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GIRLS AND WOMEN Margaret: Why investing in a girl means investing in a community

 

26 September 2016 4:15PM UTC  | By: CLEA GUY-ALLEN
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By Zack Fowler, Development Director for WISER International

“I really didn’t know if I would make it.”

The region where Margaret is from in Kenya is a difficult place to be a young woman. In a community where many families live on less than $1 a day, transactional sex is common — more than 50 percent of sexually active adolescents in the region report having transactional sex in order to pay for basic needs. And this happens in an area where as many as 1 in 3 people are HIV positive. The reality, for many girls, is that they risk their health to stay in school. These barriers, among others, are the reasons why, before Margaret’s WISER class, no girl from a school in Muhuru Bay had ever reached college.

Margaret faced similar challenges. She lost two siblings and her mother to disease. With little money, and no precedent of any girl being successful in school, Margaret’s education could have been over.

That is, until Margaret became a WISER Girl.

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Margaret. (Photo credit: WISER)

Today, Margaret sits in an office at the WISER school in Muhuru Bay and smiles. For her, the campus symbolises something that was once impossible, and is now the reason she feels more confident than ever that her story will have a happy ending.

“I know now that you can help others regardless of the challenges you face,” she says.

For six years, WISER, a Kenya-based NGO, has provided education, health, and leadership opportunities to girls in Western Kenya. As a school, WISER provides a fully-funded residential secondary education with dedicated teachers. As a community centre, it provides health fairs, agricultural education, and clean water to more than 5,000 people.

Across all of WISER’s efforts, from education to clean water, we are proud to champion girls and comprehensively address 11 of the 17 UN Global Goals in one program.

In 2013, Margaret was a part of the first WISER graduating class, and quickly became an ambassador for WISER’s most powerful belief: empowering girls through education and health builds not only individuals, but entire regions.

As Margaret puts it, “WISER has given me everything. But more than giving me items, they made me a valued person that feels prepared to face any challenge.”

While at WISER, Margaret found a passion for community health, and immediately looked to improve the health of her hometown. “I realised I wanted to deal with the health of people…to help those around me, and I knew others might not have the courage to handle patients in such a difficult situation. I’m able to handle it.”

She’s the first in her family to finish high school. She’s the first in her region to attend university. Having just finished her second year of a nursing degree, she’s happy and confident, and if she has her way, she’ll be the first person to return to Muhuru to work as a full-time nurse.

The most exciting thing about Margaret’s story is that it is becoming more and more common for other young women.

In the past three years, 72 WISER Girls have begun post-secondary education and become role models in their communities. And almost all of them have the same goal of raising their communities up.

Muhuru Bay now has a large group of driven, developing professionals that not only have a hunger for success, but a deep-seated sense of responsibility to their hometown. In the five years following the program, WISER Girls will become more than symbols of hope for young girls. They will become the nurses, agricultural economists, bankers, and teachers that have an active role in the development of their communities. They will address the poverty, hunger, gender inequity, and other targets that have been highlighted by the UN to build a better world.

Years ago, girls in Muhuru Bay were readily left by the wayside. There are millions of girls like Margaret all over the world. And in helping them change their lives, we can change the course of the future.

Learn more about WISER here, then take a stand for girls and women by adding your name to the Poverty is Sexist open letter.

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FOOD & HUNGER How Haiti Cut Hunger in Half Following Devastation of Hurricane Matthew

By Meghan Werft|

 Jan. 19, 2017
 

 

The devastation to Haiti’s infrastructure and agriculture wrought by Hurricane Matthew in the fall of 2016 left millions starving in the wake of the storm, a number that has already been cut in half thanks to emergency relief efforts. 

Hunger in some of the hardest-hit regions, including Sud and Grande-Anse, has been halved since early October thanks to a collaborative effort between the United Nations Food Programme and Haiti’s National Coordination for Food Security, the organizations said in a new report. 

Two major leaders in disaster response and food assistance  the World Food Programme and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization  targeted regions where hunger was the most prominent as a result of the hurricane. 

Read More: Food & Hunger: 7 Ways the Obamas Worked to Keep People Fed

In Sud and Grande-Anse, 1 million people were left hungry without access to food after the storm tore apart the island nation. Now, that number has been reduced to 400,000. 

The two organizations worked with departments of the Haitian government to bring food to those who needed it the most and do it in the most effective way. They started by providing food assistance to 20,000 pregnant and nursing mothers, and then 21,000 of the most vulnerable households in Sud and Grande-Anse. 

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has also been providing seeds and financial agricultural support in Haiti to help rebuild a stable food system in a country fraught with instability. 

“The results of the assessment show the very positive impact of our collective efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, but also the pressing need to continue and redirect assistance to new areas with higher levels of food insecurity, as well as initiate recovery interventions,” said Ronald Tran Ba Huy, the World Food Programme’s representative in Haiti. 

 

Together, these organizations have kept alive some of the world’s most at risk, hungry, and vulnerable people. 

Yet, 14.5% of the country  about 1.5 million people  still lack access to sufficient food months after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti. 

In the northwest regions of Artibonite, Nippes and La Gonave, food crops were decimated from the storm and severe flooding, exacerbating the effects of a three-year-long drought. One million people live in the region and are still struggling to find adequate food.  

Read More: Photos, Video of Hurricane Matthew’s Path of Destruction in Haiti, Cuba

In October, food was so scarce it prompted Guy Philippe, a well-known war criminal, to come out from hiding and beg for assistance.

Now, to finish the battle against hunger in Haiti, FAO and WFP are asking for more resources to curb the vast remaining cases of food scarcity, saying they need another $113 million to end hunger in Haiti for good.

 
TAKE ACTION Send petitions, emails, or tweets to world leaders. Call governments or join rallies. We offer a variety of ways to make your voice heardGet Involved
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Written by Meghan Werft

 

Meghan is an Editorial Coordinator at Global Citizen. She studied International Political Economy at the University of Puget Sound before moving to New York. She is a firm believer that education and awareness on interconnected global issues has the power to create a more sustainable, equal world where poverty does not exist.

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The heart is one is the organs most vulnerable to the effects of radiation, and every year, thousands of children in the Ukraine are born with genetic heart diseases and defects. One of these defects is the deadly condition known as “Chernobyl Heart”.

CCI manages and delivers a world-recognised Cardiac Programme. In collaboration with the Novick Cardiac Alliance that has saved the lives of thousands of children. In partnership with the American cardiac surgeon and US CCI board member Dr William Novick, CCI has reduced waiting lists for cardiac surgeries in Ukraine since its inception in 2008.

Volunteer surgical teams travel to eastern Ukraine to perform surgeries that save lives, and CCI provides financial and logistical support to the cardiac surgeons in order for them to make the vital trips. We also provide state of the art medical technology and equipment needed to perform the operations, as well as to train local physicians.

This training develops local capacity and skills, enabling local surgical teams to treat the children in their own area more effectively and with more success.

