mercycorps:

Fadi Kaheel, 11, is one of many Syrian refugee children who participated in a recent photography workshop in Lebanon, part of our Moving Forward program there.
The goal is to help young Syrian refugees — most of whom feel scared and isolated — integrate into their new community and develop self-esteem, teamwork and coping skills by participating with Lebanese kids in sports, support groups, and creative projects like theater, filmmaking and photojournalism.
For Fadi, the photography workshop also meant making new friends and gaining a deeper understanding of his host community in Lebanon. Read more about his story and see some of his photographs from the workshop.
Photo:Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

mercycorps:

Fadi Kaheel, 11, is one of many Syrian refugee children who participated in a recent photography workshop in Lebanon, part of our Moving Forward program there.

The goal is to help young Syrian refugees — most of whom feel scared and isolated — integrate into their new community and develop self-esteem, teamwork and coping skills by participating with Lebanese kids in sports, support groups, and creative projects like theater, filmmaking and photojournalism.

For Fadi, the photography workshop also meant making new friends and gaining a deeper understanding of his host community in Lebanon. Read more about his story and see some of his photographs from the workshop.

Photo:Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

No Longer Silent: “Queer Pakistan”

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“Please tell me, is there any doctor who can help me become straight?” This is one of the questions on the forum of the newly launched Queer Pakistan (@QueerPK) website that aims to provide support to Pakistan’s LGBT communities, and start a discussion about topics that are otherwise taboo in a society where homosexuality is religiously and legally condemned.

One of the website’s founders has spoken anonymously to Global Voices about its goals.

The initiative is introduced in a post called “Hello world! Let me present Queer Pakistan”:

How many times do you hear the word Pakistani gay? Or Pakistani queer? Probably you’re more aware of the derogatory terms that are locally used for the LGBTQ community in Pakistan. … And you probably laughed it up! Did you ever think what goes on in the life of a Pakistani queer person? What they have to go through? Or you were too busy denying it’s something ‘western’ and doesn’t exist in Pakistan? Well NOT ANYMORE! We’re here! And we’re here to show our existence.

Another post addresses coming out in Pakistan:

For a regular Pakistani youngster the internet is the major source of all kinds of knowledge and happenings around the world. Same goes when a young gay Pakistani approaches the internet with his major life problem about being a homosexual. As the internet is dominated by content from western countries almost all the websites about being gay encourage you to ‘come out of the closet’ and tell the whole world you are gay and be yourself. This is great advice but only if you are living in a free country where laws and legislation are strict and there aren’t any religious fanatics going around running their own rule. In Pakistan things are different. We are not going to be appreciated even by the most educated people if we are who we are in public. Moreover we also run a great risk of being harmed. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl. The risk is almost the same.

The post concludes:

We don’t advocate coming out and being openly gay in a society like Pakistan, however we do emphasize the importance of coming out to yourself. It’s extremely important that you come to terms to your sexuality and know who you really are.

One of Queer Pakistan’s founders has spoken anonymously to Global Voices about the website’s aims and focus.

Global Voices (GV): What is Queer Pakistan aiming to do?

Queer Pakistan (QP): Queer Pakistan is aiming to start building an open discussion about issues which are otherwise regarded as unspeakable. We intend to use the power of social media for community building because currently there is no support available to a huge number of the LGBT population in the country. Other than providing an awareness-based and educational resource to the community, we also intend to initiate LGBT advocacy and resistance alongside providing what we call “virtual support” to the community. There have been all sorts of attacks in the mainstream media on LGBTQIA communities and they are rarely defended so we figured it’s time to take matters in our own hands and at least start to speak.

GV: Are there other websites focused specifically on the Pakistani LGBTQ community?

QP: There are a couple of them in my knowledge. There are also a few “secret” groups on Facebook that deal with the issues but they have a different approach which is to reach and support the community silently. While I appreciate their efforts, I don’t think that’s enough because there’s a sizeable community that is not connected to even virtual support and their only solution is to look for an online resource. We are trying to be that resource.

