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I'll be living below the line this year for the Somaly Mam Foundation - an organization that rescues girls from commercial sex work and provides a safe haven for victims of abuse or those at high-risk for trafficking. The foundation's namesake Somaly Mam survived a past of sex slavery and now dedicates her life to activism in her native Cambodia and the world.
I am particularly drawn to the work of this organization after my sister and I had the chance to visit Cambodia last December. We rented bicycles and spent three, hot, sweaty, glorious days exploring the vast rocky temples of Angkor Wat. According to UNICEF, over a quarter of all Cambodians live under the extreme poverty line and because of that, hordes flock to Angkor to hawk souvenirs - ranging from postcards to toenail clippers to wide-brimmed hats - fresh fruit and cold drinks. Tourists arriving at any temple could be guaranteed to be greeted by about 50 vendors, mostly children, who wouldn't take no for an answer. The theme song for the temples could easily be "Everyday I'm Hustling."
By day three, my sister and I were exhausted and we had become somewhat apathetic to such situations. So we asked a waitress how we could convince the peddlers to leave us be. She taught us the local phrase (phonetically) "Auk Men Loi" - basically "I have no money."
Auk Men Loi became our shield. Whenever we went, we needed only to utter it and vendors would part like oil on water, occasionally wide-eyed or giggling at our apparen
fluency. We were gods.
Then we biked to a somewhat secluded temple and a handful of very young children dashed forward with offers of cocoanuts and key chains. "Auk Men Loi," I said, casting it out like a force-field. One girl - no more than seven years old - placed tiny fists on her hips. She cocked her head. "You have money and you don't spend on me. It's okay."
Her words broke through my Auk Men Loi barrier. With her clumsy constructed English sentences, she had managed to sum up our existences perfectly. I had money. I had things. I had a bicycle and a backpack full of snacks and a key for a hotel room with A/C and a shower. She had some key chains to sell and tattered clothes.
However, that was okay. She recognized that although unfair, this was how things were. It's okay that we have the privileges and luxuries that we have. Living with my own entitlement has been a struggle I've dealt with for years, and here this small girl who had so little was trying to absolve me of my guilt. We in America are so lucky to have the things we have, and yet it's okay that we enjoy them.
But, it's also okay if - for just a little while - we put such things aside and try in a small way to understand the lives of others. It's okay that search out alternatives to the unjust systems that keep such poverty in our world. It's okay that we share this message with whoever will hear it, so someday all Cambodians will see Angkor as a place to celebrate their history and not a marketplace from which to eke out an existence.
Because 1.4 billion people live on under a 1.50 a day. Because 22,000 children die from hunger or other preventable diseases every day. Because 1 out of 3 women will be abused, beat or coerced into sex in her lifetime.
And that is not okay.
That little girl from Angkor may never be a victim of trafficking or sexual abuse, but I am grateful that organizations like Somaly Mam will be there to protect her and others throughout Cambodia. I'll be living below the line for Somaly Mam because it's not okay for girls to be denied those basic safeties of childhood.
I hope you'll be joining me. Chose a charity that captures your heart, share this journey with those you live and work with, and tell the world you have no appetite for apathy.
Guest Blog by the Girl Effect. The girl effect is a movement. It's about leveraging the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves, their families, their communities, their countries and the world. It's about making girls visible and changing their social and economic dynamics by providing them with specific, powerful and relevant resources.
A conversation with DfID permanent secretary Mark Lowcock about Girl Hub and the potential of partnerships in development programming.
In 2010 the permanent secretary at the Department for International Development (DfID), Mark Lowcock, dove into uncharted waters when he formed a first-of-its-kind strategic collaboration with Nike Foundation. The result? A new initiative aimed at establishing a new way of delivering development programming at scale for girls. Girl Hub opened its first office in DfID's London basement, but quickly opened offices in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Nigeria to drive work on the ground.
Q: How did Girl Hub happen?
A: Girl Hub began when Maria Eitel, the president of the Nike Foundation, and I met four or five years ago in the margins of a meeting for the World Bank Gender Advisory Council. After years of working in the sector, I had a Damascene moment. The evidence was there to suggest that if you change the prospects of an adolescent girl on a big enough scale, you will transform societies.