To learn more or donate to our Cardiac Programme visit: 
http://www.chernobyl-international.com/

 

 

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Via Chernobyl Children International

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FINANCE & INNOVATION

China's Set to Take Over the World, and 5 Other Takeaways From Davos

By Joe McCarthy| Jan. 19, 2017

 

AP Photo/Michel Euler

The World Economic Forum gathers in Davos, Switzerland each January, where heads of state, activists, academics, celebrities, and more discuss the state of the world. 

If that sounds lofty, that's because it is. Sometimes the proceedings can seem intimidating or out-of-touch. But amid all the opinions and data flying around, a picture of the world and all its complications, the good and the bad, emerges.

Maybe the biggest takeaway of this year's Davos has been the bold pronouncements of China's president Xi Jinping in favor of globalization, a harbinger that China is ready to supplant the US in terms of worldwide influence if US president-elect Donald Trump recedes from the global stage. 

"We must remain committed to promoting free trade and investment through opening up and say no to protectionism," Xi said at Davos on Tuesday. "Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air."

Iam Bremmer, founder of Eurasia Group, has been keeping track of the best Davos insights.

Here are 11 other takeaways from the week: 

The World Is Lopsided

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50% of the global population in yellow. 50% in black. #Davos

12:42 PM - 19 Jan 2017

  395 395 Retweets   298 298 likes

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Geographic inequality is a thing, too. 

5% of World Population in Blue. 

5% in Red.#wef17

8:48 PM - 18 Jan 2017

  198 198 Retweets   207 207 likes

Poverty Can End

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Global Extreme Poverty 

1990: 37.1% of the world’s population 

1999: 29% 

2012: 12.8% 

2015: 9.6% #Davos

10:25 PM - 18 Jan 2017

  431 431 Retweets   415 415 likes

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Extreme poverty, by continent (2013 figures)

Africa: 383 million

Asia: 327m

S America: 19m

N America: 13m

Oceania: 2.5m

Europe: 0.7m#wef17

4:04 PM - 18 Jan 2017

  101 101 Retweets   74 74 likes

The Next Global Leaders?

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If you think the internet has already changed everything, wait till it really hits India. #Davos

2:33 PM - 19 Jan 2017

  495 495 Retweets   414 414 likes

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China: Along with a booming middle class comes booming optimism.

1:15 PM - 18 Jan 2017

  101 101 Retweets   87 87 likes

Inequality Is a Global Problem

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Global households = $256 trillion 

Split evenly, that's $52,819/adult 

Split realistically, the top 10% own 89% of global wealth#wef17

8:33 PM - 18 Jan 2017

  57 57 Retweets   45 45 likes

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World's top 100 economic entities (by revenue) 

31 are countries 

69 are corporations #wef17

2:01 PM - 17 Jan 2017

  168 168 Retweets   125 125 likes

Refugees Are Not Welcome Everywhere

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US

China 

Japan 

Germany 

France 

UK 

 

The world’s 6 wealthiest countries—57% of global GDP—host 9% of the world’s refugees. #Davos

9:09 PM - 18 Jan 2017

  283 283 Retweets   241 241 likes

Turmoil in the Middle East

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The Arab world 

5% of world population 

45% of global terrorist attacks 

58% of world refugees 

69% of battle-related deaths #wef17

2:46 PM - 19 Jan 2017

  794 794 Retweets   592 592 likes

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6 Years after Arab Spring 

1 Democracy 

5 Autocracies 

3 Failed States

+Trump#Davos

3:31 PM - 19 Jan 2017

  503 503 Retweets   371 371 likes

TAKE ACTION

Send petitions, emails, or tweets to world leaders. Call governments or join rallies. We offer a variety of ways to make your voice heard

Get Involved

TOPICSWorld Economic Forum, Davos, China, Round-up, Ian Bremmer, Globalization, Current events, Xi Jinping

Joe McCarthy

Written by Joe McCarthy

Joe McCarthy is a Content Creator at Global Citizen. He believes apathy is the biggest threat to creating a more just world and tries his hardest to stay open-minded and curious. Living in New York keeps him aware of how interconnected our world is, how every action has ripples.

 

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TECHNOLOGY Ensuring everyone has the right to read and learn

 

7 November 2016 3:47PM UTC  | By: ROBYN DETORO
JOIN Join the fight against Extreme Poverty
 
  

Literacy skills are one of the most powerful tools that enable people to lift themselves out of poverty. But today, nearly 17% of the world’s adult population is still not literate; two thirds of them women, making gender equality even harder to achieve.

Margaret1-1024x576.jpgReading is one of the best ways to help students improve these skills, but for families around the world living on less than $1 a day, books are an unaffordable luxury.

To overcome this barrier, Worldreader devised a mobile app that gives anyone with a phone, tablet, or e-reader access to over 40,000 free book titles in over 43 different languages. With many African schools equipped with few or no books, the availability of digital books has been transformational.

Margaret4-1024x576.jpgFor women like Margaret in Kenya, attending school was not an option so she missed out on learning even the most basic literacy skills. Unable to read or write, Margaret took a job as a cleaner in a local nursery school and spent days watching the small children learn. This is what inspired her to become a teacher, but first she would have to start her learning too.  

Margaret5-1024x576.jpgShe began classes at an Adult Learning Centre, quickly adopting the skills she would need to become a qualified teacher and achieving her dream. However, once Margaret was at the front of the classroom, she quickly realised the cost and lack of access to books were a barrier to her student’s education, so she turned to the Worldreader reading app. “Everything you want to learn, you can find it in the phone,” she said.

Margaret now uses her mobile phone to lead lessons and engage students in the classroom. Her students can access thousands of ebooks for free on their mobiles for just a few cents a week of data cost in an in environment where a single physical book can often cost $5 or more.

Margaret3-1024x576.jpg“They tell me, ‘Teacher, we want to know more, we want to know more!’,” Margaret says.

To learn more about Worldreader, visit worldreader.org. To read books on your mobile phone using Worldreader’s applications visit read.worldreader.org or download the app on the Google Play Store.

Call on leaders and innovators from all countries, industries and communities to make universal internet access a reality by adding your name now.

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FINANCE & INNOVATION Know Exactly Where Your Donations Are Going With This App From Oxfam

By Phineas Rueckert|

 Jan. 19, 2017

If smartphone technology makes it easier to moderate your personal life — from water consumption, to physical activity, to daily screen time — it also has the capacity to help you become a more engaged Global Citizen. 

In 2017, Global Citizen is highlighting apps that give them the tools to engage with the global community with nothing more than a cellphone. 

One of the biggest concerns that many people have when considering which charities to support and which charities to avoid comes in the form of a nagging question: “Who is my money actually going to?”

Does my donation go to people in need, or does it merely fill the coffers of a perfidious nonprofit taking advantage of well-intentioned donors? 

This is a reasonable question to ask. A report from the True and Fair Foundation in 2015 found that one in five British charities spend less than 50% of their funds on “good works.” 

But Oxfam, the global charity that works in more than 90 countries around the world, has recently developed an app that will give users an inside look at the impact of their individual donations. It’s a much-needed push for transparency in a world of charitable giving that has for a long time operated without sufficient oversight. 

disaster-relief-typhoon-defence-images-fImage: Flickr/Defence Images

“By showing how you’ve made a difference, we hope that [donating] is a positive choice, rather than a negative one,” Matt Jerwood, the head of digital fundraising at Oxfam Great Britain, told Global Citizen.

