Human Trafficking

By Pamela Hawley

Lately, you may have heard a lot about human trafficking.  Human trafficking is stealing children away from their families. They are then often used in the sex trade where they grow up in terror and are left with only one option to survive. This is an experience that, in short, wrecks their lives.


Here are some other little known statistics:

  • Expected years of schooling is 9 years. 
  • Child labor among children ages 5-14 is 16%.
  • At any given time, more than 12.3 million people worldwide are enslaved and forced into labor, bonded labor, child labor, sexual servitude and involuntary servitude.


In some places, modern slavery is still a common practice. Let’s take a look at an example: Mauritania. According to the Global Slavery Index, the estimated prevalence of modern slavery in Mauritania is very high – 43,000 people or 1.058% of the population. The goal is 0. 

Now that you know something about this issue, you must do something.


Help stop slavery. Click here. 


Want to know more? Here is some Background on Sex Trafficking

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery, in which human beings are controlled and exploited for profit. “Sex trafficking” is a modern term. It was coined during the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1980s when female activists started protesting the exploitation of women and girls in prostitution and pornography. In this industry, perpetrators use force, fraud, or coercion to manipulate and establish control over individuals. According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking generates $150 billion in illegal profits each year. The two most commonly known forms of human trafficking are sexual exploitation and forced labor. Any instance in which an individual engages in a commercial sex act (such as prostitution) as the result of force, fraud, or coercion is considered sex trafficking. Sex trafficking also includes the commercial sexual exploitation of children or minors. Some examples include factories, “sweatshops,” brothels, “massage” parlors, online escort services. The most common industries associated with the trafficking of people include: agriculture, construction, garment and textile manufacturing, catering and restaurants, domestic work, entertainment, and the sex industry.

Background on Mauritania

Mauritania is a country in Western North Africa. In the Middle Ages, Mauritania was the cradle of the Almoravid movement, which spread Islam throughout the region and for a while controlled the Islamic part of Spain. European traders began to show interest in Mauritania in the 15th century. Mauritania is rich in mineral resources, especially iron and ore. France gained control of the coastal region in 1817 and, in 1904, a formal French protectorate was extended over the territory.

Today, Mauritania is the eleventh largest country in Africa, with about 90% of its land in the Sahara. The country’s capital and largest city is Nouakchott, which is home to 3.5 million people. Culturally, Mauritania is a special mix. The population is almost equally divided between Moors of Arab-Berber descent and black Africans, and this striking cultural combination is part of its appeal.  About 20% of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. The country suffers from human rights issues including slavery and child labor. Mauritania was one of the last countries to pass a law abolishing slavery. However, this law has not been effectively implemented, resulting in a high number of modern slaves.




Volunteering and Mindfulness

Wanderlust is a mindfulness triathlon. It includes yoga, meditation, and running. Angel Sun represented UniversalGiving and volunteered at Wanderlust’s 5K on Sunday. Here is Angel’s take on the experience.
“It was cold and windy.  I was preparing the water station at the halfway mark for the runners.
It felt great to have morning air and light exercise️ And I was moved by the runners’ spirit. Getting up early in the morning and run the marathon together. Definitely, want to do it again in the future!”
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; They have the heart”
-Elizabeth Andrew
Volunteering is a great way to practice mindfulness. Working for a cause alongside others helps keep us in the moment. It is psychologically shown that when we focus our attention outward and remain present we are much happier. Volunteering is a great way to clear our minds and simultaneously practice compassion and awareness.

Leveraging People, Products, and Innovation to Support the Refugee Crisis

This post was written by a guest blogger from Cisco, one of our clients. Erin Connor is Portfolio Manager for Critical Human Needs, Cisco Corporate Affairs, and Cisco Foundation. 

Today, an unprecedented 63.9 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced, and 21.3 million of those are refugees. From Syria to Afghanistan to Somalia, millions of men, women, and children are being forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution.

