Postpartum Depression Needs Serious Attention

by Marie Miguel

a picture of a new mother and her sleeping newborn
Mother & newborn sleeping. Source: David J Laporte, Creative Commons

Maternity leave is necessary because it helps with postpartum depression 

In the United States, maternity leave is almost non-existent. New parents in the U.S. get an average of three months of maternity leave, and some only get the twelve unpaid weeks of leave that employers are now required to offer under the Family Medical Leave Act. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla  Depending on where you work and how long you’ve worked for a company, you may not receive any paid maternity leave at all, which can cause a high level of stress for low-income parents and families. According to a study at the University of Maryland, longer maternity leave decreases the risk of postpartum depression. It’s suggested that this is because women can spend more time with their infants, and this is not surprising; if you don’t have the bonding time with your child that you need, it’s going to be depressing for you. You feel like you have to leave your child preemptively, and that’s not fair. Healthcare providers and policymakers need to think about how we can foster a more positive experience with maternity leave and help women get the care that they need. It’s essential that we think about maternity leave as being a preventative measure for postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is serious

Postpartum depression is a severe mental health condition. Many women go undiagnosed with this mental illness because they unknowingly downplay their emotions to their mental health providers or general practitioners. Postpartum depression is a severe condition, and it needs immediate attention from a medical provider. It’s normal to be emotional after having a baby. But, there’s a difference between feeling down and having PPD. When you have a baby, it’s a huge life transition. You’re now responsible for taking care of a new life. Many moms have a difficult time with this change, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, or a variety of emotions after giving birth, that’s understandable. It’s when your feelings feel out of control that you need to worry whether or not you have Postpartum Depression. We’ll go over the symptoms of the condition, and you’ll see if you relate to them. 

Postpartum Depression is not the baby blues

Postpartum depression is not just “the baby blues,” which affects up to 80% of new mothers. Postpartum depression affects childbearing individuals more severely. When you have PPD, it makes it nearly impossible to function. You feel severely depressed, hopeless, and scared. When a baby is born, you can have extremely intense emotions as a mother, which are frequently caused by changes in your hormone levels. Hormones make your experiences feel more powerful than they would ordinarily.  You may be prone to crying or insomnia that occurs even after your baby is asleep, for example. Symptoms that can be considered part of the “baby blues” include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, is a diagnosable disorder that exists as a potential side effect of giving birth. Unlike the baby blues, which is categorized by minor dips in mood, postpartum depression can be severely debilitating. Postpartum depression requires treatment, so if you have this condition or think that you might have it, don’t ignore it. 

Symptoms of postpartum depression

The symptoms of Postpartum depression leave a mother feeling like she can’t cope with everyday life. You may be wondering what they are. The signs and symptoms of postpartum depression include severe mood swings, depression or depressed mood, feeling overwhelmed, not being able to sleep, feeling hopeless, fearing that you aren’t a good mother, restlessness, severe anxiety, inability to focus or think clearly, feeling worthless, thoughts of death or suicide, and intrusive, disturbing thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.

Postpartum psychosis is another condition to look out for and seek treatment if you think you have it. With postpartum psychosis, you may experience excessive thoughts about the baby, hallucinations or delusions, excessive energy or agitation, paranoia, and self-harm. If you believe that yourself or a loved one is experiencing postpartum psychosis, it’s vital that you seek treatment immediately. 

What can we do as a society?

We need to take a stand as a society to help new mothers, and if we can prevent Postpartum depression, One of the things that we can do to help new mothers is to advocate for longer maternity leaves. Allowing new mothers to spend more time with their babies can prevent postpartum depression. In a society that’s so focused on productivity and getting back to work, one of the most important things that we can do to prevent postpartum depression is to push for employees to offer additional time for maternity leave. We want to spend time with our children; that’s only natural. If we’re not able to do that, of course, we’re more likely to experience postpartum depression, but it’s important to note that no new parent is immune to developing it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s not your fault. Certain risk factors, such as family history or personal history of mood disorders, financial problems, unwanted pregnancy, and more, can increase a person’s likelihood of developing postpartum depression

Getting help for postpartum depression

If you feel that you may have postpartum depression or if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression for over two weeks, it’s essential to schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor. Treatment for postpartum depression most often includes medication, if you need it, and most importantly, therapy. You can choose to see a traditional therapist or work with online therapy. New mothers can have the added challenge of trying to get out of the house, making it hard to get mental health treatment. Online therapy provides a forum to get therapy in the privacy of your home. A new mother may not have the energy to get out of the house to go to therapy. Online therapy can be an excellent resource for new mothers to get mental health treatment, prevent PPD or treat it. You can see a counselor with your partner or has individual therapy. Whatever your preference, it’s essential to seek treatment for PPD.

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

Vaccinations Give People a Shot

by Pam Zuber

a picture of a vaccine syringe
Senior Airman Sonia Vega, 332nd Expeditionary Aerospace Medical Squadron, gauges the right amount of vaccine needed for a shot at Balad Air Base, Iraq, Oct. 19. The main vaccinations administered are Anthrax and Hepatitis. Airman Vega is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, LA. Source: Staff Sgt. Joshua Garcia, Public Domain.

“We cannot say this enough: Vaccines are a safe and highly effective public health tool that can prevent this disease and end the current outbreak,” Alex M. Azar II, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, 2019.

Despite Secretary Azar’s comments, it looks as if many people aren’t heeding his words. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been more than 1,000 cases of measles in the United States from January through mid-June 2019, a period of only about five and a half months. The CDC blames the outbreak on misinformation relating to vaccines.

Should school systems and governments require people to receive vaccinations for measles and other conditions? Do vaccines protect the health and rights of others? If authorities require people to receive vaccinations, does this requirement violate people’s civil rights and impair their ability to make decisions about medical treatment for themselves and their families?

What are vaccines? Why do people support or criticize vaccines?

Vaccines are substances that spur the immune system to produce antibodies to fight diseases. This way, if people encounter diseases later in their lives, their bodies will already contain antibodies that will help them fight them. Vaccinations are the process in which people receive vaccines, often through injections, ingesting agents orally (such as in the form of drops or tablets), or inhaling them in the form of nasal sprays.

To create vaccines, manufacturers use weakened or dead versions of the same germs that cause the disease. They also use other substances, including mercury, formaldehyde, and aluminum. The inclusion of such ingredients has been controversial and have led some people to refuse vaccinations for themselves or their children. While high levels of these substances are indeed dangerous, experts say that the small amounts of such substances found in vaccines do not pose significant risks to people.

A famous (many say infamous) 1998 study disagreed with reassurances about vaccines. It said that there was a link between vaccinations and autism in children. The paper proved extremely popular and fueled efforts against vaccination. Known as the anti-vaxxer or anti-vaxxing movement, this movement remains strong today, despite many other studies that have refuted the claims of the 1998 paper and allege that vaccinations do not, in fact, cause autism.

Fears that vaccines have toxic ingredients and may cause autism to persist. Such fears have led more parents to refuse vaccines for themselves or for their children. Public school systems require students to receive vaccinations to attend their schools, although they do allow students to opt out of vaccinations for certain reasons, such as religious beliefs or health concerns. Many parents have taken these exemptions in recent years, which leads to lower vaccination rates.

Money is another reason people do not give or receive vaccines. Doctors may not be reimbursed for giving vaccinations. Parents may not have money to pay for such vaccinations or the ability to leave work to take their children for immunizations. To counter those obstacles, a number of public health departments offer vaccinations for free or reduced costs. Other government agencies and private companies provide access to immunizations in a variety of settings, such as immunization fairs that offer vaccinations, health information, fun activities, and transportation to such events.

How do vaccines relate to human rights?

