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5 reasons to hold onto hope for the future


Round-the-clock news headlines can paint a picture of doom and gloom, meaning we lose sight of the facts. However, larger global trends tell a much more positive story of progress. Here are five things to be hopeful for in 2019.

It’s easy to feel like life around the world is getting worse. But don’t despair, there is plenty of positive news that doesn’t get reported on. Let us cheer you up with five reasons to be hopeful for the future.

1.     Young people have the power to kick-start development

Whychliffe Rutalemwa, 25, is a VSO supported welding instructor from Uganda. ©Georgie Scott/VSO

Whychliffe Rutalemwa, 25, is a VSO supported welding instructor from Uganda.

The world’s ballooning population of young people has the potential to drive whole countries out of poverty, using the innovations, ingenuity and determination of young people.

Take Uganda, for example, which has the world’s youngest population – three quarters of those under 30 are unemployed. Here, VSO is helping to train more than 1,500 graduates in the skills urgently needed in Uganda, by supporting vocational training colleges to make graduates more employable.

Young people are becoming increasingly switched on to the big issues faced by the world today, from poverty to climate change, and want to do something about it.

Since 2011, almost 40,000 young people have opted to volunteer, developing skills in communication and cross-cultural working through the VSO-led International Citizen Service (ICS). 79% of those who take part in ICS are in work, education or training one year after they finish volunteering and many go on to start their own charities and social enterprises, inspired by their time volunteering.

2. New technology is helping to find solutions to the world’s biggest problems

Technology has massive potential to change our world for the better, fast tracking progress for developing countries.

Student Chisomo John, a student on VSO’s Unlocking Talent programme works on his tablet at the Learning Center of the Mdzobwe Primary School in rural Lilongwe ©VSO/Jeffrey DeKock

Chisomo John, a student on VSO’s Unlocking Talent programme in Malawi, works on his tablet.

Technology has massive potential to change our world for the better, fast tracking progress for developing countries.

From the algorithm that analyses where best to relocate refugees, to the database that merges information from police stations, shelters and other agencies to find and rehabilitate missing children, new tech is already making a difference.

At VSO, we are working with educational software to tackle large classroom sizes in Malawi, where there is only one teacher for every 74 students. This makes it impossible for teachers to monitor and attend to all students, and in Malawi the primary school dropout rate is 50%.

The solution? Tablets loaded with software covering the foundations of learning, including mathematics and language skills. 90,000 students are now using the tablets, resulting in a 47% improvement in learning, and reading scores were twice as high for students using the technology.

The best part is this technology can be adapted and adjusted for any context, with VSO scaling up the technology for refugee camp settings and in countries around the world.

3.     More children than ever are reaching their fifth birthday

VSO-trained midwife Rosaline Pratt holds newborn baby named Sally. She delivered Sally earlier today at her rural clinic at Kagbere Community Health Centre. ©VSO/Peter Caton

VSO-trained midwife Rosaline Pratt holds newborn baby, Sally, who she delivered safely earlier today at Makeni hospital, Sierra Leone.

In the past thirty years, the world has made huge leaps forward in reducing infant death: in 1990, 12.6 million children died before reaching the age of five. In 2017, this figure had dropped to an estimated 5.4 million.

However, there is still much work to be done. The good news is that the majority of these deaths can be avoided by simple and affordable interventions.

At VSO, we are helping mothers and babies in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

In Tanzania, nurses and midwives have been taught to use a checklist that means that the most poorly babies are prioritised and attended to first.

In Uganda, VSO volunteers are helping midwives to build trust and are making hospitals safer, more welcoming spaces. Mothers are now allowed to choose their birth position, and women are no longer shouted at while giving birth.

The health of the mother and baby comes first, with health professionals now preparing equipment ahead of time that might be needed during the birth.

Simple changes of more skills and resources are making a world of difference, with VSO having installed more than 60 newborn care units to make giving birth safer in developing countries.

4. Women are speaking up more and more

Jida, pictured here in the pink headscarf, has been thinking about some of her dreams in life, and will be supported by VSO to reach her career goals. ©VSO/Jack Howson

Jida, pictured here in the pink headscarf, has been thinking about some of her dreams in life, and will be supported by VSO to reach her career goals.

From boardrooms to parliaments, the gender imbalance has been slowly improving over the last 50 years. In most countries, the gender pay gap has decreased in the last couple of decades, and in 2015, 193 countries committed to ending discrimination against women by 2030, as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In Myanmar, with the recent election of the new democratic government, there are new opportunities for change, and women have been able to form groups expressing their needs and rights. Thirteen VSO volunteer trained Inclusion Champions have worked with over 40 civil society and media organisations to create their first ever policies on gender.

In Tanzania, groups of women are forming for a very different purpose: to map their aspirations for the futures. VSO-supported groups are giving women aged 15-26, many of whom are young mothers, the chance to express themselves in a judgement-free zone. These women will also be supported over the next two years with career advice, giving them the chance to go into employment or start their own businesses.

5. Communities are adapting to climate change

Mangrove planting in the Philippines to protect coastal communities, to tackle  climate change and more volatile weather patterns, storms and to improve ecosystems. This photo was taken during the youth-LED project in Brgy. ©Pakigdait Inc

Mangrove planting in the Philippines to protect coastal communities.

Climate change is posing new threats to developing countries, with climate-related disasters like droughts, flooding and typhoons wreaking havoc with local ecosystems. It’s urgent that we take action against climate change: today we have four times as many instances of flooding and other water-related disasters than we did in 1980.

However, the picture isn’t as bleak as it might seem. By working through local volunteers who can mobilise communities, VSO is empowering people to take action to protect themselves against the effects of climate change.

In the Philippines, we are planting mangroves to help protect coastal communities from flooding and other natural disasters, and restore ecosystems that have been wiped out.

In Sierra Leone, which sees severe flooding every monsoon season, 75 community volunteers are working in districts across the country, sharing life-saving information on how to spot the early warning signs of disaster, and what actions they can take to reduce the impact of future flooding.

In Cambodia, farmers are finding ways to adapt to climate change. From new technology such as a tractor that uses air pressure to sow seeds deep in the soil, to modern farming techniques that improve crop yields, VSO is helping farmers to adapt to climate change.

Every day, communities are evolving in response to a changing climate, finding new ways to manage and protect their local environment.

We’ve come a long way in tackling poverty around the world, and there’s plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the future.

Thank you for supporting VSO – your support is making a real difference.

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Through VSO’s ICS programme, we are challenging a whole generation of young people to take action.

Volunteering is giving young people aged 18-35 the opportunity to develop their own skills and become more confident. You can read more about how young people are becoming agents of change here: