When Bill Gates, in a letter from his foundation, attempted to dispel 3 huge myths about developing, poor countries his message got distilled in the media down to “Bill Gates announces no more poor countries by 2035;” which in turn lead to a significant amount of backlash for over simplifying the issue, downplaying the ongoing impact of profound poverty and disease, disagreements on the definition of poor country, from ignoring problems here at home to being accused of having a God complex. But his comment referred to no more poor countries based on the World Bank’s classification of currently lowest income countries to date; still, is he onto something? Aside from the other positives he listed surrounding such a bold statement declines in child mortality rates, longer lives throughout the developing world, steady eradication of diseases, polio, smallpox not seen in the United States for at least 50 years, reducing global death tolls form TB, efforts to curb the AIDS epidemic in Africa, foreign aid translating into greater numbers of poor country children getting more than basic food, clothes, medicine, clean water wells drilled in entire communities, but more children also going to school. Is it a signal the developed community, the developed world is perhaps ready to take the next step, to move past barely managing an ongoing crisis, giving things that look suspiciously like handouts to too many people, and instead, combine those efforts with attempting to solve the core problems? Are we ready as part of the developed world to attempt fostering stability in volatile regions, support people, entities, policies that lead to solid, just, fair and, at minimum, somewhat democratic governments, put forth convincing arguments for increasing foreign aid toward infrastructure, toward training, for doctors, lawyers, teachers, electricians, computer technicians, scientists, engineering specialists. So countries can begin solving their own problems, monies for business loans to individuals, communities based on the resources, needs present so they can earn a living, support themselves, eventually giving back to the country as a whole? Bill Gates apparently believes we are.
Maybe it was seeing too many late night infomercials consisting of charities, religious organizations, operation such and such pleading for money to help starving children, children breaking rocks, digging through dumpsters searching out food, recyclables to buy what little sustenance, clothing their family could get, children running around naked because their parents could not acquire clothing for them, suffering from disease, lacking education. pleadings for a few dollars, cents a day that would mean all these services to children in parts of the globe most have never heard of, pleading for small amounts to give life changing, sometimes lifesaving, simple surgeries to children born with correctable deformities; quelling my own feelings of guilt, wrestling with should I give, which one should I give to, how can I give to this cause and not that one, how could I do that myself being on a fixed income, needing certain assistance to get by? Then again compared to them how can I not living in the greatest country in the world? Being compelled to watch people without the rudimentary things developed counties’ citizens take for granted got me to thinking; frustrated with band-aide solutions, only being asked to give more money, take pity on these destitute people, allow their child who needs routine corrective surgery to live a normal life, please let us use your donation dollars to deliver these people from religious persecution, no one unraveling the core fundamental, foundational problems responsible for needless death, poverty, absolute agony. Thinking, there has to be a better way than begging people to empty their pockets of their hard earned money to give to people, entire regions, whole countries who always seem to be in need year after year, decade after decade. Independent of the perspective reality most Americans spend more on a latte than people in extremely poor counties receive in wages a day, possibly even a week, the idea that if we gave up what we spend on cable TV, internet and our smartphones, we could feed multiple children, multiple people suffering from literal, continued starvation for actual months, independent of questions about what we think we can afford to do vs. what we could actually do if we put our mind to it. Outside legitimate concerns about the validity of said commercials, exactly what percentage of money given is going to the people, going to the cause of feeding, providing wells, surgeries for children, travel costs for doctors, equipment and how much is going to so called operating costs AKA lining the pockets of some “charity” manager. The larger question has to be how we can build these counties up to help themselves, help them while allowing them to keep their national pride and personal dignity, remove the stigma preventing their leaders from accepting some forms of aid, because they believe the U.S. and other superpower countries are offering help in order to dictate their morals, culture, country operations? How do we redistribute resources so the poorer areas around the globe get a fairer share of what is available; no not the take from the wealthiest, force them to share homes, property, money with the poorest like in communist Russia leading to bread lines for everyone. No not the largely Republican trickle-nomics here in America giving to the top hoping it will filter down to all people; rather identifying why counties are so poor, is it a lack of natural resources, the land’s inability to grow things, is it a sagging economy, is it corruption, governmental instability, war and attacking the central problem(s) the right way to ensure betterment of lives in the most desolate places. I see a world minus these television programs, minus feeding programs; I remember seeing broadcast as a child, because they are no longer needed.
