Some spend their 21st birthday dining out with family or friends, others hosting a party or perhaps enjoying a first legal sip of wine or beer. And then there is Malala. She will spend her 21st birthday on July 12, 2018 (also known as Malala Day) doing what she has been doing for the past six years - advocating for girls’ education.
By now, most know her backstory. And yet it is so remarkable it bears repeating. In 2012 a member of the Taliban boarded her school bus, shooting 15-year-old Malala in the head. She had been targeted after blogging for the BBC about her life following the Taliban takeover of Pakistan’s Swat Valley where she lived. By 2008 girls education had been banned, teachers murdered and over 200 schools destroyed. (1) The remarkable part was still to come. As Malala herself said, “I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls.” (2)
The repression and violence Malala experienced may be the story of many girls, but what she did about it is not. For starters, she recovered from a gunshot to the head, many surgeries and months of recovery. She went on to speak at the United Nations in 2013 at the age of 16, calling for worldwide access to education for girls. That same year she co-founded the Malala Fund with her father Ziauddin, to fundraise and support girls education. (2)
She celebrated her 17th birthday in Nigeria meeting with the families of girls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram and helping to bring the world’s attention to their plight. Later that year, she won a Nobel Peace Prize. In 2015 on her 18th birthday she helped open a secondary school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon. In 2016 she launched #YesAllGirls, a social media campaign in sync with her other advocacy efforts. Her accomplishments before even crossing the threshold into adulthood could make one’s head spin. She continues to travel around the world spreading her message while she meets with citizens and heads of state alike. (2)
The need for her work is crystal clear. More than 130 million girls worldwide are deprived of an education each year. The reasons are multifaceted: child marriage, war, prohibitive cost, health challenges and child labor.
In Tanzania, gender parity has been nearly achieved in primary school. However, a significant gap still exists at the secondary level. Only 60 percent of adolescents are able to access lower-secondary education. Of these, only one-third of girls who enter secondary school graduate. Reasons include a lack of secondary schools in rural areas, an exam that limits access to secondary schools, and unaffordable fees for uniforms and books. (3)
Perhaps most troubling is a government policy to expel pregnant or married girls. More than one-third of girls are married by the age of 18. In 2016, pregnancy led almost 3,700 girls to drop out of schools. (5) In fact, Human Rights Watch reports that pregnancy tests are regularly conducted in schools. (3)
In addition, girls are vulnerable to sexual violence both en route to school and in the schools themselves. Many children must walk several miles in order to access an education. Girls are vulnerable to attacks along the way. (4) The schools themselves are not always safe either. In 2011 UNICEF reported that roughly 1 in 10 girls experienced sexual violence by a teacher. (5)
Investing in girls’ education goes a long way. Consider that each additional year of school cuts infant mortality and child marriage rates. Education among girls leads to healthier young women who raise healthier families. (2) “Girls who receive secondary education will marry later, have higher family incomes, tolerate less domestic violence and give children better care, thereby reducing infant mortality rates,” according to the Africa School Assistance Project, an international organization promoting education in Sub-Saharan Africa. (4)
Malala’s desire to keep learning is as much a beacon as her advocacy efforts. She currently is studying politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford University. If Malala gets her way, all girls may have the same bright future - without fear of being the target of a loaded gun.
Happy Malala Day!
At a glance:
Population: 47.6 million (2017)
Official Languages: English and Swahili
Religion: Protestant (47.7%), Catholic (23.4%), Other Christian (11.9%), Muslim (11.2%)
Fertility Rate: 3 births per woman
Life Expectancy: 64.3 years
Literacy Rate: 78% (total) 81.1% (men) 74.9% (women)
Currency: Kenya shilling
GDP: 5% growth (2017)
Form of Government: Presidential republic
Natural Resources: limestone, salt, gemstones, zinc, wildlife, hydropower
Exports: Tea, coffee, horticulture, petroleum products
Kenya is a country located in East Africa along the coast of the Indian Ocean. It shares a border with five countries: Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan.
