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I’m heading out for Peru tomorrow to check out Cusco and Machu Picchu, completely sans guilt about missing a week of class.  Being an anthropology major allows me to justify just about any sort of travel as “experiential learning,” especially in this case since I have a test on Incan culture and religion the day after I get back, so what better way to prepare than by seeing the Sacred Valley in person? Right? Right. Anyway, I’m feeling economical today, and so before my somewhat feisty Internet goes out again I want to start a conversation about the economic situation here, especially as related to poverty and inequality. The following information come from the 2008 United Nations Human Development Report website, so pop on over and brush up on your global statistics if you are so inclined.

  • Using the UN’s Human Development Index (a combined measure of education, life expectancy, and income), Chile ranks 40th out of 179 countries, just between Poland and Slovakia
  • There is a high degree of income inequality: using the UN Gini coefficient as a measure, Chile ranks 40th in the world (as in, 39 countries have less income inequality than Chile).
    • A Gini coefficient of 0 represents absolute income equality, while 100 represents absolute inequality. Chile’s is 54.9.
  • The GDP per capita is $12,997 (56th in the world), compared to $41,890 in the U.S (2nd in the world).
  • According to a study on socioeconomics conducted by the Chilean government in 2006, 13.7% of the population was living in poverty as compared with 38.6% in 1990 and 45.1% in 1987 during Pinochet’s military regime.
  • The minimum wage is $144.000 pesos per month (about $260 US dollars)

The Concertación government, a center-left coalition that has been in power since 1990, has made significant social and economic progress since the end of Pinochet’s regime, and Chile is one of the most economically and politically stable countries in Latin America. However, it still faces significant problems with poverty and inequality. One article I read for my Chilean Politics and Economics class (“Chilean Economic Policy under the Concertación: The Triumph of the Market?” by Lois Hecht Oppenheim if you want a bit of policy analysis) holds that the “Chilean miracle” that resulted from a decade and a half of militant neoliberalism under Pinochet, followed by only minor adjustments has left a market-and-export based economic model that has overlooked other areas of social improvement like education and access to it, gender equality, and classism. Furthermore, Chile’s economy is almost entirely based on primary products: fruit, wine, copper, and nitrates. Unless Chile can eventually diversify it’s economy to include services, it is unlikely to see much more economic growth.

Along with this, chilenos I’ve talked to have mentioned a fairly rigid system of social classes. The other day, my host mom was describing the difficulty of moving up from lower middle class as a direct product of a lack of educational access. College tuition is prohibitively expensive for many students, even those with great academic potential. Scholarships exist, but are limited. Families that can afford it send their children to private schools, though public schools and state-subsidized private schools (similar to charter schools in the U.S) are more common, and suffer from underfunding and overcrowding. Classism is a much bigger problem in Chile than racism or ethnic discrimination, since 90% of the population shares Mestizo (mixed European and indigenous) heritage. Friends that volunteer at Cerro Navia Joven, a nonprofit community organization that serves the a poor area in the western sector of Santiago, reported that many of the people at the center need to lie about where they live in order to get hired anywhere. To admit to being from a bad neighborhood would doom them to unemployment.

Much, much more on these topics to follow. I just wanted to put a few themes up for now, so stay tuned!

So I’ve been communicating with Rita Meher and Farah Nousheen (co-founders of Tasveer) lately and it has been confirmed that my photos will be featured in the International South Asian Film Festival 2009 (ISAFF)! I’m excited for this opportunity because I’m eager to share these experiences across borders. As you all may know, Bangladesh has been nothing short of spectacular so far. This summer has been my first opportunity to really venture out and interact with  dynamically rich communities in Dhaka.

I hope to translate my experience to the audience through this visual documentary- a personal hope that they too can venture into Dhaka as I have.

She came to visit the center to receive some STI treatment. Only 15 years old, she has already been in the business for 8 months since she left her home in Shylet. When asked about the most difficult aspect of her work, she cried and could give no answer. But to all who were there, her tears spoke the most truest, purest, and human answer.

She came to visit the center to receive some STI treatment. Only 15 years old, she has already been in the business for 8 months since she left her home in Shylet. When asked about the most difficult aspect of her work, she cried and could give no answer. But to all who were there, her tears brought an understanding greater than the depth of her words.

