July 12, 2009
Clean, Sexy Water
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
People always ask: What can I do to make a difference?
So many people in poor countries desperately need assistance. So many people in rich countries would like to help but fear their donations would line the pocket of a corrupt official or be lost in an aid bureaucracy. The result is a short circuit, leaving both sides unfulfilled.
That’s where Scott Harrison comes in.
Five years ago, Mr. Harrison was a nightclub promoter in Manhattan who spent his nights surrounded by friends in a blur of alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. He lived in a luxurious apartment and drove a BMW — but then on a vacation in South America he underwent a spiritual crisis.
“I realized I was the most selfish, sycophantic and miserable human being,” he recalled. “I was the worst person I knew.”
Mr. Harrison, now 33, found an aid organization that would accept him as a volunteer photographer — if he paid $500 a month to cover expenses. And so he did. The organization was Mercy Ships, a Christian aid group that performs surgeries in poor countries with volunteer doctors.
“The first person I photographed was a 14-year-old boy named Alfred, choking on a four-pound benign tumor in his mouth, filling up his whole mouth,” Mr. Harrison recalled. “He was suffocating on his own face. I just went into the corner and sobbed.”
A few weeks later, Mr. Harrison took Alfred — with the tumor now removed — back to his village in the West African country of Benin. “I saw everybody celebrating, because a few doctors had given up their vacation time,” he said.
Mercy Ships transformed Mr. Harrison as much as it did Alfred. Mr. Harrison returned to New York two years later with a plan: he would form a charity to provide clean water to save lives in poor countries. But by then, he was broke and sleeping on a friend’s couch.
Armed with nothing but a natural gift for promotion, and for wheedling donations from people, Mr. Harrison started his group, called charity: water — and it has been stunningly successful. In three years, he says, his group has raised $10 million (most of that last year alone) from 50,000 individual donors, providing clean water to nearly one million people in Africa and Asia.
The organization now has 11 full-time employees, almost twice as many unpaid interns, and more than half a million followers on Twitter (the United Nations has 3,000). New York City buses were plastered with free banners promoting his message, and Saks Fifth Avenue gave up its store windows to spread Mr. Harrison’s gospel about the need for clean water in Africa. American schools are signing up to raise money to build wells for schools in poor countries.
“Scott is an important marketing machine, lifting one of the most critical issues of our time in a way that is sexy and incredibly compelling — that’s his gift,” said Jacqueline Novogratz, head of the Acumen Fund, which invests in poor countries to overcome poverty.
Mr. Harrison doesn’t actually do the tough aid work in the field. He partners with humanitarian organizations and pays them to dig wells. In effect, he’s a fund-raiser and marketer — but that’s often the most difficult piece of the aid puzzle.
So what’s his secret? Mr. Harrison’s success seems to depend on three precepts:
First, ensure that every penny from new donors will go to projects in the field. He accomplishes this by cajoling his 500 most committed donors to cover all administrative costs.
Second, show donors the specific impact of their contributions. Mr. Harrison grants naming rights to wells. He posts photos and G.P.S. coordinates so donors can look up their wells on Google Earth. And in September, Mr. Harrison is going to roll out a new Web site that will match even the smallest donation to a particular project that can be tracked online.
Third, leap into new media and social networks. This spring, charity: water raised $250,000 through a “Twestival” — a series of meetings among followers on Twitter. Last year, it raised $965,000 by asking people with September birthdays to forgo presents and instead solicit cash to build wells in Ethiopia. The campaign went viral on the Web, partly because Mr. Harrison invests in clever, often sassy videos.
One popular video shows well-heeled Manhattanites stepping out of their luxury buildings and lining up to fill jerrycans with dirty water from a lake in Central Park. We watch a mother offer the murky water to her small children — and the upbeat message is: you can help ensure that other people don’t have do that, either.
Mr. Harrison’s underlying idea is that giving should be joyous, an infectious pleasure at the capacity to bring about change.
“Guilt has never been part of it,” he said. “It’s excitement instead, presenting people with an opportunity — ‘you have an amazing chance to build a well!’ ”
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
July 19, 2009
Op-Ed ColumnistHis Maternal Instinct
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
She is an illiterate woman from the tribal areas of Pakistan who almost died in childbirth a year after marrying at the age of 12. She suffered a horrific injury during labor called a fistula that left her incontinent and smelly, and for the next 13 years she was confined to her house — never stepping outside for shame at the way she was leaking wastes.
