Sep 9, 2021

From Plan to Shark Tank Brazil

Karine had never given much thought to starting her own business. But once she joined a Plan International program in Brazil called Bridges to the Future, which helps young people learn about entrepreneurship, the wheels started turning.

After she joined the Plan program, she couldn’t help but notice that most of the terms used by entrepreneurs in Brazil were in English. She saw this as a barrier for people who only speak local languages. Then she started thinking about ways to connect with other young people who can’t access information about innovation or business. That’s when she worked out the concept for her business, Wakanda.

Wakanda is an entrepreneurial education company with training courses designed for a diverse range of audiences. Before receiving any investment, Wakanda had already developed its first product: a set of three 8-hour training courses to assist entrepreneurs in need. In total, 12 women completed the course, of which six are still part of the Wakanda community today.

Now, the company offers an even wider range of courses and has helped hundreds of young entrepreneurs over the years.

“We are a business with social impact, which has this social character of leaving a positive mark on society,” Karine says.

At the end of 2020, Wakanda took Karine all the way to Shark Tank Brazil — and she left with a new partner, Rio de Janeiro businesswoman Camila Farani. Farani also committed herself to investing in the best projects developed by entrepreneurs who use Wakanda.

Karine even went on to be named one of the most outstanding young entrepreneurs in Brazil by Forbes Magazine. And they put her on the cover.

For Karine, the most important part of this experience was showing Brazilians that there is another way to talk about business — using informal and accessible language.

“For me, that was great because some people in the entrepreneurship world were still very reluctant to understand this new way of talking about entrepreneurship,” she says. “To be on the cover of Forbes Magazine was to prove that this way is not only important, but necessary.”

For girls interested in following in her footsteps, Karine says that many women and girls are already entrepreneurs. They just don’t recognize themselves as such.

“Women, and especially Black women, have always been entrepreneurs out of necessity,” she says. “But the language of entrepreneurship drives people away and crystallizes [in] the figure of a white man in a suit and tie.”

When the world invests in girls, real changes happens. Thank you for helping a young entrepreneur like Karine follow her dreams.

Jun 30, 2021

The deadly black fungus putting children at risk

India is coping with multiple crises right now.

A devastating second COVID-19 wave has overwhelmed the health care system. This latest variant is not only highly transmissible, it’s also infecting young people more severely.

The daily death toll in India reached a world record high of 6,000 on June 10.

And while the number of new cases is declining, a third wave could hit the country later this year. There is concern that future variants will affect more children. Vaccination distribution has picked up after a slow start, but it’s unlikely the majority of the population will be vaccinated in time.

Then, in May, two cyclones struck just days apart, washing away homes and flooding communities. More than a million people were displaced, many forced to seek refuge in camps and shelters.

And now, there’s another disease outbreak in India — black fungus.

What is black fungus?

Mucormycosis, commonly known as “black fungus,” is a rare and deadly fungal infection that blocks blood flow, killing infected tissue and turning dead skin black. It spreads rapidly from the nose and sinuses to the jaw, eyes and brain. In some cases, the infection attacks the lungs.

Symptoms include black patches of skin, blurred vision, headaches, breathing difficulties and coughing up blood. Without immediate treatment, it can be fatal, with a high mortality rate of over 50%. Once the infection reaches the brain, the mortality rate spikes to over 80%.

Black fungus spreads through fungal spores in the air. Potential sources of infection in hospitals include linens, ventilation systems, adhesive bandages and contaminated oxygen equipment. It can also enter the skin through a cut, scrape or burn.

What’s the connection between COVID-19 and black fungus?

With over 31,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths reported so far, India is currently experiencing a black fungus epidemic. The vast majority of patients recently recovered from COVID-19, and many are also diabetic.

The steroids used to treat COVID-19 weaken the immune system and increase sugar levels, making diabetics more susceptible to infections, particularly in poorly controlled cases. It’s estimated that more than half of diabetics in India are undiagnosed. Even before the pandemic, India’s black fungus rates were 70 times higher than the rest of the world.