GV: How does this resource work?

QP: We provide a space for discussion through our blogs section, support page and Facebook page where people can initiate or participate in discussions. The blog section welcomes guest posts and we have also enabled the comment section where every comment is allowed as long as it doesn’t involve harassment or incites violence. On the support page, anyone can send us questions anonymously and are answered by a team including two practising doctors along with people who have been through almost anything society can throw at them. This section is overseen by a queer-affirmative psychological expert to ensure the advice given is appropriate.

GV: Your website is primarily in English; does that limit who it will reach?

QP: We are trying to make it a bilingual platform. While English is spoken and understood by most Pakistani internet users, we understand that there’s a sizeable population that has difficulty understanding it. That’s the reason we put the content that is of utmost importance in Urdu as well. Our online video portal works with foreign content partners to produce Urdu-subtitled videos. In future we want to make all of our content available in both languages.

This post by Ayesha Saldanha appeared originally on Global Voices.

Indigenous female farmers produce hip knitwear to stay on their land

Born out of a chance meeting between two very different women, the Ricefield Collective is a social enterprise that gives work to indigenous women in the Philippines, while keeping them on their ancestral land.

Its founder Meredith Talusa, who herself grew up in the Philippines, recalls how she was knitting when she met Jean, a local woman, of the Ifugao indigenous group, who was planning to leave the small piece of land she farmed entirely by hand since it hardly produced any rice to feed her family.

Then Meredith came up with the idea to teach her and other women from the village to make and sell high-quality handmade knitted products and other handicrafts, so they can stay home and support themselves.

The Ifugao region is well-known for its rice terraces carved into the mountains to allow people to farm on its steep slopes, which are constantly subject to erosion and landslides.

It used to be that a family can sustain themselves from the rice they farm and animals they raise, but modernity has brought increasing cash expenses, which has pressured many people to leave their fields and move to the crowded cities or seek work abroad.

Meredith co-founded the collaboration with her friend Anna Maltz, a London-based artist and knitwear designer, who had actually taught her how to knit. The two of them partnered to design a knitted accessories collection to be produced by the Philippine women.

Currently, the Ricefield Collective has a pre-sale going on for their fall collection.

Their idea of the collective is to provide sustainable income for an ever growing number of female farmers, helping them earn enough additional income to be able to maintain the traditional rice farming on the terraces that are part of their collective legacy, as well as the legacy of the Philippines.

The Ricefield Collective are committed to using local materials whenever they are available and making sure their products are ethically made.

The collective plans to increasingly shift their efforts to selling the craft products in both domestic and international markets, as well as invite other entrepreneurs to benefit from the skills they have developed.

One of their intentions is to allocate part of their income towards community projects, as well as to an emergency fund that would help farmers recover from landslides and other natural disasters.

Student inventors win US funds to bring ideas to market

This article, which appeared originally on the Science and Development website SciDev, was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Devices to detect malaria and fake medicines, and a mobile phone trade service for farmers in remote areas are among the innovations whose inventors have been awarded funding and support from a US organisation that helps student entrepreneurs get their ideas to market.

The students will also be given training by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) for a year during which they will prepare a business model and conduct field tests to validate their technologies.

“The programme is highly competitive and the proposals are reviewed by scientists and business experts,” Phil Weilerstein, executive director of NCIIA, tells SciDev.Net. “We look for a novel application of a technology that has the potential to create impact […], is scalable and economically-sustainable.”

One of the winning innovations, called PharmaCheck, is a portable device that can detect counterfeit medicines by measuring the amount of active ingredients present.

“It’s a screening tool that health regulatory authorities, NGOs or manufacturers can use to test the quality of medicines along the supply chain — anywhere between distributors and regulators to pharmacies and hospitals,” says Andrea Fernandes, the device’s co-developer and a graduate student at Boston University.