He is a famous Pakistani ob-gyn who was educated in Ireland. After spending eight years there, he returned with plans to set up a fertility clinic for rich patients and zip around in a Mercedes-Benz. But he was so shattered by the sight of women dying unnecessarily in childbirth that he decided to devote his career instead to helping impoverished women like her.
So they met in one of the hospitals established by the doctor, Shershah Syed, and he has been helping the young woman, Ashrafi Akbar. She is scheduled to undergo a final repair of her fistula in that hospital today.
People in the West are properly outraged by Taliban oppression of women in parts of Pakistan. But some of the greatest suffering of women here isn’t political or religious. It comes simply from the inattention to maternal health care.
Here in Pakistan, a woman dies every 35 minutes because of problems from pregnancy or childbirth, according to United Nations figures.
The underlying reason is that maternal health has never been a priority globally, either to poor countries or to foreign aid donors like the United States. The only exceptions are Britain and Norway, and I hope the Obama administration will back them up.
In this part of Pakistan, Sindh Province, there is a saying that goes: If your cow dies, that is a tragedy; if your wife dies, you can always get another.
“This is simpler than an atomic bomb,” Dr. Shershah said, speaking of improving maternal health in Pakistan. “We have an atomic bomb, but we haven’t done this because the government isn’t interested. The day the government decides it doesn’t want maternal deaths, we will have no more mothers dying.”
Ashrafi’s case was typical: She tried to deliver at home with the help of an untrained birth attendant. But her pelvis wasn’t big enough to accommodate the baby’s head, so four exhausting days of labor produced nothing.
Finally, the family took Ashrafi to a clinic, and the baby was delivered dead. Then she found that she was dribbling urine and stool through her vagina. She smelled, and the salts in her urine left sores on her thighs.
Ashrafi had heard that doctors in Karachi might be able to cure her, and she asked if someone could take her. Instead, Ashrafi’s husband divorced her. Embarrassed and humiliated, Ashrafi fell into a deep depression. She locked herself up in her parents’ home and refused to see anyone.
Thirteen years passed. Ashrafi says she didn’t leave the house once. I asked her, and a cousin of hers whom I reached by telephone, how she spent her days. The answer: sewing, caring for her sick mother — and crying.
Finally, she prevailed upon her brothers to take her to Karachi, where she was examined by Dr. Shershah. At 56, he is one of his country’s best-known doctors and is president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan. But three times he has been pushed out of his job, he said, for saying that resources would be better spent on education and health than on atomic weapons or F-16s.
With government support nine years ago, Dr. Shershah started a top-level maternity wing in a public hospital in Orangi, an impoverished Karachi neighborhood that by some reckonings is the largest slum in the world. The hospital now handles 6,500 deliveries a year — yes, 6,500 — and accepts women from hundreds of miles away. Several years ago, a half-dead woman came from Baluchistan Province — by camel.
In addition, Dr. Shershah is hitting up friends to try to build a new maternity hospital on the grounds of a former madrassa on the edge of Karachi. So far, he has built a wing to repair fistulas free of charge and to train midwives. He says that in five years or so, as the money trickles in, the hospital will be complete. (Friends in America have set up a tax-deductible charity, National Health Forum. For more information, please go to my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground.)
In addition to his regular work, Dr. Shershah repairs fistulas there every Sunday, and that is how he encountered Ashrafi. Her case turned out to require a series of operations because of the long wait. But after six months of surgeries, she should be repaired and ready to go home by the end of this month.
Already, the nurses say, she is different from the shy, morose young woman who arrived. Now she smiles and sometimes laughs, and she spends her days outside in the hospital courtyard, bathing in the sunlight that she missed for 13 years.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
July 26, 2009
Documenting Brutalities to Change the World
By FATIMA HASSAN
In 1991, civil war devastated my parents’ homeland, Somalia, spawning a vast diaspora of refugees. My seven siblings and I grew up in Katy, Tex. I remember sitting with my parents in the comfort of our living room in America, listening to international journalists and humanitarian workers on CNN. I am still haunted by the weak bodies of Somali children and the panic etched into the faces of their emaciated mothers as their beloved family fell victim to hunger. These images are imprinted in my consciousness and galvanized me to shift from being a spectator to an activist.
