Every company should mark March 18th in their calendar – at the very least, as a reminder that we can all make a difference.
Today’s date is all about celebrating Companies That Care, and we at Ruff’s Kitchens would like to take the opportunity to highlight a handful of businesses which contribute to the betterment of the world. Whether raising funds for animals in shelters or working to empower disadvantaged communities (to name but a couple of examples), each of the organisations named below is worthy of everybody’s support – so take a look, check them out, and share this post so that more people can learn about the incredible work they do.
First on our list is Bloomtown, the UK’s first independently-certified palm-oil free company. Since their launch in 2016, the brand has picked up a steady following of fans who can’t get enough of their gorgeous bath products and skincare – though if you don’t think you’ve heard of them before now, odds are you may have spotted them on an episode of Dragon’s Den!
The Bloomtown team are committed to a series of ethical policies, such as ensuring that all of their products are completely animal-friendly. That means that vegans can happily enjoy a soak in their Himalayan bath salts – in fact, animal-lovers can rest easy when using any of the products from their online store, as the brand are absolutely against animal testing and other unethical practices. One of the best things about Bloomtown, however, is their refusal to use palm oil in any of their products, which in turn helps to keep rainforest wildlife such as orangutans safe from the threat of deforestation.
Next up, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the awesome folk at Conscious Step, a USA-based business which raises donations for a multitude of different causes. With their ethical workplaces and sustainably-sourced materials, there’s lots to love about Conscious Step, however, it is their wide selection of socks which sets them apart from the competition: just check outthis page, as there’s a design to match whichever cause you’re most passionate about. For example, perhaps you want to support a dog shelter – you can do so in style by picking up an adorable pair of socks from Conscious Step’s pet-themed collection.
Crisis is a charity determined to eradicate homelessness, and by running a number of initiatives (such as one-to-one support and job training), their efforts have helped thousands of people over the years. In 2020, the charity launched an online store called ‘Shop to Stop Homelessness’, with proceeds from each item being distributed in a way which supports as many people as possible. The items found in the store range fromjewelry to consumables (such as coffee), but we particularly love their tote bag selection: not only is each design unique to Crisis (and drawn up by a group of artists), but tote bags offer a great way for us to spread awareness for the charity while going about our daily lives.
Do good for the planet, yourself, and for society. GoodBrush’s ‘buy one, give one’ initiative ensures that, for every bamboo toothbrush purchased via their website, another one will be donated via a breakfast club or food bank based in the UK. As well as ensuring that oral care is available to as many people as possible, the company is committed to reducing plastic waste by using biodegradable materials in the bulk of their product – an excellent way to offset the damage caused by some 4 billion toothbrushes which make their way into landfill or the sea.
GoodBrush offer subscription services as well as one-off purchases, but however you choose to buy, you can rest assured that this one small action will contribute to a handful of big, positive changes.
Last on our list (but by no means least), we’re taking a moment to salute the awesome women at OHNE. Destigmatizing sanitary care is in the brand’s DNA: their website is full of bold language, fantastic humour and illustrations which tackle ‘uncomfortable’ feelings around menstruation head-on. What’s really bloody fantastic about OHNE, though, is their dedication to improving the lives of underprivileged women and girls in Zambia.
Once upon a time, co-founder Nikki worked with an organisation called School Club Zambia. The club’s rural location meant that their access to safe, hygienic and affordable sanitary products was limited, which is why the team at OHNE made the choice to team up with the initiative. For every monthly OHNE subscription made, the company donate to School Club Zambia’s ‘girl’s project’, which:
Provides health education to girls in rural Zambia
Improves hygiene through the construction of new, clean toilet blocks
Helps girls learn how to make re-usable pads, and also teaches them how to sew.
In short, it is OHNE’s mission to ensure that girls all around the world can ‘manage their menstruation comfortably, safely and with dignity’ – though since they’re 100% animal-friendly, vegan and certified by the Soil Association and GOTS, there’s plenty of reasons to feel great about supporting them.