Read more: 17 Goals That Can Actually Change Your Life—And Everyone Else’s Too

The organization has been working on the app, which was released in late December, “for some time,” Jerwood said. As Oxfam GB looked to develop a new platform, they noticed that there was “a hunger for more transparency.” People wanted to know what international causes Oxfam was supporting, and see the faces of the people their money went toward helping.  

Within the “My Oxfam” app, users can scroll through a timeline of the organization’s international campaigns, and compare those to their own individual donations over time. They can read through individual stories of aid recipients, and watch videos of communities that receive aid from Oxfam. 

dfid-clean-energy-india-flickr.jpg__640xImage: Flickr/DFID

Users can easily toggle the size and frequency of their donations within the app, and can opt to receive SMS and email alerts when immediate aid is needed. 

“In emergency situations I hope this becomes a mechanism for people to get involved,” Jerwood said. 

Read more: Meet Buycott, an App That Makes Ethical Shopping as Easy as Scanning a Barcode

For Oxfam, which, according to Jerwood, sees about 50% of its web content and emails accessed through smartphones, modern technologies could lead to a breakthrough in fundraising. Apps like “My Oxfam,” which right now is only available in the UK, could also set a precedent for other organizations hoping to increase the transparency of their charitable work. 

The app is “not something you go to every day, but might be something you go to now and then,” Jerwood said. 

“My Oxfam” might not overtake Snapchat or Instagram in your most commonly used apps anytime soon, but it does offer users a quick, easy, and comprehensive way of giving back to the global community, and staying an engaged Global Citizen. 

 
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Written by Phineas Rueckert

 

Phineas Rueckert is a writer at Global Citizen. He graduated from Macalester College with a degree in Political Science and International Studies, and spent the past year teaching English in Toulouse, France. He is originally from Brooklyn, New York.

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ENVIRONMENT 'An Inconvenient Sequel' Is Exactly What We Need Right Now

By James O'Hare|

 Jan. 19, 2017

Ten years after "An Inconvenient Truth" debuted and launched climate change into public consciousness and popular culture, and a day before President-Elect Donald Trump – who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese – is sworn into office, "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth and Power"is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday.

The film is directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. Davis Guggenheim, who directed "An Inconvenient Truth,"served as executive producer. Like its predecessor, the film follows former Vice President Al Gore on his quest to highlight how dire climate change has become while simultaneously showing how close humanity is to solving the crisis.

Read More: This Alaska Town Is Falling Into the Ocean Thanks to Climate Change

In a battle of hearts and minds, the premiere comes one day before Donald Trump, a climate change denier, is sworn into office. To make matters worse for environmentalists, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is set to become secretary of state and Scott Pruitt, another climate change skeptic, is waiting to be confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency – an organization he has sued 14 times as attorney general of Oklahoma.

The film also premieres days after scientists declared 2016 the hottest year in recorded history.

READ MORE: 2016 Was the Hottest Year on Record

According to Sundance’s website, the film will be part of a new section called, “New Climate, a program dedicated to conversations and films about environmental change and conservation.” In what is arguably part of the legacy of "An Inconvenient Truth," 13 other environmentally conscious documentaries will be screened.

“I believe that storytelling is the greatest platform for getting people to care and take action on some of the most pressing issues of our time," said longtime environmental activist and the film festival’s founder Robert Redford. "Amid escalating threats to our environment, independent perspectives are adding the depth and dimension needed for us to find common ground and real solutions.”  

"An Inconvenient Truth" won two Academy Awards and helped earn Al Gore a Nobel Prize. If "An Inconvenient Sequel" is anywhere near as successful, hopefully we won’t need a trilogy in another 10 years.  

 
 

Written by James O'Hare

 

James is an Editorial Intern at Global Citizen. He believes education is the starting point in working for social justice and hopes to someday eliminate the spectacle in American politics. He habitually quotes Mitch Hedberg and believes there should be a national holiday in honor of whoever invented chicken-bacon-ranch pizza.

 

 

Via Global Citizen

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GIRLS & WOMEN I Was Raped by a Fellow Freshman & My College Found Him Innocent: Aspen Matis Shares Her Story

By Aspen Matis|

 Jan. 19, 2017
 

 

 

This story is the fourth in a series called "Real Women, Real Stories," a social project designed to promote awareness of the often unseen hardships women face in different professions and places around the world. Read the first story in the series here.

I stepped out of the hidden subway underground into the pink light of Columbia University, dawn at my dream school. Power blue and white balloons welcomed incoming students, brightening the high black metal gates. I feared my 18-year-old classmates would immediately see I was different and didn’t belong. At 26, I was a transfer student, returning to school for orientation. I hoped it wasn’t obvious how awkward I felt, that I was older than everyone.

I was afraid to try higher education again, with good reason. Seven years before, I’d dropped out of Colorado College after I was raped by a fellow freshman.

At 18, arriving at my dorm for the first time, I’d been so excited to be free, 2,000 miles from home. I knew nobody, beginning entirely fresh, excited to live in the world of ideas, without my parents’ archaic rules.

Within a blissed hour, I’d made a new friend — the freckled-porcelain-skinned Katherine. After orientation activities, she slipped into my room. She was followed by a skinny boy with black hair and wooden drumsticks in the back pocket of his jeans who also happened to be my neighbor and a thicker redheaded boy.

Read More: My Name Is Anneke Lucas and I Was a Sex Slave to Europe's Elite at Age 6

I felt popular, hosting a little party in my new room. Someone took out a DVD of "The Breakfast Club," and we lit a joint and watched the classic in my bed. After the movie ended, the freckled girl left with my neighbor. I was wearing pink linen shorts, too high-waisted to be cool. Still, I felt pretty. When the boy who remained in the room turned to me, I’d smiled at his red hair. I happily kissed him. He seemed easygoing, poised. But then he gripped my thigh. My voice wavered as I said “bye.” Suddenly frightened, I didn’t want him to stay, but he became deaf. The slice of sky in my cracked window glowed black, dense as a bomb.

Waking alone six hours later, two stains of blood marked my white cotton underwear. The bright sky defied the violence of the past night. Two dim weeks passed before I mustered the strength to cross a lawn to the office of the college’s sexual assault counselor. She offered me a blue lollipop and said, “Sit, hon.” Together we decided to officially pursue the matter at the school administration instead of with police.

We entered mediation, an internal hearing at the Student Center. No lawyer, no friends, or parents were present. My assailant and I testified separately, never together. In a beige conference room, I was questioned by two polite college-appointed mediators, submitting my memory. As if rape could be mediated like a playground fight. And in this lawless trial, I confessed the boy and I had smoked weed that awful night.

Read More: My Name Is Brooke Axtell and I Was Sex Trafficked at Age 7 in the US

 “Marijuana is a hallucinogen,” an administrator told me then, very quick. Her sharp implication stung me: that I’d hallucinated a rape.