Five times the size of the state of Ohio, Kenya’s terrain includes low plains to the east and highlands in the central and western section of the country. It is a land bisected by both the equator and the Great Rift Valley, an area of fertility and also what scientists believe to be the birthplace of the human race. The climate is tropical along the coast and arid in the interior. (1)
To highlight the important events in Kenya’s history means to go back 3.3 million years. Archaeologists believe that the earliest evidence of human existence has been found in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. (3)
Skipping ahead to the 7th century A.D., Kenya became the site of incursions from foreign lands. Arab merchants established trading posts along the Indian Ocean coastline including what is now known as Kenya. The Portuguese arrived much later, in the early 16th century, but were driven out by the Arabs by 1720. (3)
Around 1750, the Maasai, nomadic cattle herders, moved in. As different European powers tried to colonize Kenya, the Maasai drove them back. Still, by 1895, the British were able to grab a foothold and declared Kenya a protectorate.(3)
The 20th century brought a guerilla war for independence from 1952-56. Though the British did put down the uprisings, the fight led to a path for an independent Kenya. Full independence was achieved in 1963. Today Jamhuri Day, December 12, is a public holiday which marks both Kenyan independence in 1963 and the formation of the Republic in 1964. It was in 1964 that Jomo Kenyatta was elected Kenya’s first president. (3)
The Kenyan population in 2017 was 47.6 million, more than 40 percent under the age of 15. Population density pockets have formed in the west, along Lake Victoria, in the capital of Nairobi, and in the southeast, along the coast. (1)
Over the years, Kenya has become known as a host country for refugees. Because it is a relatively stable country, hundreds of thousands escaping violence from surrounding countries have fled to its borders. Most recently, Kenya has seen an influx of over 300,000 Somali refugees. (1)
Harambee, a Bantu word meaning “to pull together,” characterizes Kenyan culture. A group-oriented culture, Kenyans practice their shared principle of mutual assistance, effort and responsibility. The extended family is the basis of their social structure, and as such, child rearing is a communal undertaking. (4)
Nyama choma, charcoal grilled beef or goat meat, is said to be a national dish of Kenya. Other staples of the Kenyan diet include rice, bread, chicken and tilapia. A favored drink is chai tea. (5)
Though Kenyans love their soccer, they are world renowned for another sport - running. Kenyans, particularly runners from the Great Rift Valley, dominate middle and distance running, several runners having achieved international status. Studies have shown that a variety of factors contribute to their success, including a cultural emphasis placed on perseverance. The teens in this area are generally very thin; they spend their time as children walking or running back and forth to school, averaging 7.5 kilometers per day. Their endurance coupled with a low bmi is a factor in their running prowess. (6) Another study demonstrated that biology might play a part. Thin ankles and calves are common to tribes living near the equator and are advantageous to distance runners. (7)
At a glance:
Population: 30.4 million
Primary language: Portuguese
Mozambique Flag Credit: www.worldatlas.com
Currency: Mozambican metical
GDP: 3.7% growth in 2017
Natural resources: gold, emeralds, copper, iron ore, bauxite, natural gas
Religions: Roman Catholicism (28%), Islam (17%), Zionist Christian (15.5%), Protestant (12.2%)
Literacy Rate: 47% (total) 28% (women)
Fertility Rate: 5.9 children per woman (one of highest in the world)
Life Expectancy: 58.31 (total) 60.40 (women) 56.12 (men)
Leading Cause of Death: HIV / AIDS
Located on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Mozambique is a long, narrow country bordering six other countries: Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Swaziland. Its land is mostly coastal lowlands. Plateaus and highlands lie to the west with mountains scattered along the western border. The country’s largest lake is Lake Malawi. (1)
Map of Southern Africa Credit: Google Maps
Bantu-speaking people are believed to be among Mozambique’s earliest inhabitants, 2,000 years ago. Throughout its history, people from foreign lands arrived, attracted by the land’s rich mineral resources and prominent position along trade routes. Arabs were the first to arrive, followed by Indians and later the Portuguese. It was gold that lured the Portuguese in the 16th century. By the late 17th century, ivory had replaced gold as the land’s major commodity, Less than a century later, slaves took over as the major commodity. (3)
Though the Portuguese had colonized what is now known as Mozambique, it was in 1951 that Portugal declared Mozambique its overseas province. This led to the formation of nationalist groups which after an armed struggle, gained independence on June 25, 1975. Following independence, 90 percent of the Portuguese settlers left the area. (4)
Samora Machel served as Mozambique’s first president. He came to office with Socialist ideas including the forced creation of communal rural villages. Civil war erupted and continued for 17 years. Much of the infrastructure, including roads, railways, schools and health centers, was destroyed during this time. Millions fled to neighboring countries, and over 1,000,000 were killed. (4)
In 1990 a new constitution was adopted which embraced a multiparty, democratic system and a free-market economy.