Often, they travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to settle in countries ill-equipped to handle the influx of those in need. The journey from Turkey to Greece, for example, is a treacherous one; refugees crossing the Mediterranean often travel in poorly-constructed rafts with little protection from the elements.

And when they arrive at their destinations, whether in Pakistan, Lebanon, or other countries, they’re often met with new challenges. In 2013, Lebanon’s population was 4.5 million, but the immigration of 1.1 million refugees increased the country’s population by a quarter. Turkey currently hosts 2.5 million refugees—the most of any country—but lacks many of the resources to cope with the added population.

The result? At least 40% of refugees in Lebanon live in inadequate accommodation, including makeshift shelters and informal settlements. Others face eviction or live in overcrowded apartments, unable to adapt to their new country’s standards of living. Many are unable to work due to local labor laws, while those in countries such as Greece are detained in camps where they wait hours in line for meals and can barely meet their most basic needs.

Fortunately, global problem solvers are coming together to make an impact in every corner of the globe. Cisco joins a growing list of companies and organizations applying digitization, collaboration, and innovation to solve what’s become one of the world’s most pressing issues.

At Cisco, we understand we must leverage core capability to achieve social impact. Since October 2015, we’ve taken a multi-pronged approach to our response, leveraging our people, products, and financial resources to provide over $4 million in support to the refugee crisis.

Our Tactical Operations engineers and Disaster Response team volunteers have carried out 10 two-week deployments in partnership with NetHope, and together, they’ve installed Merakibased Wi-Fi networks across 75 sites—64 of which are currently active—in Greece and Slovenia and provided remote technical support and equipment for installations in Serbia.

The networks have connected over 600,000 unique devices, allowing refugees to reach more than two million friends and family members through high-speed Internet connections. Using our cloud security software, we block an average of 2,000 cyber threats per day, guaranteeing secure connections for all users. Cisco has granted all of the Meraki equipment needed for these installations to NetHope and provided a supplemental cash grant of $100,000 to support their crisis informatics work, which streamlines their installation efforts.

Cisco has also provided $350,000 to Mercy Corps to support the development and scaling of a mobile-enabled Refugee Information Hub. Currently available in three countries and in three different languages, the hub provides refugees with critical information such as legal options and instructions on seeking asylum, safety information, and available social services. Today, more than 30 NGOs use the tool, which is expected to grow this year to include seven new countries.

On a company level, we understand leadership support and employee engagement drives global action and innovation. A Cisco team of volunteers in Hamburg, Germany worked in close collaboration with a number of ecosystem partners to develop and implement the Refugee First Response Center (RFRC). This innovation transformed shipping containers into doctors’ offices, equipped with Cisco technology that enables access to the Internet and real-time translation services with 750 medically trained interpreters collectively speaking 50 languages.

The original unit, launched in Hamburg in October 2015, caught the attention of a local private donor, who funded $1 million for the production of 10 additional units that have been produced and deployed to Red Cross camps throughout Hamburg. The 10 units average about 30 consultations a day and have provided over 18,000 medical video-supported consultations to date. Two RFRCs have been shipped to Lebanon and Greece for replication.

The Cisco team in Lebanon is working with the Ministry of Health and local NGO Beyond Association to implement RFRC and will include virtual psychosocial services. The RFRC in Greece plans to offer telemedicine services for specialties not available at the hotspots, facilitate remote examinations, interpretation services and video communication for separated families.


Seeing the success of the shipping containers led other organizations to expand on that idea. Deutsche Bahn, the largest shipping and logistics company in Europe partnered with Charité Hospital in Berlin to transform a former passenger bus into a mobile medical clinic – known as the DB medibus

Charité and Deutsche Bahn contacted Cisco, who volunteered to network the bus. Cisco outfitted it with secure wi-fi high-speed connectivity and video collaboration units to allow for translation services in 50 languages. Their first use case for the pilot phase is mass vaccinations to be delivered at refugee settlements in Berlin, and they have already provided 10,000 treatments since launching last fall.