Therefore my major and minor, honors thesis, research and academic work have helped me understand the plight of women. History and current events across cultures remind us of the prevailing view of women as objects. Being in college has deepened my understanding of this history. But books and classes don’t compare with learning directly. I want to share one field experience I had when I went to Uganda, Rwanda and Eritrea to blog about women’s lives on behalf of Americans for the United Nations Population Fund.
When you hear the word "survivor," you usually think of that reality TV show pitting contestants against one another on some remote island. In Rwanda, “survivor” refers to those who survived the genocide. I had the privilege of visiting a survivor’s village an hour outside of Kigali to hear from women who have survived extreme sexual violence.
As I walked into their community center, I noticed a woman standing apart from the crowd of children, wrapped in her white scarf painted with purple and yellow flowers. I recognized her as a fellow Muslim. That afternoon, I listened to the testimony of 10 women like her who, in their own words, were “defiled” and left pregnant by their rapists. I had grappled with the ethics of asking women to share these brutal moments. Then a woman spoke up, saying that she was grateful that my group had come all the way from America to listen to them speak because fellow villagers do not want to hear of their pain. As I left the center, I noticed puddles on the floor. Half of the women developed traumatic fistulas from the assault, causing them to still leak bloody urine 14 years after the genocide.
I rarely look at the pages of notes from that day. I never need to because these women’s struggles are written into my soul, fueling my desire to change world. The power of listening is that it can change you. When you are fully engaged in a moment, you awaken the world to unseen ugly realties.
Violence against women is an inconvenient truth in many societies — one of three women worldwide has experienced rape or sexual assault. I would like to use research, advocacy and public policy to combat gender violence that is systemic in conflict zones. The failure of governments and societies to address crimes against women — including rape, female genital cutting, lack of treatment for obstetric and traumatic fistula, forced and early marriages and the trafficking of women — is alarming.
Nearly two million women today live with obstetric and traumatic fistula, leaking urine and/or feces. As a research assistant with the Stanford Eritrean Maternal Health project, I was able to travel and listen to patients who were ostracized by families and forced off public buses because of the fistulas related to assault and giving birth. In Uganda, I saw sex workers, some as young as 10, willing to sell their bodies for chapatti and mango juice to stave off hunger. I witnessed three women sharing a hospital bed in a maternity clinic, sidestepping blood on the floor of women in labor.
I am honored to be a part of this graduating class, and eager for us to create a better world together. When we truly listen to the communities we wish to serve, we absorb their pain and invigorate our search for justice and solutions. We cannot trick ourselves into thinking “someone else will do it” because we are the ones privileged to have attended college. It is now our responsibility to rethink and implement sustainable change, whether local or global.
Fatima Hassan, Stanford, class of 2009, human biology major
July 30, 2009
Crisis in the Operating Room
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Afterward, they comforted each other with the blasphemy: “It was God’s will.”
It was the first pregnancy for Shazia Allahdita, 19. I was in the operating room at a public hospital here in Karachi as surgeons performed a Caesarean section on her to try to save her life.
As she lay unconscious under the anesthesia, doctors plucked a baby boy from her uterus and then labored to revive the child. “He has a heartbeat, but he’s not crying,” Dr. Aijaz Ahmed explained tersely as he gave the boy oxygen. “He’s not responding. I think he’s getting weaker.”
These dramas play out constantly in poor countries. One woman dies a minute from complications of pregnancy or childbirth somewhere in the world, and 20 times as many suffer childbirth injuries.
There’s no mystery about how to save these lives. Some impoverished countries, such as Sri Lanka, have succeeded stunningly well at saving mothers simply because they have tried. But foreign aid donors like the United States have never shown much interest in maternal mortality, and impoverished women are typically the most voiceless, neglected people in their own countries — so they die at astonishing rates. Here in Pakistan, 1 woman in 74 will die at some point in her life from complications during pregnancy.
Shazia’s suffering is typically unnecessary. It all would have worked out fine if she had gone to a hospital to deliver her baby. She wanted to. Her husband and relatives all agreed, when I interviewed them later, that she had had her heart set on delivering at the public hospital here. It’s also free, so long as supplies haven’t run out (other times, family members have to rush out to buy supplies).
But Shazia’s female in-laws thought that a hospital birth was a silly extravagance, and a young Pakistani woman is at the mercy of her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. (In Pakistan, men are little involved in such decisions about childbirth.) It didn’t help that the in-laws resented Shazia because she and her husband, Allahdita, had breached tradition by marrying out of love rather than by family arrangement.