And for those that are curious about my hotel sex worker visit-I made it safe and sound! Here are some pictures of what I’ve seen. I want YOU to provide your thoughts on what you feel/believe after seeing these images. I’ll leave my comments later! Remember, LEAVE YOUR INPUT. It could be about all of them, or a paritcular one. Questions are allowed too!

"Bhai, I'll only be taking a picture of your body" His response was, "No! Go ahead, take a full picture of me!" This man has certainly raped multiple women and forced them into this trade.

All information, data, and quotes were obtained from “A Synthesis of the HIV Situation in Bangladesh: An Epidemic in Transition” (February 2008)

I was just doing some literature research through FHI reports about the nature of the HIV situation in Bangladesh. Due to the relative lack of knowledge, stigma surrounding these communities, and dense population in Dhaka, injecting drug users and commercial sex workers are at highest risk. HIV rates have reached epidemic proportions among drug users-some communities indicating rates as high at 8.9%. Misti McDowell, the country director of FHI, explained that these high rates can contribute to the concentrating of the disease in the Dhaka area. Commercial sex workers then play the role of dispersing the disease through working with various incoming clients and mobilizing through the country. With regard to commercial sex workers-the heterosexual sex business is the most common and thus bears the highest need for awareness and condom use. However, men who have sex with men (MSMs) and Hijra sex workers are at more risk than other sex workers because they are neglected and difficult to locate and provide treatment. I’m shocked with how well enclosed these communities are-especially the MSMs. I remember coming home one day from a site visit of an MSM integrated health center (IHC). I was explaining to various family members of how MSMs (most of them expressed being gay) find security and community through these centers. My cousin’s first words were, “What? Gay people actually exist in Bangladesh?” I had a good laugh from that one.

Actually, I can’t blame my cousin or anyone else for that matter for denying this fact. Gay culture and identity does not exist in Bangladesh. First of all, it is haram (forbidden) by the predominant religion. And second of all, it is very difficult to detect because of the little free mixing between boys and girls. It is not considered odd to see two unmarried men spending an unusual amount of time together-it’s actually preferred (as opposed to spending time with a woman). But what frightened me the most was the fact that many of these MSMs were married with families. If they were to practice unsafe sex with another man and then have sex with their spouse, it can propose some difficult problems. The fact that these men aren’t and can’t be open about their practices places them at a higher stake for contracting and transmitting HIV.

Furthermore, it’s virtually impossible to receive treatment from a general doctor. In the case of MSMs-once the doctor sees the evidence of anal sex, he/she will discharge them for being homosexual. I personally believe that there needs to be a behavioral change among all facets of the populations-students, politicians, doctors, sex workers, drug users, clients, etc. But the paper necessitates a behavioral change among the risk groups-“The experience from other Asian countries suggests that behavior change may not be rapid enough to avoid an HIV epidemic, unless there is massive scaling-up of existing interventions among the appropriate vulnerable groups.” (page 17)

So in the nutshell, these IHCs are INTEGRAL for preventing Bangladesh from spiraling into an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Bad news? There needs to be more of them AND societal beliefs should start changing.

Good news? FHI Bangladesh just received they’re 4 year funding from USAID! It was party at the office yesterday!

Last week, I was fortunate enough to represent the World Youth Alliance at the Open Development Bar Camp at the World Bank in Washington D.C. It was a really good camp. I had the chance to meet with my “development expert celebrities” like Owen Barder (yes, I know already, I’m weird kid, my mates fan Angelina Jolie–I fan Bill Easterly) and to listen to really smart development people from all over the world talk about development and how to make development data more accessible to all sorts of people who want to help poor people. I learnt a lot from their discussions and I listened to people from USAID and MCC talk about the challenges they face in development work (one that stuck with me was a USAID official talking about dumb questions the US congress asks like “What is USAID doing for Coptic Christian in Ethiopia ?”..I’m like hunh?? but whatever…) Anyway, I learnt a lot and I am sure you will join the discussion there but I want to comment on a few things I learnt at this event.

1.) Randomized experiments are the in thing !!!! I knew what this term was before the conference , but it was the kind of term I would skim over when I read international development literature. I now realize it has become foundational to development and data research. I just wonder from my limited knowledge of this field what kind of ethics are behind it. I mean, controlled experiment testing for say the impact of a poverty alleviation program in a community may necessitate intentionally keeping a family poor to see what would happen but without the program. If I was the bad experiment for some reason and I didn’t get a chance to get out of poverty because people wanted to compare me to someone who got the help they needed, I’ll be really pissed. But hey, dats just my inexperienced self talking. But I sure hope randomized does development economics some good at the littlest human cost.

