Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reflection of the Day: Our Lives

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
(Martin Luther King Jr.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Iraqi Refugees Turn to the Sex Trade in Syria

Via: NYTimes.com

MARABA, Syria — Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba’s daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes.

But that was before militias began threatening their Baghdad neighborhood and Umm Hiba and her daughter fled to Syria last spring. There were no jobs, and Umm Hiba’s elderly father developed complications related to his diabetes.

Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution. She pointed out her daughter, dancing among about two dozen other girls on the stage, wearing a pink silk dress with spaghetti straps, her frail shoulders bathed in colored light.

“So many of the Iraqi women arriving now are living on their own with their children because the men in their families were killed or kidnapped,” said Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf, a Syrian nun at the Good Shepherd convent in Damascus, which helps Iraqi refugees.

She said the convent had surveyed Iraqi refugees living in Masaken Barzeh, on the outskirts of Damascus, and found 119 female-headed households in one small neighborhood. Some of the women, seeking work outside the home for the first time and living in a country with high unemployment, find that their only marketable asset is their bodies.

“I met three sisters-in-law recently who were living together and all prostituting themselves,” Sister Marie-Claude said. “They would go out on alternate nights — each woman took her turn — and then divide the money to feed all the children.”

“Sometimes you see whole families living this way, the girls pimped by the mother or aunt,”

“From what I’ve seen, 70 percent to 80 percent of the girls working this business in Damascus today are Iraqis,” she said. “The rents here in Syria are too expensive for their families. If they go back to Iraq they’ll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available.”

Click here to read this article!

Social grants alleviate poverty

Via: Mail & Guardian
Nomfundo Mcetywa Johannesburg, South Africa

"In the absence of employment opportunities, child grants are often the only way to address the lack of income for children living in poverty."

Hall said that social grants had also helped children overcome financial barriers that prevented them from going to school."According to a general household survey conducted by Statistics South Africa, school attendance for children between eight and 14 years is 98%. From 15 to 17 years children's attendance rates start to drop and the survey shows that lack of money accounts for nearly 40% of these children in this age group not attending school"

"This clearly shows that child-care grants play a big part in helping to educate our children."

Click here to read more!

"Girls who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS are especially vulnerable to exploitation"

The plight of Malawi's child brides
Via:UNDispatch.com/Mail & Guardian Online
Alexandra Zavis & Chiringani, Malawi

"The average age of sexual debut is just 12, according to government research. In a few traditional communities, girls are forced to have sex with older men as part of rites initiating them into adulthood. But most have their first experience with a friend or relative.

Girls who have lost one or both parents to HIV/Aids are especially vulnerable to exploitation. In cities like Blantyre, it is not unusual for them to have several "boyfriends" who support them, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in Malawi. This in turn exposes them to the risk of infection with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

Some older men will marry young girls after their wives die of HIV/Aids because they believe sex with a virgin will "cleanse" them, says Banda. It is also traditional in some cultures for a man to marry his wife's younger sister if she dies."

Click here to read more!

"Three thousand kids! That's a 9/11 every day!"

Nothing But Nets
Via:UNDispatch.com/Si.com/Rick Riely

"See, nearly 3,000 kids die every day in Africa from malaria. And according to the World Health Organization, transmission of the disease would be reduced by 60% with the use of mosquito nets and prompt treatment for the infected."

Three thousand kids! That's a 9/11 every day!

Put it this way: Let's say your little Justin's Kickin' Kangaroos have a big youth soccer tournament on Saturday. There are 15 kids on the team, 10 teams in the tourney. And there are 20 of these tournaments going on all over town. Suddenly, every one of these kids gets chills and fever, then starts throwing up and then gets short of breath. And in seven to 10 days, they're all dead of malaria."

Click here to read more!

UNICEF: Poor nutrition kills millions of kids each year

Via: UNDispatch.com/Associated Press

"Poor nutrition contributes to the deaths of some 5.6 million children every year, and the world has fallen far short in efforts to reduce hunger by half before 2015, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Tuesday. In its report, UNICEF said one of every four children under age 5, including 146 million children in the developing world, is underweight.

The most troublesome area in the world is South Asia, where 46 percent of children are underweight. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan account for half of the world's underweight children even though they have only 30 percent of the world's population of children under 5."

