UNICEF's Global Education First Initiative
Josephine Bourne is the Associate Director of UNICEF. She sat down for an interview with the Inter Press Service to give her thoughts on the upcoming meetings to be held in Washington D.C. on the Global Education First Initiative.

The meetings will bring together Ministers in Finance from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. The topic of conversation will focus on sustainable solutions between the private sector and civil society organizations. The meetings will center around the importance of education on the global economy.

Bourne believes that the initiative will provide an increased pressure for political commitment in the field of education.  She stated that UNICEF would like to continue to work towards ensuring education for the most vulnerable children, particularly girls, with disabilities as well as children living in conflict territories.

When Bourne was asked if there was one thing in particular that greatly diminished a child’s opportunity to obtain an education, she bluntly stated that being born into poverty as a girl in a rural area is a huge disadvantage. The longer a girl is able to attend school, the fewer children she will have – an incredibly important factor in poverty reduction.

Around the world, girls who have seven years of education have 2.2 fewer children than those that do not. When those girls have children, those children will be healthier and better educated, helping to lower the poverty percentage in their given communities. Bourne believes that this environment leads to economic growth, more female leaders, and more sustainable development.

In the interview, Bourne was also asked about gender equality and education. She said that girls from disadvantaged groups are oftentimes the most marginalized because of the special risks that could take them out of school. She believes that there is serious inequity in schools around the world.

Women’s education and empowerment have been a popular theme in the media lately with the recent release of the documentary “Girl Rising”. While this is a very positive thing, Bourne was quick to note, however, that the increased media attention to gender and education inequality, as well as the empowerment that comes with it are not enough to bring about social change. In her opinion, in order to create lasting change, we need the complete commitment of all duty bearers; from organizations such as UNICEF and the UN to parents and communities; to be involved in the promotion of the human right of education for all children around the world.

– Caitlin Zusy

Source: Inter Press Service

UNICEF Focuses on Stunted Children
One of the many harmful consequences of malnutrition in children is permanent “stunting” of the mind or body. The United Nations Children’s Fund is addressing this issue that affects more than 25 percent of children less than five years old. The organization is particularly concerned because “stunted” kids are put in a severe disadvantage for the rest of their lives.

According to Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, there are several ways to help prevent birth of stunted children. Some of these methods include advocating for breastfeeding, proper vitamin intake, and consuming clean water. Lake explains a child with access to these important elements is likely to have his or her brain and body develop normally. Children who do not receive the necessary nutrient are also put at risk for numerous other illnesses or even premature death.

The first two years of life are the most significant to a child’s health. Even in the womb, children are at risk if the mother is not dedicated to a balanced diet, drinking clean water, and consuming enough Vitamin A, iron, or folic acid. If a child does experience stunted growth or “stunting,” there is no way to reverse the damage after the age of two.

Anthony Lake describes “stunting” as “the least understood, least recognized and least acted upon crisis.” Unlike being underweight, stunted children can never be fully cured. Thus, the child must carry out his or her life with an underdeveloped brain and possible nerve and cell damage. Not only is this catastrophic for the child’s learning capacity and future career, but it is also detrimental to society as well.

Most stunted children live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In India, 48 percent of children under five years old suffer from “stunting.” All of these children will never have the chance to live up to their full potential. When new generations are unable to contribute intellectually and financially to society, the country’s entire economic system suffers. UNICEF is tackling the issue of one child at a time.

Mary Penn

Source: News OK
Photo: CNN

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

Motorbikes Role in Reaching the UN's Millennium Development Goals
UNICEF donated 73 motorbikes to nonprofit organizations to help them better and more effectively monitor and implement their water and sanitation projects in Sierra Leone. These projects are to build or revamp wells and sanitation spaces in communities, schools, and health centers.

By giving these nonprofit organizations access to motorbikes, UNICEF is hoping to help reach the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The motorbikes are thought to help by accelerating the efforts being made to improve access to water and, thus, contribute to the push for anti-poverty that the Millennium Development Goals are in place for.

As of now, only 57 percent of people in Sierra Leone have access to clean drinkable water with access to such water in rural areas being much rarer than in more urban areas. Accordingly, only 48 percent of people have access to clean water sources in rural areas, whereas 76 percent of those living in urban households have access. A significant amount of water consumed in rural areas is sourced to surface water, which is vulnerable to a multitude of waterborne diseases. This makes it imperative to improve water conditions and provisions and rural areas. The motorbikes will help make this possible by enabling NGOs to bring life-saving facilities to areas that are very remote and hard to access. They will also cut down on the amount of time necessary to get from local to local, allowing for NGO members to monitor their projects faster and easier.

