Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Kiva Lending Team for Poverty News Blog

Hey Everyone. We have started a "team" on Kiva is the microcredit website where you can donate at little as $25 to go toward a loan to a small businessperson in the developing world. Kiva has helped to raise millions of dollars for microcredit and has helped the banks that help the poor people receive more finds.

Our blog is meant to shed light on a very dark problem. For those of you how have read the blog and are motivated to lend a helping hand, this is a great way to do it. You can even do it while still in your pajamas. Even for those who have already made loans on Kiva we would love to have you.

Visit the team page at

We are taking the rest of the week off, see you in 2010!

How Haiti changed a photographer

Going overseas on a missions trip can really change a person. A photographer for the Muncie Star Press experienced that change when she went to Haiti with World Renewal International. From her essay in the Star Press, Jeri Reichanadter relates some of what she saw.

Well, they were right. Haiti did change me. It showed me how truly blessed I am, how blessed we all are. Unemployment in Haiti is at 80 percent and they don't have stop-gap systems like welfare to meet people's needs. No homeless shelters, no food stamps, no government assistance. Imagine, no jobs, no welfare, no clean water, no food.

My mom couldn't understand why I wanted to go to Haiti when people in America need help right here. Honestly I didn't quite know myself until after I was there a few days. Now I know, the Bible commands us to love one another. It doesn't say just love Americans. It says "one another."

I saw poverty in Haiti like I've never imagined. I saw men, women and children pat their tummies with both hands as we drove past signaling that they were hungry. I saw babies with runny noses and red-hair, the tale tell sign of malnutrition. I saw people walk miles for clean water. They'd fill their 5-gallon buckets to the brim and carry them home balanced on their heads.

And my faith was made stronger while traveling up and down the mountains in the tiny tap tap. I watched one day as the driver turned the truck off and coasted downhill to preserve gas. His gauge hovered near E for more than an hour. If we'd run out of gas I have no idea what we would have done. God, you brought us here, I have faith you'll bring us safely home.

It wasn't all bad though.

I also saw much happiness in the children of the orphanage. They greeted us with a hand shake and a kiss on the cheek every time we saw them. Together we played games, hiked up a mountain and took many pictures, like we'd been a part of their family forever. During their regular Sunday evening worship time, they sang praise songs and did dances for Jesus, it was amazing to witness.

Inspiration from a yogurt

Paul Bennett is a business innovation consultant who goes to corporation boardrooms to give them creative ideas. For inspiration, Bennett recently visited Bangladesh and Professor Muhammad Yunus. Bennett not only wanted to talk to to Yunus about Grameen Bank, but also on their cooperation with Dannon Yogurt.

Yunus and Dannon create a vitamin packed yogurt at a low price that even the poor children of Bangladesh can afford. Dannon and Grameen run the company so that all profits go back into the company to maximize the benefit to the people of Bangladesh.

In his essay for the Financial Times, Bennett says there is a lot to be learned from this cooperation.

Prof Yunus talks about scale in the context of poverty: "To me, poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed of the tallest tree in a flowerpot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted, only the soil base that is too inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong in their seeds. Simply, society never gave them the base to grow on."

Grameen Bank gives tiny, collateral-free loans, mainly to women,along with huge amounts of trust that they will reliably pay the loans back. Small local branches are run by the "Grameen lad-ies", who take pride in making their own and their customers' loan repayments - treating everyone well and behaving, frankly, more professionally than many bank professionals.

Then there is the Grameen-Danone collaboration, which started after Frank Riboud, chief executive of the French company, met Prof Yunus in 2005. Again, scale is an overwhelming theme: a tiny, "cute" factory (as Prof Yunus describes it), a 10th the size of a regular Danone plant, which makes a batch-produced, nutritionally complete yoghurt product, using local milk, collected jug-by-jug in rural villages - as I saw for myself. It is sold door-to-door by Dan-one's yoghurt ladies and marketed cleverly by a man in a Danone-branded lion suit teaching children the value of a nutritious diet.

The phrases "business-to-business" and "business-to-consumer" are bandied about endlessly. This was better: this was person-to-person. It is a "big idea".

I can hear you thinking: "This is all well and good, but does it make money?"

My learning from the trip is that Grameen is not just a bank, but an engine of learning, meaning and purpose. It makes money but it also ignites employees' passions and teaches them new ways of working. In its collaboration with Danone, this philosophy is reaping more benefits for both than the purely financial.

The history of the Vancouver Foundation

An endowment in Vancouver has given over $725 million dollars to the area's poor since 1943. People contribute to the fund because they like the idea money helping others long after they are gone. For the endowment only uses the interest that is gained from the money donated.

The Vancouver Foundation endowment has a rich history and some of that was shared in an article from Canada'sGlobe and Mail. Writer Robert Matas tells us how the fund was originally set up.

Alice MacKay introduced an innovative approach to charity-giving in Vancouver almost seven decades ago that continues to attract more and more enthusiastic supporters with each passing generation.

Ms. MacKay left an estate of $1,000 when she died in 1943. Without any children, she had decided to leave her life savings to women living in poverty.

But she did not want the funds to be handed over directly to the indigent. She insisted that only interest earned from the funds should be used for charity.

Local industrialist W.J. Van Dusen was intrigued with the idea of financing community charity with an endowment fund.

He spoke to some of the wealthier families in Vancouver about contributing to a foundation dedicated to helping less-fortunate people in the city.

Mr. Van Dusen and nine others put in $10,000 each, providing the Vancouver Foundation with its first endowment fund of $101,000.

The concept of a legacy fund, giving across the generations, has resonated with British Columbians. The Vancouver Foundation has a collection of endowment funds worth $660-million as of December, 2008, which is the most recent, publicly available statistic. The foundation has distributed around $725-million since 1943 to groups and individuals in the community. The funds came entirely from interest on investments, while donations to the funds remained untouched.

Poor children at greater risk of disease later in life

Chronic diseases late in life are more likely for children who grow up poor according to a new scientific study. Researchers at the University of British Columbia say that what a child goes through can have health consequences 50 or 60 years later. Some of the diseases that the poor are at greater risk to include heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

From the Star Phoenix, writer John Bermingham talked to one of the study's co-authors.

The study of more than 100 Vancouver adults, split evenly between people whose parents had high and low socio-economic status, found that those with a poor childhood are biologically programmed into a more defensive "fight-or-flight" mode.

Co-author Michael Kobor, assistant professor of medical genetics at UBC, compared the gene profiles of healthy people, and could see clear differences between those who grew up in low and high-status conditions.

"It's clear that there is a different gene activity in people that grew up in low-status," said Kobor.

"It predisposes them to inflammation in their immune systems, which increases the chance of chronic disease down the road."

Kobor said that there might be plenty of things people can do to alter their genetic destiny.

"I don't think people are doomed," he said. "It really has to do with the environmental enrichment. Some people are resilient."

The pair are now doing further study on how loving parents can offset a lot of the negative consequences of a low-status childhood.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Big investments made in Ethiopian farms, small wages for it's workers

African farm land has become the last frontier for countries that have many mouths to feed. But, we're talking about countries that are not in Africa.

Companies from and the governments of China,India and others have been buying farm land in Africa for growing crops to bring back home. However, many observers are surprised that the companies doing this are still paying below poverty level wages to the Africans working the land. There are also many concerns of the food going elsewhere when there are so many hungry locally.

From Bloomberg, writer Jason McLure goes into detail on the companies making investments in Africa.

Companies and governments are buying or leasing African land after cereals prices almost tripled in the three years ended April 2008. Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Ethiopia alone have approved 1.4 million hectares of land allocations to foreign investors since 2004, according to the International Institute for Environment and Development in London.

Emergent Asset Management Ltd.’s African Agricultural Land Fund opened last year. On Nov. 23, Moscow-based Pharos Financial Advisors Ltd. and Dubai-based Miro Asset Management Ltd. announced the creation of a $350 million private equity fund to invest in agriculture in developing countries.

‘Last Frontier’

“African agricultural land is cheap relative to similar land elsewhere; it is probably the last frontier,” said Paul Christie, marketing director at Emergent Asset Management in London. The hedge fund manager has farm holdings in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

“I am amazed it has taken this long for people to realize the opportunities of investing in African agriculture,” Christie said.

