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Serge Ibaka foundationBefore he was competing on the court and playing alongside NBA superstars such as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka was a child facing many adversities. Both of Ibaka’s parents played basketball in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, during the late 1990s. It was at this time that the Congo was going through a civil war.

During the summer of 2009, Ibaka began his career as a professional basketball player in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder. After achieving the status of a professional athlete, Ibaka’s dream began to shift. He decided to use his platform as an athlete in a way that goes beyond just playing a sport and impacts the lives of others. Specifically, having once lived during the war in the Republic of the Congo, he now assists children within the community and does so through the Serge Ibaka Foundation.

The Serge Ibaka Foundation and its Mission

Education remains out of reach for millions of children between the ages of five and 17 in the Republic of the Congo. This is caused by a large economic disparity between parents who can afford for their children to attend school and those who cannot. Receiving an education is critical for the future of these children, yet factors such as child labor, child marriage and pregnancy all stand in the way of children being able to reach a brighter future. Living in the Republic of the Congo during a war, Ibaka faced similar feelings of hopelessness. However, he was able to achieve his dreams, and through his foundation, he wants to help other children in the community to do the same.

Partnering with other organizations, the Serge Ibaka Foundation strives to improve the living conditions of Congolese children and promotes the importance of receiving an education. Ibaka aims to use his story as inspiration to ultimately demonstrate to children that anything is possible with determination and hard work. Rather than solely using his fortune to help the country from afar, Ibaka makes frequent visits back to the Republic of the Congo to interact and share his story with children.

Context and Aid for the Congo’s Situation

Outbreaks of cholera, Ebola and measles continuously claim the lives of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This left the country struggling even more when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With more than three-fourths of the country living in poverty, various statistics suggest a difficult reality. For example, the Congo ranks highly globally for stunting, which is a reflection of poor nutritional health for children. The pandemic only made matters worse as the country struggled to keep up with the health care of civilians. Many parents also struggled to provide meals for their families.

In May of 2020, the Serge Ibaka Foundation fired up a COVID-19 relief program to provide aid for those affected economically by the pandemic in Brazzaville. The foundation, along with the help of the BUROTOP Iris Foundation, has distributed 80 tons of food to 8,000 families who live in Brazzaville.

Helping Toronto’s Homeless Population

Ibaka also expands his desire to achieve change internationally to other nations. There are more than 9,000 people living without homes on the streets of Toronto, Canada, and shelters within the area have been at capacity for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped the situation of homelessness; instead, it has highlighted the struggles that the homeless endure in this city. In 2020, Serge Ibaka pledged to match up to $100,000 of donations to the Fred Victor COVID-19 Emergency Fund in its attempt to improve the health and safety of those experiencing poverty and homelessness in Toronto.

NBPA and its Accomplishments

Serge Ibaka is not the only NBA player committed to ensuring those who are less fortunate are recognized. Players in and around the NBA devote their time and effort through charities of their own, and Ibaka has worked alongside others to provide these players and their organizations with support through the NBPA. Through this foundation, Ibaka works to help not only those in his hometown but anyone around the world who may also need inspiration or a change in lifestyle.

The NBPA is a foundation that aims to highlight the collaborative work that players of the NBA conduct worldwide to create positive change. The foundation’s main mission is to provide funding and support for the charities of the many professional basketball players who dedicate time and resources to communities around the world. Ibaka serves as one of the directors on the foundation’s board. Notably:

  • The NBPA has provided more than $500,000 in matching grants for players’ own donations.

  • NBA players and the NBPA have donated a total of $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief.

  • Australian NBA players have committed $750,000 to bushfires within Australia.

Serge Ibaka is also a UNICEF Ambassador in the Congo and has dedicated his time to organizing a plan that involves renovating an all-boys orphanage and an all-girls orphanage by providing the two with educational and health care supplies. He has also collaborated with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and worked to provide hearing aids to children in Brazzaville. Ibaka serves as a role model in his work and in his actions, particularly throughout his professional career as a basketball player. Never forgetting his roots of a childhood in poverty, he has vowed to inspire the children of his hometown and assist them with the necessary living conditions to one day soar down the court to a better life, just as he has.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS In Zimbabwe
HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe has become prevalent, mainly due to unprotected sexual transmission. The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe reported that in 2020 there were “approximately 1.23 million adults in Zimbabwe living with HIV.” Zimbabwe has the sixth-highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world, considering that the nation has roughly 31,000 new infections annually. However, despite the common misconception, the high rate of HIV/AIDS does not stem only from sexual activity. High case rates have become common among children as infected mothers pass HIV/AIDS on to their kids during childbirth. Organizations are working to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe.

