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

Child Poverty in RwandaRwanda, an East African country, has a population of about 12.3 million. Around 45% of the country’s population, roughly 5.4 million, are under the age of 18. The rate of poverty has decreased from 59% to 40% since 2000. Additionally, the rate of extreme poverty was reduced to 16% from 40%. While the country achieved its Millennium Development Goals, child poverty in Rwanda continues to be a significant issue faced by the population. Therefore, Rwanda aims to end child poverty with one of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets focusing on reducing the number of impoverished children by half by 2030.

The Effects of Child Poverty in Rwanda

The rate of impoverished Rwandan children ages 0 to 17 is 39%. Children disproportionately undergo the struggles of poverty and it significantly impacts their well-being since they lack basic needs. Impoverished families in Rwanda, especially in rural areas, experience high rates of mortality among children under the age of 5. About 50 children out of 1,000 births in the country do not live past the age of 5 years old..

Impoverished children also struggle greatly with malnutrition. As a result, many children face low birth weight and infections. Malnutrition creates lasting effects on children, specifically in terms of cognitive development and physical growth. Furthermore, Rwandan children struggle with the impact of poor sanitation. A clean and safe source of water within 500 meters of a house is only accessible to 47% of Rwandan households. Additionally, 64% of households own a latrine. Lack of access to quality sanitation and water sources contributes to 38% of Rwandan children being stunted.

Child Poverty in Rural and Urban Areas

In terms of deprivation of sanitation, water, housing, education and health due to poverty, there is a gap between children living in rural areas and children residing in urban areas. Moreover, 83.5% of the rural population in Rwanda consists of children. In urban areas, 38% of children ages 0 to 23 months undergo multiple deprivations as opposed to 61% of children in rural areas. Additionally, in urban areas, 22% of children ages 15 to 17 are considered “multidimensionally poor” with a deprivation rate of 16% among children ages 5 to 14. On the other hand, in rural areas, the deprivation rate of children ages 5 to 14 is 32% and 50% of children ages 15 to 17 are “multidimensionally poor”.

Government Solutions

The Rwandan Government has worked toward further developing its Vision Umurenge Social Protection (VUP) program by including child-sensitive social protection. In 2011, the government passed Law N.54 to protect children’s rights but there is inequality in the law’s implementation, which prevents children from receiving its full benefits.

While Rwanda has witnessed a recent decrease in child poverty, through a Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA), UNICEF provides recommendations to further efforts to eradicate poverty among children. UNICEF suggests increasing the support provided by the Rwandan Government’s social protection program, VUP, to give children greater access to social services and to decrease the number of deprivations due to poverty. Furthermore, UNICEF recommends that the social protection program considers overlapping deprivations when providing services. UNICEF also emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the most vulnerable groups of children, especially those living in rural areas and children ages 0 to 23 months.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Consequences of Micronutrient Deficiencies
According to the Food Aid Foundation, 1/9 people on earth do not have access to enough food to ensure proper nourishment. Malnutrition is defined by the Oxford Living Dictionary as the “lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one does eat.”

Defining Malnutrition

This definition, although correct, hardly captures the severity of its meaning. A clear scientific explanation of malnutrition better illuminates the severity of the pervasive issue that exists primarily amongst those who live in poverty. Micronutrients — which are vitamins and minerals — are non-energy yielding compounds which the body requires to run efficiently. For example, the water-soluble vitamins (all of the B vitamins) are coenzymes which facilitate all of the bodies’ metabolic functions.

In light of their vitality to physiological homeostasis, a deficiency in any one of the micronutrients causes a wide variety of negative side effects. Iodine deficiencies cause goiters, iron deficiency causes anemia and vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause a wide variety of neurological defects, including symptoms of psychological disorders (depression, memory loss, sense perception loss etc.). It is clear that the consequences of micronutrient deficiencies are quite dire.

Consequences of Micronutrient Deficiencies

Given the importance of consuming the adequate amount of micronutrients — and the results of not doing so with even one of them — imagine having a lack of most micronutrients. Most people living in developed countries have adequate food intake, yet they are still deficient in a variety of micronutrients due to poor dietary choices. The consequences of micronutrient deficiencies are much more severe in the case of developing countries, where rates of starvation are higher than those of developed countries.