The mediator asked me if I would like to see my rapist’s testimony. The sexual assault counselor placed it in front of me: a single sheet of computer paper. It simply said that he and I had not had sex. I probably wanted to, the boy wrote, but he’d felt nothing.

The mediator said that by her judgment of the events of that night, what exactly had happened was “inconclusive.” The college found my rapist innocent. Therefore, I was guilty of lying.

The administration soon moved the boy from his room across campus into my dormitory, the floor above me. When I called Campus Housing and asked to be farther away from him, they moved me into the stained cinderblock motel dorm beyond the edge of campus, in the shadowed lot behind the Conoco gas station. My dim room had a sewage leak. I felt exiled and traumatized.

The only comfort I found was in planning to disappear.

With four weeks left of my freshman year, I dropped out — and flew west. I walked alone into the Sonoran Desert mountains, 300 miles south of California’s Mojave desert. I had discovered the Pacific Crest Trail, a footpath through the vast American West — from Mexico, all the way to Canada. After 2,650 miles of hiking, five months of living on my own in the wilderness, that pilgrimage was finished. Afterwards I wanted to go back to being a student again.

Read More: 'I Remember the Smells, the Sights, and the Taste of Slavery': Jessa Dillow Crisp Shares Her Story

I applied to transfer to Columbia University. In spring, the letter-size envelope was thin in my clammy hands. They didn’t let me in. For four months I drove to trailheads along the West coast, in Marin County, and took long walks that felt like pacing. A dropout, I felt like a failure. Everyone in my family had college or graduate degrees — my mom and dad had both graduated law school, and my two older brothers were earning advanced degrees. I loved learning. But I felt I’d ruined my chance. A year passed, and I filled out applications for several schools, including Columbia. I was hopeful. Yet I was not admitted, again.

Over the next several years, I tried on different university programs, relationships, careers, and jobs. None fit. Scrawling in cluttered cafés into the nights, I collected a small tribe of friends: young artists who had crossed their own forests, as I had, to New York City. I published articles — and even a book about my assault — and became a spokesperson for the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Yet I still felt a little inadequate without a degree, as if I’d missed something fundamental. I feared I wasn’t as smart and academic as my parents and brothers.

I still longed to study at Columbia. Then I discovered the school had a special program for people who had accomplishments outside of the classroom. Maybe my work against sexual assault at the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network could count. My friend Sara-Kate encouraged me to apply again. I told her I was unsure. I had tried before, twice.

Read More: Pakistani Mother Sentenced to Death for Burning Daughter Alive in 'Honor Killing'

She was encouraging, reawakening the fantasy. We filled out the application together, a special form that isn't part of the “Common App.”

This time Columbia admitted me.

Yet now, as a 26-year-old college sophomore, I planned to avoid the impressive, accomplished 18-year-olds who’d detect how many chaotic years had passed since I’d last been in a university program. Amid the hoards of freshmen, the deja vu was overwhelming. I dreaded the conversation I imagined I’d have, explaining what I was doing at Columbia, older than everybody.

At the pizza party meet-and-greet at orientation, I met the others in my program. It turned out there were many returning students. In fact, the median age in the General Studies Program was 28. I was younger than average! That day I learned something else astonishing, and comforting — that, according to the 2016 Hechinger Report, only about 36% of college kids finished their degree in four years. Forty percent took six years or longer. And at non-flagship four-year public universities, the on-time graduation rate was even lower, just 19%. So — in reality, I was in the American majority.

Read More: Trump Election Prompts US Mothers To Warn Children About Assault

A girl who had freckles asked me what I wanted to study, and I told her, “Theoretical physics and poetry.” We wore our eyeliner in a similar modern style, winged. I asked her back, “Do you know yet?”

“Psychology and neuroscience,” she told me. “And also photography.” 

It turned out, she had lived nearby my hometown for a year. We discovered that we’d both been ice-skating on Friday nights at the same rink in Massachusetts, where I grew up.

“I’ve probably seen you,” I said. “I loved skating there.”

I realized that no one cared about my years away, only that I was here. Later, at the Columbia University bookstore, I shopped for a cute school sweater, proud to be a part of the school community. The freckled girl found my book in the university's bookstore. That my new classmate showed it to me felt sweet and supportive, validating my past as if welcoming me back.

On the second day of my student orientation, I went through Sexual Assault Response education. Through a skit, our peer leaders played out the story of a man pressuring his date to drink, slipping shots into reluctant hands — with an agenda. Then there was an interactive test, which we took with our cell phones, our scores reported. Sharing statistics — including stats regarding rapes at Columbia; they didn’t shy away. I was impressed and personally touched. If Colorado College had a course like this my second day there, maybe I wouldn’t have been assaulted and would have been in graduate school by now.

Still, seven years late, I felt safer at college, thankful I’d been givenanother chance.

Editor's Note: Global Citizen reached out to Colorado College to allow it to respond to this essay. The college sent us this response:

"Colorado College has always strived to support survivors through trauma-informed processes that include confidential resources. We engage in consistent review and evaluation of our policy and procedures which are in line with the recommendations of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, to include not only response but also prevention. We admire Aspen’s tenacity in pursuing a college degree and her continued work in prevention and in supporting survivors."

 
 

Written by Aspen Matis

 

Aspen Matis is the author of the internationally bestselling memoir Girl in the Woods, published by HarperCollins in 2015. Called "a powerful read” by O, The Oprah Magazine, the book made The Guardian's annual top 50 list.

Edited by tan_lejos_tan_cerca

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Via Global Citizen

 
GIRLS & WOMEN Surrogate Mothers In India Face Impending Ban

 

Jan. 19, 2017

Brought to you by: Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Roli Srivastava

MUMBAI, Jan 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Inside a bungalow in a plush residential area of Gurugram, on the outskirts of New Delhi, a group of women in different stages of pregnancy share the hope their babies will be delivered safely - or risk losing the chance of big money, forever.

Successful pregnancies have never been more important at this surrogacy centre where every bed is taken following a jump in demand as India inches towards banning commercial surrogacy.

These women could be among the last in the country to rent their wombs for money if the Indian parliament passes a bill to outlaw commercial surrogacy - a 15-year-old industry estimated to be worth as much as $2.3 billion annually - in its next session starting in February.

India's surrogacy industry has come under attack by women's rights groups who say fertility clinics are "baby factories" for the rich, and that a lack of regulation results in poor and uneducated women signing contracts they do not fully understand.

Yet some of the women the bill aims to protect are currently queuing up for a last chance to make around 400,000 rupees ($5,900) - money they said they could only dream of otherwise.

Razia Sultana, 32, had an embryo transferred into her uterus in the final week of December.

Until six months ago, she arranged egg donors and surrogates for infertility clinics, making 5,000 rupees for each referral, but decided to become a surrogate herself on the day she first heard about the ban.

"My children supported my decision saying bearing a child was better than selling a kidney, which I was considering too," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She will stay at the centre for nine months, meet her children once a week and only go outside with an escort.

"These are small compromises. I have no other option to make this kind of money."