Tests planned in Ghana and Peru

The device tests a pill by dissolving it in water and running the sample through a microfluid chip, analysing the amount of active ingredient it contains. Once the prototype is finalised, the device will be tested in Ghana.

The team behind the device was awarded US$18,500 last month (26 August).

Another healthcare technology whose developers have been awarded funding is a hand-held device that can detect early-stage malaria infection in a drop of blood within a minute.

Developed by the Disease Diagnostic Group at Case Western Reserve University, the Rapid Assessment of Malaria device works by detecting haemozoin, a magnetic by-product left behind when the malaria parasite digests red blood cells.

John Lewandowski, co-developer and engineering student, tells SciDev.Net that the device uses magnets and a laser to detect infection.

“When we manipulate a [malaria-infected blood] sample with magnets, haemozoin crystals line up, misalign and then line up again. We can rotate these crystals and that gives us the difference in light transmission [that is detected],” he says.

Lewandowski adds that his team plans to use the NCIIA grant of US$20,000 to further develop the device ahead of field tests in Peru later this year.

He aims for the device to reach market in late 2014. It would initially cost about US$200 but this could drop to as low as US$50 a year after its launch, due to mass production, he says.

Another recipient of a NCIIA grant this year with a developing world focus is the Rural Trade Communications group at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which was awarded more than US$16,000.

It is developing a subscription-based trade service for farmers in developing countries who lack access to good mobile-phone signals, to connect them to buyers.

The group has installed WiFi networks on existing communication towers, enabling transactions via mobile phones in parts of Peru where rivers are the only way to transport agricultural produce. The service will cost subscribers US$5 a month.

The group will be further testing the service in three communities that live along the Napo River in Peru later this year.

Alan Mickelson, researcher and principal investigator, says he would then like to expand the service to the rest of South America and to Africa. 

See below for a Rural Trade Communications video about the innovation:

Tags: technology

How to Empower Youth to Change the World

This article by Elena Sonnino was originally published on Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

UN Week is just days away in New York City where world leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators will descend on Manhattan for events like theSocial Good Summit, the Clinton Global Initiative and of course, the meetings of the UN General Assembly. Discussions will range in topics and much will be said about the Millenium Development Goals (or MDGs) with a heavy emphasis on #2030Now, and the notion that we need to be hyper focused on addressing issues to achieve the goals we want to see in place by 2030, as a global community. For me, the answer of how to reach our goals by 2030 is easy: we need to empower youth to be change agents.

What is a change agent you ask?

A change agent is someone who uses their voices and actions to create change, like three children in Kolkata, India who took it upon themselves to increase polio vaccination rates and help put their community on the map so that they could have access to clean water.

A change agent is someone like Jackson Merrick, a 5th grader from Virginia who happened to notice a Nothing But Nets sign at a basketball tournament.  He was so inspired, after learning about the organization’s efforts to help end deaths from Malaria in Africa, he decided to raise money by selling African themed bracelets, key-chains and necklaces to purchase 18 insecticide-treated bed nets to protect a classroom of kids and their families.

But How? How Can We Empower Youth?

Some would say that as idyllic as it sounds- to empower youth, it is not that easy as parents, community leaders and teachers to foster this sense of ownership and leadership in children. Some might even wonder how can we put our future into the hands of tweens and teens, whose ideas span from the simple lemonade stand to lofty dreams that are ridden with logistical complications.

The answer is simple- we simply let them “do.” We let them dream and think. We give our youth the tools to collaborate and problem solve, brainstorm and reflect. We empower them to believe that their voice matters without judging or criticizing their ideas.

The “how” of how to empower youth to be change agents is to let them be kids and develop their own ideas- wherever they are in the range of potential social good actions. While one teen might be ready to speak out on a cause to their classmates or create an after school club, another might produce a video to build general awareness, while another might make bracelets to sell for a cause. The action almost doesn’t matter as long as it is meaningful to the student and fosters a sense of purpose.