What is HIV/AIDS?

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) “is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases.” When an HIV/infected person goes without treatment, the condition can develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a “late stage of HIV infection that occurs when the body’s immune system is badly damaged because of the virus.” There is no cure for HIV/AIDS to this day, despite extensive research since the virus was initially identified in 1981. However, by taking antiretroviral drugs, people “can live long and healthy lives and prevent transmitting HIV to their sexual partners” and children.

Action to Address HIV/AIDs in Zimbabwe

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) supports an HIV/AIDs program in Zimbabwe that began in 2004. In 2019, the program achieved a milestone, extending the reach of antiretroviral treatment coverage to 82% coverage for infected men and 88% coverage for women. In 2017, a UNICEF-led HIV program helped achieve the target of “ensuring that 80% of pregnant women, new-born, children and adolescents have equitable access to cost-effective and quality health interventions and practice.” With the support of organizations, overall, Zimbabwe has had success in “expanding access to HIV testing and treatment, including prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and lowering HIV prevalence.”

Data from the Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment survey (ZIMPHIA 2020) shows the nation’s progress. The survey indicates that almost 87% of HIV-infected adults knew their status. In addition, of the population “aware of their status,” 97% were receiving antiretroviral treatment. Finally, “among those on treatment, 90.3% achieved viral load suppression,” meaning they are now unable to transmit the disease to other people. With this progress, Zimbabwe is on its way to achieving the UNAIDS target of eradicating AIDS by 2030.

Looking Ahead

Although HIV/AIDS has been a significant public health crisis in Zimbabwe for quite some time, the government is taking the necessary steps to reduce its prevalence. Increasing diagnosis rates have set off a chain reaction in Zimbabwe as people seek the necessary treatments and educate themselves on the condition and preventative measures to protect themselves and others. There is still much work that needs to occur, however, the country is doing its part to safeguard the lives of its citizens through early detection measures and access to treatment.

– Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Venezuela
Due to the ongoing humanitarian and economic crises in the nation, mental health in Venezuela has become a forefront issue for both people who remain in the country and those migrating to flee the trouble at home. Mental health troubles affect Venezuelans of all ages and the changes that COVID-19 has brought about have compounded the issue.

Mental Health in Venezuela

Following the death of former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro assumed power in 2013. Due to a reduction in foreign aid and outdated spending policies, the economy spiraled into a deficit, which eventually led to food and medical shortages. Since the start of the conflict, more than 5.6 million people have fled Venezuela, mostly to Peru or Colombia.

The turmoil from hyperinflation, political unrest and the ensuing mass exodus has created a stressful environment in which the development of mental health issues is common. Before the pandemic, one out of every two Venezuelan migrants in Peru exhibited some health issue, including those related to depression, fear, anxiety or stress, and went without professional care. Following the advent of COVID-19, estimates indicate that less than 10% of those in need of healthcare can receive treatment because of economic constraints or policies related to quarantines.

The Effects on Children

Mental health in Venezuela is not an issue limited to the adult population. Although Venezuela’s government does not track data on the mental wellness of its youth, it is possible to get a glimpse of the circumstances through those who work firsthand with Venezuelan children. Cecodap is one such NGO that focuses on child and adolescent rights. Psychologist Abel Saraiba works closely with Cecodap in Venezuela, reporting that the number of children exhibiting symptoms of depression and anxiety rose from 9% in February 2020 to 31% in June 2020. Venezuela’s first quarantine measures, which it implemented in March 2020, may have influenced this. Saraiba tells Reuters, “We have a complex humanitarian emergency on top of a pandemic,” and “the combination of these factors produces a deterioration in living conditions.”

Actions to Address Mental Health in Venezuela

While the situation of mental health in Venezuela remains dire, hope is on the horizon for those in need. UNICEF and the United Nations have taken notice of the struggles Venezuelans face, especially with COVID-19 exacerbating these issues.

