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WakaWaka in action 4

Meet the Company That’s Bringing the LED Revolution to the Developing World

Yesterday three physicists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for creating blue-light LEDs, which makes the LED white lights we find everywhere possible. We experience the LED revolution through computer and smartphone screens, household lighting and greenhouse grow bulbs. But for over a billion people in the world, access to light is something that they cannot rely on. One company, WakaWaka, is working to bring the LED revolution to people who live off grid and on less than $2 a day.

In many ways, WakaWaka came about by accident. Founders Maurits Groen and Camille van Gestel won a competition by the South African government to “green” the 2010 World Cup through carbon tax exchanges and LED lights. However, they soon discovered that many South Africans who lived in the townships of the host cities could not participate because they lived off grid. Instead, most people living in the townships relied on kerosene lamps to light their households after dark, which produce 14 times more black carbon than burning wood.

Looking at this reality, Groen and van Gestel decided to create a product that could efficiently light up off grid households without adding to the black carbon and carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. Two years later, the first WakaWaka light was created using new solar technology to power high efficiency LED lights. Since then the company has come out with WakaWaka Power, adding phone charging capabilities to the original light unit, and recently announced a crowdfunding campaign for the WakaWaka base that can charge multiple smartphones and provide power for up to a week.

Although the initial motivation behind the LED units was combatting climate change, there are numerous benefits of replacing kerosene lamps besides reducing carbon emissions. Indeed, van Gestel told UN Dispatch that the socio-economic benefits of WakaWaka lights far outstrip the outcomes for climate mediation. From improving school grades to increasing economic productivity, access to light has the ability to change lives for the better. Access to light touches upon six of the eight Millennium Development Goals and will likely contribute to the post-2015 framework as well. Electricity and power is something that most of us take for granted but the world still has a long way to go before we can all count on.

Numerous other products and initiatives have come out over the years that aim to do the same thing. What makes WakaWaka different from most of these projects is the quality of the product and the willingness to innovate to meet the needs of those living in poverty. The high quality and user-friendly characteristics of the units means that WakaWaka has unexpectedly become popular in the West. This allows WakaWaka to use Western sales to subsidize the costs of units sold in the developing world, making it more affordable for the target market. WakaWaka is also preparing for a pilot project in Rwanda that will combine mobile banking to create a pay-as-you-go model to help users spread out payments on their unit and make it more accessible for the poorest citizens.

WakaWaka is just one product but it demonstrates how simple devices have the potential to change the lives of millions. In the fight against both climate change and extreme poverty, there is no “silver bullet”; problems that took generations of choice to arise will take a multitude of approaches to fix. Portable and adaptable solutions like WakaWaka may be a small step but shows how innovation – even with existing technologies – can take us a step in the right direction.

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Hong Kong Protests

A Grounds-Eye View of the Hong Kong Protests

It is the eleventh day of Occupying Action in Hong Kong. We have faced violence, threats from the government, and plots between the police and the gangs. The crowds are smaller this week than last, but still, every day, especially in the evening, there are thousands of protesters at the three occupied areas. We are more determined than ever to continue to stand firm for our citizens’ rights to experience a true democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong, our home and a place in China where we still have freedom of speech and expression.

The protests began when the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism demonstrated outside of the government headquarters on September 22 in response to the government’s proposed plan to take away our right to nominate the candidates for Chief Executive Election in 2017, effectively silencing our voices and opinions.

From there, the movement grew and by September 28, the police initiated their first major crackdown against protestors.The armed police used tear gas and pepper spray and threatened the protesters with even more violent action to clear the crowd. I was there that day as my organization HER Fund, which works with grassroots women’s groups, was one of the organizations supporting the students’ demonstration.

When the police came, we had no time to fear, our determination to resist and to struggle for our future moved us to occupy the space that we know belongs to us and to take a stand for the freedom that we want and the rights that we deserve. Peacefully, we sat down as conscientious citizens, as did people in Mongkok and Causeway By, other parts of the city. The protesters sustained the occupation by blocking the road, stopping the buses, and setting up road blocks with wooden racks, garbage bins, and anything they could get on the street.

For days, I stayed in the occupied area of the Mongkok district. Many people stopped by to support the efforts. They donated water, food, yellow ribbons, free mobile charging services and more. Some helped us make yellow ribbon to distribute to the people visiting the area. We cheered for each other and shared our views in the open street forum. It was so peaceful and empowering to us, the togetherness and solidarity as we struggled for a better Hong Kong with true democracy.