Click here to read more!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Reflection of the Day: Silence & Human Suffering

Silence & Human Suffering
"I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." (Elie Wiesel)

Poverty and Economics

Underdevelopment can have hugely negative affects on children across the globe. It leads to extreme poverty and can limit access to education, health care and food. The impact on children is shocking:

*Worldwide 600 million children are living in absolute poverty
*30,000 children die each day due to poverty
*Over 300 million children go to bed hungry every day
*The cost of eradicating world poverty is estimated at 1% of global income

Childhood poverty is a huge constraint to growth. By investing in children the obstacles facing developing countries can be lessened, partly by creating a healthy, educated generation that can effectively contribute to the economy. Countries need to focus budgets on the needs and the rights of children.

The right economic policies can lift poor children out of poverty, by ensuring access to services, providing public goods, and creating a stable macroeconomic environment. Conversely, many economic policies, if poorly designed or implemented, can also push large numbers of people further below the poverty line.

Click here to read the rest of this article!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"The warmth of the people's hearts is slipping away."

Zimbabwe crisis leads to moral decay
Via: BBC
Photo: AFP

How do you tell your children it is important to get an education when jobs - if you are lucky enough to get one - have worthless salaries," asks one Zimbabwean mother. "They know that a quick deal on the black market can give them the same amount as a month's salary."

Tuition fees increase every term and students find it impossible to pay even for notebooks, much less books. You have to go on the black market in order to pay for all this. "It is so hypocritical," said one young student.

The official rate for $1 is 250 Zimbabwe dollars but on the black market $1 can net you more than 40,000 Zimbabwe dollars. That's fine if you can get your hands on foreign exchange, but what happens if you can't? "I earn 200,000 [Zimbabwe] dollars a month," said a security guard. "But cooking oil costs 90,000 and I still haven't paid for food, rent, clothes, school fees and transport to work. How am I supposed to live?"

Reflection of the Day: Victory For Humanity

"Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory For Humanity."
(Horace Man)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Reflection of the Day: Empathy

"The discoveries of how we can grow and the insights we need to have really come from the inside out. To have genuine empathy, not as a make-nice tool but as an understanding, is essential to the next step." (Patricia Sun)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rambling at 2:00AM or the beginning of something?

We must jettison this “me” mentality for a comprehensive worldview that values and promotes social/civic involvement, charitable work and community cohesiveness.

At the foundation of humanity's success is its ability to harness its collective strength through meaningful relationships based on mutual compassion and support, cooperation and love. To the degree that humanity can actualize/embody these attributes is the degree to which humanity becomes and/or is an international community.

The litmus test for the global community would be to measure how it treats the weakest segment of the community. In this spirit, the international community would be able to replace this "me-first" mentality and/or way of thinking, for an all inclusive “we”mentality.”

Sounds like I'm rambling....I'm going to bed!

Reflection for the Day

During my readings I often come across various quotes that inspire a moment of reflection. With that in mind, I thought I would share these quotes with the intention that they may be of some benefit to you as they were for me. Feel free to send me quotes via e-mail (msf2018@columbia.edu) that you feel inspire you!


“We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life.
We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose.
We cherish our freedoms but long for connection.
In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.”
(David G. Myers)

"I've seen happiness in the eyes of other HIV-positive people"

Via: Plusnews.org
Photo by: Zoe Eisenstein

Samira Perreira Fernandes, 22, found out three years ago she was HIV-positive. She believes she contracted HIV from her foreign husband, whom she met and married in Cape Verde. A few months after finding out, she went public about her status on television.

She told IRIN/PlusNews about her experience. "I was worried because of my husband's behaviour. He slept with lots of girls and was trafficking drugs. I knew about HIV and everything indicated that both of us were taking risks. I told my husband I was going to do a test, which I did with the help of a psychologist.

When I got the result, I showed it to him and I was so angry that I wanted to kill him. He fled Cape Verde. First off, I didn't tell anyone, but then people started to get suspicious. People are curious, and when they are in doubt they will do everything they can to find out. There was a lot of discrimination and I moved house lots of times, but the houses where I lived never let me use the kitchen or the bathroom.

Click here to read the rest of this article!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Vicious Circle: Poverty, HIV, Neglect, ending in the Sex Business

KENYA: Youth, sex and tourism on the coast

With so many tourists on the coast, and so few other jobs available, for some there is little option other than to join the sex trade. “There are no jobs and to get a job is very hard. We look for jobs but we can’t get any because there are so few,” said Alice

Many other young women, however, are forced into prostitution by members of their family, according to Stella Muchiti Mulama, assistant programme manager and researcher for the Straight Talk programme. “Children are often coerced into prostitution by elder people […] Parents actually push their children to do sex work. It happens quite a lot. Sometimes mothers, who are also involved in sex work, bring their daughters into it too. We have had stories of mothers forcing their children to have sex with clients in order to earn their school fees, she said.