Traces of Arab, Indian and Portuguese culture remain in Mozambique, most evident perhaps in the Portuguese language still spoken. (Many indigenous languages and English are also spoken.) It is a blend of many cultures, but the Mozambique people share a love of song, poetry, dance and performance. They also unite around their favorite sport - football (soccer). (5)
Click to watch children performing a traditional Mozambique dance.
The cuisine of Mozambique has also retained some of its colonialist past. The Arabs, Indians and Portuguese each brought with them a variety of spices. One popular Mozambican dish is Matata, a seafood stew using clams in a peanut sauce. Indeed, with its long coastline, seafood is plentiful. A few staple foods are maize porridge and meat or vegetable stew. (5)
Health and Education
With a high poverty rate, both health and education services are meager, especially in rural areas. More than half of the population must walk an hour or more to the nearest health facility. Mozambique has one of the lowest doctor/patient ratios in the world: 3 per 100,000 people. Progress has been made in recent years in reducing mortality rates among children 5 and younger and improving access to care. A 97 percent rate of pregnant women receiving prenatal care, at least 1 visit, has also been achieved. A continuing challenge that Mozambicans face is HIV/AIDS. More than 1 in 10 have been infected. (7)
Education services, too, are scant. Though 94% of girls attend primary school, more than half drop out by the fifth grade. Even more dismal - only 1% of the female population goes on to college. Reading achievement among primary schoolchildren is also low. One positive step the government took in the early 2000s was to eliminate school fees which nearly doubled the school population rate. Because poverty is high in Mozambique, many children must work to help support their families. One estimate showed a 22 percent child labor rate. (7)
It is a celebration of culture, a celebration of history, and a celebration of unity. Both on the African continent and around the globe, Africa Day is marked by parades, festivals, and more.
A little history will shed light on its origin and meaning.
A movement towards Pan-Africanism or the joining together of diverse independent African countries began in 1963 with the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Its founding followed the decolonization and independence of 17 countries from European powers between 1958 and 1963. Representatives from 32 countries met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that year to officially state their solidarity. (1)
It was Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first prime minister, who along with the leaders of 3 other African countries, founded the OAU. (3) Its goals were mainly political and multifaceted in the organization’s early days. The goals included ridding the continent of any remaining colonization and apartheid, promoting solidarity and protecting the sovereignty of member states, collaborating on development, and encouraging international cooperation. (4)
Around this time, several countries began celebrating a day of African unity called African Liberation Day.
Fast forward to 2001, and the organization had grown, taking in 21 more independent countries and transforming from a political to more of an economically-focused organization. The name, too, had changed. It was now called the African Union. (1)
African Liberation Day evolved to African Day. It has become a channel for many cultures to come together and honor their diversity and the goals of the African Union. In several countries including Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Mali, Africa Day is designated as a public holiday. (2)
Other countries, such as South Africa, have found alternative ways to mark the noteworthy growth of the African continent - keeping their eyes on future growth they would like to see. At Stellenbosch University in South Africa, the African Union flag flies along with the flags of the 54 countries of the union. South Africans were also encouraged to learn the African Union anthem. (4)
A celebration in Tanzania includes cultural performances, a food bazaar featuring traditional cuisine, exhibitions and a concert featuring musicians from the DRC, Mozambique and Namibia. (6)
Africa Day is celebrated on other continents too. Some Africans living abroad gather in cultural garb, listen to traditional music and trade recipes. (3)
The Irish celebrate Africa Day in several cities including Dublin where an annual family event takes place. It includes live music featuring both Irish and African musicians, traditional African drumming and dance workshops, and African arts and crafts. (5)
It is clear from Africa Day that the culture from the multitude of African countries carries far and wide.
A teacher wears many hats. Some days a counselor, some a nurse, others a social worker. Always an instructor. Grace Silas Laizer of Saving Grace School in Arusha, Tanzania is at once teacher, administrator and recruiter.
Back here in the United States about 3.6 million teachers fill these multifaceted roles. On this last day of Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s take a look back at how this honorary week began and at the evolution of teaching in America.
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once proclaimed: “Education is the cornerstone of liberty.” It was this value that she placed on education which led her to propose to Congress a day set aside each year in honor of teachers. This national teacher’s day became May 7 and was first celebrated in 1953. (1)
Later, in 1984, the National Parent Teacher Association expanded Roosevelt’s idea when they dedicated an entire week in May to thank our teachers.