One of the most significant sources of stress for children is unrest at home. UNICEF is working extensively with the population of Venezuela to spread awareness about the rise in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic. In addition, UNICEF helps provide support for returning Venezuelans and their families. UNICEF is also positioning counselors at the borders and assigning caseworkers to help stem domestic disputes.

The United Nations’ 2021 Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan targets 4.5 million Venezuelans in need. The plan aims to “provide life-saving emergency assistance, secure livelihoods through improving access to basic services and ensure the protection of the most vulnerable,” among other goals. The plan’s funding will allow many who struggle with mental health in Venezuela to seek treatment. So far, showing support of the plan, the international community has committed roughly $83 million to aid struggling Venezuelans.

With aid to Venezuela from multiple organizations focusing on several aspects of well-being, including mental health, there is hope for mental health in Venezuela to improve.

– Kevin Leonard
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty In Denmark
Denmark has one of the lowest poverty rates in the world, and it is important to look at what allows the nation to have such a low rate. With aggressive public health programs and a well-rounded social welfare program that
brings aid for unemployment, disability and old age, the people of Denmark can often receive proper help and assistance in times of need.

Social Welfare Aid

Widespread access to welfare in the country stems from a systemically upheld belief that welfare is a right of the people and not a privilege as it is all paid for through taxes. The benefits received by those who are unable to properly support themselves or their children work to lower poverty in Denmark. Furthermore, while the Danish have access to assistance programs, one poll suggests that nearly 60% of respondents believe that the economic gap between the upper and lower classes needs to be reduced.

Social responsibility is a large key ideal held by many people in Denmark. Social responsibility carries into the ideas of the social welfare programs and correlates to funds allocated toward helping members of the community. Because of governmental and social efforts, the level of poverty in Denmark is able to stay relatively low. For instance, funds and programs go to help parents raising new children, allowing a year of paid paternity or maternity leave.

The Poverty Rate

As of 2018, Denmark had a poverty rate of around 0.30%, which was a 0.1% increase from the previous year. Those living with fewer than $5.50 U.S. dollars per day are counted within the poverty figures. This is one of the lowest poverty rates in the world, around 10% less than the United State’s poverty rate in 2020. With a high poverty rate in the late 1980s of around 1.2%, the decline has occurred steadily over the years. While the poverty rate tends to fluctuate from year to year, it remains relatively low. Currently, Denmark is often compared to nations like the Netherlands, Malta, the Czech Republic and Norway. However, changes in social spending correlate to the fact that poverty seems to be been rising despite the high levels of support offered by the system.

Child Poverty

Despite Denmark’s reputation for strong welfare programs, child poverty rose in the country from 2016 to 2017. In the span of that year, the number of children recognized as living in poverty rose from around 40,000 to more than 60,000. Despite the level of social welfare benefits, employment rates have remained largely unchanged among certain groups. Among those affected by reduced social spending are refugees and minority groups in the country. As of 2017, the number of children under the poverty line accounts for more than 5% of the child population. Programs like the Integration Benefit are targeted to those living in extreme poverty in Denmark.

With many different social programs, poverty in Denmark has been able to stay relatively low in recent years, notably due to social programs and community mentalities. Despite the rising poverty rates among those in danger of falling below the poverty line, the Danish government has been implementing programs to try and reduce these issues like the Integration Benefit. Lastly, the programs afforded to parents allow for a stable environment for parents to raise their children. The solutions to these issues through more aid and higher access to aid stand to lower the poverty rate further.

– Jake Herbetko
Photo: Flickr

Floods in Timor-Leste
Between April 29 and March 4, 2021, extreme weather struck the nation of Timor-Leste. Cyclone Seroja created “strong winds and heavy rain,” according to the Associated Press. The U.N. explained that heavy rain, in turn, led to landslides and flash floods during the cyclone. The challenging weather struck Timor Leste’s capital city, Dili, particularly hard. In fact, around 8,000 Timorese people had to move to temporary shelters and 34 people died due to the floods in Timor-Leste.

Since April 2021, the floods in Timor-Leste have received little coverage from Western news sources and the work of rebuilding and providing resources is ongoing. In fact, the country’s government requested more “support to address residual humanitarian needs” in June 2021.

The Current Situation

A U.N. report, dated July 16, 2021, has provided details about which areas still require attention. These include the evacuation centers, which are still housing 730 people, as well as food and water accessibility. As part of its section on “Gender & Protection,” the report stressed the necessity for well-lit bathrooms with lockable doors for both men and women at the evacuation centers. Additionally, the report noted that those living in evacuation centers will need access to materials so that they can fix their damaged homes or build new ones. 