We also recognize the critical importance of education and employment opportunities for refugees. Our Networking Academy in Germany has also committed to providing IT training to 35,000 refugees in Germany over the next three years, and are piloting projects with the International Labour Organization and local universities to train refugees in Turkey through Cisco’s Networking Academy.

Through our annual matching gift campaign in 2015, Cisco donated a total of $743,000 to more than 40 organizations aiding in the refugee crisis. As this crisis endures, Cisco Foundation continues to match employee donations to these organizations dollar for dollar. We know this is an issue close to the hearts of many employees, and viewing them as valuable partners in global problem solving has helped Cisco focus on how best to apply its technology expertise in the field.

Read this blog post here.

Donate to Mercy Corps here.

Three Unique Things About Depression in Africans

By Doc Ayomide

The theme for World Health Day 2017 is depression. To spread depression awareness, here is a guest blog by a doctor and mental health coach, Doc Ayomide.

So today I want to talk about some unique aspects to how depression plays out for Nigerians (who I know) and Africans in general—who I hear are very much like Nigerians! (Just kidding! Seriously, though, there are a bunch of similarities between Africans, Asians and even South Americans, when it comes to not just mental illness, but health in general; things that make us quite different from Caucasians. But that’s a whole other story. I might get to it someday soon, if you’re interested enough.) 🙂

Okay so what are 3 ways depression is sort of different with us?

  1. We typically don’t talk about “I’m depressed.” Many people with depression may not consider themselves depressed: some don’t even have low mood. Which, as it turns out, doesn’t mean depression isn’t there. (This isn’t just Africans, either; apparently, black Americans too are pretty similar, as you can see from this quote from a post on PsychCentral blog): “In many ways, I do think that there is a greater stigma among African American culture than among white cultures. I live in southern California, and many white people will freely reference “seeing a therapist” in normal conversation. Black people don’t do that. Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith.”
  2. We don’t really have a word for “depression” in most African languages. We are basically stuck with words that mean things like, “tiredness of the heart,” “thinking too much,” and so on. This is still related to Reason #1. Our languages, it seems, don’t readily lend themselves to expressing the complexity of emotion. (That’s something I’d definitely like to explore sometime.)
  3. These physical symptoms aren’t just “textbook” ones like sleep and fatigue and poor appetite, they’re sometimes really weird stuff. Stuff like sensations of internal heat, or a feeling of something crawling around the body. Some people feel heaviness in their head or pins-and-needles in their hands and feet (Yorubas call that kpaja-kpaja). Problem is most people with these kinds of symptoms think they maybe have malaria (or “typhoid”!); depression is the last thing on their minds. (There are other mental illnesses with these kinds of symptoms, like anxiety disorders, plus you can even have them in physical conditions too, so it’s not like having them means depression per se.
  4. Bonus point: The “confessing witch” phenomenon. A little background, first. One of the commoner symptoms of depression is guilt. I’ve seen people begging their family (and sometimes even complete strangers) to forgive them, when they can’t even say what exactly they want to be forgiven for; that’s how strong guilt can be. And when it’s intense enough, you could throw just about any accusation at the person, and they’d latch onto it faster than a terrorist organization claiming a bombing. So picture an old woman in a village—let’s say she’s widowed—and she happens to be depressed, so she probably keeps to herself a lot. Of course, everyone thinks she’s a little weird, and soon enough, the village gossip mill goes to work and people are soon speculating that maybe she killed her husband. One day someone takes it seriously, and soon convinces everyone else to summon her and drag out the truth. This woman already strongly feelings of guilt, mind you. It doesn’t take rocket science to expect her to “confess” to anything they accuse her of. The villagers are delighted! So it was she who killed their son of the soil (and maybe the last chief, and whoever else she “confesses” to “killing”)! They stone her to death…And there goes another depressed old lady.

Visit Doc Ayomide’s blog here.