Then came more violence. On October 3, we were threatened with brutality by the oppositions. They swore at us, yelled at us to clear the stage of the occupied area, tore down the cover, sexually assaulted some of the women protesters, and beat the protesters who resisted and tried to protect the occupying space.

Women’s groups spoke out against these act of violence but there has been no response from the government; even the Equal Opportunities Commission and Women’s Commission has not said a word. Instead, every day, the authorities say threatening and distorted statements about our occupying action. We have to struggle on our own. Just today, the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition, one of HER Funds’ past grantees, began setting up a hotline for women protesters who need help if they experience sexual harassment or assault.

Women’s groups have played an essential role in the occupation on the streets. HER Fund grantee partners have mobilized more women to join in the movement and have helped them have a voice during this important time. For example, some created street forums to tell everyone in Hong Kong and the world that we, as women, and as citizens in Hong Kong, want to defend our human rights and social justice. There have been story-sharing sessions, where women have shared stories about using umbrellas to protect themselves from the pepper spray and expressed their fear and anger and their wishes for true democracy in Hong Kong.

One young woman said, “I can’t believe this could happen in Hong Kong, we are very peaceful protesters and we have not been violent at all. When the tear gas hit us, we are so frightened yet our conscience told us that we should not withdraw.”

I am with her. We love Hong Kong and we know our resistance is the only way to fight for our dreams: A better place with freedom and human rights protection! We also know the road toward sustained democracy is long with real harsh challenges ahead, but we will never give up. Our struggle will prevail. We will persist in our occupying action until the government withdraws the political reform proposal.

Fortunately, the government is now willing to open dialogue with the students’ representatives and a meeting will be held on October 10. We will see what happens. But come what may, we, the people in Hong Kong, will continue to persist our demands for true democracy.


Linda To is the Executive Director of HER Fund and a participant in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.

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Kenyatta Gets His Day in Court

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This is a big moment for international justice. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta will become the first sitting head of state to appear before the ICC when he attends the second day of a two day status hearing in person. “The Kenyan leader faces crimes against humanity charges related to his alleged role in post-election violence seven years ago in Kenya. Kenyatta is expected to attend Wednesday’s wrap-up hearing. The first day of the status hearing at the ICC pretty much ended the way it began, with the prosecution claiming the Kenyan government was blocking access to key documents for its case against Kenyatta and the defense arguing it was doing its best to comply.” (VOA

IMF: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Impressive Economic Growth Set to Continue, But…Ebola could muck that up. “Forecasting 5.1 percent growth this year and 5.8 percent in 2015 — the fastest growth outside Asia — the Washington-based institution warned “the Ebola virus is exacting a heavy economic toll.” More than 3,000 people have died as a result of the illness which is squeezing trade links between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the rest of the world. “Should the Ebola outbreak become more protracted or spread to more countries, it would have dramatic consequences for economic activity in the west African region,” (

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A peacekeeper was killed on Tuesday as a United Nations camp in rebel-infested northern Mali came under rocket fire, a source from the UN mission in the west African nation told AFP.

A new report says at least 11,000 people have been killed as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. (VOA

Sub-Saharan Africa’s rapid economic growth is set to continue this year and next, but Ebola and budget problems have exposed the region’s vulnerabilities, the IMF said. (AFP

Agencies say suspension of flights by British Airways to and from Sierra Leone and Liberia is causing travel problems and sending wrong message. (Guardian

Liberian healthcare workers still plan to stage a go-slow, or work slowdown, to press demands for hazard pay on the front line of the Ebola epidemic, a union leader said. (Reuters

The top UN official in South Sudan says peacekeepers are set to increase patrols outside their bases, to protect civilians living in fighting zones.  Reaching those displaced by violence remains a challenge for the U.N. (VOA

Christian militias in Central African Republic have called for the president and prime minister to resign and have ordered their ministers to pull out of the government, striking a blow to efforts aimed at quelling violence in the country. (Reuters

Transgender activist Audrey Mbugua won a landmark case on Tuesday when the High Court ordered the Kenya National Examinations Council to change her name on her academic certificates. (Reuters

Three Ugandans are being monitored in medical isolation for possibly contracting the Ebola-like Marburg virus, health officials said Tuesday, after a hospital worker died. (AFP


More than 100 illegal migrants were missing after their vessel sank off Libya’s coast en route across the Mediterranean, with dozens of bodies already washed up on the shore, local Libyan authorities said. (Reuters