Do you know of any companies or brands who work to make the world a better place? Show that you care by sharing this post and tagging them – and your friends! – in the comments. You can also help us in our mission to end hunger in Zimbabwe (and to improve education for the country’s underprivileged youth) by donating as little as £10 now.
National Geographic Day – The Publication’s Most Striking Photos
(We wrote this piece to celebrate National Geographic’s ability to share incredible stories of humanity with the world. If you’d like to support Ruff’s Kitchen’s own humanitarian efforts, please consider donating to help feed starving children at school in Zimbabwe by clicking here.)
Few publications are as well-known as National Geographic. Launching as a scholarly journal in 1888, the now-iconic magazine has come a long way in its 133 years: where its distribution was once limited to an exclusive club of around 165 or so members, it is now estimated that some 6.7 million people across the globe receive a copy of National Geographic Magazine each month.
Instantly recognisable for its bright yellow borders and the arresting images adorning each cover, the magazine remains a popular off-the-shelf purchase in newsagents and bookstores around the world. The modern age has only strengthened the Nat Geo brand, too: at present, its Instagram following is greater than that of any other account, with the exception of globally-famous individuals such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Ariana Grande. The allure of the brand seems irresistible to photography lovers, wordsmiths and the curious of mind; in fact, there are few demographics who today would be unaware of Nat Geo’s legacy.
The 27th of January marks the anniversary of the National Geographic Day, which falls on the anniversary of the Nat Geo Society’s launch. It is during this time that the Society’s original goal – to ‘increase and diffuse geographic knowledge’ – has undoubtedly been reached, and it is with the changing of times that today’s writers, editors and photographers have aspired to new heights: these days, the brand’s mission is ‘to inspire people to care about the planet’, and they are certainly succeeding in their mission to do so.
Throughout its history, National Geographic Magazine has shared a wealth of vital information and compelling stories with its readership. From 2018’s visceral ‘Planet or Plastic’ front cover to the 1984’s haunting portrait of the ‘Afghan Girl’, the publication has succeeded in bringing awareness to all manner of global issues. In today’s post, we’re taking a look at a handful of the magazine’s classic covers and articles, including those which shed a light on humanity’s greatest challenges, differences, and successes.
‘Afghan Girl’, 1984
It is without doubt that photojournalist Steve McCurry’s portrait of 12-year-old refugee Sharbat Gula is one of history’s most captivating images. The adolescent Gula’s green eyes pierce the heart via McCurry’s lens, although for all its recognition, neither subject nor photographer had anticipated the enduring acclaim the picture would attract: for almost 20 years, Gula herself was unaware of the fact that her face had become so familiar across the globe (it is said that she remembered her photo being taken, but did not understand for what purpose); similarly, McCurry himself stated that he ‘did not think (the photograph) would be different to anything else (he) shot that day’.
The image became a symbol of Afghanistan – or, at least, synonymous with west’s perception of the country – and its publication helped to raise awareness of the plight of refugees not just in Afghanistan, but around the world. A fund was set up by National Geographic in the wake of the photo’s popularity, with an aim to provide education for Afghanistan’s underprivileged youth. Indeed, the unexpected prominence and legacy of the ‘Afghan Girl’ provides just one example of the magazine’s significance, and how their influence offers an opportunity for the betterment of society as a whole.
‘Too Young to Wed’, 2011
Between 2003 and today, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has reported on the heartbreaking lives of child brides. In corners of the globe often overlooked, thousands of girls are having their human rights violated by being sold into marriage with much older men. Nujood Ali, an 10-year-old Yemini girl, made headlines in 2008 when she was granted a divorce from her husband, a man more than three times her age. Sinclair herself captured the image of a jubilant Ali, which went on to be widely shared: the photo shows a young girl looking carefree, and it’s hard to imagine that such a broad smile could possibly belong to a child who had suffered through the things she had.
While Ali was hailed a heroine for all she’d endured, countless other girls’ stories went unheard. It’s for this reason that Sinclair decided to commit much of her career to elevating their voices, and succeeded in doing so in 2011’s article, ‘Too Young To Wed’. It’s in this piece that Sinclair met a number of girls – some as young as five years old – who had been sold into marriage.