Q: Why DfID? Why Nike Foundation?
A: DfID uses its core capabilities, resources, expertise and a global network to really test ourselves and change for the better. It is an organisation that is not afraid to challenge itself to look at things in a different way and for that reason, the Nike Foundation partnership offered us a tangible way to think and work differently with girls.
Partly due to the marketing capabilities and partly due to the sense of fun and energy we had in the early Girl Hub conversations the potential of the partnership was clear to me. I thought we could get into something that was a brand new approach to changing girls' prospects at scale.
Q: You've been quick to point out that this is a strategic collaboration and not a sponsorship. What is the difference?
A: It was very important to both the Nike Foundation and DfID that we appreciated where we were each coming from culturally. We all understood that we were trying to create a partnership, which is quite different to the way that DfID interacts with other organisations. The power of the Girl Hub collaboration has been to make it something completely different. I think the impact of the work as a result of this way the partnership was set up speaks for itself.
Q: What are your biggest accomplishments so far?
A: In December 2011 Girl Hub Rwanda launched Ni Nyampinga - the first teen brand in the country. And in just seven months, Ni Nyampinga magazine has become Rwanda's largest media publication.
In Ethiopia, Girl Hub was the catalyst for DfID Ethiopia's investment in the £10m End Child Marriage programme, which is on track to reach 200,000 girls in the Amhara region by 2015. And this past May, Girl Hub Nigeria supported a 13-week radio show called Carbin Kwai that was designed to reposition girls in the public discourse and provide a platform for community dialogue.
But we've only just skimmed the surface of what's possible.
Q: How can others use your model to take scope to scale?
A: It is a problem for official development agencies that we can be stuck in our ways of doing things. You can only replicate what we're trying with Girl Hub if you can find a partner who shares your vision and if you are clear about what each party is bringing to the table. But look at the nutrition space - where there is a lot of work going on at the moment. If we could get to the point where there are different sorts of partnerships working to get to grips with that, there is a big prize to be won.
Today is the world’s first ever International Day of the Girl.
So what does it mean to be a girl living in extreme poverty?
It means less access to medical facilities, lower access to basic education, lower likelihood of starting or finishing school, and lower opportunities for meaningful work. It means a higher likelihood of being food deprived and a higher likelihood of experiencing violence and sexual harassment.
For girls, discrimination and a lack of power are two of the main underlying causes of child poverty. Therefore, in order to tackle poverty, the empowerment of girls is vital. Healthy, educated and empowered girls are more likely to lift themselves, their families and their countries out of poverty.
One key component of this empowerment is education that provides girls with skills, knowledge and promotes greater gender equality.
Educating girls can make a world of difference. Every extra year of a mother’s schooling is estimated to cut her infant’s chances of mortality by between 5 and 10 per cent. With 9 years education, girls are not only more likely to be literate but also more likely to be healthy, understand their rights and be a force for change. They’re also less likely to experience violence, marry young, or have babies whilst they themselves are children.
But educating girls also has flow on effects for communities and nations. Girls with an education are more likely to reinvest their income back into their families, communities and countries. And an increase of even just 1 per cent in girls’ secondary education attendance, adds 0.3 per cent to a country's GDP.
Clearly, investing in women and girls is not only an act of justice but an investment in health, wealth and development.
Unfortunately there are still a number of barriers that make it hard for girls to get an education. These issues include violence in and around schools, discrimination at school, poor nutrition & health, burdens of domestic work, poor reproductive and sexual health, and economic instability at home. This Gender violence can include physical or sexual abuse, verbal threats and intimidation, and can come from both teachers and students, having an adverse effect on achievement, causing absenteeism and sometimes resulting in girls leaving school altogether.
To address these issues, we must involve and empower girls and women, as well as educating boys and men on the role they can play in tackling gender issues.
If you want to support girls’ education, and empower girls to transform their own lives and the world around them, there are also things you can do...
Is the question Save the Children recently posed in its new video to help the public understand the connection between contraceptive use and saving children’s lives.
It might sound a bit strange – but improving the availability of contraception could help save 2 million children’s lives a year by ensuring mothers can have their children when they’re best able to care, support and feed them as well as adequately recover from pregnancy.
Below you can watch the Save the Children’s video- please don’t forget to share it!