Teaching in America has come a long way since our colonial beginnings. In these fledgling days of our country’s inception, it was mostly men who educated the young. The virtues of family, religion and community were emphasized more than the three Rs. The curriculum was heavily influenced by the strict religious teachings of the day. The men were often innkeepers or farmers who stepped in to fill the role of schoolmaster during their off-season. The more educated men in the cities used teaching as a stepping stone to a career in law or the church. (2)
In the late 1830s reformers such as Horace Mann fought to make schools democratic, universal and free. These new public schools were called common schools and with the attempted inclusion of all children in the education process, a demand for teachers grew. In order to fill the staffing shortages and as men were drawn to other professions, new industries and the frontier, communities turned to women to fill the void. (2)
The common school reformers considered one of women’s most important qualifications their femininity. They viewed women as nurturing and of high moral character. They also set a precedent - women would be paid ⅓ of what men received. (2)
In many schools, the “schoolmarms” were young, sometimes only 14 or 15. Some of the pupils might be older than the teachers. Many districts required the teachers to resign when they married. (Such a rule remained in place in some areas as recently as the 1930s.) (5) The job then, like today, had its challenges. Some teachers were in charge of instructing as many as 60 children of various ages in a one-room schoolhouse. (2)
It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that states began requiring a basic academic competence and attendance at summer institutes for training. “Normal schools” were established for the systematic training of teachers. These schools prepared teachers for instruction beyond a grammar school curriculum. By 1867 most states required their teachers to pass a test for a state certificate. Such a test might include U.S. history, geography, spelling and grammar in addition to other basic skills. (3)
By 1900, Horace Mann’s idea of universal education took an even stronger hold. By this time 31 states had passed statutes requiring compulsory education for children ages 8 to 14. Nearly 75% of the teachers were women at this time. Rural teachers struggled with limited resources, run-down schools and inadequate funding. (4)
In the cities, the boards of education were formed by business and professional men who believed that schools should replicate a business model or hierarchy with the teachers at the bottom. The teachers felt powerless, underpaid and insecure with a lack of pension benefits, job security and poor working conditions. The teachers began to push back, forming teachers associations which later became unions. (2)
Throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries teachers continue to struggle with some of the same issues, and it was within this context that Roosevelt astutely proposed the idea of a national day for teacher recognition.
In 2018 teachers are honored in a variety of ways. The National Education Association (NEA) recommended two on its website. The first is their Thank a Teacher project, a request to parents to make a video or take a photo of themselves thanking a teacher who has made a difference in the life of a child. The NEA shared these messages of appreciation to their members throughout the week. (1)
May 9 was designated as #REDforED, a day to show solidarity with teachers who are fighting for school funding, pay and better working conditions. Supporters were asked to dress in red. (1) A movement of teacher protest began in 2018 beginning with the walk out of teachers in West Virginia in February. This spurred walk outs and protests in other states including Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.
Whether wearing red, organizing a luncheon or sending a card, one thing is indisputable - the recognition is but a small step yet well deserved.
On April 26, 1964, a fledgling country named Tanzania was born. Its name honors both parents - “Tan” after Tanganyika (the mainland of Tanzania) and “Zan” after Zanzibar, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. On this first birthday of Tanzania in 1964, the founders mixed soil from the two countries symbolizing their union.
Photo Credit: Rawpixel.com
Since then April 26 has become known as Union Day to Tanzanians and is celebrated with parades, political speeches and cultural events.
The 54th celebration of Union Day in 2018 has distinguished itself. Protests threatened to disrupt the government’s festivities, taking place for the first time in its soon-to-be new capital city, Dodoma. First, a bit more history.
Tanganyika was originally colonized by the Germans, but after World War I came under the control of the British Empire. Zanzibar was controlled by the Arab Kingdom of Oman, but it, too, was taken over by the British as a protectorate in the late nineteenth century. Both countries achieved their independence from the British around the same time - Tanganyika in 1961 and Zanzibar in 1963. (1)
The union of the two countries was the first time on the African continent that two sovereign countries had unified. They shared a common struggle for independence from the British and a belief in Pan-Africanism. (3)
In 1973, Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, made the decision to move the capital from the coastal city of Dar es Salaam to centrally located Dodoma. Now, John Magufuli, Tanzania’s current president, has announced that he will fully implement this long awaited move.