It is this photo of two ‘brides’ and their respective husbands which encapsulates the misery they are subjected to. Their posture is stiff; their faces are sullen. Their dark eyes suggest that any joy had been robbed from them long ago. The image offers no sense of warmth or security; rather, it is chilling to look at. It becomes even more so within the detailed context of this article.
‘The Last Goodbye’, 2018
This heartbreaking photo, taken by celebrated photographer Ami Vitale, was declared to be National Geographic’s Image of the Decade, as voted for by the publication’s followers on Instagram. In it, keeper Joseph Wachira bids an emotional farewell to Sudan, the world’s last male Northern white rhino. While Wachira’s intimate bond with Sudan brings a lump to the throat, it is the realisation that this moment captures a most significant goodbye which hits the hardest: after all, Vitale may have just captured the death of a species.
Sudan’s passing isn’t only representative of the animal kingdom: it’s an indictment of the times we’re living in, where insatiable human greed meets the desperation to save our planet from destruction. While species are being pushed to extinction – their ivory, fur and scales in high demand – there are countless rangers, scientists and activists who have committed their lives, sometimes in a literal sense, to protect the magnificent species which have roamed the earth alongside us. Wildlife conservation is no less a tale of humanity than the other stories featured on this list: one would be hard pressed to think otherwise when looking upon these images of Sudan’s final moments.
Warning – graphic content beyond this point
‘The Story of a Face’, 2018
The final photo in our list is difficult to look at, but it tells a remarkable story – but then again, aren’t all faces capable of doing so?
This article, written by Joanna Connors and with accompanying photos taken by Lynne Johnson, follows a young woman called Katie Stubblefield who, at the age of just 18, lost her face in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. By the time she reached 21, she had become the world’s youngest recipient of a face transplant.
National Geographic’s coverage of the story is exceptional. In addition to introducing the world to Stubblefield, it invites us to learn a little more about ourselves: what it is that makes us, us; what it means to have an identity of our own, and the ability to express our emotions. It also challenges us, in a gentle way, to ponder on what life might be like if that sense of ‘self’ were ever stripped away from us.
Stubblefield’s story is one of sorrow and hope; heartbreak and humour; the profound strength of the human spirit, and the magnificence of science. What makes National Geographic so exceptional is the unfettered access it grants to worlds unimagined by the average reader: whether we’re offered a glimpse into the life of a child bride or a survivor of inconceivable injury, the publication serves as a perfect compendium of human biographies, grounded yet accentuated by the extraordinary images printed from front cover to final page.
(All images in this article belong to the photographers credited/National Geographic.)
Ruff’s Kitchens Feeding Update – December 2020
It goes without saying that 2020 was a year of great challenge. Communities across the globe have struggled against the implications of the pandemic, with tales of turmoil dominating the news. Economic and health concerns are among the main talking points of the moment, but while there is much focus on how richer nations are trying (and often struggling) to control the virus, little is being reported from the countries where tackling the virus is likely particularly difficult.
Here at Ruff’s Kitchens, it is our aim to provide support to underprivileged communities in rural Zimbabwe. We have been able to do this via our feeding programme, which helps to feed children a nutritionally-balanced meal at school and is funded by your generous donations. As well as ensuring that Zimbabwe’s vulnerable youth remain fed, the programme encourages more children to enroll in school and to receive an education, making this a very valuable programme indeed.
With all of that said, the spread of COVID-19 has indeed had an impact on Zimbabwe, which in turn caused some issues for Ruff’s Kitchens’ feeding programme. We are pleased to say that a number of problems have been rectified and that, in fact, dealing with the complications of the pandemic has allowed our team to learn how to better-assist the local communities; we extend our sincere gratitude to the folk on the ground over in Zimbabwe who have been working tirelessly to make a difference, and of course we thank all of those who were able to donate to the cause throughout December.