2. Where are developing countries? I wondered a lot about why people from developing countries were hardly present at the meeting. Apart from myself, I could basically count the number of people from developing countries that were at the conference and the number is not pretty. At the risk of shameless self aggrandizement, I did mention that it was necessary to involve more developing countries in development efforts. I was happy a lot of people came up to me and said it was very important to do this. I certainly hope that in the future more and more people would see the sense in empowering people from developing countries to get active in development issues.

3. Everyone is looking for a silver bullet. Now this is the point that kind of scares me about development. People in development and you donors have to realize that there is hardly a silver bullet as far as poverty is concerned. Yep. Sorry to disappoint you. None-at least not yet! Not micro finance, not mobile phones, surely not just aid, even the effect of good governance or corruption is somewhat questionable (Alan Beattie’s False Economy has a good article on corruption and economic development. We have to co-ordinate all these efforts to solve poverty. Technology can only do so much. At the conference, I think people romanticized too much about mobile phones and the impact the could make on development. Especially when you consider that the most effective development applications can only be accessed on certain smart phones poor people cannot afford, you tend to wonder whether the bars are’nt being raised too high.

4. In the end development is still all about developing countries. Truth is that in development work, there is only so much you can do as a person especially if what is driving your action is benign intentions and not self interest . Ok. Yes accuse me of launching a capitalist rant but realistically speaking, there is little you can really do if you don’t have skin in the game. When you have skin in the game, the stakes are higher. Perhaps to buttress this point, the projects that most impressed me during the conference were projects from Africa. And what is especially wonderful about these projects is that they don’t need the “African label” to be authentic (something Bill Easterly has roundly criticized). They are wonderful ideas with huge prospects and potential in their own right.

One of the projects from Africa that especially made me beam during this conference was Maker Faire Africa (a project set up by one of my favorite development expert celebrities, Nii Simmonds. The project celebrates African inventors. God knows nothing is more important for development than African inventors and innovators.

5. Technology is amazing. That you are reading this is enough of an explanation.

But in concluding, I still want to press the two things that I think should be kept in mind when we are talking about development. First, that development is primarily the responsibility of people in developing countries. It is important that programs that empower them to take on their role in development are increased. Second students in developing countries are still an untapped resource when it comes to development. Many people still have this binary thinking about education that its return come long term and it costs so much. I disagree. I think students can find dealing with problems in their societies not just as a positive way of putting to use their youth fervor but also very useful for their learning. This way, education is not just a long term cost that should be charged to the IMF credit card or generous donors but something that is in itself productive for developing countries and indeed central to their development efforts. Development people and agencies should increase the incentives for students especially in the developing world to participate in the development of their own countries.

I raise these issues because I am especially concerned about youth like me, who are jobless in Nigeria and other countries but have nothing to do (which is why you receive so much spam email), we should always keep them in mind when we are developing programs. For example, I know a lot youth who will be willing to help with finding data so long as someone is willing to pay for it. Even better, equipping youth with the knowledge and tools they need to be at the forefront of efforts in development is the best investment in a country’s development–because they realize that only the best ideas are good enough since they have “skin in the game”. Maker Faire Africa is trying very hard to do this by partnering with universities like Asheshi University in engaging African students in innovative and productive enterprise. I hope with time, they go farther than that to engage less affluent youth like those creative “yahoo-yahoo” boys who send you spam emails. My joy is that there is a growing awareness of the importance of engaging the youth in developing countries in development efforts especially through technology.

We are at the end of my disjointed rant about everything and I am sure you are releived. However, some of you maybe glumly asking “what can I, the fortunate foreigner, do for the world’s poor ?” The best thing you can do for the poor is empower them to solve their own problems. So donate to Jolkona’s education projects because Africa needs its own home grown Bills, whether they be Easterly’s or Gates.

This blog post was contributed by Deanna Wallace, All As One Executive Director:

All As One is dedicated to helping the orphaned and destitute children of Sierra Leone, West Africa by providing a loving home, education, medical care, and a chance for a better future.  We accomplish this through the All As One Children’s Center (an orphanage), school, and medical clinic in the capital city of Freetown.