Elizabeth Akinyi, the head of projects at the Coast Province branch of SOLWODI agrees with this view: “Parents play a big role. The children of sex workers are very much at risk. They are abused by the customers that come to see their mothers; sometimes the girls are also made to serve the men.” There are however many other factors that bring young women and girls into the sex industry: peer pressure, financial and social circumstances, and low aspirations, added Akinyi.

“Peer pressure is also a big factor as well as a lack of basic needs. There are children who are staying in families that are very poor. There are parents who can’t even afford to give their children sanitary towels. There is also the issue of ‘this is what I want’. There was one girl who was saying to me, ‘I wanted to buy these hipster jeans, but my mother refused, so I did this [prostitution] so I could get the jeans’,” she said.

Although earnings in the sex trade can vary widely, potential income is much greater than if working in any other profession. According to sex worker, Jane [not her real name], 22: “It [the income] depends on the competition, the season and where you are. It’s never specific. In the low season you end up offering yourself for 20 KES (Kenyan shillings) [US 30¢] if the tourists aren’t there. It can be 5,000 KES [US $70] if the tourists are there. House help is very badly paid. I used to go around and wash people’s clothes. But at the end of the day they give you 150 KES [$2], which is nothing. So you have to look for other ways to pay rent and buy clothes,” she said.

Winkler said, “Many children […] are orphans because of HIV. This often leads to them dropping out of school, and lack of education. I see it as a kind of ‘vicious circle’, starting with poverty, HIV, neglect, and ending in the sex business at the [Kenyan] coast.”

"I had no alternative but to sell my body"

KENYA: Illiteracy, Poverty aggravating HIV among northern women
Via: PlusNews.org
Photo: Justo Casal

"My father was killed, our livestock stolen ... I had no alternative but to sell my body," said Halima Wario, a young HIV-positive woman who takes care of her three sisters. "Two months after the attack, I moved and started [commercial sex] work."

Click here to read article!

ETHIOPIA: Rural HIV - time to wake up and smell the coffee

Via: PlusNews.org
Photo: Victoria Av

The outbreak of war between Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea between 1998 and 2000 swelled the army's ranks to about 350,000 soldiers, who spent months at a time in border areas where commercial sex work flourished. When the fighting ended, most of these men were demobilised and returned to their rural homes to continue farming.

In Ethiopia, where 85 percent of the country's 71 million people live in the still conservative countryside, Birhanu's openness in discussing AIDS is far from the norm. "HIV is not at all common here in these rural areas," he said. "I do encourage other farmers to go for testing - I think that's important - but I've never heard of anyone who has HIV or AIDS." The ministry of health estimates rural HIV prevalence at 1.9 percent, compared with the national average of 3.5 percent.

"The government enterprise is reporting many of their staff are dying of HIV/AIDS on these coffee farms; many are dying and many are vulnerable," Gashaw said, adding that HIV was also a growing threat among smallholders. "A smallholder coffee farmer in Yirgacheffe may deny that HIV/AIDS is a problem, but the transfer of the disease from urban to rural areas is growing, and many people are dying," he said.

Low awareness means stigma and discrimination are high, with half the rural women interviewed in a 2006 demographic health survey admitting they would not want to care for a relative with HIV in their own home. As a result, many HIV-positive people remain in denial rather than seeking treatment. "The government has voiced their concerns, yet little is being done to change the situation," Gashaw noted. "The lack of studies and preventative programmes in these coffee-growing regions is very concerning."

ETHIOPIA: Flower industry needs to nip HIV in the bud

Via: PlusNews.org
Photo: Victoria Averil/IRIN

DEBRE ZEIT, 17 May 2007 (PlusNews) - Ethiopia's flower industry is a booming business, but AIDS campaigners fear that inaction by farm owners and government, combined with a poorly educated workforce, could provide fertile ground for HIV. "I've been working here for six months and in that time I've never heard mention of HIV/AIDS," Sofanit Nigusu, 21, told IRIN/PlusNews as she carefully pruned rose cuttings in one of a huge number of commercial greenhouses at the heart of the country's flower industry. "I know it's a problem, but outside [the capital] Addis Ababa nothing is done about it."

Ethiopia's floriculture industry generates over US$20 million per year and is projected to more than double in size over the next few years. But there are growing concerns that little is being done to address the AIDS pandemic in an industry notorious for attracting a transient, uneducated workforce vulnerable to the virus.

"The problem we face is that the flower industry is an emerging industry, but growing very quickly," said Gashaw Mengistu, coordinator at the HIV/AIDS Resource Centre in Addis Ababa. "Now, the majority of workers come from nearby villages, but in the future there could be a crisis, as people are lured from around the country to work on the farms, living together in camp-like settings ... this is when conditions are ripe for the spread of the virus."