Read More: These Are the Most & Least Healthy Countries of 2016

SLAVERY TO SURROGACY

The Indian government believes the ban will check unethical practices.

"We are concerned about the health of the surrogate mother and that the legal and financial rights of the child are protected," said Manoj Pant from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

"India wants to be on par with developed and developing nations that do not legitimise commercial surrogacy."

Until the ban on surrogacy passes, India continues to be among a handful of countries where women can be paid to carry another's child through in-vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer.

Most women at the Gurugram centre are from migrant colonies close to the sweatshops where they once worked.

Ruby Kumari, 35, heard about surrogacy three years ago at the export factory where she worked 12-hour shifts, stitching 50 garments an hour - a target her manager would stretch to 60 or even 70 - and earning 250 rupees a day.

The possibility of earning 400,000 rupees hooked her and she agreed to rent her womb.

"The day I delivered, the child's parents gifted me 50,000 rupees in addition to my fee," Kumari said. "I came back and enrolled my daughter into an English-medium school."

Kumari's husband also works in a garment factory and makes 2 rupees for each item he irons. Pregnant with her second surrogate child, Kumari said her family had no future if not for surrogacy.

Like Kumari, Jayalakshmi Verma is another surrogate who wonders why "gifting motherhood" is wrong and why work that earns her respect and money would be made illegal.

The 28-year-old single mother of three said: "My in-laws threw me out of their house, my manager at the export factory was abusive and I was forced to quit. Here I have got respect for carrying a child."

Verma said she will have no choice but to return to the factory if surrogacy is banned. "What other skill do I have?"

Surrogacy law experts say that if the government wishes to protect poor women from being exploited, it should regulate the sector rather than banning it.

"The surrogacy bill does not make any provision for the protection of women, assuming that banning commercial surrogacy will protect them," said Hari Ramasubramanian of Indian Surrogacy Law Centre.

UNREGULATED BUSINESS

At the Gurugram centre, owner Sarita Sharma read out the requirements for an egg donor to a staff member: "Fair complexion, B positive."

Within seconds, a picture of a fair young woman smiling into the camera flashes up on her phone and she quickly alerts the clinic. Women receive 35,000 rupees for each donation.

"Business is brisk," said Sharma, who has been arranging donors and surrogates for the last decade using a wide network of agents in migrant colonies.

She said demand for her 1 million rupee pregnancy packages - covering the surrogate's fee, food, accommodation and hospital expenses - has shot up. "I have about 1,000 women registered with us," Sharma said.

Yet as demand soars, so do concerns.

As part of a study on infertility clinics in New Delhi, sociologist Tulsi Patel from the Delhi School of Economics found poor awareness among women about the health complications and risks that repeated egg donations and pregnancies can cause.

The study also found that in some cases, clinics would transfer more than the permissible number of three embryos into the uterus to better the chances of pregnancy.

"But we did not find a single case of a woman forced into surrogacy," Patel said.

Experts fear the ban may push the industry underground, making women offering surrogacy services only more vulnerable to health risks.

For now, the last surrogates still hope to realise their dreams. "I want to start my own beauty parlour," said Jyoti Pal, 24, a single mother who is now four months pregnant.

"And I will do it again if possible."

($1=68.01 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Roli Srivastava; Editing by Ed Upright. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org.)

Global Citizen, in partnership with CHIME FOR CHANGE, is campaigning to Level the Law, and fight unjust laws that discriminate against girls and women. Learn more here.

 
TAKE ACTION Send petitions, emails, or tweets to world leaders. Call governments or join rallies. We offer a variety of ways to make your voice heardGet Involved
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ENERGY What I learned about energy and education on my trip to Kenya

 

November 16 2016  | By: GUEST BLOGGER
JOIN Join the fight against Extreme Poverty
 
  

By Cindy Dyer, Board Member at Kenya Connect

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Have you ever thought about the power of the sun and how its energy potential could impact literacy and education? I had never really connected the sun to reading prior to my trip to Kenya this summer, probably because I live in a part of the world that has adequate access to electricity.

What I came to learn on my trip is that the power and potential of the sun can be harnessed to help develop an entire generation of children in rural Kenya into thinkers and leaders who will positively impact their country and the world. This epiphany came about thanks to the SunKing products of Greenlight Planet and the efforts of Kenya Connect.

During a brief meeting at the Nairobi office of Greenlight Planet, I learned about their solar lights, which seemed to have been designed almost perfectly for the needs of the families and children of rural Kenya. The products were durable, lightweight, simple to use, long-lasting, and inexpensive. Many of the children in rural Kenya don’t have electricity at home. If they had access to these lights, they might have a better chance at success.

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Especially excited by that prospect was my colleague, Kenya Connect Field Director James Musyoka. During his childhood in Kenya, James was one of ten kids. His family couldn’t afford for him to board at school, so each day, he would run five kilometers to and from school.

Daily chores and working on the family farm left James with precious little daylight hours to study:

“At night, I would use a kerosene lump to study for between two to three hours before retiring to bed,” he said. “Sometimes there was no kerosene to light the home and I would have to go to bed without reading or doing my homework. At such times, I would wake up much earlier the next day and report to school much earlier so I would have a chance to finish my work. I was so determined to make good grades and my hope was to make it to university.”

He made it—and of the 120 students who sat for the university exam at his school, he was among the eight who qualified, and the only one not in boarding school. After university, James felt strongly about returning to a rural community and working to help improve the state of education there. One of his goals was to increase the number of rural students that went on to attend secondary schools and universities.

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So as we left Greenlight Planet that day, he thought about how access to these lights would help the children with their studies. When compared to the kerosene lamps that James had used as a rural student, the lights provided a healthier, more reliable, and higher quality source of light, in addition to being less expensive.

That’s why Kenya Connect is starting a new initiative that focuses on the affordable distribution of solar lights to the families we work with in the rural areas of Kenya. The program James has started in rural areas is a monthly payment program. Each family that wants a light, pays the equivalent of $1 (USD) per month for eight months. They own the light after eight months. After four months of this program, not one family has missed a payment. They are finding it cheaper and more effective than the kerosene they had come to rely on.

“This solar light produces very clear light, unlike the kerosene lamp,” said Lilian, a student in the area. “Therefore I enjoy reading at night more than before. I always complete my homework because I can now study in the evening and also early in the morning.”

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Kenya Connect has distributed over 880 SunKing Pico lights to families in the rural area of Wamunyu, Kenya. With the money that the families pay monthly, we purchase more lights to distribute to other schools and families in rural areas.

Our goal, quite simply, is to provide greater access to light for families so their children can read and study at night. It’s amazing that such a simple and affordable product has the potential to have a dramatic impact on education for so many.

Cindy Dyer has been an active member of the board of Kenya Connect for more than two years. She has traveled to Kenya three times to work with the project site. Cindy is also a mediator with the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center of Howard Community College (MCRC). She has spent more than 15 years working directly with youth in many aspects.

Learn more about energy and energy poverty, then check out the other projects at Kenya Connect.

 

Via ONE

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https://www.one.org/us/2016/10/12/who-run-the-world-girls/

 

Who run the world? Girls!