A new study conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the United Nations Foundation found that 9 out of 10 American youth between the ages eight and 19 give money to organizations dedicated to charitable causes. Tweens and teens want to give, participate and have an impact- it is up to us to support and empower them.

When we let our children’s voices and ideas speak for themselves, the actions are more powerful…more inspired.

Kids will be kids, and that is what makes their voices meaningful.

The truth is that kids, even the most well meaning ones, are going to have up and down days when it comes to using their voice. Sometimes their ideas will have expansive reach, while others may fall flat—and that is ok. They need to learn that being a change agent does not mean that everyone will always want to listen, just because we would like them to. They need to learn that sometimes even the most fabulous idea may need a bit more ‘oomph’ or logistical planning.  They need to know that ideas come to us sometimes when we least expect it, whether we are in the shower or walking home from the bus stop.

But most importantly, our children need to know that we believe in their ideas and potential as change agents.

As parents and adults we also have to face another reality of empowering youth. Tweens and teens are adolescents. They may be ready to inspire others one week and want nothing to do with the cause the next. The goal is to help our youth develop habits, that in the end, they can sustain without our ‘suggestions’ or prodding. We have to let their interests ebb and flow, while still talking about our own actions for good in the background, so that our behaviors and words create the foundation for a long-term lifestyle.

We have an opportunity, now- to empower youth be part of the solution to help shape what life will be like in 2030. Follow the #2030Now conversation next week and in the coming months and help foster the next generation of change agents.

peacecorps:

Women living along the shores of Lake Victoria whose livelihood depends on trading fresh fish are exceptionally vulnerable to contracting HIV. In order to acquire fresh fish daily, the women are often pressured into having sex with the fishermen who supply the fish. It is not uncommon for the…

(Source: blog.aids.gov)

Underprivileged children learning through ‘hole-in-the-wall’ computers

Hole-in-the-wall offers children in India, Africa and Cambodia the chance to learn basic IT skills.

Over 500 ‘hole-in-the-wall’ computers are now freely available to use in India, Cambodia, Botswana, South Africa and other African nations. Apart from being able to browse the internet, underprivileged children can play educational games and learn basic IT skills. The computers are installed in safe, public spaces and their use is monitored remotely.

Sugata Mitra, who created the first hole-in-the-wall computer in 1999 while Chief Scientist of the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) in Kalkaji, New Delhi, defines it as Minimally Invasive Education. His argument is that learning happens best when it feels like play. The experiment capitalises on the innate curiosity and enquiring nature of young minds, a necessary precursor for future innovation. The hope is that children who learn through unconventional methods will in turn create exceptional products and solutions.

The next step for Mitra is the development of a ‘School in the Cloud’. Earlier this year, he received a $1 million TED Prize to help design and build this learning lab in India, which will pioneer cloud-based, scalable approaches to self-directed learning.

Since setting up the first hole-in-the-wall computer, a PC placed in a wall separating the NIIT campus from an adjoining slum, Mitra has received numerous awards for his work. He was initially driven by the belief that a computer would lure children from the nearby slum to explore and learn on their own, which it did. Encouraged by the success of the experiment, he then set about installing similar freely accessible computers in other towns and villages.

In 2001, the International Finance Corporation joined with NIIT to set up Hole-in-the-Wall Education Limited (HiWEL), with the aim of conducting more research and broadening the scope of the hole-in-the-wall experiments. Learning stations were set up in 23 locations across India, and the experiment is now been replicated in other developing nations.

However, Viraal Balsari, India Co-Director, Forum for the Future, says that while HiWEL is “a good on the spot innovation” for long-term impact “such learning has to be dovetailed with access to primary education.”

This post originally appeared in Green Futures, the leading magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures published by Forum for the Future.

A future of African-led development is underway

Powered by new tech, Africa is leading its own revival and challenging conventional discourse, says TMS ‘Teddy’ Ruge.