Clearly absent stable governments are notably the central issue in particular areas; however, identical economic situations sadly flourish in places generating the question where are the governments, government structures, social safety nets developed countries enjoy? Are they too small to formulate them or are they too unorganized, too much in their infancy to do so? It’s no secret the United States has never been good at nation building; in fact it has a long history of failures from military intervention to peace keeping endeavors corresponding with the given decade. Vietnam in the 1960’s, Kosovo, Somalia, Bosnia all in the 90’s alone Iraq, Afghanistan in recent times. Forget manifest destiny; it’s been either manifest democracy American style or manifest education also American style, blindly ignorant to existing social structures that can become governmental cornerstones. But humanitarian initiatives coming out of every developed nation are turning the corner, approaching “nation building” a different way, looking at how simply supplying food aid can destroy local economies as opposed to ideas like micro financing putting resources into the hands of people with entrepreneurial talent, jumpstarting training in basic business concepts, practical skills resulting in success. If not the 3 R’s then trade skills making clothing, cooking, broadened to local, small business commercial scale to turn a profit, teaching, training for immediate skills that translate into money to buy food, clothing, repair unsafe housing, education offered later to anyone wanting to learn to read, learn fundamental math. Further how can developed countries, the west, adjacent neighboring countries facilitate programs like the ones FDR initialized pulling us out of the great depression; the TVA, WPA guaranteeing jobs along with proliferation of electricity, infrastructure of paved roads, sewage systems, garbage collection? Importing materials to make concrete, asphalt, possibly different road ingredients that can withstand, extreme heat in Africa, extreme humidity in other parts of the world, importing some of the finished product until enough can be generated domestically. In turn exporting some percentage of exotic fruits, vegetables, clothing made locally, baskets, tools, finished products scarce in surrounding areas. What FDR-esque programs would benefit targeted regions solving individual, formerly insurmountable, obstacles and conundrums plaguing countries housing some of the highest populations living in the worst conditions? I see a world where roads, bridges, dams, sanitation are works in progress not stagnating messes taking a backseat to substituent living.
Where can tutorials in government administration, organization be both welcome and beneficial to moving a struggling country forward? A key turning point for southern Asian countries was again, similar to what FDR did for America in setting labor standards, labor hours and prices for finished goods, when they stopped exporting vast amounts of their natural resources switching to solely finished products. Actions that would also greatly help African nations who are pillaged for their minerals, precious and semi-precious, stones; while most of the western world shuns jewels gathered in this way, oil and other mineral deposits appear to be shrouded in foreign companies, investments, money changing hands amounting to bribes and kickbacks fueling a massive corruption epidemic accentuated by weak constitutions and religious, tribal, ethnic strife. Nevertheless, strategic is identifying governmental mechanisms that work for the people and regions they serve; are their lessons and paths to taking advantage of rich natural resources that do so sands corruption, thrive on transparency. How have their African neighbors, Batswana succeeded where others not only failed, but failed miserably? Which aspects of constitution, government structure vanquish bribes, kickbacks, prevail the concept, the idea being leader, starting, fighting for a new government that represents minority interests is about more than just living like a king, having things, having wealth, dispelling the notion the only way to get these things is to start a revolution? For utter outsiders, nations looking to help, where can aid and charity dollars be implemented to support small businesses, small businesses economies, economies transcending unrest; prime example of a new approach Malawi, the KIND fund (kids in need of desks) was started in the United States setting up donations to provide desks to school children in Africa trying to learn sitting on a hard dirt/concrete floor. Donated resources were organized in concert with local manufactures to build the desks right there in Malawi then given were to schools/students. PET (personal transportation) carts are the brainchild of an American missionary who saw people devastated by injury, accident, disease, birth defects, missing limbs after contact with leftover landmines crawling in the dirt to get from place to place, forced to beg and rely on minuscule kindness from strangers, children unable to go to school because they can’t walk, determined to do something to return dignity to them.