Tanzanian flags flew along every major road in Dodoma during the 2018 Union Day celebrations. Representatives from more than 70 countries attended. (6) At Jamhuri Stadium, Magufuli praised the African Development Bank which financed projects “which contributed positively to our country’s socio-economic development and transformation.” The African Development Bank has invested nearly $4 billion on water sanitation, road construction and energy. (2)
Elsewhere, a different message was being spread through social media. This was one of disunity, calling for Tanzanian citizens to take to the streets in protest. US based Mange Kimambe organized the protests over what she claims is Magufuli’s autocratic style and the government’s human rights abuses. (4)
Photo Credit: Priscilla du Preez
Seven people were arrested in Arusha for their alleged role in the planned demonstrations. (5) Although the authorities banned the protests, some still showed up in Dar es Salaam to march. Nine were arrested. Elizabeth Mambosho, the leader of the main opposition party’s women’s wing, was also detained for inciting riots. (4)
Tanzanian law allows for demonstrations but organizers must notify the police, who can then reject the plan if they believe it to instill disorder. (5) For his part, Magufuli used his Union Day speech, broadcast on state television, to call for peace.
If April 26, 1964 was Tanzania’s birthday, perhaps April of 2018 is its growing pains.
During the sometimes shaky early post-colonial rule in African nations, Julius Nyerere distinguished himself by the humble, austere lifestyle he chose and for voluntarily and peacefully stepping aside when it was time for him to do so. Though Nyerere, Tanzanian president from 1961-1985, died in 1999, his legacy lives on both in his native country and internationally.
Born into the Zanaki tribe, southeast of Lake Victoria on April 13, 1922, Nyerere’s given name was Kambarage. He attended a Catholic mission school where he was widely recognized as a gifted student, leading him to attend college at Makerere University in Kampala and later receiving a scholarship to Edinburgh University where he received a master’s degree in history and economics. (1)
Influenced by the Roman Catholic priests throughout his education, Nyerere became Catholic himself, taking Julius as his baptismal name. (1)
Nyerere began his career as a teacher in Scotland. Soon, though, he became involved in the politics of his changing African homeland, called Tanganyika and ruled by the British at that time. After winning the election as president of a social organization, Tanganyika African Association, he quickly converted it into a political party. The party became known as Tanganyika African National Union and its formation on July 7, 1954 is now a national holiday called Saba Saba, or the seventh day of the seventh month. Nyerere and his newly formed party led the peaceful and successful struggle for independence. (1)
As president and an adherent of socialism, he established a system of collective farms called ujamaas through the Arusha Declaration. Through it the government coerced people scattered around tribal lands in rural areas to collect in villages or communes where they would have access to education and medical services. Many considered the policy a failure and criticized Nyerere for it. (3)
Still, he is regarded as a man who strove for peace, unity and humanity. (4) He led Tanzania through a unification with Zanzibar. (2) Believing in national unity over tribalism, he also promoted Swahili as a national language that would supplant dozens of tribal languages. In his free time, he even translated several of William Shakespeare’s works, including Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caeser, into Swahili. (1)
Nyerere’s reputation as a principled leader grew on the international stage as well. He led his country in a struggle against the brutal dictator, Idi Amin, in Uganda in the late 1970s. In the 1980s his was one of the strongest African voices against Apartheid in South Africa. (3)
And he set an admirable example as a humble leader, perhaps an anomaly among the corrupt leaders of the world who enrich themselves at the expense of their citizens. Nyerere never received more than $8,000 in salary during his time as president. (1) After completing his tenure, Nyerere left voluntarily and then continued to work as a statesman, advocating for cooperation between developing nations and on conflict resolution on the African continent. (4)
In the opening scene of the critically acclaimed 2008 movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” a young boy named Jamal plays cricket on an airport runway. Jamal and the other children wear rags, lack shoes and use sticks and rocks to play their game. Suddenly the local police appear and aggressively chase the boys through the streets of Mumbai, past massive garbage dumps and into the vast slum in which they live. For many of us, these depictions are all we know of the millions that the United Nations considers children in street situations.