More broadly, clean water and COVID-19 are major concerns. Initiatives to restore the country’s piped water supply system is on their way in order to deliver water to the capital and other areas. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have risen, and the country lacks supplies and equipment to deal with the pandemic effectively. Cyclone Seroja resulted in the flooding of Timor Leste’s national medical storage facility, leading to the destruction of medical supplies.

The report from the U.N. shows that there is a demand for information as well. In its section on “Education,” the report noted that “[d]etailed information on damages and losses in schools not yet available.” The report listed the problem in regard to its “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene” section as well.

USAID Food Assistance

Shortly after the floods in Timor-Leste, The New Humanitarian reported that “food affordability [was] emerging as [a] growing [worry]” due to the impact of the floods on crops. In fact, the cost of rice increased by more than 20% in one year. The U.N. has suggested that Timor-Leste implement a referral system to resolve malnutrition. 

On July 8, 2021, USAID announced that it would give Timor-Leste an additional $900,000 in assistance after having given $100,000 in the aftermath of Cyclone Seroja. On July 9, 2021, Kevin Blackstone, the U.S. ambassador to Timor-Leste mentioned that the U.S. aimed to impact “farmers in remote areas” by providing “cash or vouchers to buy seeds,” as well as necessary farming tools.

Further Assistance

USAID’s contribution is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.N’.s report lists many other actions that governments and organizations have taken to aid the Timorese government. Among other measures, the Timorese government has given out 36,600 water purification tablets. Additionally, UNICEF gave supplies to a Tasi Tolu community so that education for children could continue and the UNDP began a cash-for-work program, offering jobs to those who need them. Finally, various organizations have worked to provide education about gender-based violence.

The New Humanitarian’s coverage in April 2021 highlighted the actions of local volunteer groups in Timor-Leste. One woman named Berta Antonieta Tilman Pereira worked on fundraising so that she could start community kitchens for evacuees in the aftermath of the floods. Pereira stated that “the community themselves needs to be organized” because “the system that we’re…supposed to trust and rely on…is totally slow and not responding.” The New Humanitarian pointed out that the Timorese government did not request help from international bodies until April 8, 2021, which was four days after the disaster.

Three months after Cyclone Seroja, much still needs to occur in regard to dealing with the effects of floods in Timor-Leste. According to the U.N., 26,186 “affected families…have received emergency support,” and “[t]he majority of the temporarily displaced have returned home.” However, organizations are also carrying out a great deal of work in the hopes of long-lasting recovery.

– Victoria Albert
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in AngolaThe catalyzation of food insecurity is causing around 6 million people to fall into hunger in Angola, according to UNICEF. The number of people going hungry in Angola, however, continues to rise due to the most severe drought since 1981 in conjunction with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of droughts, especially in Southern Angola, caused the death of 1 million cattle. This created surges of poor malnutrition and severe illnesses. Despite this, hope exists for those suffering from hunger in Angola.

Drought

The severe drought in Angola has continued spreading for almost three years now, traumatically affecting hunger in Angola. Crop production has decreased by nearly 40%, forcing more families into poverty. The drought has, within only three months in Cunene, Angola, tripled levels of food insecurity. The growing scarcity of food and heightening hunger of Angolans is pushing them to seek refuge in proximate countries such as Namibia.

Pedro Henrique Kassesso, a 112-year-old man, can attest that this three-year-long drought has been the worst he has ever experienced in Angola. The drought has affected almost 500,000 children. Not only has food insecurity heightened, but school dropout rates have risen due to increasing socioeconomic troubles. Hunger in Angola has forced children to put aside their education to support their families in collecting food and water.

Longing for Land

Former Angolan communal farmers are longing to get land back from commercial cattle farmers. According to Amnesty International, the Angolan government gives the land to commercial cattle farmers. Commercial cattle farmers have taken 67% of the land in Gambos, Angola. The battle for land has exasperated the hunger levels of communal Angolan citizens who have been reliant on their land and livestock for survival. The combination of loss of land and drought equates to millions of Angolan citizens ending up in poverty.