This article, which appeared originally on the Science and Development website SciDev, was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Saran Kaba Jones is passionate about universal access to clean water: she is the Liberian founder of the US-based non-profit organisation FACE Africa, which provides access to safe drinking water for rural communities in Liberia and other African countries. Her social media feed is a chronicle of her work.
 
Jones’s efforts on the continent are not isolated. Take a close peek at Africans’ social media chatter and you quickly realise that she is but one African whose work is now visible thanks to their embrace of emerging communications technologies.
 
A future of African-led social and economic development is under way — and technology is at its centre.
 
Rising African voices
 
According to the website Internet World Stats, more than 15 per cent of Africa’s population has access to the Internet. Of those 167 million who are online, more than 50 million are on Facebook.

Add in the millions of already connected and vocal Africans in the diaspora and, suddenly, an Africa flexing its uncensored, collective intelligence emerges.
 
Africans are leveraging the power of social media technologies to assert their influence by challenging prevailing development discourse.
 
The musician and activist Bono and development academics such as Bill Easterly and Paul Collier are no longer the go-to experts on the continent’s development. Instead, development professor Calestous Juma, writer Teju Cole, political science professor Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, policy expert Semhar Aria and a chorus of other rising African voices are commanding the airwaves.
 
And for a taste of Africa’s new frontline, look no further than last year’s collective rebuke of KONY 2012, a video produced by the non-profit organisation Invisible Children, which was criticised for misrepresenting facts about the war criminal Joseph Kony and oversimplifying Ugandan politics.
 
The discourse is not about demanding that someone fixes the continent’s development woes. It is very much an agency-affirming exercise where Africans are showing that we are bold enough to take charge of the continent’s development.
 
Home-made solutions
 
And while social media platforms often get overrun with regurgitative pontification, sometimes they are a great way to discover other technologies being put to use for a better Africa.
 
This month alone I was introduced to Ndubuisi Ekekwe, an accomplished tech entrepreneur based in the United States, who is working to revolutionise higher education on the continent through a new university, an African Institution of Technology or AFRIT. Ekekwe’s mission is to use telecommunications technology to deliver the world’s collective knowledge to Africa’s higher education students.
 
Meanwhile, my colleague Apolo Ndyabahika has been exploring ways of making sure that every child in Uganda has access to a digital learning device built in Uganda. And Solomon King, also in Uganda, is leading a team introducing robotics to the country’s next generation of tinkerers through Fundi Bots, which aims to jump-start Africa’s future as a technology-maker rather than just acting as a consumer.
 
Both Ndyabahika and King’s initiatives are attempting to reverse conventional development practices such as One Laptop per Child that are heavy on imported consumptive solutions, and usher in an Africa that builds its own solutions.
 
With half of Africa’s population under the age of 15, technology will need to play a huge role in how we both educate and employ the next generation of Africans.
 
Commercial successes
 
Africans around the world are also using innovation to develop lucrative commercial opportunities based on overcoming the lack of infrastructure on the continent.
 
Tanzanian native Patrick Ngowi studied in China and has spent the better part of his life as an entrepreneur. His company, Helvetic Solar Contractors, fills the energy gaps left by unreliable national power grids that no amount of traditional aid has been able to stabilise.
 
Ngowi leveraged the relationships he had made in China and started importing solar technology from Asia. Helvetic Solar is now an US$8 million energy company that is slowly expanding its market footprint in East Africa.
 
Across the continent in Nigeria, Jason Njoku took advantage of growing Internet connectivity to make the country’s prolific ‘Nollywood’ entertainment catalogue available online. His iROKOtv platform — the ‘Netflix of Africa’ — now delivers content to more than 500,000 customers worldwide, making his company the world’s largest distributor of Nollywood films.
 
This early success helped Njoku attract an US$8 million investment to bring more African film and music content online.
 