The hard work continues, and further donations are both necessary and profoundly appreciated. You can see how your donations have helped the cause by reading the report below (shared with us by our wonderful partners at Zimbabwe’s Children), and we shall continue to keep you updated with how, together, we can help the country’s at-risk communities through this crisis.
The year 2020 has been a big challenge for Zimbabweans. The economy has continued to plummet, the fifth year of drought made growing food difficult, and a global pandemic further threatened the existence of our own feeding programme. In March, all schools were closed to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. Since hunger has no boundaries, all stakeholders (including our main funder, Ruff’s Kitchens) negotiated and agreed that children could be fed at home. Parents collected food for their children with each child given 1kg of mahewu per month.
In September (third term) some school openings started in phases, with examination sitting classes going back first. There is only one year group for primary school that sits exams, which is Grade 7; the others are in high schools. With no testing being done in rural areas, it was decided the safest route would be to continue distribution of food through giving the parents 1kg of mahewu per child in their family.
However, when collecting food we heard very sad stories about babies and younger toddlers (who are not included in the school feeding) going hungry, so we approached Ruff’s Kitchens to help those parents. We were very grateful to receive enough food to cater for another 1500 babies and young children, which left many guardians so happy and relieved that every child was accounted for.
Sanitising gloves and masks: Volunteer helpers and parents who assisted in the distribution process wore gloves and masks and were sanitised before handling the packs of food.
Social distancing: Parents stood in a single file and were asked to maintain a social distance of at least 2m. After collection and checking, parents were told to vacate the school to avoid crowding.
Registers: School attendance registers were used to be certain that the food was given to the right children. I was also present at every school to monitor the distribution process. This became an invaluable task as I got to know many more of the children’s home situations, i.e who lived in a child-headed home, how many elderly grandparents looked after orphan grandchildren, and who required further intervention. This has been an unforeseen advantage for us.
Teachers, parents and children are always very grateful to the organisations involved for bringing them such a life-saving programme! They tell me that the words ‘thank you’ just never seem enough to say, as it makes everything better to offer their children a porridge drink with the nutrients they need, especially those who live with HIV/AIDS as their medicine does not work without those nutrients. It’s a lifesaver in many more ways than just feeding.
We pray and hope the programme will continue until the harvesting period (after the 2020-2021 agricultural season). They further wish for schools to reopen as it lures children to attend school. Due to poverty some cannot afford to buy food with enough vitamins and proteins, let alone breakfast. They continue to send their gratitude through me to all the donors concerned who have made this programme possible.
RECOMMENDATION FOR 2021
COVID infections and deaths are escalating fast due to the new South African type of virus. Many Zimbabweans who live in South Africa came home for Christmas holidays and, whilst mingling all over the country, they brought the virus with them without being aware. Hospitals and clinics do not have the equipment and specialists necessary to do anything for the very bad cases, so people are dying unnecessarily. The Government has advised that schools are not opening as scheduled until further notice, but will remain closed for a minimum period of 31 days. I strongly recommend the continuation of the feeding programme as usual during the hard times where most poor families cannot afford decent meals per day. Due to lockdowns, some families are unable to work and are now relying on hand-to-mouth scenarios. The feeding programme has therefore been particularly necessary during this very tough year, although very successful, thanks to the work between Ruff’s Kitchens, Feeding Minds, Ministry of Education, councilors and all stakeholders who were involved in the distribution of the food. I wish you all a happy 2021 and hope we will have another successful year. THANK YOU!’
Please support us by donating now. Just ten pounds can feed a child for a whole year.
‘Can’t Feed? Don’t Breed!’ – Why A One-Child Policy Isn’t The Cure For Poverty That You Think It Is
It’s a common occurrence in comment sections: whenever a news report casts light on poverty, you can guarantee a response in which the user suggests an easy fix for economic strife: ‘Can’t feed? Don’t breed!’ With a few taps on a keyboard and a trigger finger poised to shoot the answer out into the social sphere, it’s a wonder that such a lightning-fast response should only be apparent to the individual on that side of the screen. Why – with such power, knowledge and influence available in the world- wouldn’t somebody have come up with the answer before?
