Essay on Evaluate the Impact of Non-Government Organisations and Charitable Organisations on Improving the Lives of Children in Syria
Number of words: 2479
The objective of this assignment is to explore the impact of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charitable organisations on improving the quality of life for children in Syria. This has been chosen because of the widespread difficulties experienced by the inhabitants of the country, which have been documented both theoretically and prolifically in the modern media. The organisation which has been selected for examination is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who, in partnership with other humanitarian agencies, improves the life of young people in Syria. However, prior to discussing the specifics of the efforts to help children in Syria, the concept of childhood will be outlined. The tenets of sociological theory and global perspectives of childhood will be explored to help communicate this. A succinct and generic outline of the definition of NGOs will also be used as an adjunct to this portion of the essay, with the remainder of the assignment focussing specifically on the work which has been done in Syria and evaluating the outcomes of such work on the country’s development and well-being of the children that live there.
What is Childhood?
Many definitions exist for the concept of ‘childhood’; though one thing which is consistent about the concept is that it is diverse and multi-faceted and that various forms of it exist around the globe, with numerous different childhoods experienced by the young people of the world (Waller, 2009). An idealised view of a childhood seems to exist and this is something which is shaped through the majority of the literature that derives from western perspectives. However, this may not be applicable to the rest of the children in the globe something which may not be applicable to the rest of the children in the globe, with there being many diverse childhoods experienced by young people throughout the world, varying by affluence, prosperity, culture and ethnicity, amongst other variables. There is a feeling that those who have a westernised childhood experience greater prosperity and satisfaction than those who are from more traditional third-world countries (Penn, 2005). Although the sociology of childhood is still a relevant area of study, it is also apt to question what children think of childhood themselves.
Upon this point, Mayall (2002; 2008) studied children’s perspectives of childhood and came to the conclusion that they were influenced heavily by their parents and surrounding environment: although they knew that they had a right to free time and ‘play’, they were also aware that they were being trained to become responsible citizens and part of the ‘family enterprise’. Despite there being many different views on childhood in the world, there are still some global influences which affect the childhood of young people worldwide, regardless of their culture and ethnicity. Buhler-Niederburger and van Krieken (2008:148) make the valid point that the UN convention on the rights of the child (which stipulates that they should have access to essentials such as health, education and sustenance) affects children the most, independent of their prosperity. Regardless, the inequalities which clearly exist in the world demonstrate that children will have varying levels of access to such resources, although Milanovic (2011) cites data which shows that global inequality (in particular in relation to income) has actually decreased in recent years. This perspective provides a more critical stance on assessing childhood inequality: indicating that it may not have been as prominent as initially considered.
There are many organisations which exist worldwide to help improve the lives of young people in general, particularly those who exist in deprived areas. Lewis (2009) philosophises that that the main group or cohort of organisations which operate in this area are Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs), who are dedicated to improving the lives of young people. Lewis elaborates that NGOs do much commendable humanitarian work in deprived countries, particularly in terms of improving the lives of young people worldwide. They mainly focus on achieving transformational projects and helping those who are in need. NGOs also strive for democracy and reducing inequalities across the world, which are laudable aims. Certainly, NGOs work is commendable, particularly in their response to major natural disasters such as the Boxing Day tsunami which devastated parts of Asia and Indonesia in 2004 (Australian Council for International Development, 2006). Whilst NGOs clearly improve the lives of those in deprived areas, it could be surmised that they need government backing and policies to ultimately achieve their aims, something which will become apparent over the course of this piece.
As mentioned previously in this assignment, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been selected as the NGO whose activities will be assessed. The rationale for selecting this organisation was two-fold: firstly, it is a widely-renowned organisation which is prevalent in world affairs and improving the well-being of people globally. Secondly, it is the organisation which is responsible for the development of the millennium development goals (MDGs), outlined in 2000, which were formulated at the Millennium summit where various representative convened at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Such targets were grouped into 8 ultimate categories and aimed to be fulfilled by the end of 2015 (UNDP, 2015). However, as it will become clear over the course of this assignment, the targets are quite pluralist in their nature and perhaps could be adjusted to a certain extent.
Outline of the challenges which Syria faces
Syria has been selected as the exemplar country to use in this assignment, as it is one which has been decimated by poverty and war. A recent report communicating the scale of this impoverishment and instability highlighted that the recent crisis in the country had decreased life expectancy by up to 20 years, that up to 80% of the country is in poverty and extensive losses of $200 billion since the conflict began in 2010 (Syrian Centre for Policy Research, 2015). Even before the conflict began in 2010, it was listed as one of the countries with most repressive regimes, with a distinct lack of democracy and economic/political stability in the country (Freedom House, 2007). This indicates the scale of devastation which this country is facing, with plenty of efforts needed to mitigate the effects of disturbances and be effective in reducing barriers to a better life for the people of Syria, which there have been extensive efforts to do so by NGOs and other humanitarian organisations.