Over time he developed a sturdy, durable cart made from basic wood and wheels operated by hand, think simplified hand bike, allowing children with deformities, disabilities, victims of polio to go to school, allowing victims of landmines to stop crawling on the ground, being stepped on, even work because they are mobile, have a place to sit, maneuver and do standard daily tasks. The all-terrain tries/wheels meant a Haitian woman suffering after a spinal injury could go to church, go to the market, find ways to get food for her 3 children vs. the motorized wheelchair, besides there being little place to charge the batteries, almost nonexistent hope of ever replacing said batteries, had flattered tires from the rocky paths, complete lack of roads. Progression and expansion now means they have two facilities in Africa assembling PETS to give to local disabled populations. The latter part showcases how both a simplistic, do what you can now intervention can be part of moving beyond stop gap measures, useful in a post-eradication era absent new cases of debilitating ailments like polio, but provides a means to independence for its victims. Having been built as a local business benefits the country, region, village economy making something that will always have a place even as hospitals, technologies, infrastructure there advance for years to come. How could that model of using aid dollars, donations to establish businesses be put to use regarding other items, goods, necessities; could disabled individuals work off the cost of a PET once receiving it, if it were done exclusively under a local economy vs. via charity donation, possibly trade goods, valuables for one under a barter system? Could that, a barter network connecting villages in remote areas, work as a stepping stone to greater self-sufficiency, building a larger economy, model a different economy less subject to government upheaval? I see a world where everyone has a constitution unique to their nation, honoring the road it took to get them to a democracy, republic or similar form of fee society, still guaranteeing the goals liberty and justice for all. I see a world where even the meager among you has a means to dignity and self-respect.
One of the things that sticks out watching these charity organization stories are causes, causalities never addressed; yes we need more doctors, equipment, training and yes, money to stop turning away children in need of critical cleft lip/cleft pallet surgery that will put an end to real physical dangers, children who die because they can’t breastfeed well, can’t drink from a standard bottle, choke on their food, end a lifetime of ostracism, teasing, torment and begging because their poor speech means little/no education, no job. Yet curiously nowhere ever mentioned is any research, effort, investigation done into why there are so many cleft lip/cleft pallet cases in poor, developing counties, in the poorest sections of moderately developed countries. We know the culprits behind the high mortality rate of children under 5 planet-wide; starvation, malnutrition, no vaccines to ward off preventable, thought extinct diseases, poor/no sanitation, limited/no clean water to drink, bathe or cook. We understand the shortened lifespan of adults throughout hardly heard of regions; lifelong subpar nutrition, being cut off from medical care either by financial means, often distance, unsafe living, working conditions bringing injury, an inability to keep minor cuts and scrapes clean, resulting in infection that ultimately leads to death, inability to work leads to starvation, being homeless, left to the elements. We know a high instance of cataracts in Ethiopia was/ is a combination of genetics, harsh sun exposure, poverty, poor diet not eliminating the need for given eye surgeries, but proving a path to better eye care. Here we appear to know nothing about why, too focused on the band-aide known as relief, treatment. Is it malnutrition, lack of prenatal care, genetics, exposure to environmental pollutants; on the corrective side, is it a lack of trained physicians, because many aid programs Smile of A child, Operation Smile do train doctors in their home country to do effective corrective procedures, is it a shortage of medical equipment, anesthesia, monitoring devices, sterile areas, stitching, bandages? Why are there no doctors native to these counties willing, able to hold identical clinics for citizens reducing cleft lips/pallets, also reducing need for foreign help? Is it truly that so many children are born outside hospitals, parents have no way to travel to hospitals for the procedures, is it truly a lack of money to pay for medical care, or is it prejudice, rural vs. urban communities, ethnic elitism, social stigma “only certain kinds of people have children with this deformity,” those who are socially shunned, socially undesirable, those deemed living an immoral lifestyle according to majority social mores? What can we, everyone, do to see every child born in a hospital, brought to a hospital with this is expediently treated as soon as possible; what can we, everyone, do never see another cleft lip, cleft pallet ever again, especially in the developed world least able to handle it? I see a world where disease, while not unheard of, is rare; where old age takes a life in the fullness of time.