Monsoon Capital of Bethesda, Maryland, and Boston-based Sandstone Capital are among the shareholders of Karuturi Global, Karuturi said. The company is also the world’s largest producer of roses, with flower farms in India, Kenya and Ethiopia.

One advantage to starting a plantation 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border with war-torn Southern Sudan and a four- day drive to the nearest port: The land is free. Under the agreement with Ethiopia’s government, Karuturi pays no rent for the land for the first six years. After that, it will pay 15 birr (U.S. $1.18) per hectare per year for the next 84 years.

Workers in Elliah say they weren’t consulted on the deal to lease land around the village, and that not much of the money is trickling down.

At a Karuturi site 20 kilometers from Elliah, more than a dozen tractors clear newly burned savannah for a corn crop to be planted in June. Omeud Obank, 50, guards the site 24 hours a day, six days a week. The job helps support his family of 10 on a salary of 600 birr per month, more than the 450 birr he earned monthly as a soldier in the Ethiopian army.

Obank said it isn’t enough to adequately feed and clothe his family.

“These Indians do not have any humanity,” he said, speaking of his employers. “Just because we are poor it doesn’t make us less human.”

One Meal

Obang Moe, a 13-year-old who earns 10 birr per day working part-time in a nursery with 105,000 palm seedlings, calls her work “a tough job.” While the cash income supplements her family’s income from their corn plot, she said that many days they still only have enough food for one meal.

The fact that the project is based on a wage level below the World Bank’s poverty limit is “quite remarkable,” said Lorenzo Cotula, a researcher with the London-based IIED.

A new Food Security Risk Index

A new Food Security Risk Index has been released by a British firm that provides risk assessment to businesses looking to invest in other countries. The index ranks all 148 nations to show what danger each country faces in future food shortages or price shocks. The firm Maplecroft says that the United States, France, Canada, Germany and the Czech Republic have the least amount of risk.

For our snippet, we turn to the countries on top of the list that are the most vulnerable to shortages. From this AFP article that we found at The Province we read more about the insecure nations.

The five countries topping the risk list -- Angola, Haiti, Mozambique, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo -- are all mired in poverty, but other factors also boost vulnerability.

Nearly three decades of civil war in Angola has displaced millions and wreaked havoc on agricultural infrastructure.

DR Congo and Burundi have also been ravaged by conflict, along with corruption and poor governance.

Mozambique is, in addition, buffeted by weather-related natural disasters, while politically unstable Haiti depends on foreign aid for nearly half of its food needs.

The three most populous countries in South Asia also face food precariousness: Pakistan, ranked 11th on the index, is at "extreme risk," while Bangladesh and India are both at "high risk," ranked 20th and 25th respectively.

"India may be one of the world's key emerging economies, but it is finding itself under increasing pressure from food security issues," the report concluded.

New interactive childhood poverty project

The Denver Post has a great new multimedia project that focuses on Childhood poverty in Colorado. The project is full of flash, photos and video that tells the stories of children who are poor in the state.

The site also contains an interactive map showing poverty levels on a county by county basis, as well as phone numbers of organizations that help the poor in Colorado. Colorado has 191,725 children that live below the poverty line.

Video: Mexico's Oportunidades

A highly regarded poverty fighting program is the conditional cash transfers from Mexico and the Inter-American Development Bank. Instead of just giving money to people because they are poor, Mexico puts some conditions on the money. The poor families can only collect if they keep their children and school and take them to the doctor for checkups.

From PBS Newshour, Ray Suarez gives this long story that explains the program.

Fair trade in UK sees large growth in past decade

Spending on ethical products ranging from fair trade to eco-friendly products has tripled in the past decade. A survey on ethical spending was conducted by the Co-Operative Bank of the UK.

From this Press Association article, we read more stats from the survey.

The annual Ethical Consumerism report showed the total market for sustainable goods and services was worth £36 billion in 2008, up from £13.5 billion in 1999.

The rate of increase in household spending on ethical products outstripped the growth in overall consumer spending, which increased by 58% over the decade.

But the market for goods which were environmentally-friendly, sustainable or supported poor people remained a small percentage of the £891 billion spent by households last year.

Some sectors saw phenomenal growth, including Fairtrade goods which pay a premium to farmers and producers in poor countries in a bid to help them work their way out of poverty, according to the survey.

The Fairtrade market, which now covers products from developing countries ranging from coffee to cotton, was worth just £22 million in 1999.

Last year sales of Fairtrade products had grown to £635 million and the Co-operative is predicting it could break the £1 billion barrier in 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New poverty report for Israel finds increase in assistance requests

The Israeli charity Latet has released it's annual Alternative Poverty Report for 2009. The report surveys over 100 food charities in Israel and questions families about their living conditions.

This year's report finds that there has been a 15 percent increase in families seeking assistance for food. 6 percent of poor Israeli children have stolen food in the past year, and a quarter of those children have been put into the work force to help the family.

From the Jerusalem Post, writer Ruth Eglash attended a press conference that unveiled the report.

"For many people the economic crisis is just starting," commented Latet Director Eran Weintraub on Tuesday following a press conference about the report, which for the past seven years has acted as a more personal approach to poverty than the statistical perspective provided by National Insurance Institute's annual poverty report released last month.

"We are expecting that many more people in 2010 will join the already tens of thousands of individuals trapped in the cycle of poverty," said Weintraub, adding that non-profits such as Latet are growing increasing concerned that they will not be able to cope with the rise.

Among the findings of the report, the organization noted a growth of 10% in the number of people that lost their jobs over the past year due to the economic crisis, with 25% saying they were not optimistic about finding work in the near future.

While the situation grew more difficult for adults, the report highlighted the worsening conditions for the country's children. Aside from the 6% of children admitting to stealing food, 20% of needy families reported that their children had become involved in violent activities due to the tough financial situation. In addition, 34% said they were fearful their children would eventually become involved in crime or start taking drugs because of the economic hardships their families faced.

Further, an overwhelming 62% of families said they could not provide their children with suitable food staples, while 45% claimed their young were not receiving even one hot meal a day, including at school or in after-school programs.

The report also found that the situation for 44% of those currently receiving food aid had significantly worsened over the past year, with 63% reporting they were unable to purchase medical treatment or supplies due to the their financial situation.

Moved by the tsunami, charity to Sri Lanka continues

After seeing news reports of the devastating tsunami that hit Sri Lanka five years ago, Cavan Sullivan was determined to help in some way. Sullivan made the New Year's resolution to build a house for a family there. Five years later, the house has been built but Sullivan's charity to the people of Sri Lanka has not stopped.

From the Wales Online, writer Cathy Owen tells us more about Sullivan's adventures.

The house, which cost £1,900 to build and furnish, is in a tiny remote village, five kilometres inland on the banks of a river, close to a town called Hikkaduwa in the south west of Sri Lanka. The village was devastated as the killer wave rushed up the river devastating areas in its path. The house is now home to the Lounaris family – Samina, who at the time was aged four, and her grandfather and grandmother.

It was all paid for by Cavan, friends and customers of his double-glazing firm, Welsh Windows. He also provided curtains for the house, a bike for Samina’s grandfather, and set up a fund so Samina can be educated to university age.

“She may not want to go to university, but a least she has the opportunity,” said Cavan, who also pays for the family to buy Samina milk.

“They had very little when the tsunami struck and they lost everything.”

He was going to end it there but during their trip, Cavan visited a school and saw that the majority of children didn’t have any shoes.

That was it, he couldn’t stop with just a house. He had to do more and set about raising money to buy shoes for the children. He contacted some of those friends who helped him raise money and many children received shoes for the first time in their lives.

Much of the initial fundraising was done by Cavan, Debra, their daughter Aimee and her friend Nichola Adams. It snowballed from there and the charity has a board of trustees, including fellow Barry businessman Andy Rogers. Last month, Cavan and Andy travelled to Sri Lanka to see how the charity’s money is making a difference.

They held a Christmas party for 300 of the poorest children and organised a five-a-side football tournament. The trip also included a visit to a school that was built 98 years ago but never had electricity. The HAT Foundation paid £720 to change all that and now the children have fans, lights and sockets.

China says they have 40 million farmers in poverty

China may have reduced poverty in half in recent years, but with it's large population there is still work to be done. We we're reminded of that today when China announced that they still have 40 million farmers living below the poverty line. China has the third largest economy in the world.