Current Event: Yemen Water Crisis

“Yemen is a country on the verge of drying out.” – Michael Cruickshank

Just as food and water became scarce, violence erupted in Yemen. Destructive bombings have damaged a large portion of the infrastructure including an important pipeline in Yemen’s capital city, Sanaa. About 60% of the water that flows through the pipe is lost because of leaks. Groundwater reserves are also drying in Sanaa and the city is currently at risk of running out of water completely. The situation is no better in rural areas where women can spend four or five hours collecting water each day.

There is more to blame than climate change.

“Rainwater harvesting has taken a backseat to drilling and the use of modern pumps and tube wells, which draw too heavily on the finite groundwater supply, the biggest contributor to the current water crisis.” –The Gardian

Groundwater is being pumped much faster than it can be replenished in Yemen, and the government is not taking action to restrict pumping. Some better alternative methods to groundwater pumping would be buying water from agricultural wells and treating water near the coast to make it more drinkable. Yemen is in desperate need of a solution to this water crisis. The Red Cross predicts that it will only be 3-4 months until Yemen faces famine.

Help provide clean water here.

Taking the Leap: A Teenager’s Experience Volunteering and Traveling Solo in Asia

By: Gaby Alemán


For many reasons, the world seems much larger and more intimidating than it really is. We look at the globe and we’re hesitant to take a step out of our neighborhood for fear of the unknown— but you know what? That fear of the unknown is exactly what pushed me to leave. Maybe fear isn’t the correct word… Curiosity seems more appropriate. It was with a surging curiosity that I set out last September on my gap year, fresh outta high school, to travel to Asia for eight months.


I was, and am, part of a fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill called the Global Gap Year Fellowship, which gives incoming freshmen the ability to defer their enrollment and gives them scholarship money in order to pursue a volunteer based gap year. With the encouragement of my university and an oversized backpack clumsily strapped to my back, I headed off to Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Now, you can guess that traveling alone internationally at 18 is nerve wracking; heck, it still is for people twice my age. But what I realized when I found myself crossing from the domestic flights section at the JFK airport to the Etihad airlines gate, where I was so clearly the only young backpacker in a line of colorfully ethnic women in saris and men in traditional robes and turbans, was that I wasn’t actually alone. Everyone I asked, for the most part, helped me in whatever I needed; they answered my questions and calmed my nerves. When you open yourself to the chance of being approached, when you’re cautious, but still willing to smile at people, you’d be amazed at the help you can receive and the people you cross paths with.

Traveling from country to country was a breeze after the first initial dive into the chaos of airports and immigration. My time in Sri Lanka served as a time of reflection; I was thrown into a mix of the Sinhalese and Tamil cultures, along with exposure to Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism, in an unfamiliar place with a language I couldn’t decipher. I worked alongside volunteers at an orphanage where I learned that true love and dedication are fickle things; things that needed to be extended fairly to all of the orphans, even the ones that pull your hair and splash around in puddles of pee. My time there challenged me and showed me what I was made of, but also liberated me from myself. I’ve lived my life walking a tightrope, self-conscious of my decisions and actions and cowering in fear at the thought of messing up. Sri Lanka made me look down and realize I was scared of a tightrope a foot above the ground. I saw that if I fell, I could get right back up and keep moving forward with more experience and a lesson learned.

Singapore, in contrast, was a wakeup call: I had been traveling around a third world country, taking cold showers and dreaming under mosquito nets, catching rides on roaring, packed buses and haggling tooth and nail in the markets; now I was thrown into the hustle and bustle I had known so well what seemed like a lifetime ago, aka three months. Chic malls towered over me and mocked my flowing hippie skirt and battered sandals during my exploration of the small city-country for a week while I awaited my Indonesian visa. Sure, I’ll admit I missed hot water and toasted bread, but all of this luxury? It was disorienting; even when I was toured around by some passionate Singaporean friends did I lack the enthusiasm for this clean and orderly society. Don’t get me wrong— Singapore is a proud sight to behold… But it wasn’t for me.

