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Nurith Aizenman

Our blog often features stories about efforts to improve life for this planet's 7 billion inhabitants: how to make sure everyone has access to clean water and power, medical care to stay healthy, enough income to feed their kids, education for the children so they can fulfill their potential.

Pakistan's latest polio eradication drive got off to a tragic start last week when gunmen killed a mother-daughter vaccination team in the Western city of Quetta. Sakina, 38, and her 16-year-old daughter, Rizwana, were administering immunization drops to children when the assailants sped past on a motorbike and shot each woman in the head. (Like many people in Pakistan, Sakina and Rizwana only went by a first name.)

Many immigrants from El Salvador are in a state of shock. On Monday, the Trump Administration announced that it will soon be ending a humanitarian program that has allowed nearly 200,000 of them to live and work in the U.S. since 2001, after two earthquakes devastated their country. Now they worry for their future.

But the potential pain is likely to prove just as acute in El Salvador. That's because nearly all these Salvadoran immigrants work — and a huge share of them regularly send a portion of their earnings to family in El Salvador.

What are the hidden messages in the storybooks we read to our kids?

That's a question that may occur to parents as their children dive into the new books that arrived over the holidays.

And it's a question that inspired a team of researchers to set up a study. Specifically, they wondered how the lessons varied from storybooks of one country to another.

For a taste of their findings, take a typical book in China: The Cat That Eats Letters.

The loan was tiny. Just $19 to buy a bus ticket. But for Mariful Islam, the difference it made was immense.

Islam is 24. He has lived in the same rural village in Bangladesh his whole life. He doesn't own his own land. So he scrapes out a living working on other people's farms.

"Mostly I plant and I harvest rice in the paddies," he says.

Critics are heaping praise on a new off-Broadway play about life in modern Africa. But if you're assuming the topic must be war or disease or famine, you're in for surprise.

This play is about ... mean girls.

School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play — running at New York City's MCC Theater through December 31 — is set in at a boarding school in Ghana in the 1980s, where the ruthless queen bee seems unstoppable until an exotic new girl arrives from Ohio.

There's new — and shocking — evidence about the toll that health care costs are taking on the world's most vulnerable.

Editor's Note:This story was originally published in November 2016 and has been republished with updates.

It's the sixth annual #Giving Tuesday — a holiday marketing tradition inspired by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, but with a twist. Today thousands of charities are asking us to open our wallets. But how can we be sure the group we donate to is effective — that we're getting the most bang for our charity buck?

The latest statistics on child labor are in — and they're not encouraging.

An estimated 152 million children around the globe are doing work that prevents them from getting an education or that's harmful to their health. That's almost 1 in 10 children worldwide.

The figures, which cover 2016, were released this week in a report by the United Nations' International Labour Organization.

Here are eight more takeaways:

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in August and has been updated.

The national news this week has been dominated by accusations against U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore — both the allegations that he sexually assaulted at least two teenage girls and also that he attempted to date teenagers while he was in his 30s.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in October and has been republished with updates in the wake of the shooting Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Barely a month after the massacre in Las Vegas, another horrific attack has underscored the persistence of gun violence in the United States. At least 26 people are dead after the shooting this Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on Jan. 2 to include the newly announced initiative aimed at combating sexual harassment in Hollywood.

Women who work in Hollywood are taking a stand against "sexual harassment and assault by powerful people in the entertainment industry."

Rob Vos has been tracking global hunger for years, and he says until recently the mood among his fellow hunger experts was almost giddy.

Since 1990 the world had made so much progress curbing hunger that in 2015, leaders met at the United Nations and vowed to eliminate hunger for good by 2030.

Last weekend's massacre in Las Vegas is only the latest reminder of the persistent gun violence in the United States. And a new set of statistics on the rates of gun violence unrelated to conflict underscores just how outsize U.S. rates of gun deaths are compared with those in much of the rest of the world.

The charity World Vision International is a major provider of disaster relief across the globe. So when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the group's office in the United States revved up its fundraising big-time.

"We've raised just under $4 million in cash donations," says Drew Clark, senior director of emergencies at World Vision's U.S. office.

