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 has 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.

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.)

In the Thursday meeting in which President Trump complained about "having all these people from shithole countries come here" — and singled out Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as examples — he also added that, "we should have more people from Norway."

In fact there was a time when we did.

From 1870 to 1910 a quarter of Norway's working-age population emigrated, mostly to the United States. You read that right — one-fourth of its workers left the country.

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:

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