From this UPI story, we read more of China's statement on the issue.

Fan Xiaojian, head of China's national poverty and development office, told the Web portal the global financial crisis has hit the poor hard in China.

"China has invested 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) to reduce poverty this year, an increase of 3 billion yuan ($439 million) from last year, and the largest investment in poverty-relief in the last ten years," he said, China Daily reported.

Fan, however, said the income of the most poverty-stricken counties in the country rose 9.6 percent in the first three quarters of this year.

Poverty shortens life expectancy more than smoking

From the Chicago Tribune comes this quick note about poverty's effects on health. The study finds that being poor can decrease life expectancy more than smoking, binge drinking or being overweight.

Writer Jeannine Stein of the Chicago Tribune gives us the medical study results.

In a new study, researchers looked at health and life expectancy data from the National Health Interview Surveys and the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys and came up with various behavioral and social risk factors that affect quality of life, then used a formula to estimate the quality-adjusted years of life that would be lost.

The average person whose income level is below 200% of the federal poverty line (the bottom third of the country's population) would lose an estimated 8.2 years of perfect health, smokers 6.6 years, high school dropouts 5.1 years and the obese 4.2 years. Binge drinking and being uninsured were at the bottom.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Africa's one billionth child

Sometime in the year 2010, the one billionth African will be born. We won't know where or when due to spotty census figures but the continent will make the mark, and the population will continue to increase.

A story in the Guardian today looks atwhat is come for that one billionth child. The story looks at the rapid population growth for the continent and the challenges it entails. Writer David Smith gives us the analysis.

By 2050, the population is projected to almost double, to 1.9 billion. Pessimists predict a human tide that will put an unbearable burden on food, jobs, schools, housing and healthcare. Yet optimists sense an opportunity to follow billion-strong China and India in pursuing economic growth.

"It's not a problem," said Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British entrepreneur. "Africa is underpopulated. We have 20% of the world's landmass and 13% of its population. We have a bulge of young people and that brings to the marketplace a huge workforce, whereas Europe's population is ageing. We need to focus on education and training."

Africans born today are likely to live not in a village but in a "mega-city" since the continent's rate of urbanisation is the fastest the world has yet seen. Deaths from smoking or car crashes will be a factor as much as the more familiar health issues of malnutrition, malaria and Aids. These citizens will also be vulnerable to droughts, floods and desertification caused by climate change.

But the children of 2009 will also have opportunities undreamed of by their ancestors. They will almost certainly own a mobile phone, or perhaps two, and eventually get regular internet access. They may be better off – Africa has the fastest economic growth this year outside China and India. They will have tentative grounds to hope for better governance and fewer wars.

If, that is, they can stay alive beyond infancy. Richmond Tiemoko, population and development adviser for the Africa regional office of the UN population fund (UNFPA), said: "The first challenge for the baby … is to survive because, although it's declining, child mortality is still high. For the young people coming, the challenge is to get a good education so they are fully incorporated in modern society. That depends on government investment in them and their mother, and also in health services to ensure they survive and are healthy."

Africa's population has doubled in the past 27 years, with Nigeria's and Uganda's numbers climbing the fastest. Whereas in 1950 there were two Europeans for every African, by 2050 there will be two Africans for every European. Even China's projected population of 1.4 billion in 40 years will be shrinking, while India will be adding only 3 million a year to its 1.6 billion people. Women in Africa still bear more children than in other regions. The US-based Population Reference Bureau reported this year that, while the average woman worldwide has 2.6 children, in sub-Saharan Africa the figure is 5.3. The world's highest fertility rate is in Niger, where women have on average 7.4 children.

Africa's population continues to rise because of low life expectancy, Tiemoko explained. "Traditionally in all societies, when mortality is high, fertility tends to be high. When people are dying the population tries to offset that by having more children to make sure the survival rate is acceptable. Mortality has largely declined on the continent but is still high."

Whereas globally 62% of married women of childbearing age use contraception, in Africa the figure is 28%.

More beekeeping in Uganda

A pair of UK beekeepers were profiled for teaching beekeeping skills to children in Uganda. Dave Bonner and Cath Tompsett traveled to Uganda with the charity Global Care. The charity raised the money for beekeeping equipment and the couple is teaching the people how to do it to earn extra income.

From the article in the Coventry Telegraph, we read more about how this type of skill can help the poor in Uganda.

Ten new hives have been provided which will mean extra income for poor families, better nutrients for malnourished children, and eventually, a vocational training opportunity for young people supported by Global Care.

Dave, 57, a bee inspector for Leicestershire and Rutland, said: “The idea is to give the children another skill and another source of income.

If people can get a hive with the correct baiting, which introduces a smell within it to attract the bees, then it is easy to keep them.

“Bees are plentiful in Uganda. The land is lush and green and there is lots of forage.

“A hive built locally only costs about £20 but when the average worker there is only being paid about 30p a day, which is £90 a year, then they simply can’t afford to do it.

“What we are doing is raising money for the hives and giving people awareness of bee keeping and teaching the skills so they can be used as a local resource.

“Once it is up and running a hive can give them an additional £120-£150 a year through selling honey and wax.”

Ireland pledges another 2 million Euros to Malawi

Ireland has pledged another two million Euros of aid to Malawi. The money will concentrate on farming inputs and infant health.

Ireland government's international aid agency Irish Aid has pledged the money. Malawi is one of nine countries that receives long term help from Ireland.

From this Press Association article that we found at the Irish Independent, we read more about what the money will be spent on.

Farmers in Malawi will benefit from the donation that will provide subsidised seeds, fertilisers and pesticides to increase maize production for vulnerable families.

The cash will also improve infant and maternal nutrition by supporting research to provide high-quality, disease-free seeds for mothers and young children.

Peter Power, Minister of State for Overseas Development, said the fight against hunger was a cornerstone of Ireland's overseas aid programme.

"Since the national agricultural programme was introduced in 2006 in response to the food crisis in Malawi, the number of people needing food aid has fallen from more than five million to fewer than 150,000," said Mr Power.

"The improvements have transformed Malawi from a net importer to a net exporter of maize and contributed to rapid economic growth.

"Notwithstanding these very impressive achievements, more than 50% of the population still live below the poverty line.

A one year old living in unsafe Gaza

A very touching story comes from the BBC about a one year old that lives in the very unsafe area of the Gaza strip. Mariam al-Sharif was separated from her mother for a time, but even while reunited the mother is unable to provide a healthy upbringing for her daughter due to powers beyond her control.

From the BBC, reporter Katya Adler accompanied Mariam and mother Saadiyia to a United Nations clinic.

Mariam is examined regularly here but the medicine she needs is often not available. Mariam's mother blames Israel's blockade, still in place on Gaza.

Most medicines are allowed into the territory, but their transfer can be slowed by Israeli and Palestinian bureaucracy, and the entry of medical equipment and other supplies is limited.

The World Health Organization says that at the end of November 2009, 125 of 480 essential drugs were at "zero level", meaning there was less than one month's stock left.

Israel says the military operation was - and the continuing blockade is - targeted at Hamas, not Gaza's civilians.

The Islamic movement has controlled Gaza since June 2007, and has launched thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel in recent years.

After weighing and measuring Mariam, Dr Salim Ramadan told us of the frustrations of being a doctor in Gaza.

He said Mariam's case was typical.

He often prescribes medicines to patients that either turn out not to be available in Gaza or that have been smuggled through tunnels under the border with Egypt, but at such a cost that few Gazans can pay.

Egypt also keeps its border with Gaza almost entirely closed.

"What to do?" he asked. "We have 65% of people living here under the poverty line and the situation is just getting worse."

The front lines of human trafficking

The border between Myanmar and China is considered a front line of human trafficking. A steady stream of people cross the border in either direction. Sometimes its hard to distinguish between those who were coerced into crossing, those crossing against their will, and those who made their own choice to cross.

From this Article in the Penninsula On-Line, we read more about human trafficking in the Chinese boarder town of Ruili.

On any given afternoon, a steady stream of people scale the six-foot-high fence, unperturbed by the Chinese border guards posted just a hundred yards away. Amid the men from Myanmar looking for day labour, or women coming to sell their vegetables in the wealthier Chinese markets, is traffic far less benign: Myanmar women being brought over for marriages with Chinese men — some forced, some voluntarily arranged through “matchmakers.”