Sierra Leone is officially the worst place in the world to be born, ranking as the world’s least developed country with the highest infant mortality rate according to the United Nations.  But, despite that, the beautiful kids in All As One’s care (that I have come to know and love), fill my heart with so much joy!   Whether it is 6-year-old Hayley running and jumping to give me a big hug, or 8-year-old Kadie asking if my hair is a wig (it isn’t), or 5-year-old Sahr showing me his wide grin and comedic talents (that kid can make you smile!), or 13-year-old Mohamed displaying his growing artistic side, or 12-year-old Monjama becoming such a beautiful young woman before my eyes.the list of special joys and memories could just go on and on.  I wish I had time to tell you about each one.

I have been living and working in Sierra Leone for nine years now and have been privileged to see many of the children grow from infancy to toddlers to school-age and beyond – and they are fantastic – such really special  human beings.  And I can tell you from firsthand experience that All As One’s work is urgent and necessary and worth doing because the kids are worth it!

Right now we are working hard to upgrade our current school – and the kids need new metal chairs!  The old chairs the children have been using are made of wood and have mostly been broken beyond repair at this time.  You can help in such a significant way by donating through the Jolkona Foundation to buy a chair for either a kindergartener ($15) or an older student ($25). Just click on this badge to see the project details:

Your donation toward this school chair project would be a terrific gift to the kids and their education!!!

On behalf of the children, I want to thank Jolkona Foundation and YOU for your support!  You are all greatly appreciated!

To learn more about the children and All As One’s work in Sierra Leone, please visit www.allasone.org

We at Jolkona Foundation want to wish all of you very happy holidays and a new year to come! We hope that you and your families have a healthy, wonderful and prosperous 2009!

I am sure all of you heard about the earthquake in China. We have been keeping tabs on the relief & recovery efforts in China. At this point, Jolkona Foundation is trying to assess the situation on the ground, before committing ourselves to any undertaking. The needs are wide ranging – from needing immediate relief material to recupertaing from “loss of a generation” as most of those killed are children. If you would like to contribute something at this moment, we encourage you to do that through Red Cross or Mercy Corps.

We are also in touch with one of our partners – Machik – who has operations in the Sichuan province. They are trying to establish how best they can contribute to the relief efforts. As the details emerge from their investigation, we will be sure to post updates on our blog here. You can see the latest update from Machik here.

As Asia faces two very challenging humanitarian crisis, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Myanmar and China. We will continue to diligently monitor the situation. Finally, we encourage you to help out in any way that you can.

A quick update from us is that we are working hard on the first version of our website. We hope to have the private alpha available later this month to selected few followed by a beta later this summer. As we try hard to finish up the website, we have not been able to keep the blog up-to-date. However, I do want to take few minutes to talk about Cyclone Nargis that recently struck Myanmar.

We had a few people ask us whether we will be organizing another fundraising campaign similar to the one we organized after Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh. You can read about that effort here. We are humbled by the trust people have in us to execute small, but effective relief operations. However, at this point we do not think we will be undertaking any relief efforts in Myanmar. The main reasons are:

  • Governments around the world are having a hard time getting into Myanmar. We do not think we will be able to talk our way into Myanmar.
  • Bangladesh presented a unique opportunity for us since we had many connections on the ground, which helped us coordinate and execute the relief operation with low-overhead. Such a personal network does not exist for us in Myanmar.
  • When we carried out our efforts in Bangladesh, we were not yet approved for our tax-exempt status in the USA. Now that we have been approved, we have to be more careful with our actions. At the end of the day, relief efforts do not align perfectly with our mission.
  • We are already spread thin trying to get our v1 website running – which is our main mission. It would not be prudent for us to take on projects that take us away from that immediate goal.

Therefore, we believe this is not the best time for us to initiate relief efforts in Myanmar.

We are delighted to see that people want to help. Here are some suggestions on how you can help out:

  • Firstly, keep abreast of the latest situation. If you can’t provide donations, you can help greatly by spreading the right information.
  • You can give to World Food Programme as they seem to be the ones with the most significant presence at this time in Myanmar. You can do this from here.
  • Here is a list of other organizations that are trying to respond to the disaster.

Please let us know if you have any comments/questions.

We at Jolkona Foundation want to wish all of you very happy holidays and a new year to come! We hope that you and your families have a wonderful and prosperous 2008!

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