This strange disdain bled into my first month in Bali, Indonesia, which I spent in Ubud. For the month of December I rolled my eyes at tourists paying for overly priced meals and thinking they were spiritual because they attended a yoga course given by a westerner. January could not come quickly enough when I found myself transported to my definition of paradise: a small rural village in the northern region of Karangasem. I lived with a fluctuating number of volunteers in a small school where we taught English, next to the family that founded it, for four months. And I flourished. I found a home where previously I had considered myself nomadic; I learned to love the hard working, wonderful kids who brightened my day, every day, with a simple laugh or hug; I found spirituality surrounded by a people so dedicated to their beautiful religion, bowing my head and praying in my sarong for the first time in months. I marveled at the transparency of a smile, the way it communicates in any and every language and helped me connect with those I couldn’t understand verbally. I shared stories and emotions and laughter with people from all over the world; I cared about the locals and they graciously welcomed me into their community.


Here’s the thing I learned about traveling and volunteering— it’s a selfish thing. It’s the best and healthiest selfishness in the world. Sure, I was there to teach English. And considering the school’s students depended on the tourism industry to live successful futures, I’d say I was contributing. But that wasn’t the point, not completely. Traveling and experiencing another country and culture first hand— it made me aware. It exposed me to human mindfulness and the wonderful feats that humanity is capable of. I was surrounded with so much love and joy that every morning my eyes flew open with a gratitude for being alive; for having been able to experience what I did.

I am no savior and I am not special for what I did. It is not a difficult thing to do, really. At 18 years old, I had no special skill to offer; all I had was my positivity and perspective and enthusiasm. Now, I’m back in the US with a completely new way of looking at and appreciating life, one that I hope will carry me through my ambitions and goals in life. And I’m more than sure it will.


Gaby Alemán is a UniversalGiving Ambassador.

Volunteerism: Potentially impactful but easily detrimental

By Alix Charles

View original article on WhyDev

Can volunteer-tourism programs make meaningful differences in the communities they “serve,” or would the local population in fact be better off left alone? To find out, I recently shadowed the operations of a program in Colombia which hosts college-aged pre-med students for a two-week service-learning experience. During their stay, the students travel to remote villages of the Colombian coffee region and get hands-on experience providing basic health care to inhabitants.The program is run by a US-based company which provides volunteers with opportunities to learn through community service activities in developing countries.

What I found was concerning. Neither the community members nor the volunteers recognized that a day or two of taking blood pressure measurements and handing out free multivitamins is not going to have a lasting impact on these communities’ health status. Focused on hand-outs rather than building capacity, this type of volunteering does nothing to address the root causes of the poverty that gave the organization the opportunity to generate revenue from volunteers at $2,000 a head in the first place. And why should it? If poverty decreased, one could argue, so would their business opportunity. In a lot of ways, people are used as a tourist attraction and a way for the volunteers to build their resumes and satisfy their longing for the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with wanting to help those less fortunate.

Taking into account the fact that “voluntourism” is currently a multi-billion-dollar industry and experiencing higher growth than ever, it is important for those wishing to get involved to know what to look out for.

Volunteers and a local doctor hold a consultation for a community member, in a temporary clinic set up in the village chapel. Credit: Alix Charles.

What is the organization’s primary focus?

The first red flag I came across was during the volunteer briefing. The students were told that the primary role of the program is to provide them with meaningful learning experiences in a unique context. “Maybe, if we get lucky, we’ll make a difference in some of these people’s lives,” the session leader explained. This rhetoric is rightfully seen by many as neocolonialist and as dehumanizing, subjecting people to the learning objectives of privileged “white saviors.”

Needless to say, volunteer-tourism operations that focus on the experiences of the volunteers over those of the community members they interact with are often counterproductive to sustainable community development. Rather, voluntourism programs should aim to build partnerships by focusing on community needs, and should leverage the strengths and value-added in the skill sets of the volunteers towards accomplishing the goals of the community.