For other people who criticize vaccines, using or not using the substances are a matter of rights. They question whether governments and other entities should determine medical decisions for others. Members of organizations such as the National Vaccine Information Center claim that governments that criticize people for not receiving immunizations are no better than dictatorial, oppressive entities such as the Third Reich. This is because people who do not pursue vaccinations are in the minority compared to the people who do seek such vaccinations. In this view, government entities that criticize such minorities – or even force minorities to seek vaccinations, such the Cambridge, Massachusetts Board of Health that required smallpox vaccinations in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Jacobson v. Massachusetts – are as dangerous as Nazi Germany.

What about the rights of people who contract or may contract diseases that vaccines may prevent? After all, immunizations protect many more people than the people who physically receive the vaccinations. Widespread vaccinations may produce a phenomenon known as herd immunity or community immunity. This occurs when diseases can’t affect a community because so many people have been immunized against the diseases. The diseases die a natural death because they can’t gain a foothold.

Herd immunity is especially useful because not all people can receive immunizations. Some people are too young to receive immunizations. Or, if people have compromised immune systems, they’re too weak to receive vaccinations. If they’re too weak to receive vaccinations, they’re definitely susceptible to diseases. When other, healthier people in their communities are immunized, they won’t contract diseases and thus won’t be able to transmit diseases to unvaccinated people with weakened immune systems.

More unvaccinated people in communities means more people may contract highly contagious diseases such as measles. If they can’t receive vaccinations, there’s a good chance that they’ll become infected and develop such diseases. People who couldn’t receive vaccinations didn’t choose to be sick. Have their human rights been violated? Others who have opted against receiving vaccinations or having their children vaccinated when they were eligible to receive vaccinations did make such choices. Are they exercising their human rights to make decisions for themselves? Are they violating the rights of others by potentially exposing them to disease?

a photo of a leprosy vaccine from 1978
Leprosy vaccine, London, England, before 1978. Source: Burroughs Wellcome and Company, Creative Commons.

How do vaccines affect the community?

It appears that refusing vaccines may indeed harm the greater interests of the community and infringe on human rights. We all have to do many things to serve the greater good, even if we don’t want to do them. We have to stop at streetlights, even though we want to keep driving. We have to pay taxes to fund various government programs, even though we want to keep our hard-earned money. Why shouldn’t vaccinations be any different?

Shots may hurt physically. They may cost money and may be inconvenient, since we may have to take time off from work or school to receive vaccinations. But we may be even more physically uncomfortable if we contract the diseases vaccinations could have prevented. If we’re sick with the diseases, we may miss even more work or school than the vaccination appointments would have taken. If vaccinations are expensive, so are medications and visits to doctors, urgent care facilities, emergency rooms, and other medical facilities that are needed to treat diseases that vaccinations could have prevented.

Not having vaccinations may thus cost diseased people time and money. If they pass these diseases to others, they also pass these costs to others. Since many vaccines prevent diseases that are highly contagious, there’s a good chance that they’ll give these diseases to others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”

Vaccines may prevent this. “In the USA, there has been a 99 percent decrease in incidence for the nine diseases for which vaccines have been recommended for decades,” noted the World Health Organization (WHO). The organization added that the country has also witnessed dramatic declines in mortality and pathological conditions related to such diseases.

People die from the measles. It’s not just an annoying, uncomfortable disease that kids pass among themselves. It’s a potential killer, one we may easily stop. The Declaration of Independence famously said that we are entitled to the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Vaccines protect life, give people liberty by enabling healthy and active lives, and promote happiness by preventing the devastation caused by sickness and death. They support human rights and are vital weapons in the public health arsenal.

 

Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

 

Toward the Understanding and Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

The conversation around reproductive and sexual rights and the bodily autonomy of women generally consists of access to abortion, birth control, and intimate partner and sexual violence. FGM is a patriarchal cultural practice rooted in the cutting away of the female body with the suppression of emotion, which at its core, is a denial of personhood. For more than 200 million girls and women, the violation of their body occurred when they could not advocate for themselves. For these girls/women, it is as if all the entities in her world are conspiring against her current and future life. Although Grace details the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya in this blog, the violation has increased in the US since 1990. The global conversation on FGM has been spurred by young women and girls willing to risk social exclusion in the pursuit of eradicating gender-based violence. – AR (**Trigger warning)

by Grace Ndanu

a young Maasai girl warrior
Maasai Girl. Source: Donald Macauley, Creative Commons

The development of women has been low for a very long time in my country of Kenya because of some retrogressive cultures that include FGM, early marriages, and wife inheritance. For this blog, I will major on FGM within the community I am most familiar with: the Masai. 

The practice of FGM is rooted in gender inequality. Women will never have a say on the issues surrounding their daughters; this means that the men are the ones to control women’s sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty, and purity. Although women do not have a say on their daughter issues, they are the ones to perform the act; this is seen as an honour. The act of cutting one’s daughter is both an honour and a fear. The fear lies in the inevitable social exclusion if the cutting does not occur. The procedure is done in three ways: partial or total removal of the clitoris, the complete or partial removal of the inner labia with or without removal of the clitoral organ and outer labia, or the removal of the external genitalia and fusion of the wound. The inner and/or outer labia are cut away with or without removal of the clitoral organ.

The cutters use non-sterile devices which may lead to contracting diseases such as HIV. The devices include knives, razors, scissors, glass, fingernails, or sharpened rocks. There are adverse health effects depending on the type of procedure. The effects include infections, difficulty in urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, development of cysts, complications during childbirth and fatal bleeding.

Female circumcision lowers girls self-esteem and confidence. When they undergo the practice, they must stay at home for them to heal which means, particularly for in a school, they miss a lot of their lessons. For those who have never been to school are at risk of being married at an early age, maybe 12, to an older man.

There have been efforts in fighting FGM because there are no known health benefits instead the effects known are negative. A number of NGOs, including the Cara Girls Rescue Center under the Cara Project, are helping to mitigate the practice. The Cara Center takes in girls who are at risk of going through the painful process and also the ones who are already circumcised. They ensure the girls’ safety and security. If the girl has not yet gone through the process, she is welcomed in the center and immediately start the counseling process. Additionally, she will begin schooling – some of them may not have gone to school at all. For those already violated, they are immediately taken to the Gender Violence Recovery Center under the Nairobi Women’s Hospital for medication where they are admitted and receive counseling. At the same time, both the parents and the cutters are arrested. They must present to court when they are summoned and given a warning that if it has ever happened again, they will be jailed.

The rescued girls and warned parents receive an education about the human and reproductive rights of girls and women. It is with this new knowledge that they understand their personal/familial and communal rights better. Learning has created awareness and advocacy throughout the Masai community [and in other African countries and throughout the world]. There has been the development of a zero-tolerance attitude on FGM matters that extends to many of them becoming rescuers of girls before they are circumcised. 

 

Asking For Help When You Have A Mental Illness

** The mental health relationship between public health and human rights is often misunderstood. Humanity can begin to see the underlying and overarching interconnections among poverty, its relation to lack of health insurance and untreated mental health issues, and individual and public safety. This blog seeks to provide insight and resources that help bridge the gap and offer solutions that remove stigma and shame. – AR

by Marie Miguel

a picture of someone reaching out to help
Help. Source: Leo Hildago, Creative Commons

It’s difficult to ask for help when you’re suffering from the symptoms of mental illness, whether that be depression, PTSD, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Anxiety. Sometimes, mental illness can leave you feeling hopeless and at the mercy of your symptoms. Some people have a great ability to see outside of their symptoms and ask their support system for help, but there are challenges when getting help for mental illness. We will explore what it takes to acknowledge that you have an issue and get the help that you need in this article. 