Click here to read the full article!

Friday, May 18, 2007

KENYA: Slum women struggle to put food on the table

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Patricia Atieno lives in Kibera, a large slum in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but spends most of her mornings looking for short-term employment as a house help elsewhere in the city. "I have been doing domestic work for a decade now; my family depends on it," she said. "In the past it was easier to find work but not any more. The employers now hire and dismiss us indiscriminately." Like Atieno, many of Nairobi's women slum dwellers are the breadwinners. "We have to work harder and move from one place to another to increase our chances of getting work," she added.

According to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (Habitat), Nairobi's slums are overcrowded, with four to six people living in one room. The dwellings are very close to each other; services are basic, while morbidity and mortality rates are high. City authorities say more than 1.6 million (out of Nairobi's estimated population of 3.5 million) live in the slums or "informal settlements". Most live below the poverty line - earning less than US$7 a week - according to experts. The women who seek domestic work earn a meagre 200-350 Kenya shillings (US$3-5) per task. Aged between 14 and 40 years, they sit at the periphery of upmarket residential estates for up to seven hours every day hoping to be hired. Despite the uncertainties of the work they do, however, the women insist they would rather engage in traditional household chores than in "the flesh thing" (prostitution).

Click here to read the full article!

KENYA: Slum women struggle to put food on the table (Continued)

Via: IRINnews.org
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

But they complain that harassment is a significant problem at work. "We usually do laundry, ironing and clean houses," one of the women, who requested anonymity, explained. "But sometimes we get crazy people who ask us to do extras.

"I worry whenever a man comes to hire me because I have been coerced into sexual encounters without which I would not be paid my dues on several occasions," she added. "Sexual harassment is becoming a very common part of this job. We are desperate for the money so we oblige at times."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Child Protection: Street Children {Ethiopia}

By: Angel Tabe

Our series this week focuses on the increasing number of Africa’s children who are making their homes in the streets of major cities across the continent. So why does the problem exist and why is it getting worse? What is being done to help homeless children?

Assefa Bequele is the executive director of the African Policy Forum, an advocacy center in Ethiopia. VOA English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe asked him why children end up living on the streets. “The breakdown of family structures, for example the rising level of divorce, poverty, school system not progressing, orphans as a result of the AIDS pandemic, communities have failed to provide a conducive ecology for families and the state, to provide for the basic needs of its people.”

The absence of the above factors which Bequele describes as all important for the survival of children has forced children to resort to irregular trade, dangerous sex, and becoming vulnerable, even to those who are supposed to protect them like law enforcement officers. Bequele says, “Indeed, the officers are not the best friends these children can have, viewed by some as a potential danger, so we need to think about a child-friendly environment.”

Despite a vibrant NGO community working for the welfare of children, Bequele says it’s practically a drop in the ocean when you consider the dimension of the problem. “You can hardly expect it to be addressed through the kind action and generosity of small NGOs however good their work may be. It requires community action and large scale government intervention.” Already, he adds, African governments recognize the need for child protection, but there is a huge gap between rhetoric and reality. “Given resources available, the burden is quite enormous. Quite frankly, children are not a priority. Yes we love our children, but much remains to be done putting children on the public agenda.”

Bequele shares his recommendation. “At the end of the day, the family is the best source of protection for children. We should carry out long term measures to strengthen the family e.g. job creation, combating high mortality rates, universal education. For the short term, pressure the most important actors so that urban development has children at the center of the policy paradigm. Local governments, municipalities, city administrations should ask themselves the question: What are we doing to ensure that children are catered to, to make the city a zone of peace?”

Click here to listen to the interview with Assefa Bequele

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Report on Child Deaths Finds Some Hope in Poorest Nations

Via: Celia W. Dugger
Photo: Joao Silva

The rate at which young children perish has worsened most disastrously over the past 15 years in Iraq, hard hit by both sanctions and war, and in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, devastated by AIDS, according to a report released yesterday by Save the Children. But researchers also found against-the-odds progress in some of the world’s poorest nations.

Bangladesh has profoundly improved the chances that a child would survive by promoting family planning, a strategy that has enabled women to have fewer children, space births and strengthen their own health and that of their babies.
Nepal, despite a decade-long Maoist insurgency, has halved the death rate of children under age 5. It has enlisted the help of 50,000 mothers, most of them illiterate, who have squeezed vitamin A drops into the mouths of every child, hauled laggards in for vaccinations and even diagnosed pneumonia and dispensed medicines to combat it.