Two weeks later Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean and Florida. This time World Vision brought in $900,000.

Hurricanes and floods don't just wash away crops and livestock and businesses. Marcia Bauer will tell you there's another loss that feels just as devastating, even if you can't see it with your eyes: the loss of your sense that you can plan for the future — that it's even worth trying.

We asked, and you answered.

In a recent series we explored a different way of giving aid to people in poor countries. Instead of handing out seeds or a cow or job training, what if you just gave people cash and let them decide how to use it?

Then we put the call out to you, our audience: Was there ever a time when you got a little cash with no strings attached and it made a huge difference? Or when you wished for a tiny windfall to tackle a problem?

Last August we brought you the story of Lumbaram, a father in a village in Northern India who was on a quest to rescue his daughter Durga from a marriage that he had forced her into.

Child marriage isn't just a practice that victimizes girls in poor countries. As this blog has previously reported, it's also long been an issue in the United States, involving girls from a wide range of backgrounds. Based on state marriage license data and other sources, advocacy groups and experts estimate that between 2000 and 2015 alone, well over 200,000 children — nearly all of them girls — were married. In nearly all cases the husband was an adult.

Mary Abagi is a 63-year-old widow who has spent most of her life eking out a living by growing crops on a tiny plot of land in her Kenyan village. Then, last fall, Abagi learned that the village had been picked for an unusual experiment that promised to change her life.

Young guys in dusty polo shirts. New moms holding their babies. Grandmas in bright head wraps. They've all gathered in a clearing for one of the village meetings when something remarkable happens. Practically every person's cellphone starts tinkling.

Advocates for ending child marriage are trying a new tactic: Show governments just how much the practice is hurting their own bottom line.

The Green Climate Fund has been thrust into the spotlight of late.

President Trump singled it out for scorn in his Rose Garden remarks last week announcing his decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Along with that move, Trump noted, he is ending further U.S. contributions to the "so-called Green Climate Fund — nice name."

Wonder Woman is certainly basking in accolades these days.

The new movie starring Gal Gadot is being widely praised for finally giving the world a big-screen female superhero who — to quote just a few of the glowing reviews — is both "awesomely fierce" and "surprisingly funny," "sexually aware without being sexualized" and a refreshing throwback to the days of "uncomplicated role models ... fighting for peace and justice."

U.S. aid for international family planning would be eliminated.

Programs to combat HIV/AIDS in the world's poorest countries would be slashed by 17 percent.

Efforts to fight malaria would be chopped by 11 percent.

Those are just some of the cuts to global health spending called for by President Trump in the proposed budget he unveiled this week.

On one level the reductions did not come as a surprise. Trump had already made clear in his "skinny budget" proposal, released in March, that he wanted to lower spending on foreign assistance by more than a third.

On paper President Trump's newly unveiled budget proposal is balanced. But that's predicated on an extraordinarily rosy projection for U.S. economic growth: Trump says he expects to achieve annual increases of 3 percent — a substantial boost from the 2016 annual rate of 1.6 percent.

Such pledges were a frequent theme of Trump's campaign. And they were often coupled with the observation that countries such as China and India have been enjoying fast-paced growth for years.

The Trump administration will withhold $32.5 million in funding that had been earmarked this current fiscal year for the United Nations' lead agency on family planning and maternal health, known as the United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA.

The administration says it's doing so because it has determined that UNFPA helps to support a Chinese government family planning program that forces people to get abortions and sterilizations. The U.N. agency says that is not the case.

At a conference in Brussels on Thursday, more than a dozen nations and private funders pledged a combined total of $190 million for international family planning charities that stand to lose their U.S. support as a result of President Trump's Jan. 23 executive action to block U.S. foreign aid funding of groups linked to abortion.

This week United Nations officials declared that a famine in South Sudan is growing — fueled by a deadly combination of drought and conflict. They estimate that nearly 4 million people are already struggling to get enough food. And officials expect the famine will spread to more areas in the coming months affecting an additional 1 million people.

Meanwhile the threat of famine is looming over three other countries: Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, putting a total of 1.4 million children at risk of death this year.

Migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean are sending more money to their families back home than ever before.

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