Considering how easy it is to be deficient in certain micronutrients due to simple nutritional ignorance, the level of micronutrient deficiencies –which in turn cause very negative health consequences — in developing countries where poverty is high and nutritional adequacy is low is much higher than in western countries where the contrary is the case. At the very least, 795 million people in the world experience severe negative symptoms due to lack of food.

For example, 84 percent of children in Kenya and 64 percent in India have a Vitamin A deficiency, whereas in a western country like Poland deficiencies in children are at less than 10 percent. These figures illustrate how countries that have a lower GDP per capita — and thus higher rates of poverty — often experience a higher rate/severity of cases of micronutrient deficiencies.

To cover all the micronutrients would be tedious; however, reviewing the statistics regarding the consequences of being deficient — specifically due to lack of food — proves extremely beneficial. The problem is extremely pervasive as one fourth of children’s growth is stunted globally due to malnutrition, poor nutrition causes 45 percent of child deaths ages 5 & below and malnutrition causes the death of 2.6 million children annually.

The above information may be unsettling, but understanding such disturbing information is the first step to changing such occurrences for the better. With concerted effort, the consequences of micronutrient deficiencies need not be as severe as they currently are.

Current and Future Progress

Progress on micronutrient deficiencies has certainly been made — prevalence and number of children suffering from stunted growth due to malnutrition has been on a slow but steady decline. There are specific examples of this, such as in Uganda, where the rate of stunting due to malnutrition has decreased from 33 percent in 2011 to 29 percent in 2016. In fact, the government of Uganda and its allies (the U.N.) have a  goal to totally eradicate malnutrition by 2030.

U.N. efforts in scaling up nutrition interventions has been very effective in reducing the rate of malnutrition. However, according to the World Bank, efforts to reach the 2030 goal would need an additional $70 billion of funding by 2025. Funding itself is the evident driver of progress. For example, investing in Peru’s malnutrition problem reduced stunting rates by 20 percent over a 20 year period.  

Ways to Help Combat Malnutrition

Many may ask, what can be done to help prevent this crisis from getting more out of hand? First and foremost, more people from all walks of life need to invest in nutrition. It is calculated that each dollar spent on nutrition delivers between $8 and $138 of benefits, according to the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

For more broad ways to help fight against world hunger and its negative consequences, donating to charitable foundations such as the World Food Programme, UNICEF, Feeding America, Feed the Hunger Foundation and others is something anyone can do to support the cause. Something “small” can make a huge difference, so it’s up to every willing individual to help solve this crisis.   

– Daniel Lehewych
Photo: Flickr

Stunting in Pakistan
On May 26, 2017, the World Bank approved a fund of $61.6 million to reduce stunting in Pakistan over the next 25 years through the Sindh Enhancing Response to Reduce Stunting Project.

Stunting refers to children under the age of two who are deprived of nutrients and thus are of low height. It is often associated with delayed physical and cognitive development. For a few decades, stunting in Pakistan has been widespread and currently affects almost 45 percent of children in the country.

Half of Pakistani children have anemia, a condition that also affects mothers, and both may suffer from wasting and iron deficiency. This is especially problematic for mothers, as all of these conditions can restrict fetal growth and make babies more prone to stunting. Unsurprisingly, the poor and food-insecure are at the highest risk of stunting.

The stunting problem is an education issue as well as a health issue. Early marriages, a low literacy rate for women and a lack of knowledge of maternal care procedures all contribute to malnutrition. Women may feed their children tea and animal milk in place of breast milk simply because they don’t know of any other option.

In the long-term, stunted children may have a hard time getting an education due to arrested mental development. According to Illango Patchamuthu, the World Bank Country Director for Pakistan, stunting “puts them at a permanent disadvantage in the age of the knowledge economy.”

The World Bank recognizes the different consequences of stunting, and according to the Sindh Enhancing Response to Reduce Stunting Project, its strategy to reduce stunting will be two-fold. The project will first address stunting directly by expanding a “package of services” that focus on nutrition practices.