Mothers who can’t properly support and feed their children because they are born too close together; or who can’t adequately recover between pregnancies are less able to care for their children. In addition, children born too close together are more likely to die from preventable causes.
Moreover, pregnancy before the age of 19 is life threatening; it’s actually the number one cause of death for teenage girls around the world with 1 million teenage girls killed or injured every year in pregnancy or giving birth. If you are under 15 when you give birth you are over 5 times more likely to die than those over 19. Their children are also 60% more likely to die before their fifth birthday. In countries like Liberia – 1 in 3 girls give birth before the age of 19, and are more than twice as likely to die compared with those over 19.
The link between contraception and saving lives is a bit counterintuitive, but the numbers speak for themselves. There are 222 million women around the world who want contraception but can’t access it. Of them, most are under 18 and live in the world’s poorest countries. In Save the Children’s report published earlier this week, they make a clear connection between contraceptive use, family planning and child survival.
We rarely contemplate the role contraception plays in our daily lives, we take it for granted. However, without it most people’s lives would be dramatically different. We wouldn’t be enabled to make the same plans, career and life choices that are so central to planning our future.
Contraception is a human right – and all women should be able to enjoy the same rights as we have. To plan their futures. To choose to stay in school, have a career and to have a family – if and when she is ready.
On July 11th, world leaders are meeting in London to make political and financial commitments to shrink the global family planning gap. If you’d like to, you can add your voice to their petition ensuring that the needs of women and girls are heard alongside financial pledges for contraceptive supplies.
Guest Blog by Brie O'Keefe, Senior Campaigns Adviser - Health, Humanitarian & Aid for Save the Children UK
Image and video are from Save the Children's UK website
One trained medical practitioner who is there to offer help, guidance and support through the profound and challenging experience of bringing new life into the world.
No mother should have to risk her life or that of her unborn baby by going through childbirth without expert care. Yet every year 48 million women give birth without the support of someone with recognised midwifery skills.
The consequences of this are tragic. Over 350,000 women die each year as a result of preventable maternal causes. Millions more suffer infection and disability. Families are devastated.
99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries and a large portion of them are preventable. You’re twice as likely to have your birth attended by a skilled healthcare worker if you life in a town or city than the countryside.
What we are talking about is inequality. Where you live should not determine how likely you are to receive medical care. Do you believe any of these should be a factor in the care a mum gets: which country you were born in, whether you live in a town or a village or the amount of money your family has?
Harriett Roberts, mum to Joe, survived her difficult birth due to the skilled care of her local hospital team in Manchester. She points out “You’ve work hard growing this little person inside you and you should have the opportunity to watch them grow.”
May 5th is the International Day of the Midwife
Most of us begin our lives in the hands of a midwife.
This is a chance to highlight the importance of the midwifery profession. A chance to call for more midwives to be trained and for those we have to be better supported.
The White Ribbon Alliance in Tanzania have produced this short film, "What I Want is Simple" to improve the public perception of midwives and to ask others to show their support for difficult job they do.
A lot of progress has already been made. Sierra Leone used to be the worst place in the world to give birth. On 28 April 2010, the government introduced free healthcare for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under the age of five, helped by UK aid money. You can see some of the lives that policy has impacted here.
What can you do?
Dr. Koby Appiah-Sakyi (Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist from Ghana working in Manchester) sadly lost his own mother in childbirth. He explains “If your mother dies, a light goes out that never comes back on.” He has specialised and spent his working life to try to reduce maternal deaths. But you don’t have to be a trained healthcare worker to highlight this important issue. People across the UK and across the world are taking action to show how important this issue is to them. They are knitting giant baby blankets, walking prams of messages to see MPs, doing pregnant break dancing and more to raise awareness in their local community.
Remember the international day of the midwife is only once a year, but we need more trained health workers everyday to save lives. So far Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand have managed to half their Maternal Mortality Rate within 10 years by increasing the number of midwives
Imagine that the whole British army died of a disease within 6 months. That’s roughly equivalent to the rate of 500,000 women globally still dying needlessly each year in pregnancy and childbirth.
Let’s keep working together to see that governments are playing fair. Every mum deserves the same access to healthcare workers and facilities to help them to bring an amazing new life into the world.