Nollywood’s prolific film industry is the world’s second largest in terms of income per capita, and employs more than 300,000 people. An expanded distribution network for its products assures continued employment. The investment will position the platform for even more job creation in Nollywood, as a young and tech-savvy continent begins to demand (and is willing to pay for) more locally made content.
 
Linked efforts
 
While conventional development discourse is preoccupied with institutional and academic punting on a post-2015 Africa, the continent is slowly putting the pieces of that future in play — no international Conference of Parties needed.
 
Technology alone is not a panacea to the continent’s varied woes. But it is a critical thread being stretched through its emerging digital economies. There are 20 (and counting) technology and innovation hubs in African countries that speak to this truth.
 
The efforts and successes mentioned above are not simply independent efforts. They are interconnected — and will hold up the ‘Africa by Africa’ renaissance.
 
TMS “Teddy” Ruge is a technology writer and cofounder of Hive Colab, Uganda’s first tech hub. You can follow him on Twitter @tmsruge.

New electrochemical technique could provide cheap freshwater

A new low-energy method for removing salt from seawater has been developed by researchers from Germany and the US. Freshwater is needed all over the world for drinking and irrigation purposes, and desalinated ocean water is one obvious source for coastal communities with low rainfall and abundant energy resources.

Conventional methods for desalinisation include vacuum distillation, in which freshwater is boiled off as steam and then condensed; and reverse osmosis, where seawater is passed through a membrane which filters out the salt. The problem with these techniques lies in their cost – their energy demands mean they are too expensive for use in a domestic setting.

The electrochemical desalination technique

developed by the researchers is shaping up to be an affordable alternative to these methods. The team have created a prototype ‘water chip’ to demonstrate the process, known as electrochemically mediated seawater desalination.

Water flows through a small channel in the chip, the path of which forks at an electrode. This electrode neutralizes some of the chloride ions in the water, altering the local electric field by forming an ‘ion depletion zone’. The change is enough to funnel salt into one branch of the chip, with purer water coming out of the other. The whole process doesn’t need much energy: the water chip can be powered by a standard, three volt store-bought battery.

The water chip is now being prepared for commercial application by a spin-off company, Okeanos Technologies. At present, however, the prototype’s capacity is limited – it only removes around 25% of the salts from seawater and outputs freshwater at a rate of 40 nanolitres per minute. At such speeds, it would take

now around 13.5 years to process enough water to fill a cup

"While the results appear interesting, the low salt rejection and high water recoveries per stage of treatment remain a challenge for practical application”, says Prof. Stephen Gray, Director of the Institute for Sustainability and Innovation, Victoria University. “On the current data, multiple stages will be required to treat seawater to useful salinity values”.

Nevertheless, the researchers are happy with the prototype chip as a proof of concept. “The chip is currently small scale and requires little infrastructure so it could find applications…in resource limited settings”, says Kyle Knust, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, and one of the authors of a paper outlining the process. The researchers are now working to scale up the technique for larger applications, such as households or communities, and are confident it will eventually produce 99% desalinated water at practical speeds.

This post originally appeared in Green Futures, the leading magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures published by Forum for the Future.


Could mushrooms be a secret weapon for disaster relief?After most natural disasters, you see mounds of trash and lots of hungry people. Mushrooms could turn that trash into food.

Could mushrooms be a secret weapon for disaster relief?
After most natural disasters, you see mounds of trash and lots of hungry people. Mushrooms could turn that trash into food.

(Source: mothernaturenetwork)

Health care in a kiosk - a working model in poor Kenyan communities

70% of urban residents in Kenya live in informal settlements, where unsanitary living conditions and overpopulation lead to a high prevalence of communicable disease. One social enterprise is committed to improving healthcare options for low-income Kenyans by setting up a network of so-called “health kiosks”.

These mini-clinics of Access Afya provide basic healthcare services in poor neighborhoods and serve as the first point of access into the existing healthcare system.