It is important that the World Bank establish frameworks for nutrition programs, as these will hopefully contribute to stunting reduction beyond the program and also help educate mothers and families on the myriad of issues relating to nutrition that affect stunting in Pakistan.

The second part of the project will attempt to establish a cash transfer program. Cash transfers are a form of direct monetary aid that can allow poor families affected by stunting easier access to nutritious food. However, cash transfers aren’t always the most helpful form of aid as their effectiveness depends on the stability of local economies, which is likely why this cash transfer program is being established on a “conditional” basis.

Through these efforts, the World Bank aims to reduce stunting in Pakistan by one percent each year for the next five years.

Caroline Meyers

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a Sub-Saharan African country fringed by Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Eritrea. For the past few decades, the Ethiopian government has implemented institutional reforms in order to transition to a stable market economy. This transition would also reduce poverty, improve health, education and infrastructure in the endeavor to establish a stable economy.

Although Ethiopia has made remarkable economic strides and has secured its position as one of the most efficient economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is still one of the poorest nations in the world.

In order to raise awareness of the severity the epidemic hunger in Ethiopia, the World Food Programme has complied a comprehensive list of facts that every global citizen should know regarding the hunger crisis in Ethiopia.

As mentioned above, Ethiopia has taken steps to improve its economy, an endeavor that in turn has also improved nutrition within the nation. Yet, despite this marked progress, Ethiopia still remains embattled by malnutrition.

The true extent of this malnutrition is appalling. According to the report “Cost of Hunger in Africa”, child malnutrition costs Ethiopia 16.5 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year.

Furthermore, nearly 40% of Ethiopian children are underdeveloped, suffering from a condition known as “stunting”, which arises when individuals miss critical periods of development due to a lack of a proper diet.

Not only are these children physically stunted, they also experience a stunt in academic achievement. For the individuals who survive the complications of childhood malnutrition, stunting persists throughout adulthood as well.

As approximately 67% of adults in Ethiopia experienced stunting as children,  the majority of Ethiopians are not able to reach their maximum physical or educational potential in part due to hunger.

Additionally, nearly half of health issues arising from malnutrition manifest themselves before the child has lived to see his or her first birthday. Unfortunately, this early onset of malnutrition related health issues has also contributed to nearly 30% of child fatalities in Ethiopia. These child fatalities in Ethiopia have contributed to an approximate 8% reduction in the total Ethiopian workforce.

The cycle of poverty, hunger, and death in Ethiopia ensnares the nation in a stage of underdevelopment. Poverty and hunger in Ethiopia simultaneously attacks the population, holding the nation back from its full potential.

However, food programs and continued economic expansion can help the nation become not only one of the most stable economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, but also become a global competitor.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Photo: Action Against Hunger
Info Please, WFP, Rural Poverty Portal

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Poverty in Rwanda
Rwanda has made vast improvements in reducing poverty in the past decade. Nevertheless, the majority of their population lives below the poverty line. Discussed below are the leading and somewhat surprising facts about poverty in Rwanda.


Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Rwanda


The Bad News

1.  57% of Rwandans live below the poverty line and 37% live in extreme poverty.

2. Rwanda is the most densely packed country in Africa. With an annual population growth rate of around 3%, the population will have an additional 12 million people by 2015.

3. The 1994 genocide, which killed about 1 million people, changed the demographic structure of the country. Women now account for 54% of the population, and women and orphans were left as the heads of many households.

4. 44% of Rwandan children suffer from stunting. This means that they are unable to grow to their full potential because of a lack of adequate nutrition.

5. Agriculture employs 80% of the labor force, but only accounts for a third of the country’s GDP. Nearly half of Rwandan agricultural households experience food insecurity.


…The Good News

6. At least 1 million Rwandans have been lifted out of poverty in the last five years. This has been attributed to an increase in agricultural incomes and income transfers.

7.  Between 2006-2011, Rwanda posted an average annual growth of real GDP of 8.4%. This was driven mainly by higher productivity in the agricultural and industrial sectors.