Syria has declared four chemical weapons facilities it hadn’t mentioned before, a special representative of the U.N. secretary-general told the Security Council on Tuesday. The news heightened concerns that the Syrian government hasn’t been fully open about its chemical weapons program. (AP


Thousands of Indians fled their homes in the disputed Kashmir region on Tuesday as Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged gunfire again, a day after the highest civilian death toll in a single day in more than a decade. (Reuters

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein pardoned 3,073 prisoners for the sake of “peace and stability” and “the rule of law,” the government said on the Information Ministry website. (GlobalPost

The dengue virus has killed six people and infected more than 23,000 in southern China’s worst outbreak of the mosquito-transmitted disease in about two decades, officials said. (AFP

More than 1,000 people marched on the Cambodian National Assembly, many displaced from land disputes, to mark World Habitat Day. (VOA

The long-term impacts of natural disasters in northeastern Indian state of Assam are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the MDGs, before they expire at the end of 2015. (IPS

The Americas

President Barack Obama said that the government would develop expanded screening of airline passengers for Ebola, both in the West African countries hit by the disease and the United States. (Reuters

Authorities in the Dominican Republic say they are investigating 11 deaths at the main children’s hospital in Santo Domingo. (AP


Firestone Did What Governments Have Not: Stopped Ebola In Its Tracks (NPR

What can Nigeria’s Ebola experience teach the world? (Guardian

Outrage Over Global Ebola Response: Calls for Action (allAfrica

David Cameron heading the wrong direction on human rights, experts say (GlobalPost

Foreign Aid Workers Under Pressure in South Sudan (VOA

The doctrine of humanitarianism is not as benign as you might think (Guardian

Put People Power Back at Centre of Citizen Action (IPS

‘Women2Women’ is empowering young female leaders to help build global peace (GlobalPost

India’s Mars mission could be a giant leap (The Guardian


More cases of the deadly Ebola virus will almost inevitably spread in Europe but the continent is well prepared to control the disease, the World Health Organisation’s regional director said on Tuesday. (Reuters

The German government says a convoy of 112 trucks carrying aid from Germany has crossed into Ukraine and the goods will be distributed in the country’s east by local officials. (AP

The European Union said Tuesday it is urgently airlifting relief goods to West Africa to combat the Ebola crisis, as the disease threatened its shores with an infection in Spain. (AFP

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ODA chart

Chart of the Day: Does International Aid Target the Countries that Need it the Most?

Today’s chart comes from the One Campaign’s new 2014 DATA report. It shows “ODA to LDCs as a percentage of ODA and GNI.” That’s a lot of jargon, but it’s not terribly complicated. ODA stands for “Official Development Assistance” which is the amount of aid that donor governments (through agencies like USAID in the USA) allocate for international development programs.  “LDCs” stands for Least Developed Countries, these are the poorest of the poor countries. There are 48 of them. “GNI” is Gross National Income, which is similar to GDP in that its a measurement of a countries’ overall wealth.

So, in other words this graph shows is how much of donor countries wealth goes to international development assistance, and how targeted that assistance is to the countries that need it the most.  The size of the bubble represents the total amount of the country’s ODA to LDCs.

ODA chart

There are a few international benchmarks against which to measure these figures. The UN calls for 0.7% of a countries GNI to be devoted to development assistance. Also, the UN recommends that donors target at least 0.15% to 0.20% of their GNI to assistance to least developed countries. There is also a movement brewing that calls for donors to target 50% of their official development assistance to the least developed countries.

As you can see from the chart, there are only 7 countries that devote greater than .15% of their gross national income to the poorest of the poor countries. And there is only one country–Ireland — that targets over 50% of its official development assistance to the countries that need it the most.

Why does this matter? There are 48 least developed countries. This is the “bottom billion” of people who are the world’s most vulnerable. These countries depend on foreign aid to supplement tax revenue in order to provide basic services to their citizens and build infrastructure required to grow their economies. Basically, these countries need outside help to get their economies going so that they can graduate from “LCD status.”  The more targeted donor assistance is to those who need it the most, the quicker that these countries can graduate, and the sooner the world can move to eradicating extreme poverty.





