Purpose of Blog:

This blog will be documenting my research concerning female literacy and related health improvements. My original project was to collect information and statistics from various sources and databases and create a cum
ulative source documenting the positive effect of female literacy on women and children’s health in developing African countries. Having completed this research paper, I am now maintaining this blog as a place to share my further findings on the subject of female literacy and its effects on health, etc.

Some quick facts:
Female literacy has been shown to have a positive effect on health because “educated women are more likely to be employed and to earn more than less-educated women” (Daniell & Mortensen , 2007, p. 278), “an extra year of girls’ education can reduce infant mortality by 5-10 percent” and “educated mothers are about 50 percent more likely to immunize their children than uneducated m
others are” (Herz & Sperling, , 2004, p. 4).

Daniell, B., & Mortensen, P. (2007). Women and literacy. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.
Herz, B., & Sperling G. (2004). What works in girls’ education? New York: Council on Foreign Relations Inc.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Maternal Health FAQs

Q: Why do so many women still die in pregnancy or childbirth?

A: Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth – that means 529 000 women a year. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year.

Five direct complications account for more than 70% of maternal deaths: haemorrhage (25%), infection (15%), unsafe abortion (13%), eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures – 12%), and obstructed labour (8%). While these are the main causes of maternal death, unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable, or poor quality care is fundamentally responsible. They are detrimental to social development and wellbeing, as some one million children are left motherless each year. These children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers' death.

Women need not die in childbirth. We must give a young woman the information and support she needs to control her reproductive health, help her through a pregnancy, and care for her and her newborn well into childhood. The vast majority of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to quality family planning services, skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery, or post-abortion care services and where permissible, safe abortion services. 15% of pregnancies and childbirths need emergency obstetric care because of risks that are difficult to predict. A working health system with skilled personnel is key to saving these women's lives.

Source: WHO

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

I recently read the internationally acclaimed Three Cups of Tea, and was not only thrilled with its relevance to the topic of this blog, but also just the incredible story it presents. I've posted below a copy of the book review I wrote!

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time. Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin. New York: Penguin Group Inc. 2006. 349 pp.

Three Cups of Tea, though not written especially as an informational book, gives its readers not only exceptional insight into a hero’s life, but also as a map of international grassroots ingenuity. This biographical narrative relates not only Greg Mortenson’s life, but also his development of a non-profit organization that builds girls schools in the Middle East. As the biography explores the unusual beginnings of Greg Mortenson’s “Central Asia Institute,” (CAI), it also gives especial insight into the heart and abilities required to take an unbelievable dream to a full-fledged non-profit literacy program in the heartland of terrorism. For anyone interested in learning how establish an NGO, or even just an incredible story, this book is a must-read.

The book begins by telling of Mortenson’s failure to mount the peaks of Pakistan’s K2. While fighting the downward battle of a failed ascent, Mortenson got lost in a blizzard and barely made it out alive. He recuperated in the Balti mountain village of Korphe, where after a few weeks, he fell in love with the people. Mortenson was amazed by the diligence of the Balti people—especially their children, who studied outside on the winter ground, for lack of a school. Regardless of his empty savings account, Mortenson was so moved by the scenes that he promised to return someday and build the children a school. And so his eventual million-dollar literacy program began with an almost unachievable promise.

The book progresses by going through phases of Mortenson’s life: First, a recap of his childhood in Africa and the pioneering spirit instilled in him by his missionary parents. Then the story of CAI slowly unfolds, describing all of Mortenson’s struggles along the way. This is more or less a ten-year recap, and finishes with the state of the program in 2006, when the book was published.