Earnest Sesay, Director of Family Homes Movement, one of the NGOs that received motorbikes from UNICEF,  said “On behalf of the implementing partners of UNICEF WASH, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for this donation. With these motorbikes, the hurdles of reaching out to remote communities will be a problem of the past.”

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica

Third World Children Read First World Problems for Water“I hate it when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles,” are among the first world problems chosen by the charitable organization Water is Life to be read by third-world children. Labeled First World Problems Anthem, the video is meant to raise awareness of Water for Life’s efforts to provide clean drinking water to impoverished countries. It does this by starkly contrasting the two perspectives of what constitutes a problem in each walk of life.

Rich in very dark satire, Water for Life presents a hard-hitting video of children in impoverished conditions reciting complaints such as “[I hate] when my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold,” which is said by a child in what looks to be a boarding house for kids. All of the gripes read in the video have been chosen from the Twitter hashtag First World Problems. Water for life hopes this video will assist the organization in battling poor water sanitation.

According to UNICEF, poor water sanitation is among the leading causes of illness and death in the world. To combat this, Water for Life is providing a water purifier called “The Straw.” The Straw works to filter out waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and guinea worm. By donating $10 to Water is Life, members of the first world can send this water purifier to a community in need of clean potable water.

– Pete Grapentien

Source Huffington Post

Syrian Children Fed and Educated in Refugee Camps

While most reports about Syria the past week have discussed the casualties of what has been the deadliest month to record in the three-year long civil war, hope through education remains in the face of strife and depravity.

Of the thousands of children who have fled to Jordan and Iraq, some have been fortunate enough to continue their education. More recently as well, these children also began receiving consistent meals and snacks at their schools.

On March 24, the World Food Programme, a branch of the United Nations, began a special program to feed children attending schools in refugee camps. Their goal was not only to increase the children’s nutritional intake but to also ensure that they continue to attend school. In a matter of two weeks, World Food Programme has already seen a 20 percent increase in attendance throughout the camps they worked in.

World Food Programme partnered with five different schools; two schools in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan (run by UNICEF) which services 6,000 children and the Domiz refugee camp school and two schools in Al-Qaim, located in Iraq, reaching 4,500 children.

The main snack that is distributed is a date biscuit, an already popular and familiar snack in the Middle East. This version however is fortified with three minerals and 11 vitamins, providing students with 450 calories to help sustain them through their day.

With plans to help an additional 24,000 children in Zaatari and 1,500 throughout Iraq, World Food Programme would need to raise $780,000 to run the program through the end of the year. Aside from the millions of dollars needed to feed all refugees, and not just children attending schools, this particular project has hopes of being able to create a stable routine and lifestyle for children who have already encountered so much.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: UN News Centre

Childhood Stunting Has Long-Term EffectsChildhood stunting occurs when chronic malnutrition stunts a child’s growth, both physically and mentally. Over 180 million children worldwide suffer from this condition. The problem is concentrated in certain countries. In fact, 21 countries account for more than 80 percent of documented stunted growth cases.

Healthy nutrition is most important in the first five years of life.  In six countries (Afghanistan, Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, East Timor, and Yemen), 50 percent or more of children under 5 years old are stunted. This number is terrifying because stunting can lower cognitive capacity for life.  Children who suffer from stunting have a reduced ability to learn.  This poor nutrition can affect future earnings and success.  Any inadequate nutrition within the first two years of life is permanent and irreversible.

Being four to six inches shorter than their peers is the most superficial concern for stunted children.  They are “five times more likely to die from diarrhea due to physiological changes in a stunted body.”  Furthermore, the typical stunted brain has fewer cells and fewer connections between cells, which means impaired functioning.

childhood stunting

Despite these numerous health effects, childhood stunting continues to receive little to no media attention.  Organizations like UNICEF work to combat malnutrition, but people do not realize the effects of this extreme malnutrition.

UNICEF and its partners provide cost-effective solutions, such as vitamin A supplements, iodized salt, and therapeutic foods.  Its famous Plumpy’nut is a peanut-based food that helps malnourished children gain up to two pounds per week.

Childhood stunting is preventable, and it is time for people to understand their effects. Numerous studies and organizations name hunger as the “gravest single threat to the world’s public health.”  The effects of hunger alter a community’s culture, economy, and overall well-being.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: TIME
Photo: Fast Company

Mozambique Uses New Technology to Fight AIDS
In Mozambique, 11.5% of 15 to 49-year-olds are HIV positive, and half of the untreated children who are HIV positive die before they reach the age of two due to delays in diagnosis and treatment. Now, new technologies to help diagnose and assess rural, poor citizens of Mozambique are being used by three different aid organizations.