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credit: UN Foundation

Ebola Spreads in Europe

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An unfortunate milestone. For the first time, Ebola has spread outside of Africa from one infected person to another. “Spanish Health Minister Ana Mato has confirmed that a nurse who treated two victims of Ebola in Madrid has tested positive for the disease. The nurse is said to be the first person in the current outbreak known to have contracted Ebola outside Africa. The woman was part of the team that treated Spanish priests Manuel Garcia Viejo and Miguel Pajares, who both died of the virus, officials say…The nurse was admitted to hospital in Alcorcon, near Madrid, on Monday morning with a high fever, she said.” (BBC

Meanwhile, the USA will start screening some airline passengers for symptoms of ebola. The president made the announcement after meeting with national security and health staff. (White House

Kenya’s President Relinquishes Power Ahead of ICC Trial…”In an unexpected move, President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday surrendered power to Deputy President William Ruto for him to attend court on Wednesday at The Hague. The transfer of power was achieved with high theatre, with Mr Kenyatta arriving at Parliament to a guard of honour and the National Anthem and leaving his office at Harambee House without the usual ceremony of a presidential escort. The decree signed by Mr Kenyatta handing over to Mr Ruto was unprecedented in the country and his willingness to forego, for a while, the public ceremonies of power, was quite unusual.” (Daily Nation

ONE Releases the 2014 DATA Report...The report: provides the latest updates on aid spending globally and in sub-Saharan Africa; examines the composition and targeting of aid and rules for measuring ODA loans; profiles progress by the G7, the European Union and Australia, and; assesses whether African countries are meeting their own budget promises and prioritizing spending on health, agriculture and education. Finally the report offers 11 specific recommendations to improve public finance for development beyond 2015.


Thousands of Nigerians who have fled attacks by Islamist militant group Boko Haram are crowded into Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North Region, living in increasingly squalid conditions and at risk of contracting measles and other diseases, according to relief agencies. (IRIN

The Head of World Hope International says Sierra Leone has a shortage of ambulances and isolation centers, making it much more difficult to contain the Ebola outbreak. (VOA

Famine could strike one million people across South Sudan early next year if the civil war escalates, a report said. (TRF

A lengthy postponement of elections in Central African Republic meant to complete a return to democracy following a March 2013 coup would risk further worsening the crisis there, the top U.N. official in the region said. (Reuters

The Press Union of Liberia has urged the Liberian government to concentrate its energy on fighting the deadly Ebola virus outbreak and stop trying to prevent journalists from doing their work. (VOA

Reports of violence are on the rise in camps for displaced people in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. Growing frustration with the ongoing conflict in the country is starting to wear on an already stressed and traumatized population. (VOA

The president of the World Bank will appeal directly to President Uhuru Kenyatta to resolve a Kenyan human rights crisis in which thousands of indigenous forest people have been forcibly evicted from a reserve in the name of water conservation. (Guardian

A Ugandan health worker recently died of Marburg, a highly infectious disease that manifests as a viral hemorrhagic fever, Uganda’s Ministry of Health confirmed Monday as health workers moved to quarantine a total of 80 people who had been in contact with the victim. (AP


Nine months of shelling, airstrikes and street battles have taken a heavy toll on Iraq’s “forgotten” province of Anbar, the first to be overrun by Islamic State militants. (IRIN

More than 2,000 Syrian Kurds including women and children are being evacuated from border town of Kobani after Islamic State militants who have besieged the town for nearly three weeks have advanced towards the city center, a translator for the leading Kurdish political group in Syria said. (AP


Thailand’s military has appointed a 250-member advisory group dominated by people close to the traditional ruling elite to help write a new national constitution. (AP

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests have been getting massive coverage overseas. In China, however, state media continue to limit public information about what is happening in the port city, tailoring coverage to fit the government’s narrative and position that the gathering is “illegal,” is “doomed to fail” and is a threat to Hong Kong’s democratic development. (VOA

The World Bank trimmed this year’s growth forecast for developing East Asian economies on Monday and urged governments to improve conditions for investment and exports. (AP

The Americas

In Latin America’s latest challenge to Washington’s ‘war on drugs,’ Ecuador has quietly begun releasing thousands of convicted cocaine smugglers. (GlobalPost

It’s official: Brazil’s presidential vote is headed for a runoff. Preliminary election results from the South American country show President Dilma Rousseff in the lead with Aecio Neves in second place. (CNN


Meet Scott Guggenheim, the most influential international development expert you’ve (probably) never heard of. (Global Dispatches Podcast

Seven things we now know about how the world has handled ebola (The Washington Post

Ebola must never again be allowed to claim lives for want of basic healthcare (Guardian

Planet Racing Towards Catastrophe and Politics Just Looking On (IPS

Looking at Poverty…Through the Eyes of a Child (Africa Can End Poverty

Bundling mHealth Info and Microinsurance to Improve Health Outcomes in Kenya (CFI

