Monday, October 01, 2012

Lowering Child Mortality Rates in Uganda

In a highly positive development, a new UNICEF report advises that worldwide child mortality rates have dropped by over 40% in the past two decades. Despite this significant decrease, however, preventable and treatable diseases continue to claim the lives of roughly 19,000 young children around the world everyday. One of the areas most affected is Sub-Saharan Africa, where in countries like Uganda, preventable diseases such as diarrhea and malaria account for 34% of the deaths of children under five. The United Nations cited the reduction of child mortality rates as one of its “Millennium Development Goals” to be reached in 2015; FSD intern Elizabeth Gilbert has been part of this initiative at our site in Jinja, Uganda.

Elizabeth spent the summer working with the Phoebe Education Fund for HIV/AIDS Orphans and Vulnerable Children (PEFO) at FSD’s site. After winning a grant of $335 from FSD, she helped design and implement educational workshops with a focus on disease prevention—specifically, the knowledge, skills, and health practices of the 63 grandmother caretakers in the community.

By addressing the root causes of child mortality in the region, distributing first aid kits, and initiating leadership training, Elizabeth’s project has reached over 270 community members and continues to thrive even after her return to the United States.

According to Jinja Program Director Margaret Amanyire, "The momentum of the project has been steadily maintained. Grannies are able to meet and discuss issues of health, encourage each other to promote public health and confidently walk into community health centers as well as invite health workers to their weekly meetings to answer their questions on health issues. They have managed to make a monthly contribution towards re-equipping their first aid kits. The most inspiring observation is that these women have developed so much interest in talking about their health plight and doing something about it, however small.”

As for Elizabeth, she is “certain that working with FSD was the most beneficial learning experience she could have received in her undergraduate education.” Lizzy, now a senior at Northeastern, plans to pursue graduate school in the global development field related to international health rights.

Doors of Knowledge Opened in Tola, Nicaragua

In 2010, former FSD intern and Tola IPC, Steve Merritt, catalyzed change in the small rural community of Limon 2, Nicaragua. Steve identified the nearby luxury resort, Rancho Santana, as an untapped asset to the local community, and sought to make connections between the luxury homeowners and local village leadership. Through a series of community meetings, representatives from Limon 2, FSD, and Rancho Santana decided that a great way to move the relationship forward was through the creation of a library that would expose children and adults of the community to literature, as well as host free activities such as art projects, tutoring, and sports.

Today, two years later, the library—now named Doors of Knowledge (Puertas del Saber) after a community vote—caters to over 20 children per day and has hosted a number of community events, such as the Day of the Book, where over 80 people gathered to honor books and reading. The Puertas del Saber library is now an official FSD Tola community partner that has hosted interns and serves as a hub for community organizing in the town of Limon 2.  Ruth Obando is the town’s ‘reading promoter,’ who rides her bicycle from household to household engaging families in the art and entertainment of reading and focusing on inspiring young children and adolescents to read stories. Ruth says, "I get a very positive reaction from the children who show much interest and satisfaction when I share stories with them. The children do not want me to leave and beg me to read just one more book." She has said to the parents, "take advantage of this opportunity that is being offered to you", that parents can be "a great help in the education of their children and they should help them in any way they can."

The library president, Sonia Noguera, has been invited to attend the second largest book fair in the world, the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of scholars, teachers, professionals, adolescents, and children come to this iconic event to share stories, debut publications, and network. Through support of donors, FSD is sending Sonia to help her further develop the Puertas del Saber library in Limon 2  From a part of a brainstorming session in a community meeting to a full-fledged community center, the Puertas del Saber library has come a long way, and FSD is proud to have been there for every step!

New Approaches to End Child Trafficking in India

The trafficking of humans, whether for sex or forced labor, is without a doubt the darkest of black markets that exist. Indeed, the non-profit Doctors at War estimates that “human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world” and that over 50% of all victims are children. As many as 40 million men, women, and children in over 135 countries are functional slaves in this global trade (UNODC estimate). The heightened media focus on their human tragedy has resulted in a positive development: substantial contributions in the fight against trafficking are made everyday by individuals, organizations and the partnerships they build.

This past summer, FSD intern Amy Koch submitted an ambitious, multi-faceted proposal to evaluate the nature of trafficking in Udaipur, India, where many children are forced to work on cotton farms during the harvest season. Under the guidance of a local NGO, the Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action, Amy helped develop a strategy for testing the familial link to forced child labor. She used an existing survey of 5,479 children in 2,867 households of Udaipur to determine how poverty status, missing parents, and school attendance impact participation in the cotton field. Amy and the Prayas Centre also initiated a series of public seminars to inform the local population of the human rights issues involved in child trafficking. In addition, the community distributed literature to commercial farmers to discourage the use of forced labor. Finally, Amy’s proposal called for the implementation of vehicle checkpoints at the Udaipur border to intercept trafficked children brought in during the harvest season.

Since Amy’s departure in August, the Prayas Centre has continued the campaign against human trafficking in India with a variety of partners and measures aimed at raising awareness. The Dakshini Rajasthan Majdoor Union (DRMU) is an ally of the Prayas Centre that organized a high-profile sit-in last month in front of the Udaipur Collectorate, a state government building. This event drew media attention and gave Prayas and DRMU a platform to condemn trafficking and demand the rescue of children working against their will. Additionally, Prayas and the DRMU are conducting ongoing visits to commercial farms (where child labor is known to take place) in order to apply pressure on the owners and force a humanitarian solution. FSD’s partnerships with NGOs like Prayas enable interns like Amy to make tangible improvements in young people’s lives. We look forward to sharing new developments in the legacy of their work.