The oft-referred-to notion of a ‘one-child policy’ is frequently touted as a solve-all antidote for the world’s ills; namely, the issue of poverty. If there are already so many starving children on earth, why are parents so irresponsible as to keep spawning new ones? Once you’re, say, six…seven…eight kids in, isn’t it time to stop having children? And if a parent lacks such self-restraint, isn’t it an idea to sterilize these thoughtless individuals; to revoke their ability to choose?
The internet (and, indeed, the world) is full of people who believe that too many children being born is one of society’s biggest problems. It’s not difficult to understand why: with food shortages affecting communities all over the globe, the very thought of having more and more mouths to feed fills heads with a sense of dread. But what’s more terrifying: that, or being a 13-year-old girl forced into parenthood after being sold to a man three times your age?
Rape, Child Marriage & Unwanted Pregnancies in Zimbabwe
No sooner had Maureen finished primary school, she had given birth to her first child.
A high achiever, Maureen had been born into a family in which times were hard. Her father, a farmer, had hoped that his daughter could attend secondary school in order to receive a good education, but when faced with financial difficulties, he instead chose to sell his little girl to a man more than 20 years her senior. This man – soon to be her husband – was violent and abusive, and when Maureen’s newborn passed away shortly after birth, she received beatings from him as a punishment.
Stories like Maureen’s are a common occurrence in Zimbabwe: although child marriage was outlawed in 2016, the issue is still rife and, as such, hundreds of girls are being robbed of their human rights. The abuse and exploitation of young girls often goes unchecked in rural parts of the country, with one in three thought to have been married off before the legal age of 18. Young girls (and even babies) are sold by struggling parents in exchange for cattle or as little as 100 Zimbabwean dollars (22p), and as a result they are unable to live lives of their own. They lose access to education, which results in them becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty. After raising babies of their own, those children may, too, end up being sold to predatory men – as wives, as workers, as property. Their bodies are currency.
When looking at Zimbabwe’s patriarchal society, suggestions such as ‘be more responsible!’ or ‘just don’t have kids!’ fall flat. It would be wrong to suggest that every child born in the country is conceived in love: like Maureen, there are many young girls who are forced to bear children in order to appease their ‘partners’ or to earn them an extra source of income, and even those that are born into seemingly happily families are not guaranteed a safe upbringing, as economic downturn can be fiercely unpredictable. Droughts, for example – exacerbated by the global impact of climate change – may impact those working as farmers, meaning that a family which had expected to raise its child well may suddenly be unable to provide food at all. In desperation, the child may be sold or even given up in order to alleviate the parents’ financial burdens, and once this happens, the hope for a better future has all but vanished. And so the cycle continues.
Whether focusing on poverty specifically, a lack of education for the vulnerable in Zimbabwe, or even on societal issues as a whole, it cannot be disputed that the issues faced by the country’s children are in no way of their own creation. It wouldn’t be wrong to point out that Zimbabwe, like many places on earth, has suffered in the wake of poor governance. Nor would it be incorrect to suggest that historical issues, such as war and colonisation, have played their part in the way things are run today. But to look upon the faces of the needy – the children and their mothers (who are often still children themselves) – and to instantly assume that a lack of parental responsibility is the root of all their problems, is to be ignorant to a series of human rights abuses that cannot be solved by the individual alone.
‘The Chinese Method’
For all its extremity, China’s ‘one-child policy’ has been hailed by many as an effective way to keep populations under control. The policy was introduced as a temporary measure designed to alleviate social, economic and environmental issues on the mainland, and was inspired by the books ‘A Blueprint for Survival’ and ‘The Limits to Growth’ (the latter text received early criticism from scientists and economists for its inaccuracy and simplicity).