 

October 12 2016  | By: CLEA GUY-ALLEN
JOIN Join the fight against Extreme Poverty
 
 
  

International Day of the Girl is a day all about promoting girls’ rights, talking about the inequalities that still exist between girls and boys, and also celebrating the incredible things girls around the world are achieving.

Inspired by all of the powerful stories of girls empowerment we saw on International Day of the Girl, we decided to highlight four of our favorite strong girls of 2016!

Below are some outstanding girls we’ve had the pleasure to collaborate with over the last year!

Eva Tolange

 

On January 1st of this year, Eva wrote to ONE members, asking that we all do more to help end extreme poverty in her village – and every place like it around the world – by 2030. But she didn’t just write to all of you. She wrote a letter to President Obama, too.

And a few months later, he answered.

In a speech to the United Nations, President Obama said:

“And so today I say to Eva and hundreds of millions like you, we see you. We hear you. I’ve read your letter and we commit ourselves as nations as ONE world to the urgent work that must be done.”

Thanks for standing up for girls everywhere, Eva. And thanks for proving that one voice does make a difference – and does get heard!

Blessing Nwafor

When some of Africa’s biggest female artists came together in Johannesburg to write and record the ‘Strong Girl’ track for ONE, they visited the Makeba Centre for Girls to understand some of the challenges facing young women in South Africa today.

One of the girls they met was Blessing – a 14 year old with a talent for rapping and big ambitions to start a music career. The artists invited her to join them in the studio the next day and be part of the track – she wrote her own lyrics and instantly became an essential part of the Strong Girl family.

Blessing said: “In the townships of South Africa it’s hard for girls. There is poverty, abuse, and it’s difficult for girls to stand up for themselves. I know first-hand that poverty is sexist, and that our leaders have to do more to support girls and women. Because when they are allowed to reach their full potential, girls and women lift their families, communities and even whole countries out of poverty faster.”

Mercy & Elizabeth:

 

Best friends, and practically sisters, Mercy and Elizabeth met at a group they both go to in Kenya which aims to educate girls about sexual health and keep them free from HIV.

Both Mercy and Elizabeth have set out to achieve their dreams and promised to support each-other every step of the way.

After Mercy’s sister passed away from not having access to health facilities, Mercy knew from the bottom of her heart she wanted to become a nurse. Elizabeth’s dream, too, was inspired by her family. She wants to become a lawyer to reclaim the land her mother wasn’t legally allowed to inherit as a women. These two amazing girls want every girl in the world to pursue their ambitions and to stand up and fight for their dreams!

Inspired yet? Take a stand for girls and women by adding your name to our Poverty is Sexist open letter!

 

Via ONE

Edited by tan_lejos_tan_cerca

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GIRLS & WOMEN

17 Must-See Signs From the Women's March

By Cassie Carothers| Jan. 21, 2017

 

Colleen Curry/ GlobalCitizen.org

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of women took to the streets around the world today to stand up in solidarity for a host of issues — gender equality, reproductive health, education, and more — a day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. 

Read More: Hundreds of Thousands March for Women Around the World

These causes were showcased in a lot of ways, but none so visual as the signs they carried. Here are some of the best signs Global Citizen saw at the marches around the world.

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Image: Meghan Werft

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Image: Meghan Werft / GlobalCitizen.org

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Image: Meghan Werft / GlobalCitizen.org

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Image: Colleen Curry/ GlobalCitizen.org

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Image: Meghan Werft / GlobalCitizen.org

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Image: Meghan Werft / GlobalCitizen.org

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 Christine Roberts ✔ @CElizRoberts

So proud of my aunt @chacharob, who's marching in D.C. today   #WomensMarch

4:14 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  929 929 Retweets   2,913 2,913 likes

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 Kirsten Olson @OlsonKirsten

On Shady Grove train to DC Women's March. It's Yuuuuuge! #womensmarch

5:35 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  2,142 2,142 Retweets   4,050 4,050 likes

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 Charles Clymer ✔ @cmclymer

"You can't comb over misogyny."#WomensMarch

4:12 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  1,726 1,726 Retweets   4,004 4,004 likes

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 Emma Gray ✔ @emmaladyrose

These two 13-year-old marchers are ready #WomensMarch

3:26 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  1,632 1,632 Retweets   6,179 6,179 likes

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 Kiara Nelson @KiaraLynne__

Little black girls, you warm my heart. #WomensMarchOnWashington

5:08 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  3,769 3,769 Retweets   8,532 8,532 likes

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 Liz Goodwin ✔ @lizcgoodwin

This protester's husband made her sign

4:25 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  63 63 Retweets   61 61 likes

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 Josh Robin ✔ @joshrobin

National Mall.

5:47 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  6,680 6,680 Retweets   15,781 15,781 likes

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 Lauren Gambino ✔ @LGamGam

Lots of love for @HillaryClinton at the #WomensMarchOnWashington

5:17 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  95 95 Retweets   255 255 likes

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 Anna Holmes @AnnaHolmes

8:17 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  126 126 Retweets   414 414 likes

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 Lucky Tran ✔ @luckytran

Great sign! #WomensMarch

6:10 PM - 21 Jan 2017 · Washington, DC

  1,037 1,037 Retweets   2,717 2,717 likes

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 Sabrina Siddiqui ✔ @SabrinaSiddiqui

"I like to grab my wife by her Ph.D." James Miller & wife Paulette Gerkovich, first woman in her family to finish high school. #WomensMarch

6:00 PM - 21 Jan 2017

  74 74 Retweets   193 193 likes

TAKE ACTION

Send petitions, emails, or tweets to world leaders. Call governments or join rallies. We offer a variety of ways to make your voice heard

Get Involved

TOPICSPeaceful Protest, Women's March, protests, Women's March on Washington, Protests

Cassie Carothers

Written by Cassie Carothers

Cassie Carothers is the Editorial Director of Global Citizen. She has more than 10 years experience covering national and international news as a digital journalist, having worked at Fox News, the New York Post, and Yahoo News. She grew up in Ohio and graduated from Miami University after studying journalism, politics, and marketing. She’s been a vegetarian for 18 years, and believes strongly that a diet is a key part of sustainable living.

 

Via Global Citizen

Edited by tan_lejos_tan_cerca

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Via ONE

20
HEALTH 5 things to know about the number one infectious killer in the world

 

4 November 2016 5:26PM UTC  | By: GUEST BLOGGER
JOIN Join the fight against Extreme Poverty
 
  

By Jenny Ottenhoff, ONE Global Health Policy Director, and Spencer Crawford, ONE Global Health Research Assistant

The latest Global Tuberculosis Report 2016 sounded the alarm that there is a higher global burden of tuberculosis (TB) than previously estimated. TB is an unfortunate example of a disease of poverty, with the majority of cases and deaths occurring among poor and marginalized people in developing countries. Weak health systems hinder efforts to stop the spread of TB and to treat those already infected. And even when people get treatment, the first-line of defense may not work.