Babies being brought into China to be sold. And Chinese women from poorer inland areas being moved in the opposite direction, often ending up in Southeast Asia’s sex industry. In the shadowy world of human trafficking, say government officials and advisers with foreign aid agencies, China has become a source country, a destination country and a transit country all at once.

“Some of the Yunnan women and girls think they’ll get a better job in Thailand,” said Kathleen Speake, chief technical adviser for the United Nations’ International Labor Office in Beijing. People from Myanmar “are coming into China. We’re looking at being trafficked for adoption, and women being trafficked for marriage.”

No firm numbers are available on the extent of trafficking. Kirsten di Martino, a project officer in Beijing for UNICEF, said that from 2000 to 2007, China’s public security bureau investigated 44,000 cases of trafficking, rescuing about 130,000 women and children.

But, she added, “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” China, she said, “is very big, and has a lot of border — and has a whole lot of problems.” Here in Ruili, two criminal gangs were cracked and 14 women rescued in the first half of the year, said Meng Yilian, who works for the newly formed group China-Myanmar Cooperation Against Human Trafficking. Myanmar is also known as Burma.

“In the villages bordering Myanmar, there are some people working as matchmakers,” she said. “And some of them are human traffickers. It’s hard to tell who are the matchmakers and who are the traffickers.” Matchmaking, which falls into a legally murky terrain, is rooted in Chinese tradition, which allows a man to make a gift to a woman’s family in exchange for marriage.

Malawian political enemy returns home

The Toronto Star has a great story today about a Malawi expat who returned home. Ali Sikelo was forced to leave Malawi becuase he opposed the country's dictator. He earned an education in Moscow, and went on to a comfortable life in Toronto. But Sikelo was haunted by leaving behind a family that was scattered and tortured by the dictator.

From the Toronto Star, comes Sikelo's story.

While the video provides the background, we turn to the printed story to see how Sikelo is doing now. As you can tell from our snippet, it is not a perfect ending.

Sikelo was elected in 1999 as a member of parliament, representing Mangochi North East.

The evidence of his political work is not far from his front door: the paving of the winding stretch of road from his village to the Mozambique border was his initiative.

So were dozens of drilled wells. The Chindamba Primary School in Malindi went from two grades to eight.

But his proudest accomplishment has been a system of home-based care and local education for children who have lost their parents to AIDS. It means they no longer have to leave their neighbours, their friends, their relatives and their villages the way Sikelo did, albeit for different reasons.

The orphans of Chindamba, Sikelo's small village, take up most of his time. The 150 children live with extended family or foster families. The orphans and other schoolchildren get taught in a clearing in the village, which has a classroom under the trees. The thatch roof keeps blowing off in the strong winds off Lake Malawi.

During the Star's visit in mid-November, the 3- to 5-year-old children sought refuge from the 32C heat, gathering in the shade of the towering acacia trees. Each one stood to recite, in English, the ABCs, numbers, months of the year, or sing two verses of "Rain, rain, go away."

"I take care of the orphans because I live in this village," Sikelo says. "I was born here and I thought it was my responsibility to assist the children. It was not easy for me to sit here and watch the kids not be able to get something to eat or prepare themselves for the future. Like me, I was helped by the international community to get to where I have and I wanted the same for the children."

Sikelo's life is not perfect.

He lost elections both in 2004 – his opponent blamed him for food fraud, which Sikelo denies – and in 2009. He suffers from malaria. It and the drugs he takes to treat it have left him gaunt and tired. In 12 years, he has lost 15 pounds from his now slender frame.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

31.2 million US children in reduced price lunch program

More children than ever before use the free or reduced price lunches available at US schools. The National School Lunch Program says that 31.2 million of the nation's school children cannot afford the average $2.95 a day for school lunches. School children whose parents cannot afford the money for school lunches can apply for reduced prices through the federal government.

From the Charlotte Observer, writer Barbara Barrett talks to nutrition experts about the staggering number of children enrolled in the program.

"It's almost inconceivable to think, when we're walking around with our $4 lattes, that there are families who can't afford $2 a day for a week," said Cathy Schuchart, vice president of child nutrition and policy with the School Nutrition Association, an advocacy group based in Washington.

A USDA study this year found wide disparities among states in signing up children who receive food stamps for the school lunch program. And although most families routinely receive applications before school starts, many don't know that they can sign up later if a parent loses a job or faces other hardships.

"I suspect there is more need than is indicated," said Maureen Furr, principal at Charlotte's South Mecklenburg High School, where one in three children receive a free or reduced-price lunch. "There's no question in my mind that people are in more difficult circumstances."

To qualify, a family of four must earn $28,665 or less for a free lunch; $40,793 or less to get lunch at a sharply reduced rate.

"Kids shouldn't have to worry about that part of their lives," said Kim Short, principal of Ballentine Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina, where one in three students are on the program. "It's certainly a school issue. But it's a community issue, too."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hit an all-time high for program enrollment this year, with nearly 52 percent of students impoverished enough to receive a free or reduced-price lunch.

"It has greater significance if you understand what it takes to qualify," Furr said. "I think there's the sense that poverty is more distant from us than it is."

The holiday spirit of volunteerism part 2

A Scranton, Pennsylvania high school student was profiled on his volunteer work for a Christmas time story. Adam Schroth traveled to Belize to help families build stoves and wells. Schroth attends Scranton Prep school where they require seniors to do service for graduation.

From The Scranton Times Tribune, writer Joby Fawcett asks Schroth about his time in Belize.

Before he even headed to Belize, Schroth had an idea that what he would encounter would hardly resemble life at home.

Once there, he saw the poverty, but the outgoing personalties of the people who endured the more than 100-degree temperatures, the gravel roadways and the tiny living quarters overwhelmed him.

The students had to be mindful of scorpions, snakes and many other animals. They walked more than three miles to and from work.

After the sun went down, Schroth and his classmates - Paul Byrne and Jimmy FitzPatrick, who are also players for the Cavaliers - slept in hammocks with bed nets draped around them for protection from mosquitos and the malaria they could carry.

Yet he endured and enjoyed every minute he got to spend with his family and the eager and energetic children.

"Basically, we lived with a family in small huts and helped them build water reserves and stoves," Schroth said. "I didn't know what to expect. I knew it was going to be intense. I was somewhat nervous, but also very eager.

"I couldn't believe the way they were living in those huts. They were 10-feet long and 4- or 5-feet wide. The village was so isolated, but the people were so gracious and so nice."

Liquid Gold

Scientists in Zambia are developing a toilet that would use human waste as fertilizer for farmers. The toilet would separate urine and the solids to make two different types of manure. The scientists already use one such toilet for their own experimental garden.

From the IPS, writer Lewis Mwanangombe explains how the toilet works.

Kellner and his team at WASAZA are busy pushing on with developing and popularising a latrine that will separate human waste into two components - urine and solid matter, so they can be processed into two different forms of manure.

Kellner is piloting a system called a "fertiliser-producing toilet" which focuses on re-use of solid waste. Such a toilet, once integrated into gardening, will never fill up.

When a user sits on one of the new toilets, the urine will go one way to a storage tank fitted with a compressor and a valve, from where it can be collected for direct use as liquid fertiliser after dilution.

The solid waste will fall into a shallow pit where it will be covered with soil and compacted; it will dry it out and neutralise it before it is ready for use as fertiliser. Any smell is vented out through a pipe.

"The original idea is to enrich the vegetative growth in our immediate vicinity. But it can be sold at prevailing prices. These days dried sludge from sewerage works has a price of ZMK7,500 (around $1.60) per ton," notes Kellner.

The holiday spirit of volunteerism

For a Christmas-time story, The Toronto Star profiled Elaine Rennie and her 30 years of volunteer work. Rennie spends her Christmas volunteering at the Scott Mission kitchen serving food to the homeless for their annual holiday meal.

Toronto Star writer Debra Black talked to Rennie about her work.

"I get a lot out of it," she said. "For years I've volunteered in God's work." That work has included volunteering at her church and the Canadian Bible Society as well.

But she goes to the Scott Mission every Christmas, just to be part of something bigger.

"I get more back in personal satisfaction and spiritual being than I actually give," said the senior, who lives in Richmond Hill.