Whenever the argument in favour of a ‘one-child policy’ makes its way into public discourse, certain things tend to be overlooked – not least the fact that the policy’s nickname is a misnomer. While it is true that Chinese citizens were encouraged to have fewer children in the aftermath of Chairman Mao’s premiership (during which, would-be parents were emboldened to have as many children as possible in order to ‘empower’ the country), the official policy did not see blanket rules enforced: in some regions of the country, two children were permitted per family if the first-born were female; in other instances, a couple’s wealth or socio-economic background may have determined whether they were subject to rules at all. However, clumsy wording aside, human rights were undoubtedly abused when rules were enforced – and, not dissimilar to the issues prevalent in Zimbabwe, the injustices were largely committed towards women and girls.
The forced sterilization of Chinese women is something which is conveniently overlooked when discussing the positive elements of the policy. While women and girls in countries such as Zimbabwe are forced to carry their babies to term, Chinese women were immediately fitted with an IUD after the birth of their first, before ultimately being sterilized after their second (similarly, the IUDs fitted were modified to ensure that they could only be removed through surgery). Any woman who refused these procedures could be robbed of governmental support, subject to excessive fines, or made to raise their children in a world which revokes all access to ‘privileges’ such as healthcare and education. Even more horrifically, women as far along as 8.5 months into their pregnancy could be injected with a saline solution administered to abort their child and, in some instances, newborns could be taken away and immediately killed.
It’s ironic to think that a country which actively encouraged a ‘baby boom’ to take place, could also determine that the right to choose (or even the right to live) should be stripped away from citizens within the space of just two decades – to put it bluntly, the children brought into the world to help ‘empower the country’ would someday grow up to become the victims of yet another policy created to remedy Mao’s misguidance. These very individuals, conceived in the belief that they’d bring prosperity to China, were the ones who would have their own children snatched away or selected for termination on the basis of their gender alone (females were deemed less valuable than males, and therefore were subject to a higher abortion/abandonment rate). Further implications (such as an ageing population) take precedence when conversation turns towards the condemnation of the policy, while reproductive rights (or a lack thereof) appear intrinsic to the sustainability of the economy, and therefore continue to be overlooked.
A Global Crisis
The juxtaposition of both China and Zimbabwe’s issues highlight a significant point: that if a country were to be successful, human rights would need to be adhered to. Whilst Zimbabwe, as a nation, is rather poor, China is considered to be an economic superpower – but is finance all there is to success? Similarly, the disparity between the mega-rich and the destitute is alarming: just one percent of the population possesses a third of the country’s overall wealth, while 17% of the population live below the poverty line. Access to proper healthcare and education widely varies, too: this was made shockingly apparent in a report written about Wu Huayan, a 24-year-old student who could scarcely afford to eat since being saddled with the medical costs required to take care of her sick brother. An adult, Wu Huayan presented as a child, weighing only 47 pounds at the time of the report – months later, it was reported that she had died. Like her father and grandmother before her, she simply could not afford to afford to survive.
The circumstances surrounding Wu Huayan’s death are not uncommon, nor is Maureen’s story (covered earlier in this article) particularly rare. Both instances are harrowingly tragic, though they are not one-offs which have slipped through the net: poverty and inequality are prevalent issues all around the globe, and no amount of preaching ‘common sense’ will prevent the existence of such injustices. Indeed, a concerted effort involving world leaders is necessary if we’re to dream of a world where people can live equally: while so many of us want change, they are the ones who hold the power in their hands.
A global effort semi-exists in the formation of the United Nations: 193 countries bound together with a mutual aim to better the world. Just one of its aims – ‘education for all’ – has the potential to improve the lives of so many: young girls could be kept safe at school, gaining an education instead of suffering abuse at the hands of their ‘husbands’. Young minds could develop a keener understanding of sexual health, which in turn could result in fewer pregnancies or a reduction in the spread of (sometimes fatal) diseases such as HIV or AIDS. Skills such as reading, writing and mathematics could be taught, giving young adults fairer opportunity to find work when they’re of an age to provide. Education, it seems, is one of the greatest (and most attainable) goals set out by the United Nations, and we must all play our part in bringing this aim to life.
How Can I Help?
We may not be world leaders, but every person can invoke change. Whether by making your voice heard online, supporting campaigns (both digital and in the real world), or donating what you can to charities, there are a million little ways that we as a society can help to make the world a better place. Please find a list of suggestions below, and do feel welcome to share this article with your friends, family and followers.