Here are five things to know about TB – from why it remains a global challenge to what we can do about it:

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A lung with miliary tuberculosis. (Photo credit: Yale Rosen/Flickr)

1.Tuberculosis is the leading infectious killer in the world

Last year, TB killed three people every minute adding up to an annual death toll of 1.8 million people – greater than other major infectious diseases killers like AIDS or malaria.  While men account for nearly 2/3 of these deaths, TB remains among the top killers of women.

2. Over a third of new TB cases go unreported

Imagine if everyone living in Madrid and Berlin became infected with tuberculosis, but all of the cases in Berlin went unreported and therefore unaddressed. On a global scale, that is what happened last year: the World Health Organization estimates that there were 10.4 million new TB cases in 2015, but around 40% of those cases went unreported. Unreported cases go undiagnosed and untreated; many of those missed with die and most will continue to infect others posing a huge challenge to prevention and treatment efforts. Almost half of these missing cases occur in just three countries: Nigeria, India, and Indonesia. Without strengthening health systems to capture and report new cases of TB in these high-burden countries, the world will remain off-track to reach global milestones in the fight against this infectious disease.

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Sister Eden visits 50-year-old tuberculosis patient Desta in her home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo credit: John Rae/ONE)

3.Drug-resistant TB remains and urgent and growing threat

Drug resistant TB fails to respond to the standard first-line drugs, and requires more time and more money to treat.  In 2015, over half a million people were estimated to be living with some form of drug-resistant tuberculosis, but only 19% of these people were receiving the treatment they need. Further, only one in five cases of drug-resistant TB was reported.  Tackling drug-resistant TB through better prevention, detection, and treatment in just five countries – Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Russia and China – would help account for 60% of this gap.

4. The world is falling $2 billion short of the funding needed to adequately address TB

In 2016, $6.6 billion was spent to address TB globally, the vast majority of which came from domestic governments. Still, this is about $2 billion short of what the World Health Organization estimates is needed to fully fund the global response. Filling this gap in the next five years will be critical to reach global targets needed to end TB by 2035, and the cost of inaction is stark: failing to invest more in the next five years could result in 8.4 million additional TB cases, 1.4 million additional TB deaths, and $181 billion lost to compromised productivity by 2030.

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Clinic staff, doctors and community volunteers are trained on early detection and treatment of TB, promoting greater awareness that TB is curable. (Photo credit: USAID)

5. TB has a cure … and the world has a plan to put an end to this infectious diseases killer

Unlike AIDS and other infectious disease killers, TB can be cured by a course of medication that has a high rate of success when administered properly. TB treatment has saved 49 million lives between 2000 and 2015, and the treatment success rate is over 80%. By adopting the End TB Strategy, world leaders have committed to knocking out the world’s number one infectious disease killer by 2035. The strategy sets global targets that must be hit in 2020, 2025, and 2030 to ensure we are on track. At ONE, we’ll be watching to hold leaders accountable for making progress and we hope you’ll join us.

Become a ONE member and join the more than 7 million people worldwide in the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease.

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700,000 men were conscripted into the Chernobyl area to “liquidate” the radiation that was released following the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986.


Sacrificing themselves these “liquidators” – miners, soldiers and firemen – prevented a further even larger potential disaster that could have killed hundreds of thousands of people. 25,000 of these brave men died, and a further 70,000 became disabled in the first decade after the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster. It is important that we always remember their sacrifice.


 


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Via Chernobyl Children International


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Via Global Citizen

 
CITIZENSHIP Hug It Out. Man combats Islamophobia with hugs

By Kathleen Ebbitt|

 Feb. 23, 2015

Video via AsoOmii Jay

Islamophobia (fear of Islam, Muslims, or ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim) is sadly nothing new, but vitriol towards Islam has been increasingly steadily since the beginning of the global War on Terror (you can read more about Islamophobia from Global Citizen's Farah Momen).

Canadian activist, Asoomii Jay, decided to take Islamophobia headon after receiving death and rape threats for being Muslim. She conceived to raise awareness about prejudice towards Islam by devising an experiment called “Blind and Trust,” in conjunction with activist production company, Time Vision. Jay asked fellow activist Mustafa Mawla to stand blindfolded on a busy Toronto street with his arms outstretched. Beside Mawla were two handwritten signs reading, “I am a Muslim. I am labelled as a terrorist,” and “I trust you, do you trust me? Give me a hug.”

The subsequent events is one of the sweetest social experiments I have viewed online, with strangers embracing Mawla. Some individuals give quick hugs while others hold longer embraces.

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Twitter post by Assoomi Jay promoting her work

Jay said that the rise in hate crimes is what prompted her decision to bring Islamophobia into public discussion. She referenced the horrific tragedy in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where three Muslim students were killed by a neighbor, as prompting a need for open dialog and acceptance. The relatives of the murdered victims’ suspect that the crime was fueled by racism and religious hatred.

“Blind and Trust” has started a hashtag movement with people re-tweeting and re-posting Jay’s activist efforts under #BlindTrust and #BlindTrustProject. The project embodies how solidarity can be created when individuals step back and look at people for what they are: human beings.

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Twitter posting in response to Blind and Trust from Jordan Guild

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Twitter posting in response to Blind and Trust from Theresa TK

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Twitter posting in response to Blind and Trust from April Dalaman

Jay asks for individuals to “make an effort to eliminate stereotypes and phobia.” This is a worthy goal for every global citizen, and it is important as we move forward in the world to remember to embrace (literally and figuratively) all peoples, regardless of difference.

The heartwarming video has been viewed over half-a-million times. It is a powerful reminder that violence and terrorism are not Islam, and that non-Muslims should learn about true Islam instead of defaulting to stereotypes and hatred. Co-existing is critical in a unified world - so hug it out, and spread the love!

----

Kathleen Ebbitt

 
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Written by Kathleen Ebbitt

 

Kathleen Ebbitt is a freelance writer with Global Citizen. Living in NYC, she is an activist, MSW, and is angst-ridden, despite being an eternal optimist.

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Are you confused about changing from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP)?


If so, don’t worry, you’re not alone.


Mencap's Parliamentary affairs support officer, Ismail Kaji, has written an easy read blog to help explain the process.


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Via Global Citizen

 

GIRLS & WOMEN I Was Raped by a Fellow Freshman & My College Found Him Innocent: Aspen Matis Shares Her Story

By Aspen Matis|

 Jan. 19, 2017
 

 

 

This story is the fourth in a series called "Real Women, Real Stories," a social project designed to promote awareness of the often unseen hardships women face in different professions and places around the world. Read the first story in the series here.

I stepped out of the hidden subway underground into the pink light of Columbia University, dawn at my dream school. Power blue and white balloons welcomed incoming students, brightening the high black metal gates. I feared my 18-year-old classmates would immediately see I was different and didn’t belong. At 26, I was a transfer student, returning to school for orientation. I hoped it wasn’t obvious how awkward I felt, that I was older than everyone.

I was afraid to try higher education again, with good reason. Seven years before, I’d dropped out of Colorado College after I was raped by a fellow freshman.

At 18, arriving at my dorm for the first time, I’d been so excited to be free, 2,000 miles from home. I knew nobody, beginning entirely fresh, excited to live in the world of ideas, without my parents’ archaic rules.