The first year Rennie volunteered with the Scott Mission at Christmas, she baked a dozen cookies for the homeless. She and her husband gave them out.

"I just decided it was something I wanted to do," she said.

Her husband died a year and a half ago, she said, but she still feels the pull at Christmastime to volunteer at the mission.

Approximately 350 homeless men and women were treated Friday to a dinner of tomato soup, salad, smoked turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, roasted potatoes, mixed vegetables and a fruit flan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Comment on social enterprise in the Philippines

Social Enterprise is a growing movement worldwide that is almost unknown in the United States. It proposes a new, fourth way to solve the world's ills. Instead of a government program, a non-profit charity or a for profit business, social enterprise tries to fix social problems while operating a sustainable business.

From this commentary that we found at the Philippines' Business World, Antonio G. M. La Viña and Tieza Mica Santos state the case for social enterprise and a success story in the Philippines.

Social entrepreneurship is a model of a value-driven and innovative human activity that involves the marriage of social innovations and business and entrepreneurial skills. Social entrepreneurs address pressing social problems in sustainable and socially relevant ways and measure their success in terms of social impact rather than monetary gains. Over the years, social entrepreneurship has not received as much attention as business entrepreneurship and is not as well understood. However, more than business activities, social entrepreneurship has shown a dramatic impact on the quality of people’s lives.

Today, social entrepreneurs are emerging in many parts of the world, both in developed and developing nations. In the United Kingdom, for instance, social enterprises are emerging at a faster rate than conventional, commercial ventures. In Europe alone, more than 3.5 million jobs are provided by social enterprises, according to the 2004 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report.

Social enterprises build local capacity, thereby transforming the cultural context. By providing tools and resources to enhance productivity, social enterprises transform the economic circumstances of its members. The empowering approach gives voice to the marginalized and increases their political influence.

Many social entrepreneurs are able to think out of the box and develop strategies to address issues that others fail to see. They have a better grasp and understanding of the social context in their focus communities; that is why they are able to work with greater flexibility and resourcefulness, uninhibited by the biases, bureaucracies, and cultures that influence traditional institutions and organizations. Social entrepreneurs are challenged by difficulties, see opportunities in problems, and are able to craft policies and systems that fit the need of the social context. They are able to fashion solutions for the greater benefit of the community rather than their own. They prioritize people and the common good; they consider what is realistic, sustainable, and, most importantly, what is ethical and just.

Social Entrepreneurship in the Philippines

In the Philippines, social entrepreneurship is gaining prominent visibility in both profit and non-profit sectors. Many have shown interest in the initiative; there is now an increasing number of social enterprises emerging in the business and social development sector. There are social enterprises that are gaining profit, while at the same time serving the benefit of some communities; there are others that are purely non-profit in nature. Social enterprises in the Philippines are managed by individuals or groups of young people as well as those with an established record. All of them have seen opportunities in problems and have realized that the old systems do not offer something new to improve the human condition in the country.

Among the most prominent and successful social enterprises in the country is Gawad Kalinga (GK), which has not only transformed the communities it serves through community programs and house-building projects, but has also facilitated the creation of a Filipino society that rekindles the deteriorating values of service and love for the country and fellow Filipinos.

In fact, we have sort of fallen in love with the concept of social business. It started with reading Muhammad Yunus' book "Creating a World Without Poverty." earlier this year.

We would like to invite any of you who run or work for a social business or enterprise to guess blog here on the Poverty News Blog. If interested please leave a comment below with a way to contact you.

This is our last post before the Christmas holiday. We wish all of our readers a happy and safe one, please use the time to strengthen the bonds with your family and friends. We will post again on Boxing day!

Microcredit borrowers need more than cash

When a microcredit loan is made, sometimes more than money is needed by the borrower to make the loan successful. Some entrepreneurial training, some discipline and a fair re-payment schedule are also needed for the borrower.

From this IRIN story, we read about a couple of microcredit successes and failures that took place in Kenya.

Two years ago, fed up with a husband who drank too much and provided too little, Julie Amunga, who lives in the sprawling Mathare slum in the capital, Nairobi, decided to start a business that would enable her to support her family.

“My friends and I all had husbands who drank too much and beat us at home and yet they were not providing anything for the home,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “We would sleep with other men secretly to provide for our children but we realized we were not helping our children because prostituting would only make us acquire HIV and die early.”

Amunga and five friends decided to pool their savings and use them to start small businesses; they also got a microfinance loan from the Jamii Bora Trust, which works to empower youth and women in Nairobi’s slums.

While she and another woman have managed to sustain successful small businesses – she grows and sells vegetables and fresh fruit juice in the local market – the other three found it much harder to make the loans work for them.

“Their husbands cheated them and took all the money yet we were supposed to pay back the loan,” she said. “Others took the money without knowing which business they want to start, so … they ended up spending the money.”

According to Joseph Kwaka, executive director of Community Aid International (CAI), an NGO that runs a micro-credit programme in Nyanza and Nairobi provinces, making micro-credit available to women - and especially widows - helps cushion them from poverty, but without proper preparation and training, can just as easily backfire.

“Our experience with offering credit facilities to women is that many take the money and end up using it to buy family needs like food, clothes, without even starting a business for which you gave them the money,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. “Others will tell you the husband took all the money and used it for drinking or maintaining another woman, forgetting that this money should be repaid and the only way you can repay it is by starting a business enterprise.

“The family sinks deeper into poverty because the family property against which the credit was advanced is carted away by the lending organization,” he added. “Micro-credit then ends up as bitter pill for many women to swallow.”

Training key

Consefta Kimundu, who is raising eight children alone after her husband passed away five years ago from HIV-related complications, joined a group of widows to form a farming cooperative four years ago. The group, based in the Rift Valley's Transmara District, combined their contributions and approached a local bank for a small loan to lease land and buy seeds and fertilizer.

They had the benefit, however, of training from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), teaching them to measure the moisture content of the maize and how to clean the maize according to WFP standards.

“We meet weekly to encourage each other to repay the loan because we will need it again,” said Christine Nyongi, the group’s chairwoman. “We are now better farmers because we were trained by WFP in farming skills and how to keep our grains clean.”

Earlier this year, WFP’s Purchase for Progress initiative gave the group a contract to supply 250MT of maize.

“Now my children can go to school - I can buy their uniforms, buy them shoes and clothes and they are happy like other children,” Kimundu said. “I can buy food for my family and I can buy something for myself too.”

According to Kimathi Mutua, managing director of K-Rep Bank, which, with USAID, runs a programme to provide microfinance to people living with HIV, it needs to be about more than just providing money.

“A programme like ours helps to reduce stigma that women face because it gives them hope and protects them against the negative economic impact HIV might have on their lives, but it is not enough to give them money,” he said. “Train them in business skills, how to market their businesses and even customer care so that they have a holistic business knowledge.”

While several studies have shown that microfinance empowers women financially and improves their self-confidence and even reduces HIV risky behaviour, a 2002 Ugandan study found several drawbacks to many microfinance programmes, including too-small loans that enabled women to purchase household needs but kept them in the same economic bracket, oppressive repayment periods and lack of proper training in business and other skills. The authors suggested providing women with sufficient training and loans large enough to buy meaningful assets that would significantly improve their financial position.

Here is a real film about poverty

A pair of brothers from the St. Louis area not only filmed a movie about African poverty, they lived just like their subject matter.

Tim and David Peterka lived on a $1.25 a day while filming a movie about extreme poverty in Africa. They ate little, drank little, and even got sick with malaria. To top it all off, the pair was involved in a plane crash when they arrived in Africa.

From St. Louis' Suburban Journals, writer Mary Shapiro relays to us what the Peterka brothers experienced.

"There are tons of documentaries that show poverty, but the guys filming them eat in restaurants and sleep in hotels. To be more credible, we wanted to get a hint of what it was really like to have the insecurity of poverty," said Tim, 30.

The project, conceived by Dan Parris of south St. Louis, was meant to highlight extreme poverty globally and show how it could be addressed. The idea was for Parris, the Peterka brothers and Ron Lehr of Ballwin to live for two months on $1.25 per day in Africa, which they saw as one of the most impoverished places in the world.


Going to Kenya, the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the Sudan, the brothers learned how small sums of money can make a big difference in eliminating poverty's root causes.