Acknowledging that you need help

It’s difficult to admit that you need help when you have a mental illness. Here’s an example of where someone with mental illness Let’s say that you’re living with Bipolar Disorder, and you’re in an episode of mania. You’re spending lots of money, engaging in risky behavior, and you find that your life is out of control. Your friends are put off by your excessive spending habits and your wild behavior that’s out of control. You know that you have a problem and you don’t know how to ask for the help that you need because you’re in the midst of a manic episode. What do you do? Well, you reach out to a loved one first, and say: “I need help.” they might not know how to help you, but at least you’re admitting that there is a problem, and trying to get the help that you need starts with talking about the issue. They might not have a solution, but it’s time to admit that there’s something that you have to address. Next, maybe you and your loved one go to your doctor and discuss the issues. That’s assuming that you have health; this is all the optimal scenario. Then, your doctor refers you to a psychiatrist, who can treat your symptoms, and you find a therapist that works together with your psychiatrist. So, this is an ideal scenario in which you have insurance, you have a support system, and you find the mental health providers that you need. Not everybody is so lucky, and we need to see how those who don’t have access to good healthcare fare in our system. 

When you don’t have resources

Let’s examine the same scenario when you don’t have appropriate resources. So, let’s say that you have Bipolar disorder, you’re going through a manic episode, and you’ve alienated your friends and family. There’s nobody to reach out to for help, and you don’t have insurance. How might you feel? Isolated. You don’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. These are the things that we have to think about in terms of getting people with mental illness help because sometimes, the symptoms of mental illness are destructive and you end up alienating those who can help you. So if you notice that a friend or family member is doing something self-destructive, it’s one thing to be angry with them and another thing to have compassion. If you can, even if they’re acting in a way that’s not kind, try to get them the help that they need because, in a way, the person may be crying out for it even if they’re cruel in the process. Now, don’t put yourself at risk or in harm’s way – there are times to draw boundaries with people if somebody is acting in a that is unsafe and they intend to harm themselves or others. If somebody is suicidal, for example, it’s time to get them to a hospital because you won’t be able to provide them with the help that they need. Many times, it’s about finding the right resources. Some people don’t know where to find the right resources for their problems. The problem is that sometimes there aren’t enough resources available.

The resources need to be there

If you have insurance, use it. One of the things that we have to remember is that even if you have a mental illness, it doesn’t make you powerless. You can, if you have insurance, look for a provider to help you with your mental illness, whether that’s PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, or Anxiety. Find a psychiatrist who’s able to talk with you about your symptoms and get you help. So, that’s one thing that you can do, and speak with your psychiatrist and find a treatment plan that works for you. Have your psychiatrist and therapist work together and understand that a treatment plan takes time to develop. You’ll be able to figure out what your treatment plan is over time and get better. 

Creating resources when there are none

There are instances where people cannot get help because there’s overcrowding in hospitals or they can’t find a provider that takes their insurance that doesn’t have a five-month-long waitlist. It can happen to people that have “good” insurance. So what do we need to do as a society to create more resources so that people can get the help that they need? Well, one thing is, we need to train more therapists. So, we need to understand that and value the jobs of mental health professionals. One resource we can use is online therapy. It is affordable, and it is accessible to many people. Some people don’t have the luxury of choosing from a plethora of therapists. 

Online therapy

One alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy is online therapy. Online therapy is an excellent space for people that have a mental illness to get the support that they need affordably from the privacy of their own home. Companies like BetterHelp are an excellent place for people to find a therapist that they can talk to and feel comfortable sharing their problems with so that they can get better. Our world is changing, and technology can be used for good. Let’s try to make space for people who have a mental illness to get the support that they need. Everyone deserves access to quality healthcare, which includes their mental health.

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

Religious Freedom Is Freedom for Everyone

by Pam Zuber

Synagogue. Source: aKatus, Creative Commons

“My holy place has been defiled…. My words are not intended as political fodder, I address all equally. Stop the words of hate,” said Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers. While it may sound as if Rabbi Myers spoke these words in Germany in the 1930s, he actually said them in the United States in 2018. That year, a gunman stormed into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed eleven people who were worshipping there. Rabbi Myers leads one of the congregations who gathered at the synagogue. Just months later, in April 2019, another gunman entered a synagogue in Poway, California and killed one person and wounded three others on the final day of Passover. Authorities issued 109 hate crime charges against the shooter, including allegations that he also set fire to a nearby mosque. Other mosques are under attack even before they’re built. There have been protests surrounding plans to build mosques in various parts of the United States. In 2018, a Muslim group sued the city of Troy, Michigan, saying that the city has thwarted numerous attempts to open a mosque in the area.

Crimes and protests against religion aren’t confined to the United States, of course. In March 2019, yet another person shot and killed fifty-one people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman posted an Islamophobic and white supremacist manifesto online before streaming the attacks on social media. The next month, on Easter Sunday, a series of bombings at churches and hotels in different cities in Sri Lanka killed more than 290 people and wounded more than 500 other people. Referring to the bombings in Sri Lanka, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence tweeted, “This atrocity is an attack on Christianity & religious freedom everywhere. No one should ever be in fear in a house of worship.” This attack occurred on Easter Sunday and the Poway shooting occurred during Passover, two holy times for their respective religions. Sri Lanka canceled all Catholic masses the following week except for one: a mass by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. Sri Lanka’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, and its prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, attended the mass, which was also broadcast on television.

In the United States, the attacks on the synagogues violated the First Amendment of the country’s Constitution, which grants people the right to peaceably assemble and practice their religions. While the events in Sri Lanka, Pittsburgh, Poway, and Christchurch are indeed attacks on religion and religious freedom, they’re also attacks on so much more. Since they were attacks on religion, they were attacks on what people believed. They were attacks on what people thought.

What are some other types of attacks?

Sadly, these attacks on religion and thoughts seem to occur every day in various ways. While sometimes the attacks take the form of shootings and bombings, they also occur in quieter but still harmful ways. Protests about mosques in several areas of the United States are evidence of such attacks. The Muslim groups who have sued the city of Troy, Michigan, state that the city interfered with plans to open mosques in the city. Their lawsuit alleges that the city violated the U.S. federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. According to the FindLaw website, this act “protects the ability of religious institutions to exercise their purpose without restriction and to let their members apply their religious beliefs through the construction and use of property for religious purposes.”

Anti-mosque protests aren’t confined to Michigan, although the state has experienced a number of them. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) features a map of the United States on its website that illustrates anti-mosque incidents reported in the country. Only a handful of states – Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah – did not experience any recorded incidents against mosques. The ACLU says, “While mosque opponents frequently claim their objections are based on practical considerations such as traffic, parking, and noise levels, those asserted concerns are often pretexts masking anti-Muslim sentiment.”

Id Kah Mosque. Source: Lukas Bergstrom, Creative Commons

Denying people the physical space to practice their religion creates physical and ideological barriers to practicing religion. It marginalizes people by saying that they aren’t worthy to use the land to worship they way they want to worship, even though they are legal, tax-paying members of society, people who work, attend school, parent children, and buy groceries alongside other members of society. They are people who should have Constitutional protection to practice their religions but whose religious rights are sometimes considered less valid. Marginalizing people makes them feel less welcome as if they’re lesser people. It may even impact their health, as the stress of discrimination and feelings of being outsiders may make them anxious or depressed.

How do we stop such attacks?

We don’t have to believe what other people believe. We don’t have to agree with them. However, we do have to empathize with them. Education may help us develop this empathy. Schools already have classes in subjects such as geography, history, sociology, and world cultures. Some schools, especially parochial schools, have courses about religion. How about using such classes to teach students about different religions and how they impact cultures? Introducing religion to young people may make religions and the people who practice them more familiar to people while they’re still forming opinions on the world around them.