UNICEF, along with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), have been administering new tests that will rapidly increase the speed of diagnoses in children and also test other patients’ immunity levels. The new tests do not require a high level of technology, making it easier for health workers to administer the tests in rural areas, and are able to tell workers when a patient needs to switch antiretrovirals.

Normally, the HIV tests used in Mozambique take a spot of dry blood for testing with results taking nearly two months, with some patients never returning to find out the results. In addition to taking much longer, these older testing techniques are much less accurate than the current tests. The new technology takes no longer than an hour to determine if a patient is HIV positive.

Although the new technology helps the speed of return time of diagnoses, determining whether children in Mozambique are HIV positive is still a challenge as two types of tests are needed to determine if the antibodies of a newborn are from the mother or in the child’s blood itself. Aid groups hope to increase health infrastructure in the country to have the ability to offer both types of tests to patients.

Christina Kindlon

Source: The Guardian

Funding for foreign aid is an issue coming up for debate in more countries than the United States. UNICEF has begun a campaign in Australia to increase foreign aid spending. During the North Sydney electorate, the organization is urgently spreading awareness for the cause and raising public support.

Australia currently spends .35 percent of its gross national income (GNI) on foreign aid. To put that in perspective, the US donates about .2 percent and Sweden gives 1.02 percent of its GNI. UNICEF hopes to increase this percentage by going door-to-door and asking Australians to sign a petition in support of more foreign aid funding. They will deliver these petitions to election candidates.

Their campaign does not, however, exist without resistance. Tony Abbott, Opposition Leader, warned that his party would support funding for projects in Northern Territory rather than increasing foreign aid if his party did not win the majority in the federal election. Another party, the Labor Government, expressed their intentions to supersede some funding for foreign assistance programs in favor of providing financial support for “offshore processing of asylum seekers.”

Despite this opposition, volunteers for UNICEF remain enthusiastic about public support for increased foreign aid. Tess van der Rijt, a campaigner during the North Sydney electorate, was encouraged that so many people whose homes she visited were passionate about the effectiveness and necessity of foreign aid and did not want to see the program lose funding. With a lot of hard work, UNICEF may be successful in pressuring politicians to adhere to the demands of the public and increase foreign aid.

– Mary Penn

Source: Herald Sun

UNICEF and Syria's Lost GenerationA lost generation of children is quite a dramatic phrase. One would expect it to define a group of children whose duress has gone unnoticed. For the children in Syria, it’s a slightly different case. As the reports of casualties are noted every day, the biggest issue should be the loss of not only physical life but the psychological well being of children and their futures. Their plight, however, is overshadowed by external, as well as internal, desires to cease political unrest and see a new regime replace al-Assad’s.

UNICEF has been working consistently both inside and outside of Syria to try to maintain some level of balance and peace in the lives of these children. By first addressing their basic needs, 4 million people who have remained in Syria now have access to clean drinking water. 1.5 million children have received vaccinations against polio and measles. And aside from the 6% of children who are currently still able to attend school, 75,000 have been lucky enough to attend ‘school clubs’ to keep up with their education. Even for the quarter-million refugee children, UNICEF has managed to extend its basic services as well as offering protection against abuse and exploitation, two things all too common in the chaotic and insecure camps.

Resources are limited, however. Despite its plea for $195 million to continue support until June of this year, the UN reports that only 20% of that requested funding has been given. About 2 months after this request, former Senator-now-Secretary of State John Kerry announced the $60 million apparent ‘non-lethal’ aid package to Syrian rebels. While terms of ‘non-lethal’ and ‘food and medical supplies’ are tossed around, there is no direct language addressing the key issues that are important to every single person and party involved directly and indirectly in this conflict.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that his goals are to support the rebels in preventing and stopping President Bashar al-Assad from staging attacks against his own people. While the US government is set on securing the future of Syria, it seems only logical that they would realize that without providing psychological services, safe havens of learning, and adequate medical facilities to Syrian children, there will be a bleak future for Syria.

The trauma and permanent damage UNICEF reports are inevitable for Syria’s lost generation. It is going to affect the politics, economy, and every aspect of their country once they become of age and replace the current generation.

Eliot Engel, the Senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio sat down to discuss how “providing military aid to Syria’s opposition would bring the humanitarian disaster to an end” in hopes of continuing a peaceful relationship with Syria after Assad’s rule. Engel is currently pushing for the US’s active involvement in training and arming ‘some’ rebels (although he graciously adds that humanitarian assistance will be provided as well).

Such an obvious focus on expanding the degree of fighting is not going to bring the civil war to an end. While that question requires a great deal more of serious thought, it would hopefully require a lot less hesitation to understand that the safety and education of Syria’s children, both in and outside of the country, require immediate attention and aid.

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: UN News Centre, Yahoo News, NPR