Posted tagged ‘Poverty’

For women, poverty can lead to empowerment

May 15, 2009

Consider this sobering fact:

Worldwide, women and girls make up 70% of the estimated 1.3 billion people living in poverty, two thirds of the one billion illiterate adults, and two thirds of the 130 million children who are not in school.

Now consider this story:

A teacher by training, Lynne Randolph Patterson never expected to find herself at the helm of a multi-national financial services company.

Twenty years ago, she was volunteering at a young mothers club in La Paz, Bolivia, where her husband had been posted for work.

She was there to deliver empowerment lessons but the women, who attended twice a week in exchange for donated food, all told her one thing: “We need to earn money.”

Along with her colleague, Carmen Velasco, a psychologist, they began to offer the women business training and tried to find them credit.

Inspired by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, whose founder Muhammad Yunus pioneered microfinance, they began to offer small loans of around $50.

The women formed groups to guarantee each other’s loans, and made simple business plans showing how they would invest and repay their first loans.

“Not being very financial, we made lots of mistakes in the beginning,” she says.

But they persevered, and Pro Mujer (Pro Woman in Spanish) as their organisation is now called, now provides 222,000 women with loans, business training and healthcare in five Latin American countries. [BBC]

And this one as well from Kigali, Rwanda:

A group of 15 female entrepreneurs will receive business courses at university level, which includes mentorship through a partnership with fellow female entrepreneurs in the US, as part of the “Peace Through Business” programme later this August.

The group of 27 was short-listed after completing an extensive eight-week course largely administered by last year’s pioneers, with their graduation ceremony being held at Christ’s Church in Rwanda (CCR), at Gacuriro Estate last Sunday.

Jane Natukunda, a mother of three and a tea dealer is one of the entrepreneurs who were simply ecstatic after being named at the graduation ceremony.

“I really feel very happy being among the fifteen women. We learnt many useful business skills in the past few weeks,” a cheerful Natukunda said.

“Previously, most of us conducted business without the proper know-how, but have learnt much – bookkeeping, networking, business management, risk management and even leadership. I am highly empowered and motivated to teach others as well.” []

And before I continue, consider this fact as well:

Research has shown that women are more likely to repay loans in full and on time than men. It has also been established that giving a woman access to primary education will ensure that her entire family receives better health care and nutrition. This indicates that providing equal access to education, credit, property and employment for women, will ensure economic justice and sustainability for all.

*Ref: Empowering Young Women to Lead Change

Produced by WMCA and Supported by the United Nations Populations  Fund, published in 2006

So what’s the lesson here?

Simply put, investing in the education and training of women worldwide leads not only to self-empowerment and independence, but also encourages the self-sustainability of small enterprises that promotes business and trade at the grassroots level.

Sometimes an overlooked part of the population, in many communities women are the backbone of the family. Empowering them, empowers more than just an individual.


The Question of Cambodia

April 13, 2009

Cambodia girl, originally uploaded by dæxus.

Some of you may have noticed that Cambodia has been making headlines in the news recently. Here’s the reason why: About a month ago, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) issued a report titled “Manning the Barricades” which predicted which countries are most likely to experience social unrest due to the current global financial crisis. In its list ranking the top countries at risk, the EIU put Cambodia in fourth place – tied with Sudan. Needless to say, it was a position the Cambodian government strongly contested, but one the EIU has politely defended.

All this serves as the backdrop for more alarming news which we heard over the weekend: A “devastating” food and oil crisis has forced 50% of Cambodia’s households to to cut back on food, and the recession in Cambodia’s major export markets is expected to have a heavy toll on women and children.

“Women will be disproportionally affected by this crisis. They make up the bulk of the labour force, and they are the backbone of this economy. We know that when women’s incomes are lost, the whole family suffers, especially the children,” cautions UN Resident Coordinator, Douglas Broderick.

All this leads to a much broader discussion.

Despite the fact that parts of the country are making progress since the signing of the 1993 Constitution which allowed for a framework of democracy and social development, “more than 30 percent of the population is still living in extreme poverty.”

Together with corruption and continued human rights violations – especially the increasing forced evictions and land grabbing under the so-called development claims – there is little hope that Cambodia can move out of poverty. Thus the question arises: For whom is the Cambodian government attempting to achieve its development goals?

To no surprise, the article cited above faults the Cambodia government for failure of the country to lift itself out of poverty despite progress being made. For one thing, there is a gross lack of transparency on the government’s part and a blatant abuse of human rights, as detailed in the piece.

Unfortunately, the combination of a non-transparent government and the current financial situation doesn’t leave much hope for Cambodia and potentially serves as the tinder needed to spark an even bigger mess.

The UN fears many poor families will adopt “unhealthy” coping measures such as reducing their number of meals per day or eating less nutritious foods, cutting back on health services, removing children from school to work, and selling household assets or land. This concern is supported by the 2008 National Anthropometric Nutrition Survey, which showed an increase in acute malnutrition in poor urban children aged under five years – linked to higher food prices and reduced earnings among the urban poor.