April 12, the International Day for Street Children, gives kids like Jamal a voice. Danny Boyle, the director of “Slumdog Millionaire,” is one of several high profile supporters of the Consortium for Street Children (CSC) which sponsors this globally recognized day. The CSC, a network of NGOs and researchers across the globe, was launched in 1993 by then prime minister of Great Britain, John Major. It advocates for committing to equality, protecting every child, providing access to services and creating new solutions. (1)
The four steps stem from the 2017 U.N. general comment on children in street situations. The purpose of the general comment was to demand that governments pay attention to their most vulnerable surviving in the streets and ensure that these children have the ability to access their rights.
Before publishing their statement, a UN commission studied the issue by interviewing 327 children and young people from 32 countries. Some of these children depend on the streets to live and work either with or without family members. Others were children who formed connections with public spaces; the streets played a significant role in the children’s lives. The overwhelming majority of the children interviewed asked not for a material change in their lives, but instead for respect, dignity and human rights. (2)
In Tanzania, an estimated 437,500 children survive on the streets. (3) According to a 2002 study in a Tanzanian urban center, the government policies in Tanzania have failed because they have dealt with the symptoms rather than the causes. What are the causes? This same study suggested that poverty is the main reason. A survey by NGO Mkombozi states that for 22% of street children, their situation is a result of school exclusion and an inability to pay school fees. (6) UNICEF has reported that 75% of these children have experienced physical violence and 25% have suffered emotional abuse, driving them to the streets. (3) Others have suggested that the orphaning of children as a result of AIDS and other lethal diseases has led to a large population of street children.
Whatever the cause, the results are pernicious. The children lack safe and hygienic sleeping areas, a lack of safe drinking water, and rancid food leftovers. Vulnerability to poor health is one outcome. These ailments include malaria, diarrhea, respiratory problems, scabies and other skin-related infections. The children are also at a higher risk for physical and sexual abuse. (4)
In addition, the children, like Jamal in “Slumdog Millionaire,” suffer from and are targets of harassment by law enforcement. The authors of an in depth study of street children in Dar-Es-Salaam in 1994 and 95 noted the mindset. “The official government attitude towards street children has been very negative. Street children are considered to be hooligans, vagabonds and prone to commit crimes.” (4)
The researchers concluded that practices that would help these children included keeping the pavement clean and public bathrooms working. The availability of clean drinking and washing water in public kiosks would go a long way. The researchers added that it was addressing larger social and economic issues more aggressively that would bring about a stronger long-term outcome. (4)
Photo by Chinh Le Duc
The ability of impoverished children to access education is one such way to do that. A 2014 Tanzanian survey by an international labour organization documented that 5 million children aged 5 to 17 worked outside the home, and 3.1 million of these children worked under hazardous conditions that increased their risk for injury and disease. (5) An education would empower these children to be engaged in a productive activity off the streets or in a dangerous working situation and potentially pull them out of a cycle of poverty.
Saving Grace School in Arusha attempts to do just that. Because many Tanzanian children cannot afford school fees, uniforms and supplies, Saving Grace covers all of the costs. With more schools such as Saving Grace, perhaps the number of children endangered on the streets would begin to decrease.
Though “Slumdog Millionaire” had a Hollywood ending when Jamal competes and wins India’s version of Who Want to Be A Millionaire, most street children are left with only their wits and survival instinct. The day set aside to bring attention and dignity to these children also calls out government to participate in finding solutions.
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said it best: “Poverty is not written in the stars; under development is not one of God's mysterious designs.” With complacency, comes status quo. With the strategic goals and action of organizations such as the United Nations, World Economic Forum and World Health Organization, comes a more just and equitable world. International development in 2017 saw strides in disease management, water accessibility and local economic growth.
Each year as the snow flies in January in Davos, Switzerland, political, business and other leaders gather to discuss and shape global, regional, and industry agendas. The World Economic Forum is a not-for-profit foundation that fosters public-private cooperation in international development. The following three areas of focus were among the achievements that came out of the 2017 forum.
Social entrepreneur Gary White and actor Matt Damon of water.org announced a partnership with Stella Artois to help provide clean water to 3.5 million people. (5)
In striving to improve the delivery of digital cash payments in populations in crisis, business and humanitarian communities developed several essential principles. Digital cash proves to stimulate entrepreneurialism and advance local economies. (5)
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations was launched. Its goal is to create vaccines that can quickly react and be released when an outbreak occurs. (5)
The World Health Organization reported on its own progress in 2017. With offices in over 150 countries, the WHO works with governments and other partners to fight infectious and noncommunicable diseases and to safeguard the safety of our air, food, water and medicine. Following are several highlights of the report.