Despite the drought and rising food insecurity in Angola, people from neighboring countries are seeking refuge in this nation. As of 2017, 36,000 people have undergone displacement from the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and found refuge in Angola. Because of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing to Angola, the nation’s population is rapidly growing. Angola’s population is growing by 1 million people every year, according to the World Population Review. As a host country to asylum seekers, battles for land, ongoing drought and rapid population growth, more people are succumbing to poverty and hunger in Angola.

Hope on the Horizon

Despite the surging levels of food insecurity in Angola, hope is rising on the horizon. In fact, the government of Japan donated $1 million toward United Nations agencies that serve to uplift Angolan citizens who have succumbed to poverty especially due to the drought and the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy of Angola. The donation from Japan, along with the funds raised to end hunger in Angola by the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Food Programme (WFP) projects to at last tackle the issue of malnutrition and hunger in Angola.

– Nora Zaim-Sassi
Photo: Flickr

Vaccination Campaign in Kenya
Due to COVID-19, routine vaccination campaigns came to a halt in several developing countries. As a result, there were several outbreaks of other diseases, including rubella and measles. Measles is a highly contagious virus, and while it is preventable with a vaccine, it can lead to severe complications, and even death, if an individual goes unvaccinated. The pandemic offset vaccination campaigns in more than 40 countries in both 2020 and 2021, which “increases the risk of bigger outbreaks around the world.” One of the countries impacted by delayed immunizations is Kenya. However, the new measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya that started in June 2021 may save the lives of millions of infants and young children.

Vaccination Campaign in Kenya

The measles and rubella vaccination campaign in Kenya, also known as the MR campaign, began on June 26, 2021, and ended on July 5, 2021. Several organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, worked with the government of Kenya to deliver the vaccines. The initiative occurred in 22 Kenyan counties. Additionally, the organizations prioritized the counties with especially high numbers of measles cases and high counts of unvaccinated children. The campaign targeted children from 9 months old all the way up to children 5 years of age. Overall, the campaign targeted around four million children in Kenya.

The operation incorporated collaborative measures to allow the campaigns to run smoothly and quickly throughout the counties. This included hiring a high number of healthcare workers and setting up more than 5,000 vaccination sites. More than 16,000 healthcare workers participated in administering the vaccines. Along with the cost-free vaccines administered at health clinics and facilities, the operation included vaccination spots at “preschools, marketplaces, churches and other designated places on specific days” with the aim of vaccinating as many children as possible. Additionally, in order to raise awareness, a telecommunications company sent out mass text messages about the campaign.

Prioritizing Prevention

Since 2016, immunizations have been declining in Kenya, causing the number of outbreaks to rise, even though “the MR vaccine has been offered as part of the routine childhood immunization program” within the country.  The pandemic worsened those conditions, with 16.6 million African children missing “supplemental vaccination against measles between January 2020 and April 2021.” Moreover, measles surveillance declined in 2020.

In order for communities to avoid measles outbreaks, full vaccination rates need to be at least 95% for children. However, just 50% of children in Kenya received the full vaccine in 2020. Thankfully, with support from the Kenyan government and organizations such as UNICEF, health officials were able to provide MR vaccines to children across the country. This helped to manage measles outbreaks and safeguard the lives of many children this year. To continue more health initiatives after the MR vaccination campaign, Kenya is rolling out even more vaccination campaigns. This also includes a “multi-antigen catch-up campaign” to reduce the chances of further outbreaks and decrease the number of preventable deaths in Kenya.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ orphanages in IndiaIndia’s people have long struggled with poverty as a developing country, despite being one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Coupling overpopulation with a lack of resources, poverty is a common sight on India’s streets. Circumstances of poverty particularly exacerbate the conditions of girls’ orphanages in India.

Poverty in India

According to a 2016 report from the World Bank, one in five Indians suffers from poverty, totaling 270 million people. These Indians have less access to water and sanitation, job opportunities and education in comparison to their wealthier counterparts. A ramification of this level of poverty is that there exists an entire untapped population of Indians who could be contributing to the economy and the country in several ways, but instead, are forced to live on the streets with their basic needs unmet.

In the last few years, India has made some progress in addressing one of its greatest issues. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported that, from 2006 to 2016, India’s poverty rate almost halved from 55% to just 28%. Since then, India has been working toward lifting more people out of poverty and adding jobs to its economy.

However, COVID-19 has set the country back in its poverty alleviation efforts. As one of the countries particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the Delta variant, India has taken a step backward as more people descend into poverty.