Within a blissed hour, I’d made a new friend — the freckled-porcelain-skinned Katherine. After orientation activities, she slipped into my room. She was followed by a skinny boy with black hair and wooden drumsticks in the back pocket of his jeans who also happened to be my neighbor and a thicker redheaded boy.

Read More: My Name Is Anneke Lucas and I Was a Sex Slave to Europe's Elite at Age 6

I felt popular, hosting a little party in my new room. Someone took out a DVD of "The Breakfast Club," and we lit a joint and watched the classic in my bed. After the movie ended, the freckled girl left with my neighbor. I was wearing pink linen shorts, too high-waisted to be cool. Still, I felt pretty. When the boy who remained in the room turned to me, I’d smiled at his red hair. I happily kissed him. He seemed easygoing, poised. But then he gripped my thigh. My voice wavered as I said “bye.” Suddenly frightened, I didn’t want him to stay, but he became deaf. The slice of sky in my cracked window glowed black, dense as a bomb.

Waking alone six hours later, two stains of blood marked my white cotton underwear. The bright sky defied the violence of the past night. Two dim weeks passed before I mustered the strength to cross a lawn to the office of the college’s sexual assault counselor. She offered me a blue lollipop and said, “Sit, hon.” Together we decided to officially pursue the matter at the school administration instead of with police.

We entered mediation, an internal hearing at the Student Center. No lawyer, no friends, or parents were present. My assailant and I testified separately, never together. In a beige conference room, I was questioned by two polite college-appointed mediators, submitting my memory. As if rape could be mediated like a playground fight. And in this lawless trial, I confessed the boy and I had smoked weed that awful night.

Read More: My Name Is Brooke Axtell and I Was Sex Trafficked at Age 7 in the US

 “Marijuana is a hallucinogen,” an administrator told me then, very quick. Her sharp implication stung me: that I’d hallucinated a rape.

The mediator asked me if I would like to see my rapist’s testimony. The sexual assault counselor placed it in front of me: a single sheet of computer paper. It simply said that he and I had not had sex. I probably wanted to, the boy wrote, but he’d felt nothing.

The mediator said that by her judgment of the events of that night, what exactly had happened was “inconclusive.” The college found my rapist innocent. Therefore, I was guilty of lying.

The administration soon moved the boy from his room across campus into my dormitory, the floor above me. When I called Campus Housing and asked to be farther away from him, they moved me into the stained cinderblock motel dorm beyond the edge of campus, in the shadowed lot behind the Conoco gas station. My dim room had a sewage leak. I felt exiled and traumatized.

The only comfort I found was in planning to disappear.

With four weeks left of my freshman year, I dropped out — and flew west. I walked alone into the Sonoran Desert mountains, 300 miles south of California’s Mojave desert. I had discovered the Pacific Crest Trail, a footpath through the vast American West — from Mexico, all the way to Canada. After 2,650 miles of hiking, five months of living on my own in the wilderness, that pilgrimage was finished. Afterwards I wanted to go back to being a student again.

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I applied to transfer to Columbia University. In spring, the letter-size envelope was thin in my clammy hands. They didn’t let me in. For four months I drove to trailheads along the West coast, in Marin County, and took long walks that felt like pacing. A dropout, I felt like a failure. Everyone in my family had college or graduate degrees — my mom and dad had both graduated law school, and my two older brothers were earning advanced degrees. I loved learning. But I felt I’d ruined my chance. A year passed, and I filled out applications for several schools, including Columbia. I was hopeful. Yet I was not admitted, again.

Over the next several years, I tried on different university programs, relationships, careers, and jobs. None fit. Scrawling in cluttered cafés into the nights, I collected a small tribe of friends: young artists who had crossed their own forests, as I had, to New York City. I published articles — and even a book about my assault — and became a spokesperson for the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Yet I still felt a little inadequate without a degree, as if I’d missed something fundamental. I feared I wasn’t as smart and academic as my parents and brothers.

I still longed to study at Columbia. Then I discovered the school had a special program for people who had accomplishments outside of the classroom. Maybe my work against sexual assault at the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network could count. My friend Sara-Kate encouraged me to apply again. I told her I was unsure. I had tried before, twice.

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She was encouraging, reawakening the fantasy. We filled out the application together, a special form that isn't part of the “Common App.”

This time Columbia admitted me.

Yet now, as a 26-year-old college sophomore, I planned to avoid the impressive, accomplished 18-year-olds who’d detect how many chaotic years had passed since I’d last been in a university program. Amid the hoards of freshmen, the deja vu was overwhelming. I dreaded the conversation I imagined I’d have, explaining what I was doing at Columbia, older than everybody.

At the pizza party meet-and-greet at orientation, I met the others in my program. It turned out there were many returning students. In fact, the median age in the General Studies Program was 28. I was younger than average! That day I learned something else astonishing, and comforting — that, according to the 2016 Hechinger Report, only about 36% of college kids finished their degree in four years. Forty percent took six years or longer. And at non-flagship four-year public universities, the on-time graduation rate was even lower, just 19%. So — in reality, I was in the American majority.

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A girl who had freckles asked me what I wanted to study, and I told her, “Theoretical physics and poetry.” We wore our eyeliner in a similar modern style, winged. I asked her back, “Do you know yet?”

“Psychology and neuroscience,” she told me. “And also photography.” 

It turned out, she had lived nearby my hometown for a year. We discovered that we’d both been ice-skating on Friday nights at the same rink in Massachusetts, where I grew up.

“I’ve probably seen you,” I said. “I loved skating there.”

I realized that no one cared about my years away, only that I was here. Later, at the Columbia University bookstore, I shopped for a cute school sweater, proud to be a part of the school community. The freckled girl found my book in the university's bookstore. That my new classmate showed it to me felt sweet and supportive, validating my past as if welcoming me back.

On the second day of my student orientation, I went through Sexual Assault Response education. Through a skit, our peer leaders played out the story of a man pressuring his date to drink, slipping shots into reluctant hands — with an agenda. Then there was an interactive test, which we took with our cell phones, our scores reported. Sharing statistics — including stats regarding rapes at Columbia; they didn’t shy away. I was impressed and personally touched. If Colorado College had a course like this my second day there, maybe I wouldn’t have been assaulted and would have been in graduate school by now.

Still, seven years late, I felt safer at college, thankful I’d been givenanother chance.

Editor's Note: Global Citizen reached out to Colorado College to allow it to respond to this essay. The college sent us this response:

"Colorado College has always strived to support survivors through trauma-informed processes that include confidential resources. We engage in consistent review and evaluation of our policy and procedures which are in line with the recommendations of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, to include not only response but also prevention. We admire Aspen’s tenacity in pursuing a college degree and her continued work in prevention and in supporting survivors."

 
 

Written by Aspen Matis

 

Aspen Matis is the author of the internationally bestselling memoir Girl in the Woods, published by HarperCollins in 2015. Called "a powerful read” by O, The Oprah Magazine, the book made The Guardian's annual top 50 list.

Edited by tan_lejos_tan_cerca

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