More taxes for Africa (Chris Blattman

At the Heart of Ebola — Health Systems That Need Strengthening (USAID Impact

That story about Akon’s “giant Ebola air bubble” (Africa is a Country

USAID Wastes Billions Shipping American Food Abroad: Report (IB Times


Almost 40% of the world’s waste ends up in huge rubbish tips, mostly found near urban populations in poor countries, posing a serious threat to human health and the environment. (Guardian

Governments are failing to meet goals to protect animals and plants set out in a biodiversity plan for 2020 that also aims to increase food supplies and slow climate change, a U.N. report showed. (Reuters


Wealthy countries are still subsidizing their farmers at the expense of developing nations, undermining market access for some of the world’s poorest producers, two farm ministers told a Food and Agriculture Organization meeting. (TRF


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Airokhsh Faiz

This Amazing Afghan Student Won a Photo Contest. Then She Started a Life Changing Charity

Airokhsh Faiz

Airokhsh Faiz, 24, is a student at Juniata College where she studies International Politics and Peace and Conflict Studies. She just returned from her home country of Afghanistan to begin the fall semester of her senior year. But this was no ordinary summer break. She started a charity. And in doing so, Airokhsh is joining a growing number of Afghan social entrepreneurs who are stepping up as foreign aid organizations scale down their presence in the war torn country.

Airokhsh, who is a photographer, used cash awarded to her in a photography contest to start a charity effort in Balkh, an ancient city in Northern Afghanistan. “I wanted the money I use for aid to be our own. I decided not to get funding from non-governmental organizations. This is our country and we need to build it ourselves,” she says.

After receiving the cash award, Airokhsh formed an informal volunteer group of youth in her city of Mazar-e-Sharif to survey the working children of Mazar-e-Sharif. She named the team Eidana – a play off Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim celebration after the month of Ramadan which is when Airokhsh was to launch her effort.

To celebrate Eid, families that can afford it buy new clothes for their children. Airokhsh and her team of 10 youth were able to distribute 550 sets of new clothes to working children whose families couldn’t afford much at all. Eidana was able to talk to hundreds of children and identify more than five hundred in need of assistance.

When she ran out of money, Airokhsh and her team campaigned to raise funds among Afghans. The culture of giving Sadaqa, or alms, is not only a part of Islamic traditions but also a long-held practice in Afghanistan where giving to charity is thought to prevent bad things from happening to one.

Airokhsh tapped into this tradition to raise more funds and help more people. She also used social media to ask other Afghans to chip in. This enabled her to do more than distribute clothes to working children. “We visited the family of the child who was killed in a suicide attack in Mazar-e-sharif and talked to them. We raised money to buy food and fruits for the family who had lost their only breadwinner, a young boy,” says Airokhsh.

After assisting that family, Airokhsh found out that there were many more in need of urgent help with nutrition. Her team once again surveyed the area and identified more than a dozen families in need of essential food such as rice, oil and wheat. “I talked to a woman who had five children. She was a widow living with her brother. I offered to buy her children clothes but the mother said, ‘we cannot even afford food right now.’”

Airokhsh’s favorite thing about her summer was seeing the children she assisted smile.

“A smile is worth everything,” she says.

Airokhsh knew that these smiles could come at a price. It wasn’t always safe for her and other Eidana members to travel outside the city to deliver aid. Airokhsh says that the security in Balkh has gotten worse in the past two years. Many international organizations have deserted the province due to insecurity, she says as she recalls traveling to the one rural area.

“When I went to Dawlatabad Central village, the people asked me ‘why are you here?’ When I asked them why they were worried, they said that the Taliban were fighting in the next village.”

Airokhsh, like most Afghans, is troubled by the Taliban taking control of more of the country. This summer, she was not even able to visit her sister who lives in the neighboring province of Faryab because the Taliban control the roads and the villages at night.

She also noticed the radicalization of youth in rural areas. Airokhsh recalls that she spent a portion of her summer break debating other youth.“Some of our youth have closed their minds, rather than thinking about progress. Youth who train in Pakistan have become so pro-Taliban. I couldn’t believe it when I spoke to some of the youth who had been completely brainwashed after going to madrasas in Pakistan. It is so sad,” says Airokhsh.

Even though things seem grim now, Airokhsh has hope. She is hopeful about the work she was able to do over the summer. She is heartened knowing about the volunteers who promised her to continue Eidana’s work despite her leaving temporarily to finish her studies in the U.S.

“I think change is possible. We just have to keep trying,” she says.

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