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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Afghanistan: Aid is a Reflection of Need

This week a HOPE International Development Agency shipment of medical supplies arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after clearing the typical bureaucratic gauntlet. The reception of these supplies is always an extremely happy event. As one might expect in a country where deprivation is felt to achieve a unique standard in dreadfulness, to say that Afghani hospitals and clinics are under-supplied is a great understatement.

Because HOPE works in over twenty countries on three different continents, we encounter many different ‘versions’ of poverty, different gradations of lack or constraint or threat or oppression. The medical supplies programme is only one of the many anti-poverty strategies at HOPE’s disposal, but in its administration we learn about the head-spinning varieties of poverty playing out in villages and cities across an unequal planet. To put it another way, the kind of medicine we supply to any given community is a litmus of the kind of suffering you are going to encounter there.

For example, in the Dominican Republic, demand for medicine to treat diabetes is very high. Now, anybody who has managed to experience the Dominican Republic outside the tourist’s enclave knows that life, especially in the countryside, is a struggle. The high incidence of diabetes probably reflects the fact that the diet of poor Dominicans tends to be comprised of the kind of cheap, starchy food that cause sudden spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.

However, in Afghanistan, the demand isn’t for insulin, it’s for oral rehydration packets. Afghani doctors and nurses aren’t treating diseases that result from poor diet, they’re helping people to cope with the effects of having no food at all. The #1 health problem for Afghanis is malnutrition. Only Angola has worse child and mother mortality rates than Afghanistan. We see from the kind of support our Afghani health workers request that the level of poverty they are contending with is among the worst in the world.

So while it is a pleasure to see a medical donation arrive safely in any of the places where HOPE is at work, it is especially heartening in this place. Knowing the way Afghanis struggle, it is little successes like a well-stocked clinic that encourage our staff to work through any number of administrative or logistical challenges.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Certainty of Uncertainty

For those of us who live in the developed world, the gnawing uncertainty perpetuated by the continuing worldwide financial melt down is simply that, uncertainty.

Ultimately, the crisis may call for a rethinking of our lifestyle, currently defined by our fixation with profiteering and our appetite for consuming far more than we truly need – a condition that brings the moral poverty of our affluence into sharp relief.

For those of us who live in the developing world, the uncertainty created by the melt down is far more sinister because it is, in a very real way and often deadly way, certainty.

If, for example, your family was malnourished and chronically hungry before the melt down, they are now certain of starving. If your opportunities, modest though they may be, were limited before the melt down, they are now all but nonexistent.

For your family, uncertain times guarantee, with absolute certainty, that you can count on life getting significantly worse – if indeed this is actually possible given your current proximity to suffering and loss.

While we in the developed world ponder just how far we’ll have to cut back on our discretionary spending in order to maintain some semblance of the lifestyle to which we’re become accustomed, the choices being made in the developing world are far more difficult and profound.

For example, in a run-down hut in one of the poorest places on earth, a widowed mother, at her wits end, contemplates becoming a prostitute in order to earn the meager amount of money she needs to buy food for her children. Things have gotten so untenable that she is willing to trade her body for the well-being and security of her children. She is, in fact, choosing to die a little bit each night so that her children can live a little bit each day.

So, while we cut back in an attempt to deal with and ameliorate the uncertainty that keeps us up at night, the poorest of the poor slide even further into obscurity and remain, as they so often do, the collateral damage of our lifestyle.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Philippines: ‘Don’t Worry Because I Will Study Well’

In Mindanao, a part of the Philippines where up to 40% of the population is living on $317 dollars a year - yet a kilo of rice still costs about $0.70 - serious poverty is the norm.

Here, as in the rest of the optimistically labelled ‘developing’ world, poor families frequently cite education as their greatest dream, the element that could change everything for the generations to come. Yet, if you’ve got to find out how to keep 5-8 people from starving when a kilo of rice costs 70% of your daily income, school fees are not in the cards.

Finding creative ways for the poorest children in the world to attend school is something HOPE International Development Agency devotes itself to. If our mandate is to see families make a permanent break with poverty, then investment into education is an obvious stratagem.

A number of Canadians are currently helping young Filipino students at the primary, secondary, and university levels to fulfill the dreams of their families. It is an incredible arrangement. The letters we read from these young scholars always reconfirm our basic intentions. These are children who work hard, and will enrich their families and communities with the advantages an education affords them. One theme is constant in the letters: I will make good on your investment into me. One fourteen-year old girl writes:

‘Before anything else I would like to greet you a pleasant day. Thank you for the support that you give, I can now able to proceed my study. Sometimes I can absent in school because sometimes we lack of food in our home. My parents work hard for my study; don’t worry because I will study well for you and for my family.’

Because we know how serious and frequent the reality of ‘lack of food’ is for girls like her, the energy she pours into her studies commands our respect and support all the more.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hunger: World’s #1 Killer Finally Earns Title of ‘Crisis’

Even in a time of economic decline, the threat of simply not having enough to eat is a remote one for the great majority of westerners. So it comes as a surprise to many North Americans that hunger and malnutrition are the number one risk to health worldwide, greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

This problem has worsened in poor countries to such an extent that the media is finally using the kind of language that is accorded to ‘real’ issues, those worthy of global attention - namely, the label of ‘crisis’. Google ‘Food Crisis’ and you will get tens of thousands of hits, all referencing the same phenomenon: namely, many more people are starving today than they were before.

The following are statistics on world hunger from the World Food Program and the Office of the U.N. Secretary-General:

- In 2008, the number of undernourished people in the world rose to 963 million (more than the combined populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union), up 40 million from 2007.

- Hunger does not affect just the individual. Economists estimate that every child whose physical and mental development is stunted by hunger and malnutrition stands to lose 5 percent to 10 percent in lifetime earnings.

- The total food surplus of the United States alone could satisfy every empty stomach in Africa; France's leftovers could feed the hungry in Democratic Republic of Congo and Italy's could feed Ethiopia's undernourished.

- Today 25,000 people will die from hunger. A child dies every six seconds of malnutrition or starvation.

- There is enough food in the world today for everyone to have the nourishment necessary for a healthy and productive life.

HOPE International Development Agency has invested into the ability of the most-poor to feed themselves for over thirty years. If hunger is not something you have experienced, count yourself blessed - and then act to bless somebody who has.