When Shazia went into labor, the family summoned a traditional birth attendant to help with the delivery. Hours passed. Nothing happened. Shazia asked to go to the hospital, but it was far away and would require what for them would be an expensive taxi fare of 300 Pakistani rupees, equivalent to about $3.75.
“If she went to the hospital, then every time the family visited it would be a long way to go and very inconvenient,” explained an aunt, Qamarunnisa. “It was so much easier to go to the local health post. It seemed easier.”
So the family eventually took her to a local clinic, where Shazia struggled to deliver for another 24 hours of labor. The family discussed taking her to the hospital, but the obstacle was the 300 rupee taxi fare. “If it hadn’t been for the money, she would have come here,” said Qamarunnisa.
But nobody wanted to pay. Shazia’s in-laws truly are poor, but it’s hard to imagine that they would have balked if it had been a man in the family who was in danger — or if they had known that Shazia was carrying a baby boy.
“If they had known it was a son, they would have come up with 500 rupees,” said Dr. Sarah Feroze, as her colleagues struggled to save Shazia and her baby.
Finally, some 30 hours after Shazia’s water had broken, an aunt paid for the taxi to the hospital. The doctors immediately saw that Shazia’s baby could not fit through her pelvis and rushed her into the operating theater for the C-section.
Shazia lived. The baby died.
I visited Shazia the next day. She was in a crowded, stifling ward. The power had gone out. Her bedding was soiled. She was crying.
Outside, her husband, Allahdita, was grieving but philosophical. “It is God’s will,” he said, shrugging. “There is nothing we can do.”
That’s incorrect. If men had uteruses, “paternity wards” would get resources, ambulances would transport pregnant men to hospitals free of charge, deliveries would be free, and the Group of 8 industrialized nations would make paternal mortality a top priority. One of the most lethal forms of sex discrimination is this systematic inattention to reproductive health care, from family planning to childbirth — so long as those who die are impoverished, voiceless women.
Thankfully, there is the dawn of a global movement against maternal mortality. Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, are trying to work with the United States and other countries to hold a landmark global health session at the U.N. focusing, in part, on maternal health. If that comes to pass, on Sept. 23, it will be a milestone. My dream is that Barack and Michelle Obama will leap forward and adopt this cause — and transform the prospects for so many young women like Shazia.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
Mosharraf Zaidi: The Miseducation of Thomas Friedman
This past weekend, two of the New York Times’ finest columnists wrote about the excellent work of philanthropists and social entrepreneurs in helping Pakistan respond to the challenges of building a better society. Dr. Shershah Syed’s work in maternal and womens’ healthcare (which Nicholas Kristof wrote glowingly about) and “Three Cups of Tea” author Greg Mortenson’s building of rural schools (which was highlighted in Thomas Friedman’s column), are both excellent examples of the kinds of innovation and enterprise being deployed by ordinary people of extraordinary compassion and commitment.
Let’s be clear and unambiguous. The philanthropy, social enterprise, intellect and integrity of folks that do their bit for humanity, is something that should inspire and instruct all our lives. So when Greg Mortenson drinks his third cup of tea and becomes a part of the communities he learned to love, and establishes fifty or one hundred schools, or several hundred more, in Pakistan— Pakistanis should salute him. Of course, Pakistani arms would get tired, very rightly, for having to salute several hundred standout philanthropists and social entrepreneurs for their work in education. There is a long list of accomplished individual and collective efforts to educate Pakistan. Those efforts come in all shapes, sizes and colours — secular, non-profit, faith-based, or for-profit.
Parsi schools have churned out the finest (in all senses of the word) young ladies of Karachi for decades. Catholic schools have produced some of Pakistan’s most talented citizens (with a well-deserved shout out reserved for the holy trinity of Pakistani Catholic schools — St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s in Karachi, and the incomparable St. Mary’s of Rawalpindi).
As with everything else in Pakistan, the landscape is incomplete without the mention of Muslim philanthropy, and the shining beacon of the Lord’s nur in that regards has been the Ismaili community’s contributions to education, starting from the very top, by His Highness the Prince Aga Khan and his family. There is perhaps no better example of Pakistani excellence than what Pakistanis produce every minute of every day at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi.