What happens on the ground when no volunteers are present?

Prior to signing up to volunteer with an NGO, consider whether the organization only operates when volunteers are present. An impactful organization will have a team of local staff and will have self-sustaining efforts to support people regardless of the size of the volunteer team. Of course, free labor is valuable for any non-profit, in the US and abroad, but organizations that rely solely on international volunteers to run their on-the-ground operations may have their priorities wrongly aligned.

Consider the example of the service-learning program I witnessed in Colombia. When no volunteers are present, the communities that the program partners with get no support. Although this would matter more if the support they were receiving was in fact life-changing (like getting vaccines or education), it still goes to show that there is little focus placed on decreasing poverty and, frankly, little care for the future lives of the community members.

A woman in her kitchen in the village of Santa Rosa, Colombia. Few kitchens are equipped with gas or electric stoves. Credit: Alix Charles.

How much choice is the local community given?

Another thing to consider when evaluating the impact of your actions is choice. Arguably, an important pillar of poverty reduction is that of building individuals’ and communities’ capacity to take their lives in their own hands and to create for themselves a future that they want, and – more importantly – that they choose for themselves. For the poorest of the poor all over the world, choices are rare.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” they say. No. Beggars can and in fact should be choosers. Choice is one of the most important elements of basic human dignity. So when I saw well-intentioned volunteers handing out stuffed animals to children whose parents likely have 1st or 2nd grade education, it was hard not to cringe. Yes, that child is probably happy to have a new fluffy companion. And yes, that kind-hearted volunteer will walk away feeling good about having supposedly made a difference. But that little girl, who has likely never had to make her own decisions, still hasn’t learned to think, and act, for herself. On top of that, she will likely remember the day when Americans came to her village and handed out free toys and clothes, which could increase the North-South dichotomy and lead her to becoming one of the many adults I interviewed on my trip who cannot see past the hand-outs, and who recognize that the volunteers aren’t effectively doing anything to help communities have better lives.

A volunteer takes the blood pressure measurement of a community member in the village of Santa Elena, Colombia. Credit: Alix Charles.

Do your research.

Our world will have hope for a better tomorrow only once the majority of an entire generation recognizes the need to rethink wealth distribution and global power dynamics. Building an army of global citizens ready to take on these complex problems is instrumental to our prosperity. However, poverty is complex and multi-faceted; it needs to be addressed from within, from the outside-in, from the bottom-up, and from the top-down, all at once. It needs to be addressed through simultaneously improving education, healthcare, civic engagement, governmental transparency, human rights, women’s empowerment… the list goes on. Every problem and solution influences another problem, another solution. It’s all connected.

If making a difference in the lives of the world’s poorest people inspires you, make sure that your actions are driven by the impact they have, rather than by the feeling they instill. Do your research. Look for an organization that focuses on achieving impact, that strives to make a difference even when no volunteers are present, and whose projects are community-driven. Ideally, a volunteering program should aim to hand over projects entirely to the community and design them to be self-sustaining in partnership with the community members themselves. That participatory aspect is key to maximizing the impact on the ground.

Luckily, there are multiple credible online sources that do in-depth quality assurance and can provide lists of volunteering programs which priorities implementing community-driven projects that build local capacity.

About the Author:

Alix Charles is a French-born but US-raised International Development Practitioner. She has lived in 6 countries and traveled to over 25 others, and has done field work in Latin America and Asia. Having witnessed a broad spectrum of ‘what works and what doesn’t’ within this sector, she often looks at development initiatives with a critical lens. Her research and writing focus on ensuring that development-focused projects are sustainable and impactful. Alix is a Senior Associate at UniversalGiving and completes due-diligence vetting for NGOs and nonprofits across the world seeking funding from corporate social responsibility programs.

Featured image: a community member in the village of El Infierno, Colombia. Photo credit: Alix Charles.