Outside of school, maybe we can try asking our family members, friends, coworkers, and classmates about their religions. Maybe we could use these conversations to learn how people practice their religion on a daily basis. Or, we could try going to the local library to check out some books or DVDs about different religions and cultures. More and more movie theaters are also showing films from other countries, which give us glimpses into the products of other cultures as well as the cultures themselves.

Of course, the web also provides a wealth of information about religion and so much else. Do you want to find general information about religion? Updates about how people treat members of different religions around the world? Suggestions on how to dress when you visit religious houses of worship? You can find all of that and more on the web. You may even join online discussion groups to talk about religion, ask people questions, and receive real, firsthand accounts about religious topics from real people.

If we know something, it’s harder to hate it. Talking with real people about their real religious beliefs puts a human face on religion. Yes, religion is a collection of beliefs about ethereal, intangible concepts. But religions are also collections of actual people who gather together for common purposes. They are collections of people who deserve rights and respect. We can grant and protect them by meeting and learning about people. If we don’t learn, are we just promoting ignorance and hate?

 

Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

PTSD is Not Just for Veterans; It’s A Trauma Disorder

by Marie Miguel

a photo of a man, on a train, wiping tears from his eyes
Sadness. Source: Matthias Ripp, Creative Commons

Some people believe that PTSD is only a mental health condition that affects those who have come back from war, but this isn’t the case. People who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder aren’t just veterans. Individuals with PTSD have experienced severe trauma. It’s not only people that come back from combat, but that’s how many of us associate the disorder. PTSD can happen to anybody who experiences trauma such as a sexual assault, a natural disaster, or many things that would prompt someone to have a traumatic reaction, so let’s stop talking about PTSD as though it’s something that only war veterans experience. Anyone who has been through a traumatic experience can develop PTSD. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population. That works out to eight million American people living with the condition. Approximately 37% of people diagnosed with PTSD display serious symptoms. Women have higher rates than men. Later in this article, we’ll discuss the gender divide.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome happens after a person experiences trauma, and it’s something that sticks with a person. Symptoms can include flashbacks, night sweats, insomnia, panic attacks, and isolating from friends and family. We need to understand that people with PTSD aren’t dramatic; they’re traumatized. When you experience trauma first-hand it changes your brain. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health, Several areas of the brain are involved when a person experiences PTSD. A stress response includes the amygdala, hippocampus, as well as the prefrontal cortex. PTSD and trauma can cause lasting changes in those areas of the brain.

What causes PTSD?

The cause of PTSD is that a person experiences trauma and never adequately deals with the issues because it sticks with them. People think that PTSD is caused by being in combat because combat can be a traumatic experience, especially if you see someone die in front of you. The cause of PTSD is when an individual has difficulty adjusting after a traumatic event; their brain changes and the memory of the traumatic event gets stuck in their brain. These intrusive memories make it difficult for an individual to function. The root cause of PTSD is a traumatic event, but the symptoms are what overwhelm people to the point where it’s diagnosable. People with PTSD often have recurring distressing and upsetting memories of the trauma, and when you continually have upsetting memories and can’t stop them, it makes you want to shut down, which is a problem that many people face when living with PTSD, and it can seriously impact your relationships.

Causes of PTSD

  • A stressful experience
  • Trauma
  • Mental Illness
  • Predisposition to mental illness or family history of mental illness

Risk factors for PTSD:

  • Long lasting trauma
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Other childhood trauma
  • A job where you’re exposed to trauma such as a military position
  • If you don’t have a sound support system
  • Seeing someone get hurt
  • A history of substance abuse

Types of trauma

When we think of PTSD, we might think of combat, but it’s not just that. Anyone who has experienced trauma is at risk of developing PTSD. Whether you witnessed a violent act or you were physically attacked yourself, you’re at risk for PTSD. In addition to combat, types of trauma that can induce PTSD include but aren’t limited to:

  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Other childhood trauma
  • Sexual assault or violence
  • Physical assault
  • Natural disaster
  • Being attacked with a weapon

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can range from mood symptoms to physical symptoms. These symptoms can include but aren’t limited to nightmares, irritability, being easily startled or frightened, trouble sleeping or concentrating, or even feeling completely emotionally numb. These symptoms occur after a traumatic event and are only some of the possible signs that an individual could experience. Everyone reacts to trauma differently. And it’s understandable that someone may shut down, lash out, or break down crying. These are all responses that could happen.

How intense are your symptoms?

Depending on the person, the intensity and type of PTSD symptoms will differ. If you have suicidal thoughts or ideation, it’s incredibly crucial to reach out to a friend, loved one, or to contact the national suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK in the United States.) It’s essential that you talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing difficulty functioning.

Complications of PTSD

PTSD can impair someone’s function to the point where they’re unable to engage in normal life activities. Someone might develop substance abuse issues, an eating disorder, or other comorbid mental health conditions. PTSD can be debilitating. It can lead people into a state where they can’t work. It can make it so that they’re unable to attend social functions, and it can severely impact a person’s life. If you’re diagnosed with PTSD, you need to have the following symptoms:

One avoidance symptom – Avoidance is where you’ll stay away from things that remind you of the trauma. Avoidance symptoms include avoiding places and situations that remind you of the trauma, and avoiding thinking about upsetting thoughts connected to the event

At least two arousal symptoms– Arousal symptoms of PTSD make a person extremely anxious. Arousal symptoms include:

  • Getting startled easily
  • Feeling tense
  • Having problems sleeping
  • Angry outbursts

At least two cognition/mood symptoms – Cognitive symptoms of PTSD can rob people of things they once enjoyed. Cognitive symptoms include difficulty remembering the trauma, distorted emotions including guilt, and loss of interest things you once enjoyed

One re-experiencing symptom – Re-experiencing a key marker of PTSD, and it sounds exactly like what it is; re-experiencing. Re-experiencing symptoms include flashbacks or reliving the trauma, nightmares, or scary thoughts.

a lone little boy sitting on a platform
Source: John Smith, Creative Commons

Children vs. Adults With PTSD

Children can have different responses to trauma in comparison to adults. They might wet the bed or have selective mutism, they might start acting out during play time, or they might begin experiencing separation anxiety. According to the National PTSD center, seven or eight out of every 100 people experience PTSD at some point during their life. Not every person who has PTSD has been through a dangerous incident; some people experience it after a loved one has suffered harm.

According to The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs Studies, approximately 15% to 43% of girls and 14% to 43% of boys experience significant trauma. Of the children and teens that experience trauma, 3% to 15% of girls and 1% to 6% of boys go on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

We can see that females seem to develop PTSD more than men do. What is the reason for this? Many women are survivors are sexual assault, try to speak up and aren’t believed. According to the National Sexual Assault Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at any given point during their lives. Yet, we as a society do not believe survivors as we should. We need to start believing women when they come forward. When we do they can get treated for what happened to them appropriately.

Why do some people get PTSD and others don’t?

You may be wondering why some people develop PTSD while others do not. Part of it has to do with having the risk factors listed above, but there’s nothing wrong with you if you have PTSD and someone else in the same situation did not. There are other disorders that can go along with PTSD. An individual with PTSD can have additional mental health conditions. They may also struggle with suicidal ideation and may attempt to take their life. Here are some mental health conditions that people with PTSD also manage:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • OCD
  • Depression
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Substance Abuse

How to prevent PTSD

PTSD isn’t necessarily preventable because you can’t control when trauma happens, but you can deal with the trauma after it happens. After experiencing a traumatic event, it’s vital to seek mental health treatment in the form of therapy and, if you need to, a psychiatrist. You can reach out to people in your network and find someone to treat your symptoms. Whether you see someone online or in your local area, PTSD is treatable and even preventable if you address trauma right away. If you develop PTSD, it’s okay, and there’s no need to feel shame. It’s a treatable mental illness, and you’re not alone. Many people live with PTSD, and with support, you will get through this. It starts with getting help from a mental health professional, whether that’s working with someone in your local area or finding the help of an online counselor, like one at BetterHelp, you can find a treatment plan and get the help that you need to health from PTSD. You’re not alone, and remember that millions of Americans live with the condition. By going to therapy, you’re doing something incredibly brave, which is taking charge of your mental health. You will get better, but it’s going to take time. Be patient with yourself. Healing from trauma can be difficult, but it’s worth it.