Girls’ Orphanages in India

Because of gender-based cultural bias and economic pressures, the majority of orphans in India are girls. According to UNICEF, India is home to 31 million orphaned children. The Times of India reports that nine out of 10 abandoned children are girls. In some parts of India, parents view girls as burdens because, for one, their dowries for marriage are costly.

For this reason, some girls face abandonment and are put into orphanages, adding to the already high number of existing orphaned girls. Shockingly, “nurses have been known to accept bribes to exchange baby girls for baby boys.” Furthermore, activists draw attention “to eight million missing girls” — the estimated “number of female fetuses” possibly “aborted over the past decade due to their sex.” Due to the extensive number of orphaned girls, orphanages often do not have enough resources to adequately take care of the girls.

Association for India’s Development

One organization is doing the important work of helping India’s most impoverished. The Association for India’s Development (AID) has programs throughout different sectors in India, with a network of volunteers helping to uplift and empower Indians.

One of AID’s programs, in particular, surrounds helping girls’ orphanages in India. The Borgen Project spoke to AID’s Project Manager Sid Muralidhar to talk about his experience and how individuals, and the nation at large, can better address poverty in India. “A few of the biggest factors that contribute to India’s high poverty rate are social inequality and lack of access to quality education,” Muralidhar says. “There are very rigid class divides and remnants of the caste system still exist,” which limits social mobility. Without intervention or aid, an individual that is born in poverty is typically likely to remain in poverty.

As project manager, Muralidhar worked with an all-girls orphanage in the village of Badlapur to provide the girls with resources and raise money for the organization. He says the orphanage has suffered negatively from demonetization and the girls live in poor conditions because of the lack of resources.

Taking Action and Hope for the Future

When asked about what steps to take to address poverty and help girls’ orphanages in India, Muralidhar provides a comprehensive answer. “Poverty in India is a pernicious problem that requires broad-based and creative solutions.” Further, in spite of India’s status as “one of the fastest-growing global economies” before COVID-19, “the economic gains” are not “shared equally,” he says.

Muralidhar explains that the Indian “government can attempt to alleviate this widening gap by boosting social welfare programs as well as investing in public education.” He suggests that, in the meanwhile, “people interested in the issue and those who want to be conduits of progress should continue to educate themselves and others to grow the grassroots effort.”

Despite barriers to progress, Muralidhar adds that there is still hope. He said one of the most striking observations he made was the girls’ “extreme resiliency” and “eternal optimism” despite their situations. While COVID-19 has no doubt exacerbated the country’s poverty and negatively affected girls’ orphanages in India, AID exemplifies that there is still potential to continue previous progress made.

– Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

Beirut BlastOn August 4, 2020, a horrific explosion took place in Beirut, Lebanon, killing at least 214 people and injuring thousands of civilians. The Beirut blast “was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history” as it tore through the city. Estimations indicate that roughly “552 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded” at the port of Beirut. Since the explosion, Lebanon has experienced heightened civil unrest, economic hardship, increasing poverty and political deadlock.

In the face of the tragedy and adversity that continues to plague Lebanon, young people in Beirut are innovatively working to rebuild the Lebanese capital. Cash 4 Work, a program mobilized by UNICEF, is a youth network focused on helping reconnect homes to municipal and private water supplies along with prioritizing the cleaning and rehabilitation of Beirut.

Economic Impacts of the Beirut Blast

Lebanon was facing a severe economic crisis even before the Beirut blast. After the explosion, poverty levels rose further and the Lebanese economy essentially collapsed. According to the World Bank, the country’s GDP has decreased by a staggering 40% with more than 50% of the population pushed into the depths of poverty. Job prospects for youth are increasingly difficult to come by, placing young professionals in a tough position as they attempt to secure their futures amid a failing economy.

Participants of the recent UNICEF Cash 4 Work program are primarily the most vulnerable and impoverished youth who understand first-hand what living in poverty looks and feels like. According to UNICEF, “Cash 4 Work programs create earning opportunities that can temporarily stabilize people’s incomes following a disaster or a crisis.” Participants learn valuable skills, knowledge and training to improve their economic status and their ability to provide for their families. Furthermore, with the tools to positively impact their country, youth participants are able to use their skills to rebuild the nation and lift others out poverty.