The elimination of malaria in The Maldives and Sri Lanka was announced. The WHO continues to work on accelerating progress across the Southeast region where more than 230 million people are still at high risk. (1)
Achievements in combating neglected tropical diseases (NID) were reported. In 2007 a group of global partners agreed to target these NIDs. “The WHO has observed record-breaking progress towards bringing ancient scourges like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis to their knees,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. (2)
Bhutan and the Maldives announced the elimination of measles in their countries. The WHO continues to boost measles immunization rates worldwide. (3)
In an effort to eradicate polio on the continent of Africa, 116 million children were vaccinated. (3)
The achievements of these organizations and others bolster the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17 goals in this agenda target the eradication of extreme poverty and the securing of the planet. The agenda’s preamble states: “We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.” (4)
3. http://www.who.int/features/2017/year-review/en/#event-_2017- year-in-review
5. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/10-achievements-davos- 2017/
The pioneer story held my imagination captive during childhood. Caddie Woodlawn, Little House on the Prairie, and later Willa Cather’s novels. It was on my eighth birthday that I received the full series of Laura Ingalls Wilder books, each crispy, fresh-smelling book more enticing than the last. I was fortunate as a child to be provided such gifts. I was blessed to have parents who promoted reading and the accessibility of a library.
It was American author and literacy educator Pam Allyn who began in 2007 to advocate for literacy as not just a privilege for some but a human right for all. It was with this belief that she set about establishing the non-profit organization, LitWorld, which led to the formation of World Read Aloud Day, celebrated on February 1, 2018. (1)
Photo by Annie Spratt
Much like Felicia McKenzie’s founding of Brighter Tanzania Foundation, Allyn’s path began with a visit to an impoverished community in Africa which inspired her to act to improve the lives of kids. Specifically, in Kiberia, an area of extreme poverty in Nairobi, Kenya, she witnessed the intense desire of children to read, write and share stories. She also observed the obstacles that kept them from doing so. (1)
Photo by Steve Shreve
Through Allyn’s advocacy, World Read Aloud Day began in 2010. Organizers strive to bring awareness to the importance of reading aloud to all children. The need is real, the literacy statistics startling. Worldwide, 750 million adults (2/3 of these women) lack basic reading and writing skills. Reading aloud every day to children puts them almost a year ahead of children who lack this effort. As Allyn once said, “Stories are more than a gentle escape. They are a life raft.” (1)
LitWorld provides resources and activity ideas to teachers, parents and other adults participating. It promotes author read alouds while visiting classrooms or via video chats. Most importantly, LitWorld is a microphone through which the mission of advocating worldwide literacy is spread.
The mission is indeed global. Scholastic Books is one of LitWorld’s sponsors. It hosts read aloud events in Australia, Africa, Asia, Canada, India, Latin America, Puerto Rico, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. (2)
The message has been heard loud and clear in South Africa. In 2017, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which assessed students in grade 4 of South Africa’s schools, released some dismal results. The study found that 78% of the students were illiterate. (5)
Though the results were alarming, the government had already recognized the need for literacy intervention. In 2012, a national campaign began called Nal’ibali which means “Here’s the story” in isiXhosa. The campaign identifies the link between reading for pleasure and improved outcomes for kids. (3)
Because the campaign attempts to create a reading culture, South Africans readily embraced Read Aloud Day. In fact, a different story is chosen for South African children each year and the country seeks to outdo its participation rate in reading this story from the preceding year. In 2018, South Africans read “The Final Minute” by local author Zkiswa Wanner. Nal’ibali provided downloadable copies of the story, available in 11 official languages. On Read Aloud Day, Wanner read the book in isiZulu to 1000 school children in an open-air venue. In total, over 1,000,000 South African children heard the story read that day. (4)
Back in the U.S., the importance of reading aloud to our children continues to gain attention. A Kids and Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic Books noted an increase in this beneficial habit between the years 2014 and 2016. The national study surveyed kids, ages 6 to 17 and their parents. The study found that the percentage of parents who read to their children before three months of age increased from 30% to 40% during this time period. Parents who read to their children 5 to 7 times per week increased from 55% to 62% for children between the ages of 3 and 5. (2)
Whether Laura Ingalls, Harry Potter or Dr. Seuss, a book allows a young mind to travel, transform and grow. A caring adult who reads it can take a child on an even longer journey.
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