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

Why Language Matters to Women

by Pam Zuber 

United Nations Flag. Source: sanjitbakshi, Creative Commons.

Language matters. So do the rights of people. But in 2019, it looks like representatives of the U.S. government promoted the use of language that may affect, if not imperil, the rights of women. Every year, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) issues statements called agreed conclusions based on priority themes and recommendations. The CSW is part of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which itself is one of the platforms of the United Nations (UN). For the sixty-third session from March 11-22, 2019, the CSW’s agreed conclusions were “social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”

During the CSW’s 2019 session, representatives of the United States requested changing the language of the commission’s agreed conclusions. They wanted to remove language that referred to “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.” Writing in the Washington Post, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Lena H. Sun said that the American representatives felt that this language would promote abortion and juvenile sexual activity. According to Cha and Sun, the representatives also wanted to eliminate the term “gender-responsivein the agreed conclusions and replace it with the term “family-centered.” But this language denies our ever-evolving concept of family. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Family isn’t just the nuclear family model of a man, a woman, and children. Actually, it never was, because don’t we all know people who were raised by single parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, or two parents of the same gender? People who lived with foster families and in group homes? People who lived with multiple generations under one roof? Denying multiple concepts of family and gender creates an inaccurate depiction of families. This depiction hurts the many, many people not included in this narrow definition.

When representatives seek to eliminate the word gender, the denial also obviously denies gender and sexual orientation. It implies that gender is binary, that the only two genders are male and female. It doesn’t acknowledge trans people, people who don’t identify with a certain gender, or people with different sexual orientations or no sexual orientation. Not acknowledging people’s existence marginalizes them, which may make it easier for people to ignore or even abuse them.

Finally, the U.S. representatives pushed to add another section to the agreed conclusions. This section stated, “women’s contribution to the home, including through unpaid care and domestic work, which is not adequately recognized, generates human and social capital.” The U.S. representatives did not get their way, but the rest of the commission did. In a document discussing the agreed conclusions, the commission stated that it wanted to “[e]nsure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.” It urged entities to 

respond to the needs of women and girls and recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work, enable the mobility of women and girls, strengthen women’s participation in public and political life, as well as their economic opportunities, in particular their full and productive employment and decent work and equal pay for equal work or work of equal value, and strengthen their resilience to shocks.

Although the efforts by the United States representatives were ultimately not successful, they still sent a chilling message that could have repercussions for women in the United States and abroad. After all, while “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” can mean abortion, it can also mean so much more. It can mean distributing contraception and information on how to use it. It can mean providing tests and examinations that could diagnose pregnancy or health conditions and provide early and effective treatment.

Such criticism about providing access to reproductive rights sounds similar to criticism leveled at the Planned Parenthood organization. Critics charge that Planned Parenthood performs abortions, which it does, but abortions represent only 3.4 percent of the services it provided in the 2017-18 fiscal year. People are quick to condemn the organization for providing abortions while ignoring that more than 96 percent of its work is not related to abortions but instead relates to contraception, examinations, testing, and other matters relating to health care, especially preventative health care. Reproductive health and women’s rights are at risk with each slight or purposeful alteration to words used in the creation and passage of legislation, the implementation of the laws, and the subsequent treatment of persons who identify as women. Denying such rights treats women as second-class citizens not worthy of vital forms of health care. It perpetuates the belief that women are not able – and should not be able – to make decisions about their bodies and their lives. It denies cis women opportunities. It denies the very existence of trans women and people who have nonbinary identifications. Not being able to make personal decisions may impact women’s physical and mental health. This impact could produce far-reaching consequences.

Women who lack reproductive rights cannot plan their families. They may have more children or children sooner than they intended. This may be physically and mentally draining. It may lead to poor health, lost educational opportunities, financial and career stagnation, and even conditions such as addiction that may need to be treated by addiction treatment professional facilities because women are trying to make sense of their lives or escape the realities of their lives. Women may feel trapped. They may be unable to attain a decent quality of life and achieve upward mobility, all because they lack something as basic as birth control.

A woman cleaning
Source: By Fars News Agency, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67475239, Creative Commons.

Why Emphasize Domestic Work?

By emphasizing domestic work, the U.S. delegation to the United Nations’ commission is sending a strong message. Again, the U.S. representatives wanted to include language that addressed its belief that “women’s contribution to the home, including through unpaid care and domestic work, which is not adequately recognized, generates human and social capital.” On one hand, the U.S. delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women recognizes that women still perform the bulk of domestic duties in most cultures throughout the world. It acknowledges that most cultures often do not recognize females’ domestic work financially, politically, socially, or emotionally. On the other hand, why is the United States so keen to emphasize domestic work?

Women perform domestic work. But they also perform countless other kinds of work. Around 74.6 women were in the U.S. workforce in 2017, reported the U.S. Department of Labor. These totals amounted to about 47 percent of the United States workforce. Since women already account for about half of the nation’s workers, it’s impossible to ignore their numbers. It’s shortsighted and dangerous to overlook this impact and to deny or downplay women’s contributions. Speaking of contributions, does the U.S. delegates’ proposed language portray their beliefs about what woman should be doing? In this view, women should handle domestic work and men should work outside of the home. Again, this is a very traditional view that was never the case for 100 percent of U.S. families. While stay-at-home wives and mothers may have been more prevalent in the past, many women have always worked outside of the home due to necessity or desire.

Source: ArtsyBee, Creative Commons.

What Do Choices Mean for Women?

As an alternative, what about supporting language that acknowledges the many roles that today’s women actually perform? Yes, women perform domestic work and raise families. But they also work outside of the home and pursue educations. They also do many of these things at the same time. Some choose not to marry, live with partners, or have children, or they are partners with other women, or they have multiple partners or participate in other arrangements. They may identify as cis, trans, or nonbinary, or have other identities. They may not live in traditional nuclear families, but their families and their choices are not any less valid – or any more valid. They’re just living their lives. They’re happy, successful people who contribute to society. Ignoring their ideas of family and gender, and ignoring the contributions they make through their work and other efforts, ignores them as a whole. And they shouldn’t be ignored, because non-nuclear families are now more common than nuclear ones. The Pew Research Center reported that only forty-six percent of U.S. children eighteen years old or younger lived with two parents in their first marriage in 2014.

Instead of ignoring women, maybe the U.S. delegation and other representatives should consider promoting inclusive language that acknowledges choice. If women have options, they can better control their destinies. In most societies throughout history, men have had more agency in steering the course of their lives and communities. But how are women supposed to have agency if authorities do not allow them to control any aspect of their lives, including their own bodies? Providing opportunities for women to work, to pursue educations, to choose whether to have families or not, to run for office, all give women control and power. This can create additional control and power, as women will have the knowledge, skills, connections, agency, and confidence to live the lives they want to live and help others do the same. Women will be independent, not dependent. They will not have to rely on husbands, fathers, or brothers but will have the resources to thrive on their own.

Allowing women full access to reproductive care and other types of health care and encouraging them to pursue a wide range of career opportunities enables women to live the fullest lives possible. Using language to deny these opportunities harms women and future generations. When U.S. representatives use certain language and deny other types of language, they threaten freedom, self-determination, and other American ideals. They forget that what’s right for women is what’s right for the United States as a whole.