The Role of the Youth

Immediately after the explosion, the youth of Beirut were among the first to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding their communities. At the time, UNICEF staff were on the ground working with more than 1,170 youth volunteers to sweep up debris, perform household repairs and deliver food and cloth masks to affected citizens. In an interview with Forbes, a teenager working on the ground said, “We will not lose hope. We are staying here on the ground.”

UNICEF staff “reconnected more than 60 buildings to the public water system” and handed out emergency supplies “including 1,600 hygiene kits and 400 baby kits to families in need.” UNICEF also helped “reunite children with their families” and supported child counseling efforts to address the trauma of the Beirut blast.

Exactly one year after the Beirut blast, youth mobilization continues with the support of UNICEF’s new Cash 4 Work program, which ensures new job opportunities in Lebanon. Cash 4 Work is not only playing an active role in shaping the job market for young professionals but it is also connecting people with the goal of shaping a more positive future for Beirut. A 24-year-old Cash 4 Work participant, Mohammad, describes his experience with the program. He tells UNICEF, “I am happy that I gained a skill and I am still learning. To work on my future and achieve my goals, especially in these difficult times, is something special.”

Programs and initiatives from humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF bring hope to a devastated country, allowing citizens a chance to continue to rebuild and recover more than a year after the Beirut blast.

– Alysha Mohamed
Photo: Flickr

Lebanon's Water SystemAmid an escalating economic crisis, Lebanon finds itself in an incredibly vulnerable position. According to the United Nations, Lebanon’s water system is at critical risk of total failure. About 71% of the country’s population is at risk of losing water as the public water system is reportedly “on life support.” UNICEF emphasizes the need for emergency action and stands by to offer crucial support. Forecasts warn of an increase in disease due to lack of sanitation as well as the closure of essential facilities.

The Cause of the Water System Collapse

For nearly a year now, Lebanon has existed without a government, according to CNN. Furthermore, the World Bank describes Lebanon’s economic crisis as one of the three worst economic disasters since the mid-19th century. The country’s GDP per capita has plummeted by about 40% and its currency has lost more than 90% of its value since late 2019. As a result, about half the population has slipped below the poverty line.

Yukie Mokuo, a UNICEF representative in Lebanon, tells UNICEF that Lebanon’s water system difficulties due to the economic collapse raise three main issues. First, she emphasized the importance of adequately funding routine maintenance of the public water system, which Lebanon cannot sustain.  Second, the problem of non-revenue water, or water that has been lost before it could reach consumers, remains. Last, the state of the power grid and the growing cost of fuel is not positive.

Mokuo also adds that those struggling to get by during the economic crisis will be the most vulnerable to the water system’s collapse. People would have to make hard choices when it comes to sanitation, hygiene and basic water needs.

The Risk and the Need

Mokuo and UNICEF also warn that, without urgent action, essential public facilities will be rendered unable to function. Among the four million people affected, children stand to risk the most. Children’s health and hygiene would take a fall in the wake of such a crisis since the immediate effects would impact overall public health. The country would see an increase in diseases without effective sanitation. In particular, women and young girls would face specific challenges “to their personal hygiene, safety and dignity without access to safe sanitation,” according to Mokuo.

UNICEF requires $40 million a year to adequately support Lebanon’s water system. The fund would work to address supply and maintain adequate levels of clean water for more than four million people. The mission would aim to secure the “minimum levels of fuel, chlorine, spare parts and maintenance necessary.” This would enable the continued functioning of various key systems while safeguarding access and ensuring public operation.

A Plea for Lebanon

Mokuo affirms the importance of the necessary funding to support UNICEF’s mission in addressing Lebanon’s water system collapse. She says, “[W]e will remain steadfast in our support to communities as resources permit, but this alarming situation requires immediate and sustained funding.” She added, “UNICEF stands ready to support, particularly as the global pandemic evolves, to ensure that the most basic right to clean water is met for children and families at this critical time for Lebanon.” As such, UNICEF calls “for the urgent restoration of the power supply — the only solution to keep water services running.” In the meanwhile, UNICEF continues with COVID-19 relief efforts in Lebanon, providing “life-saving services” and supporting the vaccine rollout.

Though the situation remains dire, the commitment of UNICEF signals genuine support that Lebanon can rely on. In an imperfect, developing situation, UNICEF’s focus provides hope that even in the worst case, help stands ready.

Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr