Nurith Aizenman

Every evening after dinner, Herman Agbavor and his 5-year-old son Herbert have a ritual. Little Herbert climbs into his dad's lap, unzips his book bag and they go over his kindergarten homework.

The two of them have been doing some variation of this homework routine since Herbert was 1. That's when Agbavor first enrolled the boy in preschool.

They live in a working-class neighborhood of Ghana's capital city Accra — in a cement block apartment in a multifamily house that's got a television and lots of books but no indoor plumbing.

It was one of Donald Trump's first acts as President: a Jan. 23, 2017 executive order that cuts off U.S. support to foreign groups unless they promise not to "perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning." This includes providing patients with referrals or information about the procedure, even if those activities are funded by non-U.S. government sources.

Every Republican president since Ronald Reagan has adopted a variant of the "Mexico City policy" — so called after the city where it was first announced. And every Democratic successor has reversed it.

It's a problem that has come seemingly out of nowhere. Over the last five years a worrisome number of low-income countries have racked up so much debt they are now at high risk of being unable to pay it back — with potentially devastating consequences not just for their economies but for their citizens, many of whom are already living in extreme poverty.

The hamlet of Bawa was in uproar. A pretty, 20-year-old villager named Amelia had vanished shortly after heading to wash her dishes in the shallow river that runs through this remote western corner of Mozambique. Crocodiles often lurk just below the surface, and over the last decade this community of about a thousand people had lost almost 50 of their number to attacks. So it seemed clear that Amelia was the latest victim.

There were some glimmers of good news in an otherwise grim report released by UNICEF this week documenting the alarmingly high death rate of newborns worldwide: Bangladesh has managed to cut its newborn mortality rate from 64.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 20.1 per 1,000 today. That's 1 in every 50 births. By comparison, in neighboring Pakistan (which has the worst odds of any country) 1 in every 22 newborns doesn't survive.

The Trump administration has released its first assessment of the impact of the president's decision to reinstate the "Mexico City policy," which cuts off U.S. aid to international groups unless they promise not to provide or promote abortion, even with non-U.S. funding sources.

The review finds that so far practically all grantees have agreed to those conditions. But opponents of the policy caution that the administration's statistics offer too incomplete a picture to draw conclusions about the policy's impact.

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?

Many readers of this blog told us they were inspired by the first story in our series on #nostringscash aid — about a ground-breaking experiment in Kenya to test the benefits of giving poor people a steady stream of cash in place of traditional aid.

But some questioned the ethics of studies like this.

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."

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