Some of the most important messages of the book are demonstrated over the course of CAI’s development. Mortenson’s experiences and personal qualities demonstrate some vitally important pointers for anyone interested in international NGO work. The first is that keeping your word is of the utmost importance. Multiple times in Mortenson’s travels, it is because of his unfailing integrity that he gains the absolute trust of the Pakistani and Afghan people. In fact, the trust and legitimacy he gains in a country full of hatred-preaching madrassas (extremist schools created by the Wahhabi, a fundamentalist offshoot of Sunni Islam), is simply miraculous and all due to his unparalleled integrity. Second, his international relation skills, though it is unlikely they would ever be taught in a classroom, worked wonders for him. In the first ten years of his struggle, Mortenson repeatedly jumped into the Muslim culture with both feet. Even the title of the book, Three Cups of Tea, is a reflection of this; In Pakistan, it is traditional for a guest to sit down with his host and share three cups of tea. Although this seeming waste of time first frustrated Mortenson, he quickly learned the importance of embracing the Pakistani culture, and as he accepted and worked with their traditions, he gained a love for the fundamentalist people. As Mortenson first endeavored to embrace the Muslim culture, he even asked a man how to pray. The man was thrilled, and Greg’s new knowledge served him well in every situation—even ones of life and death. His incredible compassion and desire to embrace a hated people served as the unfailing key that opened their hearts to such a large, white, American man. The most unlikely of saviors, Mortenson became beloved of the people he served because of his genuine desire to work with them and understand their ways.

Another profound message from Three Cups of Tea is a demonstration of the true nature of Islam. In our country—where skepticism (to say the least) of the Muslim religion prevails our 9/11 experiences—it is especially important to gain an understanding of what true Islam is. One of the most striking demonstrations of true Islam occurred just after Mortenson learned of the tragedy of 9/11 while working on a project in Afghanistan. The next day, he attended the dedication of a new girls’ school, where he was flooded with an outpouring of remorse and empathy for the people in the “village of New York.” After the ceremony, Mortenson was approached by “Kaurdu’s many widows . . . [who] pressed eggs into the Americans’ hands, begging them to carry these tokens of grief to the faraway sisters they longed to comfort themselves, the widows of New York village” (p. 258). Mortenson commented about this experience, “I wish all the Americans who think ‘Muslim’ is just another way of saying ‘terrorist’ could have been there that day. The true core tenants of Islam are justice, tolerance, and charity” (p.257). Mortenson’s story is full of such examples of what it means to a true follower of Islam, and Three Cups of Tea serves as an eye-opening experience to anyone who thinks Islam is a terrorist-breeding religion.

Finally, Three Cups of Tea is a vibrant, breathing example of the powerful transformation that girls’ education can bring to a nation. In a world where most girls still struggle under oppressive cultural practices and government, Mortenson’s CAI is an excellent example of how to take a step in the right direction. Although the nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan are so war-torn that Mortenson has actually carved some of his schools out of the mountains to shelter his students from shellfire, his students testify of the incredible peace they find in their lives from their education. One student, Jahan, confided, “Before I met you, Dr. Greg [Mortenson], I had no idea what education was. But now I think it is like water. It is important for everything in life” (p. 312). Shortly after 9/11, a man named Bashir pointed out to Mortenson that the true enemy isn’t men like Osama Bin Laden— “The enemy is ignorance” (p. 310). In his great work, Mortenson has chosen to hack at the root of the tree of evil. And through his countless experiences, he concludes, “If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls” (p. 209).

As inspiring as the book is, it has a couple of flaws. While reading, I found myself wondering how to possibly keep track of the countless foreign names. Although its index proves very useful, the book could really use some kind of name/reference list. Additionally, I found myself constantly wondering how such a specific account of Mortenson’s experiences was written. Are all the quotes really word for word? How did Greg and David Relin make this record? I wished for some kind of explanation about how the book was compiled and written, because that in itself must be a fascinating tale.

Despite these two shortcomings, reading Three Cups of Tea is an experience not to be missed, and would certainly enrich the life of anyone, regardless of their level of interest in the Middle East or NGOs. I would recommend Mortenson’s story to everyone, for it is truly an enriching tale that empowers each of us to step up and make a difference in our world.