And Malawi, with an extreme shortage of doctors and nurses, has made surprising gains by taking simple steps that require no professional skills, for example distributing nets that protect children from malarial mosquitoes.

“In 2007, when we know what to do and how little it costs, that 28,000 kids are still dying each day is just plain wrong,” said David Oot, a public health expert on the team that produced the Save the Children report, “State of the World’s Mothers: Saving the Lives of Children Under 5.”
Despite many hopeful stories, broad progress against infant and child mortality has flagged since international health agencies began a campaign to reduce deaths 25 years ago, the researchers concluded. By the end of the 1980’s, global rates of child mortality had fallen 20 percent, and the lives of 12 million children were saved.

“Much of the momentum behind the child survival revolution has now been lost, and gains achieved in the 1980s and early 1990s have slowed or reversed,” the report says. “Under-5 mortality declined by only 10 percent from the early 1990s to 2000.”
Among the 60 developing countries where 94 percent of the child deaths occurred, 20 have either made no progress or have regressed, while 24 have cut death rates of children under 5 by at least 20 percent.

Iraq experienced the most staggering rise in under-age-5 mortality — 150 percent over 15 years. Since the war began in 2003, deteriorating health services, rising inflation and electricity shortages have worsened living conditions, the report said. In 2005, about 122,000 Iraqi children died before their fifth birthdays.

In countries that progressed, a focus on family planning was central to progress, the report said. In the five countries that made the greatest strides in reducing child deaths — Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines — women’s use of contraceptives rose and fertility rates declined. In those countries, mothers were less likely to be physically depleted by having too many babies in too short a time. With fewer children, families were also able to invest more in the care of each child.

Political will was also an essential ingredient of success — and in Malawi, Tanzania, Nepal and Bangladesh was even more important than national wealth, the report found. Egypt, which has cut the death rate of children under age 5 by 68 percent since 1990, more than any other country, has shown a particular commitment to children’s health, said the researchers at Save the Children, a nonprofit group, and other experts.

“In words and deed, Egypt has put children more at the center of their social agenda than most other countries,” said Ruth Levine, author of “Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health (Center for Global Development, 2004).
Egypt has carried out a comprehensive effort to improve the health of mothers and children. It invested in clean water and public health campaigns to teach the importance of hand-washing in disease prevention. It built roads that sped access to hospitals. It renovated dilapidated clinics. It made sure most mothers had midwives or other skilled workers to attend births. It strove to perfect immunization campaign strategies.

“There is a way to do a blanket of public health interventions that is very effective,” said Dr. Ayman El-Mohandes, a pediatrician and chairman of the Department of Prevention and Community Health at George Washington University School of Public Health, who served as a consultant on a United States-financed maternal and child health program in Egypt.

Bill Clinton announces AIDS drug deals

Via: By KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press Writer
Photo: Reuters

NEW YORK - Former President Bill Clinton announced agreements with drug companies Tuesday to lower the price in the developing world of AIDS drugs resistant to initial treatments and to make a once-a-day AIDS pill available for less than $1 a day.

The drugs to battle so-called "second-line" anti-retrovirals are needed by patients who develop a resistance to first-line treatment and currently cost 10 times as much, Clinton said. Nearly half a million patients will require these drugs by 2010.
Clinton's foundation negotiated agreements with generic drug makers Cipla Ltd. and Matrix Laboratories Ltd. that he said would generate an average savings of 25 percent in low-income countries and 50 percent in middle-income countries.
Clinton also announced a reduced price for a once-daily first-line AIDS pill that combines the drugs tenofovir, lamivudine and efavirenz.

He said the new price of $339 per patient per year would be 45 percent lower than the current rate available to low-income countries and 67 percent less than the price available to many middle-income countries.
The Clinton Foundation's activities are being financed by UNITAID, an organization formed by France and 19 other nations that have earmarked a small portion of their airline tax revenues for HIV/AIDS programs in developing countries.UNITAID will provide the foundation with more than $100 million to buy second-line medicines for 27 countries through 2008.

"Every person living with HIV deserves access to the most effective medicines, and UNITAID aims to ensure that these are affordable for all developing countries," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, chairman of UNITAID's board, said in a statement.

Since starting its HIV/AIDS Initiative in 2002, the Clinton Foundation has worked with 25 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia to set up AIDS treatment and prevention programs.The foundation also provides access to lower-priced AIDS drugs in 65 countries. Some 650,000 people are now receiving AIDS drugs purchased through the Clinton Foundation. Clinton said Cipla and Matrix collaborated with the foundation to lower production costs in part by securing lower prices for raw materials.