The kiosks fit nicely into the small spaces available in the slums, yet offer high-quality care.

This strategy saves time, travel and, most importantly, money to the local patients. Private healthcare providers are prohibitively expensive for the majority of Kenyans, while Access Afya claims their charges are affordable because they use a lean staffing model, efficient management systems, and specialize in simple diagnostics and maternal health.

In poor Kenyan communities most health information is usually exchanged over-the-counter through chemists. Access Afya employs existing community health workers, who help manage the clinic, link it to the healthcare system, and give legitimacy and localized knowledge. A typical mini-clinic would be run by one nurse, one clinical officer, and one community health worker, who grew up in the neighborhood.

Access Afya uses the latest health technologies, thus dispensing with much of the burdensome paperwork. For example, since mobile phones are widespread in Kenya even among the poor population, the organization staff are using SMS texting to communicate important information about appointments and medication to patients, as well as to expectant and new mothers. An electronic medical record is created and updated for each patient.

Access Afya orders its medical supplies only from trusted and reliable providers – extremely important in a country, whose market is almost 30% penetrated by counterfeit and stolen drugs.

When she was a 17-old-high-school-student, she visited Nepal and joined an NGO involved in literacy education for women. She studied sociology at Oguma Eiji’s laboratory at university. In 2009 she established Coffret Project. To date, the company has delivered around 5000 cosmetics to Nepal, Turkey, Indonesia, and the Philippines and held cosmetics workshops for around 1000 women in order to help them regain their natural confidence and dignity.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, she sent about 10000 cosmetics contributed by 40 cosmetic makers to the affected areas and also held numerous workshops.

Tanzania’s Children and the Toxic Lure of Gold

This article by Janine Morna was republished with permission from the original on Think Africa Press.

I met Farida, a widow, and her seven children on a gold processing site for small-scale miners in Tanzania. The air was thick with dust mixed with particles of the metal and mercury— byproducts of the mining process. A thin layer of white powder settled on my arms and face. Some of my colleagues started to cough heavily. Large ball mills— machines used to crush gold ore into powder—made unbearable clanging noises.

Two of Farida’s teenage sons were preparing gold ore for the ball mill by crushing it into pebbles with large rocks, narrowly missing their fingers with each strike. Farida kept some of her children out of school so they could mine enough gold to support the family. I wondered what it must be like to be one of Farida’s children, trapped there nearly every day.

Farida’s older sons described their long, exhausting days. The 13 year-old, Rahim, had never been to school, and spent his time digging in deep, unstable pits—which frequently collapse on miners in the area—and transporting and crushing heavy sacks of gold ore.

Amani, at 15 the eldest, had recently learned how to extract the gold using mercury. He carefully mixed and swirled the ground gold ore, water, and silvery liquid mercury in a basin using his bare hands. Once the mercury and gold combined, I watched in alarm as everyone gathered closely around the trader who was burning the resulting amalgam. The mercury vapour released in this process is incredibly toxic, and can have dire health implications, especially for children. How much of these fumes had the family inhaled over the last few years?

In the course of researching a new report for Human Rights Watch, “Toxic Toil: Child Labor and Mercury Exposure in Tanzania’s Small-Scale Gold Mines,” my colleagues and I interviewed 59 other children working in similar conditions. Sadly, their stories are not unique in Africa’s gold-producing countries. The continent is home to hundreds of thousands of small-scale gold miners, many of them children, working to support themselves and their families. While small-scale gold mining can play a positive  role in many countries’ economic development, in most places the industry remains largely unsafe and unregulated. In the last few months there have been reports of mines collapsing in Ghana, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, killing at least 77 people.

Like Farida’s family, most small-scale miners use mercury to process the gold. Mercury is released into the atmosphere and nearby water sources, contaminating the environment and poisoning mining communities. Mercury can cause neurological problems and may affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, and central nervous systems. Although many African countries have laws to regulate the mercury trade, these haven’t stopped the use of this metal in mining.