"We had so much stress, constantly traveling and not eating or drinking well," Tim said.

David recalled one meal of mashed greens in Sudan.

"It looked like a green, gooey, stringey, boogery mess, but tasted good," he said.

They had experiences beyond the ken of sheltered Americans.

"We ate goat and other meat we slaughtered ourselves," Tim said.

He also contracted malaria and lost more than 20 pounds from his already lanky frame.

"I'm still trying to gain it back. We ate everything we were told not to. We expected to get sick," said Tim, an aerial photographer.

Two different opinions on illegal immigration

Illegal immigration is not often thought of as a human rights issue. Many think that the those in the country illegally are committing a crime and should not be in the states.

However, many immigrants are not free once they arrive here. Those who use smugglers to help them across are then used by the smugglers to do as they please. Those immigrants find themselves working for the smugglers in slave like conditions. It is for that reason that immigration can be a human rights issue.

As a part of the human trafficking series Mike McGraw of McClatchy Newspapers received two very different opinions of immigration.

The Rev. Ademar Barilli, the gun-toting, straight-talking Brazilian priest who runs a way station for migrants here, has a message for America.

Nothing, he says, will stop the flow of poor workers to higher-paying jobs in America. Not a wall, not the Border Patrol, not electronic sensors, not even the recession.

"Control of the border is a political facade," Barilli says, a facade that criminalizes migration and feeds a vast criminal network of smugglers and human traffickers.

Pushed by poverty and pulled by employers who profit from easily abused illegal workers, all migrants are trafficking victims, Barilli maintains.

While Barilli's definition of human trafficking is vastly broader than the one accepted by U.S. officials, his finer point is more subtle. Whenever illegal immigrants take out huge loans to pay smugglers and traffickers for the increasingly difficult illegal passage to the U.S., they are ripe for abuse from the moment they leave home.

And that's not likely to change, says Barilli, because "legalizing migration does not serve capitalism."

Light years separate Barilli's political philosophy from that of Aaron McKnight, a U.S. citizen and evangelical missionary working in Guatemala. But their immigration philosophies are not that far apart.

"Politically, I line up with the anti-immigration movement in the U.S.," McKnight said. "But after living here, my view has changed. I don't blame them for trying.

"After you see the poverty, see the kids that are so thin, the kids that have sores all over because they don't eat ... if I were in their parents' shoes, I would do the same thing."

Witch trials in Nepal

Yes, witch trials still happen in the world. In Nepal, women are accused of being witches when bad things happen in the area. The women are confined, beaten, and forced to eat excrement until they give in just so the torture can stop.

From IPS reporter Mallika Aryal gives us one example an looks into reasons why this still occurs.

In Sunsari, 650 km south-east of Kathmandu, Jabrun Khatun, 26 was dragged out of her house and beaten in the middle of the village. "They said I was a witch, that because of me a lot of children were falling sick and beat me for hours. Then they stepped on my chest and forced me to eat human excreta," said Khatun.

They imprisoned her for days until local children let her out. She was all alone in the family as her husband had recently left to work in neighbouring India. "I have come all the way to Kathmandu looking for justice," said Khatun.

In Kalilali, far west Nepal, Jugu Kumari Chaudhari was accused of practicing witch-craft when a close family member died. Chaudhari was beaten up and her husband had to come rescue her. "We went to the police station to file a complaint but they said it was a personal matter and we should resolve in the community," said Chaudhari.

Gender activists have been fighting for years to end this extreme form of violence against women, but the problem is still common in the Tarai, the southern plains of Nepal, and in areas where there's high illiteracy and poverty.

"An educated woman from higher-income family and higher caste never gets accused of practicing witchcraft," said Indu Pant, gender advisor at CARE Nepal. Urmila Bishwakarma of the Dalit media group Jagaran Media Centre has been documenting cases of Dalit women who have been accused as witches and tortured. She said that Dalit and other minority women are the most vulnerable because they are socially, culturally, financially and politically backward.

Pant says that the problem is exacerbated because the state is often missing in these regions, so the victims have nowhere to go for help. "Even when they try to seek help from the police they are often turned back because the police says it is a personal matter and must be solved in the community. This culture of impunity lets the perpetrators off the hook."

Food banks seeing greater need in Pittsburgh area

Requests for help from food banks have increased throughout America, this morning we see a perspective on the demand from Pittsburgh. The continued loss of jobs across the states has lent to the food banks being used more and more, the largest increase have come from people in richer, suburban areas.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, writer Daveen Rae Kurutz surveyed food banks in the Pittsburgh area. Rae Kurtz also did something that we don't often see in articles of this type, she also asked for a quote from a national organization, we've included that in this snippet.

The line wrapped around the parking lot of the food bank as officials expected to give food to about 900 families during the December distribution at its Duquesne warehouse. Typically, 500 to 700 families show up for the monthly distributions, said spokeswoman Iris Valanti.

"People get strapped not just because of the holiday, but also heat bills," Valanti said.

The number of people in Southwestern Pennsylvania in need of food this holiday season is up 30 percent from last year, officials estimate. The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which serves 11 counties in the region, is assisting about 100,000 people monthly. Each month, between 1,500 and 2,000 new households sign up for assistance, Valanti said.

Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization that has been providing meals for 30 years, served more than 2.6 billion pounds of food to the hungry this year.

"This is the worst it's ever been," said Ross Fraser, spokesman for the Chicago-based organization. "Four years ago was a walk in the park compared with what we're going through now. All of the country is hurting."

Fraser said the hardest hit areas in the country include Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Florida.

World Bank gives $100 million to Andhra Pradesh project

The World Bank will give another 100 million dollars to a poverty reduction program in India. The Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project has helped to raise the incomes of 10 million women since 2003.

From The Deccan Herald, this PTI article tells us more about the program and it's new money.

"This programme has had a remarkable impact on the lives of the rural poor in Andhra Pradesh," Roberto Zagha, World Bank Country Director for India, said.

"We have seen incomes increase for close to 90 per cent of poor rural households. This additional financing will help improve efficiency and effectiveness of the programme by adopting new technologies and innovative service delivery models for achieving full inclusion of the poor households," Zagha said.

The Bank said the project objectives will remain the same as the original project, that is, to enable the rural poor, particularly the poorest of the poor, improve their livelihoods and quality of life.
This is the second additional financing for this project and it will help scale up the impressive achievements to date, it said.

"This additional financing will help build capacity of community institutions to enable them to deal more effectively with the commercial banks, the market institutions, public sector departments, and developing new partnerships with the cooperatives and the private sector,"said Parmesh Shah, World Bank Lead Rural Development Specialist and project team leader.

"We expect this approach to bring even higher returns on the investments in the institutional platform of the poor already made. This phase will also work towards achieving significant decrease in malnutrition and maternal mortality for the rural poor," he said.

The World Bank said the project has mobilised some 10 million poor women, or 90 per cent of the poor in the project districts, into nearly 850,000 Self Help Groups. These SHGs have used seed money to pool resources and make small loans to help each other pay for education, medical treatment, food, and other small but important needs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Human trafficking victims often victimized twice in America

About a week ago The Kansas City Star did an exhaustive investigation on the policing of human trafficking in America. What they found is that the victims of human trafficking are often victimized twice.

Many people in law enforcement have not been thoroughly trained on the unique crime of sex trafficking and treat those involved like prostitution. So for foreigners that were coerced into being slaves they are often detained for a long time, or deported. For Americans who were coerced into being sex slaves against their will, they are often prosecuted for the crime of prostitution.

This video summaries the Star's reporting on the issue.

From the Kansas City Star's article on the issue of sex trafficking, reporter Laura Bauer gives the story of one Chinese mother.

Sitting in the jail in Boone County, Mo., the Chinese woman didn't look like a criminal to Kelley Lucero. She looked like a middle-aged mom.

Soon, Lucero learned that the woman had indeed come to America to scout out a college for her teenage son. She had come, legally, as part of a cultural exchange program, but her life had taken an unexpected and terrifying turn in Middle America.

Forced to work in a one-room massage parlor, she ended up being arrested for prostitution at a truck stop between Kansas City and St. Louis.

Only an experienced eye like Lucero’s could see something that Boone County deputies appeared to miss. What so many in law enforcement all over the nation still are not trained to see.