 

Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

Wiki yangu na Kenya

My week spent in Kenya was amazing and profound, yet I find myself at a loss for words when trying to describe my time there.” I have been told that I am not a good storyteller. Details of the stories I tell that seem crucial to me turn out to be utterly unimportant to others, often causing them to lose interest and miss the significance of my experiences. Upon my return from a week-long study abroad trip to Kenya, I was asked all the predictable questions that one receives after a travel excursion: What did you do? How was it? Did you love it? Will you return? Can you tell me more about your trip? These are the questions that I cannot answer…how do I summarize a week’s worth of moments into interesting, well-constructed narratives that completely capture the beauty and wealth of knowledge I learned while away?

The truth is I can’t, so I don’t,  leaving both me and my friends unsatisfied. So when my professor who led the trip to Kenya reminded us of our living dictionary assignment, my plan began to take form. The Living Dictionary assignment was to select words in Swahili and translate them to English and turn in that list of words we had collected while there. Nelson, who started the camp and worked tirelessly to coordinate our trip and helped me translate the words for my Living Dictionary. This is not a commonly used phrase – in the United States or otherwise, so it took Nelson a minute to compose it. My mind starting whirling as to how I could take the assignment and make it into an art project. I realized that each day of my trip could be summarized into two Swahili words, and those words could tell the stories of my trip, along with accompanying the artwork.

While I was in Kenya, I chose nine words and phrases to tell the stories of my experience. Then I created images to accompany the words using different art mediums. These phrases and words were translated for me by the people I met while I was in Kenya. I found it liberating to express my experiences through creativity, and then use those art pieces to tell a story of my time abroad. Organizing my thoughts through the words and pictures ordered the information I shared. Reflecting on my week in Kenya, I knew there was some core knowledge I had observed while there that left an impact on me, I wanted to leave an impact with this art.

Kamuzu ambayo ni hai “Living Dictionary”

The watercolor is inspired specifically by an image from the safari we took; however, it also represents the vibrancy of color in the Kenyan landscape. We spent a majority of our time in Kenya out in the Maasai Mara, which is about four hours from Nairobi. There we stayed at Oldarpoi Camp, a sustainable tourism camp run by the community for the community. On the safari, I saw animals in their environment and on their own terms. The land and animals there are demonstrating an authentic ecosystem, something I have never seen firsthand before. My lion and elephant viewing could be confined to the zoo, but the safari was the antithesis of the zoo. There were no glass windows separating the animals from the observer, nor regularly scheduled feeding times. It was as if I stepped into a city where the skyscrapers were trees and sidewalks were flowers and bushes. Like any great city my presence did not interrupt its typical course, nor will my individual presence ever be remembered by the occupants. The natural beauty of this place never failed to leave an impression on me.

Moja & Billie (Mbili) “One” & “Two”

The image I chose to depict these words was inspired by all of the nights I spent looking out from the window above my bed. I could always see the milky way, and it was an unreal, magical sight that I have never been able to appreciate while in the States. Looking up at the universe I saw light and contrast that I cannot name or begin to understand. I could not tell you why stars burn in the night or the difference between celestial planets, but that does not mean I cannot appreciate it. I ended each day in Kenya grateful and full of love for all that I had seen and learned, even if I had not yet begun to process it. Like this trip, those evenings staring at the expanse was a singular experience The highlight of my evening was when I picked out Orion’s belt, a constellation made of three stars. It was so clear and easy to pick out that I wanted to add it into this piece.

On our first day in Kenya, as we were driving out to the Mara, we stopped on the side of the road at a shop. There, I met Joseph, who taught me how to count in Swahili. This is the first of many instances where my English ears did not hear or understand the nuances of the language. Two in Swahili is spelled “mbili,” but to my ears, it always sounded like “billie.” Language was an important tool to use when making a connection with others in Kenya. I often did not speak the same language as them, but something I have found to be true everywhere, in the United States and Kenya, was that others are eager to teach. Never once did I ask how to say or spell something in Swahili and the response was “No.” Each time, the person gleefully and patiently waited with me as I stumbled over sounds trying to repeat what they were teaching me. Not only did I learn Swahili words from this, but I learned the power of teaching and how it provides connection and bonds with humans.

Sawa Sawa & Twende “Ok? Ok!” & “Let’s go!”

During our trip, Sam and Joel not only drove us all over the country but also became our friends and guides. They fearlessly leading us all over the Mara through a safari. They knew so much about the creatures we were seeing. They knew where they would spend time and were able to find the best spots for viewing. Whenever we would stop to look at an animal, Sam would ask us, “Ok?” and we would all respond “Ok!” letting him know we were ready to move on. Sam was an expert driver and wild animal spotter as we witnessed many animals such as lions, giraffes, zebras, and warthogs in their natural habitat.

Much of the way people make money is through tourism, and often the safaris and the promise of animals is what brings the tourists. In order to see the animals up close, it is vital that you respect and understand their patterns and habits.

Sopa & Asanti (Asante)“Hi” “Hey” Hello” & “Thank you”

A majority of people that I met while in Kenya were able to speak three languages: English, Swahili, and their local dialect. We were staying in the Maasai lands where they speak Maa, which is that region’s local language. A common greeting for them is “Sopa” or hello. When we first arrived at the Oldarpoi camp, we were greeted by the people sharing their culture and traditions with us. They always warmly welcomed us with a friendly “Sopa”. When beginning to learn a new language it seems that some of the first phrases you pick up are how to welcome and how to be grateful. This made “Thank you” a vital phrase, and gratitude a universal concept, which is one of the most insightful realizations I had while in Kenya. I might not speak the same language as them, or fully understand their culture, but there are mutual understandings of humanity that persist across cultural boundaries. The sound of children laughing and playing is the same in any country. Friends teaching each other popular dances is the same in any country. Being grateful for life and connection is the same in any country. Asanti, or Asante as it is correctly spelled, was given freely and frequently during our time there. How could it not be? We had so much to be grateful for.

We we ni rafike yangu & Nakupenda“You are my friend” & “I love you”

On the first afternoon of our arrival in the Maasai Mara, we asked the warriors if they could show us around the camp. There was a village below where we stayed and as we were walking down the road the children were arriving home from school. We stopped and began to talk to these bright and inquisitive children. They drew their names in the dirt, as well as an outline of Kenya with a star where they lived. They wrote out long division problems with a stick to test my “college education”. The children giggled as they posed for photos and excitedly crowded the cameras. They opened their home, their lands, and their hearts to us without hesitation.

It was important to me that there was not a white savior mentality on this trip. I personally think that not only is the idea or concept of entering a foreign country and being a “savior” detrimental to the community, but also spreads this harmful to other Westerners considering trips to Africa. Dr. Stacy Moak and Dr. Tina Reuter, the professors who led this trip, ensured that we worked collaboratively with those in the community to provide them with the resources they needed. Change in a community does not come from a group of students visiting for one week. Members of the community are the true agents for change, and to have an opportunity to learn from them is an unforgettable experience. In many depictions of non-Western countries, the people are displayed in images of despair and poverty. This fuels the white savior complex but placing pity on these countries and the utmost need for a Westernized hero. Is there despair and poverty in Kenya? Yes. Is there despair and poverty in the United States? Yes. Regardless of where we are, considering what the photos you take and share are actually depicting is a measurable action you can take. Does the photo reflect the strength of the person? Does it treat humans in the photo as entertainment only? When someone is wanting to use imagery to advocate and empower for change, is the photo reflecting the true nature of its subject, or whatever sensationalized image will get the most emotional response?