A golden opportunity

Many gold-producing African countries are experiencing a new era of growth in their mineral sectors. This offers a critical opportunity to transform the currently small-scale gold mining industry. A fundamental part of that process should be to eliminate child labour in mining. It is going to require a concerted effort from many stakeholders. The Tanzanian government and other gold-producing African countries should enforce what laws they have prohibiting children from entering the mines and sanction employers who hire children in violation of the law. They should also include orphans and other vulnerable children in mining areas in programs that offer income or in-kind support, or that increase their access to education and health care.

Donors involved in development programs should support these efforts, promote alternative livelihoods, and initiate programs that withdraw children from the mines and which reduce mercury exposure in mining communities. Gold refiners and traders should ensure their supply chains are “clean” and free from child labor by regularly monitoring and visiting the mining sites where they source their gold.

Countries also need to minimize exposure to mercury for everyone involved in small-scale gold mining. In October governments should sign the new Minamata Convention—an international mercury treaty that, amongst other stipulations, requires governments to develop plans to eliminate the most harmful forms of mercury use, protect children and women of childbearing age from mercury exposure, promote mercury-free mining methods, and take steps to improve the health of miners.

As small-scale gold mining expands in countries like Tanzania, the number of children involved in mining is also likely to grow. The continent needs to do more protect Farida’s family, and others like them, from a lifetime on a dusty, toxic mining site.

CAB: Mobile-izing orphans, HIV/AIDS youths and the disabled, literally

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Having gone all the way from a poor orphan in Uganda who lost both parents to HIV/AIDS and had to take care of his siblings in extreme poverty to a PhD candidate at the University of California, Chris Ategeka has to believe in the power of positive change.

The “miracle” happened when an American lady found an organization near his village to support orphans and took him in. Years later, already holding two degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Ategeka found CA Bikes Uganda - a non-profit organization helping poor orphans and other vulnerable children and youth, as well as disabled persons to acquire mobility and thence, greater access to health and education.

Uganda has 2.7 million orphans - one of the highest rates in the world, and 5 million disabled persons. Many of them live in chronic poverty, in rural areas with only dirt roads, miles away from education and health care services.

CAB manufactures and distributes quality bicycles to orphaned children who are bright students and live 8-20 kilometers from school and to HIV positive youth who live long distances from the health clinics where they receive weekly ARV treatments.

CAB also builds custom wheel chairs for disabled people, and bicycle trailer ambulances to connect rural villagers to their nearest health clinic, where people often die from lack of adequate transport.

In order to boost local employment opportunities CAB has all it products designed locally and uses local labor and materials.    

For example, in making the ambulances, the organisation purchases steel from nearby hardware stores, employs welders to fabricate the frame, and a tailor who sews the canopy, thus creating a ripple effect in the local economy.

CAB aims to expand all over Africa, becoming an East African hub for the distribution of bike ambulances.

peacecorps:

Peace Corps Volunteer Ginger Anderson works with participants at Camp TechKobwa. Created by Peace Corps Volunteers in Rwanda, Camp TechKobwa focused on empowerment for girls through gaining skills and confidence using computers and media technology. The camp encouraged young women to become active citizens by building their self-esteem and confidence, and helped them start computer and media clubs with their information and communication technology teachers upon returning to their schools. #Africa #Rwanda #camp #genderequality #girls #women #empowerment #computers #technology #media #USAID #latergram

peacecorps:

Peace Corps Volunteer Ginger Anderson works with participants at Camp TechKobwa. Created by Peace Corps Volunteers in Rwanda, Camp TechKobwa focused on empowerment for girls through gaining skills and confidence using computers and media technology. The camp encouraged young women to become active citizens by building their self-esteem and confidence, and helped them start computer and media clubs with their information and communication technology teachers upon returning to their schools. #Africa #Rwanda #camp #genderequality #girls #women #empowerment #computers #technology #media #USAID #latergram