“This wasn’t a prostitute,” said Lucero, a sexual abuse program coordinator for a domestic violence shelter in Columbia. “She was a human trafficking victim.”

And yet, the Chinese woman sat in jail for five months.

When the United States took a global stand on human trafficking in 2000, lawmakers wanted to rescue foreign-born women turned into American sex slaves. In too many cases, though, that hasn’t happened.

In its six-month investigation into America's effectiveness in the war on human trafficking, The Kansas City Star found that the system orginally designed with sex trafficking in mind is often unsuccessful in reaching those victims.

Some are mistakenly identified as prostitutes and end up either lost in the criminal justice bureaucracy or back on the streets. Even when victims are identified by law enforcement, some are reluctant to go through the gantlet that accompanies the prosecution of their trafficker, too untrusting or scared to reveal the horrible things that happened to them. Critics complain that the U.S. law is inherently flawed because it connects victims’ aid with their willingness to help make cases.

When the mother from China was arrested, deputies in Boone County hadn’t been trained to recognize human trafficking. They didn’t know what questions to ask.

Or that the crime requires a victim-centered approach, much different from what officers are traditionally schooled in.

Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Merilee Crockett said she couldn’t discuss specifics of the case, but generally cases that may involve human trafficking are a “conundrum” because if victims are released they could end up back with their traffickers. And sometimes there is no safe place to keep them other than jail.

“Where is the rescue? What do we do for them? How do we protect them?” Crockett said.

Law enforcement authorities also have different priorities, explained Ivy Suriyopas, staff attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “They focus on catching perpetrators, making sure the public is safe from additional crimes. That doesn’t necessarily correlate with the needs of the victims.”

Some police officers get it and know how to work human trafficking cases, advocates acknowledged. Yet many don’t. At least not at this point.

AIDS money five months late arriving to Uganda

Uganda is experiencing a shortage of funds for HIV/AIDS relief. $4.8 million dollars was due to be given to the country five months ago but it has yet to be received.

Medical professionals are being told to stop enrolling new patients into the program, and some already enrolled patients are unable to receive treatment.

Some red tape and mistakes are delaying release of the funds, and the Global Fund says the money will now arrive early next year.

From All Africa, writer Esther Nakkazi explains what happened.

"As I speak now, I have a letter asking me to stop enrolling children. Even if all factors remain constant we still need the government to help or we shall not achieve universal access," said Prof Addy Kekitiinwa, the executive director of Baylor Uganda Children's Foundation.

The latest cut is by the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), the largest funder of HIV programmes in Uganda, which announced that from April next year it will slash close to $1 million from the $7 million annual contribution it have been making to the paediatric HIV programme.

Although the Global Fund kitty is available, it is not yet accessible.

Officials from the Ministry of Health say the money has been disbursed from New York to the Bank of Uganda, but there are administrative problems that are hindering its use.

"The Global Fund at first disbursed it to the wrong account. When the signatory to that account was changed, there was further delay," said Commissioner of Planning and Development Dr Francis Runumi.

The signatory, Mary Nannono, the former Health permanent secretary, was interdicted and replaced in an acting capacity by Dr Sam Zaramba.

The $4.2 million, which was supposed to be a stopgap measure, is now expected to be disbursed early next year.

According to records, at least 70 per cent of the people who had not accounted for the funds have already been cleared, recovering at least $1 million from institutions and individuals implicated in the misappropriation.

1 in 7 below poverty line in Michigan

Your blogger's home state of Michigan saw jobs leave well before the recession, saw them leave in droves during the recession, and is still seeing them leave after the recession.

All this was confirmed today by the Michigan League of Human Services. A new study released by the league says that 1 in 7 people in Michigan live below the poverty line. That brings us to the seventh highest state in the Union. The figures are based on US Census Bureau data.

From WLNS-TV, Candice Burns dives into the numbers further and talks to a human services representative.

A report based on 2008 US census data released by the Michigan League of Human Services shows more families are living in the poor house.

Sharon Parks, Michigan League of Human Services: "What it really shows is a troubling picture for Michigan."

The numbers reveal since 2001 the average Michigan Household income has dipped below the nations average by about 10%.

Families of color have been hit even harder, on average both Hispanic and Latino household incomes have declined by about 14%, African American's fell by about 16-percent.

Parks: "I can't imagine that when we look at this in another year that it isn't gong to be somewhat worse because we are still losing jobs in Michigan, the jobs aren't coming back fast enough."

Child labor increases in Cote D'Ivoire

Yesterday we presented a story that had good news about child labor in Asia. Today however a new report from Save The Children presents a different picture for the African country Cote D'Ivoire.

Save The Children says that rising poverty in Cote D'Iviore is forcing more children into labor, sometimes in unsafe, or difficult conditions. The international NGO estimates that one quarter of all children in the country are working.

From IRIN, we read more about the report and the lives of children in Cote D'Ivoire.

Sharply rising poverty is causing exploitative child labour to increase says NGO Save the Children in its report “It’s there it’s difficult: exploitative child labour in Côte d’Ivoire,” launched today.

It is estimated that one quarter of all children work in Côte d’Ivoire and eight out of 10 of them are exploited according to the government. Harmful activities include sex work, cutting down trees, burning fields, climbing trees to collect palm oil, carrying heavy loads, working as unpaid domestics or market vendors far from their families.

With a deteriorating economy and shrinking government services, more of these children end up working, says Save the Children. Country-wide the number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day has risen from 10 percent in 1985 to 49 percent in 2008, according to the World Bank.

Most children forced to sell sex to survive in Abidjan told local NGO Cavoequiva they were brought to the capital by relatives or family friends. Côte d’Ivoire, alongside many West African countries, has a long-standing practice of families sending their children to relatives in towns to be schooled or find work or apprenticeships.

Save the Children’s child protection adviser Mark Canavera told IRIN: “The practice of relatives taking care of children or using children for light, legitimate labour have changed and become more exploitative as poverty increases.”

The report studies child labour practices in 18 Montagnes region in the west and in the Adjamé neighbourhood of Abidjan.

Rural risks

In 18 Montagnes – the country’s primary cocoa-producing area – children have traditionally helped their families in the fields, partly as a means of learning how to farm, says Save the Children.

But with rural poverty increasing and cocoa prices still relatively low, farmers have to produce more to survive and are forcing children to work longer hours, the report says.

In Doutrou village, 50km from Man, capital of 18 Montagnes region, village chief Kucsa Benoila told IRIN: “When we returned to start planting we all had to work twice as hard…even now our cocoa plantations are not yet up and running again.”


Local NGOs have called on international NGOS and the government to set up more care centres to support children forced to live and work on the streets.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children recently completed a study to identify the strengths and weaknesses in Côte d’Ivoire’s protection infrastructure.

Some existing government services could be extended to working children, the report suggests, such as the accelerated learning programme for children and youths whose schooling was interrupted by conflict.

Building up a wider child protective system involves improving practical services – such as medical help and care centres – economic support, for instance giving micro-credit loans to farmers, and building up the legal system, said Save the Children’s Canavera, who points out that the Ministry of Families must involve other ministries.

Thus far, he said the employment and justice ministries are “showing some interest”.

California's Ventura County sees 50% increase in food stamp use

Another story about how bad things became in California during the recession. A huge surge in food stamp use is detected in the affluent towns of Thousand Parks and Simi Valley. California's Ventura County now has 52,000 in the food stamp program, that translates to a 50% increase over the past two years.

From the Ventura County Star, writer Kathleen Wilson crunches the numbers and talks to human service workers.

Officials say the 52,000 people in the program are the highest number since the mid-1990s, and perhaps ever. They tie the surge partly to relaxed rules, expanded marketing and a lessening of the stigma associated with food stamps, but mainly to the lingering impact of the recession.

“The recent growth is certainly based on the economy,” said Curtis Updike, deputy director in the county Human Services Agency. “Anecdotally, we have seen people coming in that never thought they would be using our system.”

The increase came in all of the county’s 10 cities as county unemployment more than doubled from 5.2 percent in September 2007 to 11.1 percent in September 2009.

Locally, the cities on the western side of the Conejo Grade — chiefly Ventura and Oxnard — account for the lion’s share of the 22,000 households drawing benefits. But while the caseload has been growing by close to 50 percent in those two cities, it’s doubled in Simi Valley and come close to that in Thousand Oaks.