Bill Gates has reason for his optimism regarding poor, developing countries predicated on 2 things, economic progress made in impoverished nations during the last 5-10 years, technologies applied to the developing world that will solve reoccurring issues in one of a kind ways engineered solely for them, spearheaded by his money, his foundation, his ability to be a rallying point for global causes, his ability to challenge his fellow wealthy businessman in the millions and billions income bracket to giving back in the form of a hand up not a hand out. Using inspiring projects including Plumpy’nut, a peanut based nutrition supplement specifically engineered to meet the needs of malnourished children and package designed so very young children can feed themselves, durable low cost laptops meant to open up children’s worlds to education, as a jumping off point, he is forging into new, unchartered territory. Where other none profits, charities and humanitarian organizations have concentrated on monies toward vaccines, delivery, distribution; where similar minded groups would buy refrigerators for poor countries in which to house vaccines ready for use, delivering them to hospitals, clinics thinking they have solved the problem. His investments, his focus has created a refrigerator operating without batteries, without electricity, repurposing material originally put on the outside of spaceships to combat extreme heat culminating a cooling system only needing one batch of ice that can keep vaccines cold, even in debilitating African heat, up to 50 days; important because, all the vaccine in the world is utterly useless if it cannot be kept cold. As most aid entities would mobilize volunteers to provide clean water wells, educate people on not drinking, cooking bathing in dirty water contaminated with animal and human waste, Mr. Gates sponsored a global competition; objective construct a functional toilet without plumbing prototypes ready for third world use in less than 5 years ultimately reducing disease, saving lives. His partnered design teams are working on models for a cleaner, safer nuclear reactor translating into energy across the globe with drastically less nuclear accident threat; which in turn is one step closer to the knowledge and information to neutralize dangerous radioactive materials, nuclear waste, fallout from a nuclear weapon, though may we never need it. Here is a man who believes great is the world today, but greater are the things to come, willing to do his part in seeing the achievement of that possibility.
I too see a deeper vision one where, if we can’t all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, at least we can agree to leave each other alone, stop killing each other because we don’t fear god in the same way, call him by the same name, don’t worship him in the same way, or believe in a god at all. Perhaps it is a peacemakers dream, but what would be the effect of diplomacy done the right way, facilitated by humanitarians, missionaries imbedded in the mire typical diplomatic bureaucrats ignore do for resolving conflict? Could true mediators with the right heart and nothing to gain get Malawi and Tanzania to share the gas and oil resources equally to the benefit and prosperity of both nations; could agreements to share oil and resources equally be the overture to stem yes a resource war but a religious conflict as well a-la Sudan and Southern Sudan? Could Arab Africans and Christians learn the true meaning of the words live and let live in one gesture? Would anti-Semitism diminish globally if people had access to fair housing, fair economic opportunities; would holocaust survivors, once more left to eke out a living, face less harassment, violence, torment if it wasn’t precipitated by a battle for resources, the younger generation trying to survive in the midst of the older surrounded by inequality? I see a deeper vision where these Jewish people and all people persecuted for faith are left alone, not in abandonment, isolation but in peace. I see a deeper vision where remembrance of events like the holocaust is in honor of human beings who died in such a way, not a necessity to keep atrocities at bay. Indeed I too see a deeper vision.