Add to that the fact that poverty makes children and women more vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking and it seems that there is much about Cambodia’s situation that causes reason for concern.

How to Help Street Children when Traveling Abroad

March 30, 2009

Street kid, originally uploaded by mysaliva.

I remember my first experience dealing with street kids. Although I acted with the kindest of intentions, I made a huge mistake and perhaps a common one among people traveling abroad who encounter children begging for food or money.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. It was a bone-chilling late winter night, and I was being followed by a street child begging for a loaf of bread. Since she wasn’t begging for money (and since I had little money myself as a PCV), I caved in and went to a road side kiosk to purchase a loaf. I gave the packaged bread to the tiny, freezing little girl who actually thanked me before running off into the night.

Not 10 seconds after she vanished into the darkness, I heard yelling, scuffling and then a high-pitched scream of agony. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the poor soul I had given a loaf of bread to was getting beat up by other street kids who were just as cold and just as hungry as she was and wanting her food.

Since then, throughout my travels, I have never, ever given anything to a begging street child.

Still, it’s such a difficult situation to face. You see these poor children enduring the worst of conditions and you just want to do something. As a traveler, you often don’t know what to do – giving away money or food is the first thing many of us think of, but as I learned the hard way, it’s not the best thing to do.

There are other options though and with the exception of #3, this list of “10 Ways You Can Help Street Children Without Giving Money” is a great guide for travelers faced with the conflict of how to help the needy faces we see in the streets overseas.

Really, what it all boils down to is giving your time, whether it be to local organizations that are in need of short-term volunteers or supplies, or a little one-on-one time with the kids themselves. You can even help long after you leave the country you are visiting. Read “7 Ideas for Helping the Locals You Leave Behind” for inspiring ideas on how to help from your own hometown.

Street children, poverty and overt begging can be just a few of the many culture shocks those of us in developed countries witness during our travels, and of course we want to help – immediately. But as I learned, there is a wrong way and a right way to do this. When you help a street child responsibly, you’re helping them ten times more than you would by simply giving them food or money. And I believe that is the kind of difference we all want to make.

The Story Behind the Bicol Clinic Foundation Inc. in the Philippines

March 18, 2009

Philippines, originally uploaded by jakub wittchen.

When it comes to health care in the Philippines, the country’s system operates on a “cash first” basis, meaning there are few health care options for the poor, who make up a significant proportion of the population. Family members must buy their own medical supplies and the death rate, especially from curable diseases, is alarmingly high.

Recognizing the need to cater to a struggling part of Filipino society, an American physician trained in the Philippines started a free clinic in the Bicol area devoted to caring for the region’s sick and dying.

His story can be found here.

Putting Haiti Back on the Radar Through Volunteerism and International Awareness

March 11, 2009

Haiti is one of those countries that tends to fall off the international radar – unless something bad happens, such as a hurricane, civil unrest or political corruption. Otherwise, as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, the country seems to symbolize what happens when a nation undergoes donor fatigue. Over the years, the world has continuously poured money into the country only to see little progress being made…and so we forget that Haiti even exists.

As one who has spent time in Haiti in the past, I have noticed that while foreign aid organizations or government assistance quietly come and go, it is volunteerism at the grassroots level that keeps the country afloat. I’m talking about volunteer work groups, mostly coming from the U.S., who pair up with local organizations or individuals to pitch in where they can.

I haven’t been to Haiti since 2000, but from my recollection, these volunteers consist of church groups, college work teams (I remember crossing paths with some students from Chatham College) and visiting physicians who bring with them their own team of experts. (The Peace Corps also operates in Haiti.) (more…)

Editor’s Pick: Interview with Andy Gray of Global Adventure and

March 9, 2009

Photo by Andrew Gray at

Photo by Andrew Gray at

Last week we published a video post we titled “Inspiration in Cambodia,” which showed how one man is making a huge difference in the lives of Cambodia’s poor and his efforts to help the people help themselves. This week, we get to talk to the individual behind the making of that video, Andy Gray, who has served as our bridge into the village of Andong and the lives and needs of Cambodia’s poor.

Based out of Tokyo, Japan, Gray serves as the eyes behind the photo blog, which acts as a window into his and his wife’s work in their non-profit venture Global Adventure.

In Gray’s own words, Global Adventure takes “small groups of people from Japan to see another side of life in Cambodia. We go to build relationships, learn, and serve in simple ways. We spend most of our time at an orphanage about 50km outside Phnom Penh.”

Andy was generous enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about Global Adventure. Below you will find the contents of our interview, and you will also find a link to his photo blog on our sidebar: (more…)

Inspiration in Cambodia

March 4, 2009

There is not much that can be added to this story or expressed as powerfully as this video, and there is not much else that can be written as eloquently as this post.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

*Note: While The Advanced Ape and Colony Magazine are not tied to any one religious viewpoint, we do acknowledge the good work being done by such ministries to help the needy, especially those ministries who are accepting of all religions and beliefs and who do not offer aid in exchange for conversion.