Although there are 8 MDGs, a decision has been made to focus on three of the most pertinent to young people (a choice also informed by the limited wordage of this assignment) and critically assessing their impact, informed by relevant literature and other empirical research. The three goals which are focused upon are: ‘improving maternal health’, ‘achieving universal primary education’ and ‘eradicate extreme poverty and hunger’.
Improving Maternal Health
The improvement of mental health is a key factor to examine due to the close relationship of the association between mother and child (as the mother is assumed to be the primary caregiver for the child according to cultural and societal conventions), in a psychological and physical sense. Bowlby (1958: 371) promulgated the emotional theory of attachment which stipulates that a child is attuned to the development of well-being of their mother and may become negatively affected if their mother is ill or else not able to provide the care that they need. In a physical sense, mothers can transmit diseases onto their children, particularly HIV and Aids, with more than 1,000 cases being reported daily worldwide of mother-child transmission of HIV. Without medical intervention, half of these babies can die before their second birthday (Unicef, 2010). Undoubtedly, education in this area is needed, although there seems to be an improvement made in Syria in terms of the health of women: with the ratio of maternal mortality nearly halving between 1993 to 2008 (UNDP, 2015b), which is quite a significant decrease. This can possibly be attributed to the improvement in medical provision and facilities worldwide: with presence of medical staff at birth (such as midwifes and other ancillary professionals) rising to nearly 95% in recent years (UNDP, 2015b), which again demonstrates significant improvement in the health provision for maternal women. However, the success of these techniques are still below the targets stipulated by the MDGs which aimed to reduce mortality rate in mothers by three quarters (which has only been reduced by half) and provide universal access to maternal healthcare (which has not been met at present) (UNDP, 2015a). However, it may not only depend on the efforts of MDGs to attain this target, many countries worldwide have a dedication to commit 0.7% of their Gross National Product (GNP) to humanitarian aid (which would presumably be distributed to those countries who were most in need, such as Syria), although there is evidence that this target is not being met (OECD, 2015).
Achieve Universal Primary Education
Education is something which all children should have access to and be able to fulfil their potential in life and improve the quality of their life (Unicef, 2015). The MDG for this area is aiming to achieve the ultimate outcome of ensuring that everywhere in the world, by the end of 2015, children will be able to complete a full primary schooling. Initially, statistics seem to indicate that this goal has almost been attained with enrolment rate for primary age children (6-11) in Syria increasing to 98% in 2008. This is near the universal indicator of 100% which needs to be achieved by the denouement of 2015 in order to satisfy the MDG in full (UNDP, 2015c).
However, the hypothesis could be made that the MDGs are perhaps idealistic and almost impossible to attain, as the benchmark for achievement in this case (100%) means that provision has to be perfect, with a figure of 99% still being regarded as failure. UNDP (2015c) concede that they have not met the criteria of this development goal by some distance, with the quality of schooling particularly deficient. Only 95.3% of students in 2008 reach the fifth grade of education, a nominal increase from 1990 (UNDP, 2015c). This seems to imply that the quality of teaching, rather than any other variable is most important in satisfying this variable and subsequently infers that this is where funds should be directed to: the training of teachers and the resources at their disposal.
Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
The objective of this MDG was to halve the number of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger, which is at present unfulfilled (UNDP, 2015d). Poverty has not decreased by a sufficient amount to meet this goal, particularly in rural areas. The national rate for poverty fell from 12.6% to just below 10% between 1996 and 2006. In the corresponding decade, poverty in rural areas only fell a miserly 1% to just above 15% (UNDP, 2015d). Again though, it is hard to judge the efficacy of NGOs in meeting this development goal, as they are almost unattainable, given the scale of impoverishment in Syria.
Nevertheless, there have been considerable efforts made by the UNDP to alleviate some of the impacts of this: food aid, education and providing equipment to farmers to increase crop yield have been relatively successful in reducing the poverty that the country has encountered throughout its history (UNDP, 2015d). Education seems to be a particularly important asset: it could be conjectured that if farmers were trained in agricultural methods they could optimise their crop yield. Although the efforts of NGOs have fallen short of the MDGs, they have still improved the well-being of the people that live there, given the plethora of issues which the inhabitants of Syria face.
In essence, whilst there has been some progress in meeting the MDGs by the UNDP and other assorted humanitarian organisations, further progress is still needed to completely satisfy the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Education seems to be a key aspect in doing so: such as training farmers of how to improve their crop yields, schooling teachers to provide better educational provision and informing people of the need to be cautious of HIV and Aids in third world countries such as Syria. This seems to indicate that efforts to help countries such as Syria should have a two-pronged approach- with education at the centre and also adhering to the adage that ‘prevention is better than cure’ (in other words treating issues before they escalate to an unmanageable level).
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