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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Someone needs to keep counting

By the end of today, poverty will claim the lives of 30,000 children. What is so troubling to me - beyond the fact that the vast majority of these deaths are completely preventable - is that few of us seem to notice or even know that so much humanity finds itself on the receiving end of poverty's final outcome – death.

Some would argue that comparisons of how many people die here versus there, wherever here and there may be, are neither relevant nor productive.

I would argue, however, that decisions are made every day, in every way, and everywhere, that determine the value of the most fragile among us – the children of our world. In fact, the evidence of these decisions is clear and present given that one child in the developing world will die every three seconds.

Recently, a HOPE International Development Agency volunteer and friend recalled a personal experience that illustrates the harsh reality of a child's life in the developing world.

Our volunteer was working alongside a Cambodian girl in Toul Krous, Cambodia, where villagers and volunteers were building an addition to the small school that serves the community.

As they were working, the young Cambodian girl suddenly stopped what she was doing and began shouting at a young boy carrying a small basket of earth toward the school's new foundation. At the time, our volunteer did not know what was happening but never the less, she was concerned. Later that day, she found out that the young boy was the brother of the young girl she had befriended and he was terribly sick, racked with fever and covered in open sores and blisters. Despite his suffering, he simply wanted to help.

It turns out though that the young girl had good reason to be concerned about her brother – she had lost so many siblings to disease and malnutrition she had actually lost count of how many had died.

Imagine being a young child and living in circumstances so desperate that you simply lose count of how many of your siblings, let alone friends, have died.

Imagine wanting to help, like the young boy, despite the terrible pain, suffering and very real possibility that you would lose your life as a result.

Are we, despite our health and wealth, desperate to help people who, without our help, are most certainly destined for endless suffering and, as is the case of far too many children in the developing world, death? If not, what reason would support such inaction?

Could it be that our material wealth is rivaled only by our moral impoverishment? Yes, someone needs to keep count and it needs to be you and I because if we forget, we are destined to lose what matters most – our humanity.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Freedom of speech is meaningless for those without the freedom to hear

Freedom of speech is among the most venerated freedoms we enjoy in the West. Rarely, however, do we speak about the importance of the freedom to hear.

For example, 30,000 of the world’s poorest children will die today. Their parents, through no fault of their own, most likely did not have the opportunity to hear that the diseases claiming their children were, in nearly every case, completely preventable. Few among the 80% of the world’s population that live on less than $10 a day will be able to avail themselves of the benefits directly derived from the freedom to hear that their life could be dramatically different.

Poverty, conflict, intolerance and oppression create a deafening silence among the world’s poorest peoples.

How, for example, does a family returning home after decades of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo hear that life can be different for them? How do orphan children, roaming the back alleys of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hear that there is tangible hope for them, despite their terrible loss?

You and I know that we are speaking words and dispensing knowledge that can literally save lives, but what if the people who need to hear our words are unable to hear them? Are we willing to work at removing the barriers – inequity, poverty, conflict, intolerance, and oppression, to name just a few – that make it impossible for people to hear the life-saving words we are saying?

The next time you think about our freedom of speech, take a moment to think about the freedom to hear. The next time you place a value on the freedom of speech, why not use the degree to which people are free to hear as the real measure of the value and effectiveness of our freedom to speak.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Surviving the peace proves as difficult as surviving war for families in southern Sudan

Peace persists in southern Sudan and so do we in our efforts to help families rebuild their lives after two decades of conflict that claimed the lives of 1.5 million Sudanese people and left nearly 4 million homeless.

People like Joseph Kubya and his family are one of the 4 million reasons we are doing everything we can to help families that are returning to their home villages in southern Sudan.

Joseph and his family spent the last 10 years hiding deep in the jungle in a desperate bid to survive. Contact with soldiers or militia groups had to be avoided at all cost as it always had deadly consequences.

Surviving the peace is proving very difficult for families like Joseph’s. The journey from the jungle to their former villages is arduous and marked with great uncertainty as families fear what they will find when they return home. Sadly, their worst fears are realized as they arrive in their home village and find it in a state of utter ruin.

HOPE International Development Agency is taking a comprehensive approach to helping these desperate families restore their lives and return home.

We are drilling wells that provide abundant supplies of clean water, significantly reducing the rates of diseases like cholera and dysentery.

Our health care and disease prevention efforts are dramatically improving the health of returning families and schooling for the children is rescuing the minds of an entire generation that have never had the opportunity to get an education.

Peace has replaced war and now, through the support of HOPE International Development Agency donors, hope will replace despair as families are able to rebuild their lives.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Drought and reduced harvests put families in Northern Afghanistan at risk this winter

Preparations are being made to send emergency relief supplies to families we're working with in Northern Afghanistan.

It’s not been an easy year for the Afghani communities we’re partnering with. The recent drought reduced crop harvests and the coming winter is looking to be rough.

HOPE International Development Agency is helping Afghani families by providing food and other necessities in order to bridge the gap between the poor harvest and the end of a long winter. Meanwhile, work continues to make these communities self-sufficient year-round, so that future winters can be weathered better.

If these families are not helped, then many of the men will need to leave their families in search of temporary work in Pakistan. We don’t want families to be broken up in this manner. So the need for relief is immediate, but the vision for self-sufficiency is ongoing and uncompromising. Please keep these families in your minds & hearts.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How do you define risk?

Risk, uncertainty, fear - these words are popping up everywhere right now. In the media, in our political debates, in our public and private spheres, people are expressing serious fears about the future.

While the economic meltdown in the United States is nothing to celebrate, it could provide an opportunity for Westerners to grow in compassion.

We might, for example, wake up in the morning and say, ‘What will happen if my investments don’t recover?’ We could dwell on this fear, choose to forget everybody, ignore everything and just hunker down until times are better. Or, we could follow this thought with, ‘If losing this money makes me this afraid, then what is it like to lose the ability to feed myself and my kids?’

At best, a typical family in Bangladesh might have $5 a day to spend, $3 of which would go towards food. But if food prices rise just 50%, they would lose $1.50 out of their total budget and have just $0.50 left for everything else.

That is risk, uncertainty and fear. That is profound and terrifying loss.

As bad as it gets for the middle-class of the world, we can’t forget that there are opportunities to provide security, hope, and courage to the world’s ‘bottom billion’. If we are demanding the kind of changes that will make our economic system more sustainable and reliable, then shouldn’t we also seek the changes that will do the same for families in countries like Bangladesh?

Such changes exist. Investigate the simple ones you can personally manage to support, and don’t let fear trump compassion.