Marcia Hoffstadt, who interviews applicants from the east county, said many of them are in shock.

“You can see it in their faces,” the intake worker said Monday. “It’s really rough right now.”

Bread subsidies in Egypt

Ever since the 1940's Egypt has been subsidizing basic food items including bread. The daily baking of the bread by women in Egypt was a daily tradition. The process would take hours in letting the dough dry in the sun then baking and raising the dough in the ovens. Now very cheap bread is available in bakeries at prices that are even affordable for those under the poverty line.

Proponents of the subsidies say that the women are now freed up to be employed, while opponents say it creates a black market for the cheap flower.

From IPS, writer Cam McGrath takes a look at the history of the subsidies on bread and it's effects on the workforce.

Subsidies on basic food items including bread were introduced in the late-1940s. Late president Anwar Al-Sadat attempted to phase them out in 1977, but quickly rescinded the order after rioting that left at least 70 dead. Successive governments have avoided confrontation, leaving bread subsidies in place at a cost of 2.5 billion dollars a year, more than the country's annual spending on health and education.

Over 50 million Egyptians, or two-thirds of the population, eat subsidised "baladi" bread. The small round flatbread is sold at state-monitored bakeries and distributors for five piastres (less than a U.S. penny) a loaf, its price unchanged in decades. Better quality baladi bread is available at 10 piastres a loaf, while the same bread made using unsubsidised flour is available at market prices five times the cost. Poor families often buy a mix of qualities as their budget permits.

"When you have a family and eat bread with every meal the cost difference adds up," says Amani Sarwat, a sales clerk with three children. "All prices are going up so the more cheap bread I can get the better."

Sarwat is one of over 5.5 million women in the Egyptian workforce. Purchasing bread from bakeries frees up her time in the kitchen, allowing her to keep a part-time job and still have time for the family.

"I need the time [saved by not baking bread] to look after my children," she says. "Besides, where would I make it?" She points out that her flat in Cairo's Imbaba district is too small for a bread oven and the roof is cluttered with television antennas and satellite dishes.

Egyptians have traded their ovens for bakery bread, but it is an arrangement that only saves time and money provided the queues remain short. Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, with shipments of seven million tonnes a year. Periodic wheat shortages and endemic corruption can result in lengthy bread lines, such as those seen in early 2008 when world grain prices skyrocketed.

Priest says it is OK for poor to shoplift

This could be filed under news of the weird, but one we wanted to share here. A priest in England says that it is OK for the poor to shoplift, but it can only be from big chain stores.

From the UK's Independent, writer Katherine Bowen reports on this strange Christmas time message.

Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, broke off from the traditional Nativity story to say that sometimes shoplifting was the only option for poor families and certainly better than "prostitution, mugging or burglary" as a way of making money.

Mr Jones, who previously worked as a prison chaplain, told his congregation: "My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need."

He said he offered the advice "with a heavy heart", and wished society would recognise that bureaucratic ineptitude and systemic delay had created an "invitation and incentive to crime for people struggling to cope".

Mr Jones cited an example of an ex-prisoner who had received less than £100, including a crisis loan, in the six weeks since his release.

He said his advice did not contradict the Bible's eighth commandment, not to steal, saying God's love for the poor and despised outweighed the property rights of the rich.

He added: "Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift. "The observation that shoplifting is the best option that some people are left with is a grim indictment of who we are.

"Rather, this is a call for our society no longer to treat its most vulnerable people with indifference and contempt."

We are reminded of Reverend Lovejoy from the TV show The Simpsons' advice on the topic. He says that it's ok to steal bread if you are hungry, but please don't put any jelly on it. For Father Jones, he is clearly forcing his own views into scripture, and not letting scripture form his worldview.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zambia is almost malaria free

In a little more good news today, Zambia is almost malaria free. The success is credited to increased funding and a lot of hard work. This year's World Health Report says that malaria deaths have declined in Zambia by 66 percent.

From All Africa, writer Doreen Nawa Gethsemane Mwizabi gives us this analysis on the good news, as well as an example of a family who have opened up to mosquito spraying.

This result along with other supporting data indicates that Zambia has reached the 2010 Roll Back Malaria target of more than 50 per cent reduction in malaria mortality compared to 95 per cent in 2000.

Although, still too early to register the impact, Zambia joins the ranks of four African countries among them Rwanda, Tanzania and Sao Tome and Principe who have achieved major reductions in malaria deaths through accelerated malaria control activities.

In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria has remained a major cause of death in children and pregnant women.

The Abuja 2000 Declaration on Roll Back Malaria declares the disease accounts for about one million deaths in Africa and 50,000 in Zambia annually.

In Zambia it has had a negative impact on economic growth as well as the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), therefore reaching the target is like a dream come true.

Mrs Chalwe Mofya who lives in Lulamba Township, about nine kilometres away from Chingola town centre says, she and her family of 12, had until now, been constant malaria patients.

Like many other families in the community, her family was a regular at Lulamba Health Centre.

But the situation has been different since the 54-year-old widow opened her home to indoor spraying.

It has been four years since any member of her household has suffered from malaria.

At first Mrs Mofya was against spraying because of the smell and inconvenience that came with it but all that has changed.

"I hated this business of cleaning the walls and shifting property in the house," she said.

At national level, the community has been appreciative save for a few pockets of resistance attributable to insufficient or poor sensitisation.

Mr. Stiglitz returns from Burma

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz just completed his trip to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The nation run by a cruel military junta asked the economist to visit and help turn Burma's economic fortunes around. However, critics say that Stiglitz is just being used by the military to deceive it's public.

From the IPS, reporter Stanislaus Jude Chan attended a press conference where Stiglitz announced what he found.

At a press conference organised here Monday by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Stiglitz expressed optimism over the prospects for change in Burma’s rural economy. "In general, there is the hope that this is the moment of change for the country," Stiglitz said.

The former chief economist of the World Bank was in Burma last week to meet with the state’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Maj Gen Htay Oo and National Development Minister Soe Tha. He was part of a mission organised by ESCAP aimed at assessing and improving Burma’s rural economy.

ESCAP held a wide-ranging dialogue with the South-east Asian state to boost the country’s agricultural sector and to help it reclaim its status as the rice bowl of Asia. It was a "moment of hope," said Stiglitz.

"This is the moment of change for the country," opined the noted economist. "And it would be a mistake to miss this moment."

But some are sceptical about the changes that Stiglitz and ESCAP expect to bring to a country still ruled by a regime notorious for its oppression and secrecy. "The same as the junta’s sucker bait," charged one irate member of the audience, as he marched up to Stiglitz after the conference. The colloquial phrase suggests a scheme to deceive the ignorant.

Based on his talks with farmers during his visit to Burma, Stiglitz identified the high cost of credit in the rural areas, with interest rates of at least 10 percent a month, as one of the issues Burma will have to overcome.

"Irrigation has increased the potential for productivity, but because many could not get credit to buy fertiliser and for hydro-electricity, the full potential could not be reached," he said.

He urged the Burmese government to promote access to appropriate agricultural financing, to boost access to seeds and fertilizers as well as spending on health and education, and create well-paid jobs in rural infrastructure construction in order to stimulate development and raise incomes and spending.

"If you don’t renew your human capital, it depreciates, just as fiscal capital depreciates," Stiglitz said as he urged the country to do more to bridge the demographic gaps in education in the country.

140 million Arabs in poverty says the UN

Nearly 140 million Arabs live below the poverty line. That stat comes from a new report from the United Nations Development Programme and the Arab League.

The report says that 51 million jobs will need to be created by 2020. Even that many jobs will not reduce unemployment in the Arab world, but just maintain the same levels as we have now.

From this AFP article that we found at Yahoo News, we read more about the report's details.

The joint report stressed "there has been no decrease in the rates of poverty in the Arab region over the past 20 years," with some countries actually showing an increase.

"Overall poverty remains high, reaching up to 40 percent on average, which means that nearly 140 million Arabs continue to live under the upper poverty line."

The document entitled "Development Challenges for the Arab Region: A Human Development Approach" also indicated youth unemployment was "the highest in the world" in Arab countries.

"The proportion of young people of the total unemployed population is more than 50 percent for most Arab countries," it said.