development or in emergency response capacities.

Chelsee Yee

Sources: Relief International, Santa Fe New Mexican

If there’s ever a friend to have during a crisis, it’s Relief International, an international nonprofit organization based in the US that provides comprehensive support in response to natural disasters and conflicts around the world. The organization, which spent over $33 million in expenditures for the cause in 2011, has a unique focus on long term development in regions affected by crises, even when they are still in the emergency phase. In many cases, Relief International has been the first US-based agency to provide development relief efforts in the affected region following crises, but the benefits of their efforts are certainly not the first to leave.

Relief International divides their works in six different areas – emergency health and sanitation, food and agriculture, education and empowerment, livelihoods and enterprise, shelter and infrastructure, and protection and human rights – all of which help victims get back up and stay on their feet long after a crisis.

In the event of a crisis, first Relief International focuses on meeting the immediate needs of the victims, by providing food rations, clean water, temporary shelter and emergency medical supplies through their emergency health and sanitation programs. Once the immediate danger has passed, the organization stays in the region to help victims can get back to their original way of life, or even make it better than it was before.

This involves creating sustainable agriculture practices by educating farmers and communities about how to diversify their crops and efficiently use resources, and helping students continue their education by providing educational resources such as books, supplies and buildings such as technology centers and libraries. Relief International also provides educational programs that teach students service learning and leadership so they can become advocates for change in the future. In addition, the organization helps adults jump back into their careers through vocational training opportunities and giving microfinance loans. All the while, they are also advocates for human rights by creating programs to educate women about their rights and providing legal assistance, while also promoting journalism on issues like human trafficking and promoting democratic government.

One of Relief International’s most recent projects was the opening of a Zoonosis control office in the Chitral district of Pakistan. Zoonosis is a type infectious disease that can be transmitted between species (meaning it can affect both humans and livestock), and is known to be one of the deadliest health hazards in the region. There are 296 diseases, including Tuberculosis, Tetanus and Rabies, that fall under the Zoonosis category. Relief International’s office will focus on advocacy and awareness about the type of disease, and integrate surveillance and response management in the region so less people become infected.

– Emma McKay

Sources: Relief International The Dardistan Times Charity Navigator