Sign a petition: Pages such as change.org or your country’s own government website provide the opportunity for you to put your questions and concerns under the eyes of those who are elected to make a difference. Find a cause you care about (or search for existing petitions), sign your name and let your representatives know how they can improve the world.
Spread the word: Have you signed a petition? Maybe you’ve started a fundraiser? Or perhaps you think that more people should be talking about a particular issue. Take to social media (Twitter, for example) to start a conversation about a topic which matters to you. Alternatively, you may wish to share links to articles such as this one on your Facebook page for others to learn from.
Donate to the cause: We understand that not everybody is in a position to give money to charity, and that’s fine – awareness doesn’t have to cost anything, which is why we’ve included the above options. However, if you are able to donate to a worthy cause, you can be sure that your money will be spent wisely in order to change the lives of those in need: Ruff’s Kitchens, for example, spends every penny donated on Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable youth, ensuring that they are fed a healthy meal at school and can therefore attend their education. Head to our donation page now – just £10 can help feed a child at school for a whole year.
How The UN’S Sustainable Development Goals Were Shattered By COVID-19
The ushering-in of a new year is typically an instance of contemplation, reflection and optimism, but given the events of 2020, one could be excused for any feeling of trepidation. Indeed, the past 12 months have been marred by a slew of negative events, not least by the impact of the novel coronavirus.
The virus – also known as COVID-19 – began to spread across the world in late 2019, though it wasn’t until mid-March that the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak to be a pandemic. The sudden closure of workplaces, restaurants and leisure centres sent a number of countries into financial shock, but as governments have scrambled to save their economy, prior commitments were pushed to the wayside. While it is correct that the pandemic should demand urgent attention from our world leaders, the clock still ticks for several pressing matters which, too, are sure to have a lasting effect on the global population.
The United Nations is composed of 193 member states, each one committed to combating a series of issues faced by humanity as a whole. In 2015, every member state pledged to be a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a movement which seeks to bring true equality to individuals all around the world. The 17 key commitments of the agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – are as follows:
Good health and well-being
Clean water and sanitation
Affordable and clean energy
Decent work and economic growth
Industry, innovation and infrastructure
Sustainable cities and communities
Responsible consumption and production
Life below water
Life on land
Peace, justice and strong institutions
Partnerships for the goals
Although global commitment to the SDGs was adopted five years ago, it is evident that little progress has been made towards eradicating poverty, extending quality education or slowing down climate change. In fact, inaction throughout 2020 has been damning, as not one of the goals set has been achieved since the start of the decade. With the new year around the corner and just nine years for the UN commitment to be met, is COVID-19 a valid enough reason as to why so little progress is being made?
Poverty & Hunger
On the 16th of December 2020, UNICEF announced that it would provide emergency funding for children in the UK – the first such instance in the organisation’s 70-year history. This is in spite of the UK being the world’s sixth-richest economy, with London serving as the second-largest financial sector on earth; it is also despite the capital being home to 66 billionaires (the sixth-highest number of billionaires in any city, according to Business Insider).
UNICEF’s announcement comes after the UK’s financial aid to other countries had been slashed, supposedly to reflect the public’s priorities at a time of ‘unprecedented economic emergency’. However, it could be argued that the government’s reluctance to feed school children signalled towards a loose grip on reality; one in which newly-redundant parents should somehow continue to make ends meet, while a series of pizza deliveries amounting to £50k of taxpayer’s money could reasonably feed the health secretary’s team of staff, or when political advisors would receive enormous pay rises despite breaking lockdown rules. The attitude of ‘them versus us’ has been prevalent in the UK for quite some time, and has certainly been exacerbated in the wake of COVID-19 – the tragedy is, the ‘they’ we speak of tend to be the disenfranchised, as opposed to the ones entrusted (and often, failing) to lead by example. A decades-long rhetoric of blame has made the vulnerable among us prime targets for attack, and rather than acknowledging the government’s failures, we’re allowing them to continue chipping away at our rights, and the rights of those we promised to protect as part of our commitment to overseas financial aid – a promise which is enshrined in law.