I can’t speak to all the plights of the Kenyan people, nor can I summarize everyone who lives there within a week of being there; all I know is what I observed from my week-long trip: The people I met in Kenya are smart. They are curious. They are happy. They are resilient. Maybe if others had more opportunity to engage with non-Western worlds in an accurate and authentic way some of the negative mentalities and complexes surrounding how we view the rest of the world would begin to be transformed. I was fortunate to get physical proximity to the people of Kenya and the characteristics they exhibit, and hopefully, the visuals I shared will begin to give others a sort of pseudo-proximity to the humanity in all.

The Evolution of How I Defined a Global Citizen

Maasai warriors
Maasai warriors. Photo by Emma Laurence.

As the world has grown smaller, and the global economy and policies have pushed their way to the focus of peoples concerns, many citizens have altered their attention from the nation to the globe, defining themselves to be a global citizen. Since the introduction of social media, I have seen how easy it is to know what is happening around the world. With easy access to international information, I have seen more of my own generation focus on what they can do to help people on the international stage. Specifically, when my friends and I began deciding what we wanted to study as undergraduates, we were not focused solely on what we wanted to do but also how we could use our major to help others around the world. We would consider ourselves to be global citizens. What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Over spring break 2019, I traveled with the UAB Social Work Department along with Dr. Stacy Moak and Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter to Kenya. While we were there to work on projects that centered around a multitude of social work topics, I learned what it means to be a global citizen and how my definition of that changed throughout the trip. Before leaving for Kenya, I considered myself a global citizen, but I was not certain about what it meant to be one. From my experience in traveling, I defined a global citizen to be someone who understood that there were cultures and communities outside their own community that should be appreciated.

Before the class began, my knowledge of African culture was limited to what I saw in movies like the Lion King and Black Panther. During the class we prepared for our trip by creating lessons on our projects, expanding our knowledge about Kenyan culture, and preparing supplies to take to the groups we were meeting in Kenya. This knowledge helped me establish a basis of understanding for the communities we would be visiting. As part of our class, we read My Maasai Life: From Suburbia to Savannah by Robin Wiszowaty which educated me on many Swahili and Maa words as well as specific cultural details within the Maasai Mara. We also had a lesson on human rights and what should be available to all humans. This lesson opened my eyes to a part of global citizenship that I had not thought of because of my little education on human rights. To help communities around the globe, I must know what’s going on in international and national legislation to know where those human rights are being violated or taken away. This knowledge grants the ability and responsibility to work towards a better world where everyone has their basic rights as a human.

Emma and the Maasai women sitting in a circle having conversation
Photo by Emma Laurence

Before this trip, I had believed that this understanding would be enough to establish an appreciation for the community of the Maasai Mara. While I did appreciate the culture, I soon realized that fully experiencing a community is far more important than learning from documentaries and online sources. The experience that creates a deep connection towards communities of the world is one that is achievable when you focus on the people around you. Throughout our time in the Maasai Mara, my definition for a global citizen was redefined. From getting to go inside a Maasai community to doing beadwork with some of the hardworking Maasai mothers, I began to create relationships within the community, some even without a common language to speak.

One afternoon the students and professors sat down with the Maasai women to learn how to make soap and do beadwork, we had learned that these women used these skills to make money for their families. The woman who was tasked with trying to teach me how to do the beadwork was very patient and kind, and we didn’t even speak more than a few words to each other. I know little to no Swahili or Maa, and the woman knew no English. We were able to find a way to establish a friendship through unspoken communication, involving a lot of laughter at my inability to put beads on a string. It seemed impossible before I came to Kenya to establish a friendship with someone who came from a vastly different culture and background from mine especially if there is no common language spoken. I quickly from the trip that not only can you form relationships with people from all walks of life, but they are necessary to understand and fully appreciate the communities you visit when traveling.

While at Cara, a women’s rescue facility outside of Nairobi, I learned more about the role that I play in communities around the world. As we sat around a table where students were discussing social work practices with the counselors at Cara, I saw how the exchange between communities is important as well. We learned that the women at Cara, had the experience to help the young ladies in their facility but they needed supplies, as well as some specific lessons, plans that they hoped we could develop later for them as a future project. This exchange taught me that first, to help a community, you must be told what they need from the community itself, you cannot interpret this yourself. As an outsider in a community, I would never know what people need; therefore, by being told by the community, our group was able to help with the specific needs of the community. Second, as a global citizen, my role is not to go into communities and change them to look more like mine. My community is not always right. Therefore, you must communicate and exchange information to meet the community where they are at. Thus, I redefined a global citizen to be someone who sought out friendships so that they could enhance their love for a community and exchange knowledge to put in place future projects that would aid members of the community.

a group photo of the team from UAB
Photo by Emma Laurence

Once I returned from Kenya and quickly fell into my daily routine as a student, I found that a few more things about how I was defining a global citizen changed. The definition is not simple or short because to be a citizen of the globe involves a lot of thought and appreciate as well as work. As a global citizen, it is important to create relationships in a community to see the community as your own because as a global citizen your community is the globe. This leads to the service aspect of a global citizen. Because these communities are part of your community, you must work to help those communities where they need it, if that need is established from the community itself, while working to preserve the beauty of the culture within the area. It is your responsibility to make sure the people in your global community have the rights they deserve as a human. Therefore, you must say up to date on current events surrounding legislation around the globe especially when that legislation infringes on human rights.

While I was only able to spend a week working on the projects, my trip will be able to impact how I see myself in the world for years to come. I know now what my job is as a global citizen and how I can do that job to the best of my ability. I hope soon more people will see their role as a global citizen so we can move towards furthering knowledge for the different cultures around the globe, access to human rights for all, the exchange between communities, and international friendships.

Worldwide Famine and its Impact

by Nicole Allen and Pam Zuber

Sharing out the beans Yemen still has 350,000 dipslaced persons, although verifying this number is difficult. Most of these are from Sa’da and many of these are in Harad district on the border with Saudi Arabia. Conditions in Harad are not easy, hot and dusty and prone to flash flooding. Even before the arrival of the displaced it was an area of high malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. UNICEF has, with the government and NGO partners worked to provide education, clean water and nutrition services. On this mission I accompanied the WFP representative and visited food distributions. After five years of displacement we need to look for longer term and sustainable solutions. One of the many beautiful features in this part of Yemen is how flowers are woven into everyday, flowers for sale at traffic lights, boys wearing them in the hair, given as gifts.
Sharing out the beans. Yemen still has 350,000 dipslaced persons, although verifying this number is difficult. Most of these are from Sa’da and many of these are in Harad district on the border with Saudi Arabia. Conditions in Harad are not easy, hot and dusty and prone to flash flooding. Even before the arrival of the displaced it was an area of high malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria. UNICEF has, with the government and NGO partners worked to provide education, clean water and nutrition services. On this mission I accompanied the WFP representative and visited food distributions. After five years of displacement we need to look for longer term and sustainable solutions. One of the many beautiful features in this part of Yemen is how flowers are woven into every day, flowers for sale at traffic lights, boys wearing them in the hair, given as gifts. Source: Julien Harneis, Creative Commons

Famine and other types of food insecurity are problems in several ways. A chronic and widespread lack of food is not only harmful to people’s health but can produce other repercussions.  Unfortunately, we are witnessing many of these short- and long-term repercussions of famine and food insecurity in several areas of the world.

Yemen

Yemen is a country in the throes of a vicious civil war. Like other countries experiencing such strife, it is experiencing food insecurity as well. People who experience food insecurity do not have consistent access to nutritious, affordable food. Yemenis truly do not have physical access. Experts estimate that Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, but the civil war has closed the country’s airports to civilian flights, blocked its seaports, and created dangerous conditions within the country. Even if food becomes available, many impoverished Yemenis cannot afford it. Saudi Arabia invested billions in Yemen in early 2018 to reinforce the latter nation’s economy and the riyal, its unit of currency, but the economic status of Yemen remains precarious.      