8. Since 2005 the mortality rate of children under 5 has been halved from 152 to 76 deaths per thousand.

9.  Immediately following the genocide, 100 percent of the government budget came from foreign aid. In 2011, the figure had fallen to 40%.

10. Participation in secondary schooling has doubled since 2006, and primary education has far exceeded the set target.

Rwanda still has a long way to go, but the recent successes provide hope for the 10 million people living within its borders. A combination of government programs, foreign aid, and a continued focus on agricultural production promises to bring more and more people out of poverty in Rwanda every day.

– Kathryn Cassibry

Sources: World Bank, Rural PovertyFeed the FutureUNDP
Photo: The Telegraph

childhood stunting
Childhood stunting effects a massive percentage of the world’s youth. UNICEF estimates that some 39% of children in the developing world are stunted. 40% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted and in East and South Asia, estimates climb as high as 50% of children. The numbers tally in at 209 million stunted children in the developing world.

Childhood stunting is a condition that is defined as height for age below the fifth percentile on a reference growth curve. If, within a given population, substantially more than 5% of an identified child population have heights that are lower than the curve, then it is likely that said population would have a higher-than-expected prevalence of stunting. It measures the nutritional status of children. It is an important indicator of the prevalence of malnutrition or other nutrition-related disorders among an identified population in a given region or area.

Aside from inadequate nutrition, there are several other causes of childhood stunting. These include: chronic or recurrent infections, intestinal parasites, low birth weight, and in rare cases, extreme psychosocial stress without nutritional deficiencies. Several of these factors are influenced by each other. Low birth weight is correlated with nutritional deficiencies, and inadequate nutrition is correlated to chronic or recurrent infections.

One of the serious consequences of stunting is particularly impaired cognitive development.  When a child has inadequate access to food, their body conserves energy by first limiting social activity and cognitive development in the form of apathetic and incurious children. These children may not develop the capacity to adequately learn or play. Then the child’s body will limit the energy available for growth.

Fortunately, studies have found that improvement in diet after age two can restore a child to near-normal mental development. Conversely, malnutrition after age two can be just as damaging as it is before age two. However, it is important to note that once stunting is established, it typically becomes permanent.

The reasons stated above serve as important reminders of why foreign aid and programs aimed at eliminating extreme malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies are so vital. The impact of new legislation focusing on increasing USAID and other foreign aid is substantial. Stunting can be seriously limited through the introduction of increased access to food security in the developing world. Knowledge of the facts surrounding stunting is also an important step in working to combat and eliminate childhood stunting worldwide.

– Caitlin Zusy

Sources: UNICEF, Future of Children

Stunting: Why Fighting Hunger is Important
In a conference held in Ireland, Anthony Lake, the executive director of UNICEF, reminded us why fighting hunger is so important. A recently released UNICEF report stated that more than a quarter of children under the age of five are permanently stunted from malnutrition. Children who are permanently stunted lack the physical and intellectual capacity to achieve their full potential. If the 165 million children been exposed to better nutrition, breastfeeding, and clean water in their first two years of life, they could have reached normal brain and body development.

Lake has urged that fighting hunger is important because children who are permanently stunted will suffer increased vulnerability to illness and early death. In order to combat this, UNICEF believes children need increased access to Vitamin A, iron, and folic acid in the womb, as well as a balanced diet and clean drinking water in the first two years of life. UNICEF argues that the minimum requirements should without question be universally available to every child on the planet.

If a child is permanently stunted from hunger, their brain never properly develops. It is unfixable. While we can fix hunger later, once a child is permanently stunted there is no going back. These children will be at a disadvantage in school. They will not learn at as quick of a pace, nor as much as their peers. This is a clear violation of the child’s human rights. And worst of all, it is something that can be corrected.

Formats such as UNICEF conferences, while not always providing the brightest or happiest news, raise awareness. Learning statistics and facts behind global hunger and poverty have the power to motivate society to get more involved. Technology and international cooperation and funding can help put an end to this problem.  The permanent stunting of children serves as a reminder of why fighting hunger is important.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: Medical Xpress
Photo: CNN