Of course, it would be wrong to suggest that the UK population are collectively in favour of stripping aid: even as a number of businesses have fought to stay afloat, charity has still been extended to those in need. While pubs and restaurants have been forced to reduce service, some have opted to provide free meals to families rocked by redundancies. Millions of pounds were pledged in an effort to support our National Health Service and, similarly, the ‘Big Night In’ fundraising event saw a staggering £74 million raised for numerous causes based in the UK and overseas. It is evident that our collective ‘giving spirit’ has not been dampened, and it is for this reason that a reduction of overseas aid – just 0.7% of the UK’s national income – feels somewhat like a misguided move on the government’s part.
It should not be overlooked that the cuts to overseas aid were announced in the shadow of a troubling prediction from the World Bank: back in October, a report suggested that an additional 150 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2021. This would mean that an estimated 9.4% of the global population would be living in destitution, surviving on less than $1.90 per day. In a year where billionaires have seen their collective wealth increase by 27%, should the poor be stretched further in order to foot the bill of the pandemic?
It’s not only access to food which has been impacted in the light of the pandemic: education, too, has taken a serious hit over the course of the year. But while certain nations have been able to adopt alternative methods of teaching (such as holding virtual classes over Zoom), millions of young children in countries across the world are being left behind.
‘Quality education for all’ is among the UN’s list of Sustainable Development Goals, but even prior to the pandemic, the playing field was uneven. While some countries lack funding for schools, others are caught in the conflict of war with no clear sign of a way out. In many instances, education (or a lack thereof) is directly linked to hunger and poverty: in Zimbabwe, for example, children may be too weak to walk from their villages to school, having not eaten for days at a time. Ruff’s Kitchenspartners with rural schools in order to provide the most vulnerable with a meal per day, which in turn has encouraged more children to attend their classes. Higher enrollment in schools equates to an improved level of employment in the community, as more teachers are able to find work; similarly, should Zimbabwe’s youth be able to receive an education (their concentration enhanced due to being fed), the more opportunities there could be for them to achieve well as they grow older. However, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the country, schools were forced to close – signalling a temporary end to the feeding programmes and leaving countless families with nothing.
While Ruff’s Kitchens were able to continue the feeding programme by distributing food outside of schools during the lockdown, the impact on education as a whole would be beyond anything any charity could handle on its own: decades of poor governance in Zimbabwe had left the country completely unprepared for a crisis of this level, so while other parts of the world could adjust to a temporary online existence, Zimbabwe’s vulnerable communities would have no choice but to weather the storm.
Partnership / Unity
The 2020 Agenda For Sustainable Development had been too slow to take off: although pandemic couldn’t necessarily have been predicted, other factors (such as inequality, sustainability and human rights abuses) were plainly evident – if they weren’t, the UN’s 193 member states would not have committed to creating a better world for all. However, much has changed since the agreement was made in 2015, not least on a political scale: from Brexit to the rise of the far-right, protests in the East and the West, and battles between dictators and their potential successors, it goes without saying that the focus has, at least in part, shifted away from altruism. This, in itself, is a problem for the SDGs: if the members of any government are unable to come together to better their own country, how could world leaders be expected to work together to help their neighbours’ countries, too?
If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that the average person – people like you and I – may have the potential to make a colossal difference, one small act at a time. Indeed, we could feed the hungry much quicker and more efficiently if the exceptionally rich would join together to wipe out food poverty; a minimal tax increase on the very wealthy may magic away the profound debts that our children, and our children’s children, are likely to be saddled with through no fault of their own. Make no mistake – there are philanthropists among us, in all sectors of society – but while we’re able to make small ripples of change by supporting our communities, we still rely on the very powerful to pay their part in systemic reform. It’s for this reason that we must continue to use our voices to speak up for those who may not be in a position to do so themselves – and it’s why, as we approach another new year, we’ll continue to give what we can by means of emotional and economic charity.