Malnutrition causes other problems. Malnourished people are susceptible to disease that requires medical intervention, and this has been the case in Yemen. The country has experienced cholera and meningitis outbreaks. These diseases can create even more malnutrition. Thus, Yemen is battling a vicious cycle of malnutrition and disease. There is another, less-discussed but still significant factor that also contributes to problems in the country: drug use. Many in the country use a drug called qat (also spelled khat). Users say the drug enhances strength and virility, which is why military leaders allegedly give it to child soldiers. Users also say it suppresses the appetite, which could make qat attractive in a country experiencing food instability. Given qat’s popularity, it is also big business for the people who grow and supply it. Qat is profitable, which could encourage people to grow and sell it instead of other crops that could feed Yemenis. But, as with any drug, struggles for control over the qat market could provide dangerous, especially in a country already experiencing political instability. The quest for profit might come before the health, physical safety, and other human rights of Yemenis.

Somalia

Long subject to periods of drought that devastate its food supply, Somalia’s food situation is bleak. According to the United Nations’ World Food Programme: “As of May 2018, 2.7 million people [in Somalia] cannot meet their daily food requirements today and require urgent humanitarian assistance, with more than half a million on the brink of famine. Another 2.7 million Somalis need livelihood support to keep from sliding into crisis. An estimated 300,000 children under age 5 are malnourished, including 48,000 who are severely malnourished and face a high risk of disease and death.” Such drought limits the crops Somalis can grow and shrinks the amount of pasture land they can use for their livestock. It also puts people out of work, preventing them from buying food and other necessities.

What little food and water there is available is a precious commodity in Somalia. People have attempted to control these scarce resources to build and consolidate power, which has sometimes led to violence and tension. People without such resources might be more willing to join violent movements because they feel as if they have no other optionsThus, famine and reduced job prospects might be breeding grounds for violent groups of people who feel as if they have nothing to lose. It could contribute to violence, unrest, and human rights violations, since people may feel that their situations are hopeless and that human life is worthless.

Nigeria

As with other countries on this list, political strife has created considerable food insecurity and other problems in Nigeria. The militant group Boko Haram has been active in northeast Nigeria since the early 2000s. Boko Haram’s name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language and the group calls for Islamic law (sharia). The group has protested secular Nigerian rule in various ways, most notably by kidnapping several women, girls, and children in a number of separate incidents and by bombing and attacking government and United Nations buildings. Boko Haram has also clashed with government representatives and multinational troops, which has killed several Nigerians, displaced others, and severely disrupted everyday life in the African nation: “[I]t is likely that significant populations remain in areas of the northeast that are currently inaccessible to humanitarian actors. Reports indicate that people fleeing from conflict-affected, inaccessible areas [in Nigeria] are often severely food insecure and exhibit signs of malnutrition,” according to a 2018 report from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

If Nigerians had their way, they would not only have access to food, but the means to grow it as well. Fanna Kachella is a farmer in Rann, a city in northeastern Nigeria. The ongoing political conflict has affected her livelihood, but she hopes that food assistance can help her and her family: “Not having anything much to do has been hard for us, we are used to planting our own food. I hope we will get a good harvest from the seed.” The ability to support oneself and one’s family should be a fundamental human right. Not being able to do so is denying this right. Not being able to do so can jeopardize a person’s health, dignity, ability to form and nurture a family, and interactions with others.

a group photo of the women of SIM South Sudan
SIM South Sudan Harvest Worker Project. Source: SIM East Africa, Creative Commons

South Sudan

Founded in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. But, in its brief history, it has faced many problems that are as old as time. Unlike other countries on this list, it looks as conditions may be improving, however. On August 6, 2018, South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, signed a power-sharing cease-fire agreement with the leader of his political opposition, Riek Machar. As part of this agreement, Machar would serve as one of the five vice presidents of the country. Political conflicts between the two men plunged South Sudan into civil war in 2013. Machar once served as Kiir’s deputy but fled the country after a dispute between the men. The two men agreed to end their dispute in 2015, but it ended in 2016 when Machar return to the country’s capital, Juba.

These personal disputes erupted into a country-wide civil war that has killed thousands of residents of South Sudan and displaced almost two million more. The political conflict and its resultant disruptions, massive displacement, economic problems, flooding, dry spells, and pests all contributed to famine conditions in 2017. According to the international initiative the IPC (the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification), “5.3 million people required food assistance” in South Sudan in January 2018, “up 40 percent from the same time last year.” The initiative attributed these food-related problems to “widespread conflict [that] continues to displace communities, disrupt livelihood activities and impede humanitarian access to vulnerable populations.” But, if the truce between Kiir and Machar holds, it could spell an end to this calamitous conflict. Perhaps it will allow people to return to their homes and grow and obtain food, reversing the food insecurity and other problems that this new nation has faced.

North Korea

Food insecurity and malnutrition have been common occurrences for decades in North Korea, another country also experiencing political troubles. The oppressive and secretive nature of the country’s government has made it difficult to determine the extent of North Korea’s many problems. But, the estimates are devastating. For example, experts believe that a famine in the country in the 1990s killed up to three million people. North Korea’s mountainous terrain and cold climate have always made agriculture difficult, and the country no longer received agricultural aid from the Soviet Union after the latter country collapsed in the early 1990s, which made farming even more difficult.

The North Korean government claims that a lack of aid from other countries continues to hurt the country. Many countries have imposed sanctions on North Korea for developing a nuclear weapons program. The countries imposing the sanctions have claimed that they did not place sanctions on food but on other goods. But, even these sanctions threaten the livelihoods of many North Koreans. If the North Koreans cannot earn enough money, they cannot earn enough to feed themselves and their families. The results have been heart-wrenching. “[H]unger remains a way of life” in North Korea, wrote Dr. Kee B. Park in a December 2017 article in the New York Times. “Forty-one percent of North Koreans, about 10.5 million people, are undernourished, and 28 percent of children under 5 years old have stunted growth. When my 4-year-old daughter visited [North Korean capital] Pyongyang in 2013, she, all of three feet, towered over children twice her age.” Park vividly explains how hunger creates immediate problems and future ones. Not having food creates insecurity that can last a lifetime. It can create physical and emotional problems that persist long after people receive adequate food if they ever receive adequate food.

What Are People Doing About Hunger-Related Issues?

Different governments are pitching in to tackle famine. The government of United States president Donald Trump pledged to donate more than $1 billion since November 2017 alone. Still, relief workers say that the governments of other countries can do more. That is if the governments even know about such problems in the first place. Relief workers say that people do not know that famine exists in many places. They say that Trump’s administration has been helpful in its humanitarian efforts. But, on the other hand, they also say that publicity surrounding Trump and the activities of his administration has overshadowed people’s knowledge about other things, including famine and food insecurity in different parts of the world. Food insecurity is also tied to political insecurity. It is no coincidence that many of the countries on this list have experienced war or other forms of political instability in addition to food problems. Many experts believe hunger and war are often inextricably linked. According to Cormac Ó Gráda, “The hope for a famine-free world depends on improved governance and on peace. It is as simple – and as difficult – is that.”

Nicole Allen is a freelance writer and educator based in the United States. She believes that her writing is an extension of her career as a tutor since they both encourage learning and discussing new things. Her degrees in creative writing, education, and psychology help her understand her target audience and how to reach them in creative and educational ways. She has written about fitness and health, substance abuse and treatment, personal finance and economics, parenting, relationships, higher education, careers, travel, and many other topics, sometimes in the same piece. When she isn’t writing, you might find Nicole running, hiking, and swimming. She has participated in several 10K races and hopes to compete in a marathon one day. A longtime volunteer at animal shelters, Nicole is a passionate supporter of organizations that help animals. She also enjoys spending time with the dogs and cats in her life and spoiling them rotten.

Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about human rights, health and wellness, business, and gender.