The pandemic has left hospitals overrun and oxygen supplies running out, which means that some hospitals were using older, outdated oxygen equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. It’s believed this may have been another source of infection.

How is black fungus diagnosed and treated?

There are no blood tests to detect black fungus — diagnosis requires a biopsy, often followed by a CT scan, which many do not have access to or can’t afford.

The only effective treatment is an antifungal drug, combined with the removal of dead tissue. But the medication is expensive, and India is currently facing a shortage.

In extreme cases, an eye or part of the jaw must be surgically removed to prevent the infection from spreading.

Is this epidemic affecting children too?

Yes. While most infected patients have been adults, there are several alarming pediatric cases, ranging in age from 1 to 15. Two older children — a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy — each had an eye surgically removed to prevent the infection from spreading to their brain. Both children have acute juvenile diabetes and were recovering from COVID-19.  

The pandemic has already left thousands of orphans in its wake. Now, parents who survived the virus are losing their lives to this deadly infection. On top of the trauma and grief, orphans are extremely vulnerable to neglect, exploitation and trafficking.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 have been devastating. Every day it’s pushing more families into poverty, a key driver of child marriage. India already has the most child brides in the world (about one-third of the global total). Now many more are at risk. The longer COVID-19 and black fungus plagues India, the more children will suffer. And millions of girls' futures will be in jeopardy. 

Will you help India survive these terrifying nightmares?

Children and families in India urgently need support now. Your lifesaving gift will help to deliver PPE and oxygen concentrators, distribute food and raise awareness of the vaccine, which is the best hope of preventing a third wave. You can be there for vulnerable children and families in India, and help to ensure that no girls are left behind.

May 13, 2021

From bullets to beads

For many children around the world, war in their backyard is the norm.

Their lives are put on hold while their families try to simply survive. And during this time, girls can lose the chance to learn skills for their futures, as uncertain as they may be.

In Cameroon, Yeluma got to know this situation well. Her life was turned upside down after armed conflict between the southwest and northwest regions began in 2016. Without school, a place she loved dearly, her dream of becoming a doctor was crushed.

Pillaging in her village was common, but one day was especially devastating. As the community’s houses were looted and burned, Yeluma and her family fled into the surrounding bushes to hide, but instead got separated amid the chaos.

“The bushes became the safest place for me,” Yeluma says. “I stayed there for weeks. Sadly, I could not find any of my family members. That is my reality.”

But even in the bushes, Yeluma faced constant harassment from others. Without her family’s support, and conditions in the bushes worsening every day, she decided to escape to the city in northwest Cameroon.

When she arrived, Yeluma received counselling from social workers and joined a youth group at a child-friendly learning center, as part of Plan's emergency response work. She was able to take part in recreational activities and attend life skills sessions specifically designed for adolescents on topics including sexual and reproductive health.

Though the pain of losing her family lingered, Yeluma rediscovered her strength and eagerness to learn. She took up beadwork and learned how to make traditional African bracelets. While schools were still closed due to the ongoing conflict, Plan offered her the opportunity to enroll at a vocational training center to increase her knowledge and skills.

After graduating from the course, she was provided with the tools and materials she needed to start her own business, and she has since become an expert in her field. She makes beaded goods at her home and sells them throughout her community. She also exhibits her work at special sales events and even built up a regular client list.

Going forward, Yeluma hopes to raise enough money to open up her own workshop in the city and train more girls to become bead-makers.

“I am very grateful for everything done by the project,” Yeluma says. “I was constantly advised to get married to survive the hardship of the crisis, but the positive changes in my life and the learnings from the child-friendly space have brought me hope for a better future.”

Yeluma’s life has changed course so many times, and she’s experienced intense struggles. With the support of those who believe in her, and the skills and knowledge she’s gained, she can carve her own path. Her future is hers.

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