Of course, one need not necessarily be inspired by their faith, to act in deeply humane and divine ways. Indeed some of the most humane work is done by people that don’t feel the need to invoke faith to do good. Pakistan’s philanthropy landscape is populated by hundreds of those kinds of groups too. The Citizens Foundation is an avowedly non-religious organization. They’ve established over six hundred schools (that’s at least four times the number Mr. Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute has built). They cater to over 80,000 students. They too are worthy of deep praise. So are the folks at Read Foundation. They’re catering to over 65,000 students through more than 330 schools. Smaller, more strategic, and more research oriented philanthropy in education is provided by individuals like Shahid Kardar, who was instrumental in breathing life into the Punjab Education Fund for the last several years, and organizations like SAHE, where Hamid Kizilbash (and later Fareeha Zafar) have constructed a most impressive array of policy lessons for the education sector.
Of course, if the emphasis in Thomas Friedman’s piece on education was not on education -- which given Friedman’s track record on Pakistan, it was almost unquestionably not -- then it was on the secularity of such education. In addition to non-religious organizations and their efforts in the philanthropic arena, it is useful to remember the contribution made to Pakistan by private schools, despite the class structures which they have exacerbated (and in some ways attenuated). The Beaconhouse and City School enterprises, despite being often demonized for being “too business-minded” have replicated success everywhere, under every government, in every major city in Pakistan. Perhaps their success is not just about the money, but about a quality product that produces globally competitive young Pakistanis, every year, like clockwork. As big as those two are, small can be beautiful too -- as demonstrated by Sami Mustafa’s legendary work at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Karachi and Firoza Zaidi’s work at EMS High School in Islamabad (disclaimer: Mrs. Zaidi was my first and best teacher, and happens to be my mom).
All of these for-profit efforts certainly help deepen the class divide between the have and have-nots in Pakistan—but they also help bridge the have-some, and have-overwhelmingly-most-of-it crowds. It would not be incorrect in fact to suggest that the emergence of Pakistan’s urban middle class has been timed, almost to perfection, with the coming of age of the first wave of private school products this country has known.
What is the purpose of walking the reader through this long list of bright spots in a country that has an overwhelmingly dismal record of darkness in terms of educating its young people?
More than anything else, it is that the efforts of philanthropists and social entrepreneurs deserve our unreserved admiration, and our unflinching moral support. However, what they do not deserve and must never get, is the status of somehow representing a solution to Pakistan’s most egregious problems -- one of which, most definitely, is educating its young.
In 1981, out of a total of 84 million Pakistanis, 38.6% were of school-going age. That put the number of school-aged children in 1981 at 32.5 million. By the 1998 census, Pakistan’s population had ballooned to almost 130 million. Of that population, 39% were between the ages of 5 and 19 -- the school-going age. That meant that between 1981 and 1998, Pakistan experienced a systemic growth in the demand for education, from 32.5 million clients, to 50.3 million clients -- a total increase of about 18 million kids that needed a school to go to.
This year, conservative estimates suggest that Pakistan’s population is expected to top-off at around 180 million. If the percentage of school-going children drops off, say down to 38%, it means that the total number of kids that need to be at school in Pakistan this year is about 68.4 million. Let me write that down differently.
That represents another increase of 18 million. However, the time it took to increase by 18 million in 1998 was 17 years (1981 to 1998). In 2009 it has taken just 11 years to increase the demand on the Pakistani education system by 18 million new students.
There is no NGO, no philanthropist, no social entrepreneur, no genius, no saint, no sage, no mom, no Ataturk, no Ayatollah, no Mullah, no madam, no mercenary of any kind, anywhere that can deliver the kind of miracle Pakistan needs.
To educate almost seventy million children, the only “cup of tea” that will do, is the one that is served by the state. The state is not only ultimately responsible -- legally, morally, and politically -- for educating Pakistan’s children. It is responsible , and internally wired, to ensure Pakistan’s survival. Educating these kids is a matter of survival -- not because we should be scared of madrassahs (though some are honest to God, really scary) -- but because it is immoral to not be concerned about this problem.
And there are no two ways about this simple fact: the next addition of 18 million new students with no school to go to in Pakistan, will come faster than it ever has before. There is no end in sight to the growth in this market.
Pakistan needs many things to enable its young parents to educate their kids in a manner that can help empower those children to live up to their natural potential. While we are at it, it is vital to help children that do not have potential, for natural reasons such as disabled kids, or that are denied potential, for man-made reasons, such as girls.
One of the things it needs is a serious conversation about education that contextualizes philanthropy as a useful demonstration of the realm of possible, rather than as a replacement for the state. Philanthropy can contribute to the conversation by helping Pakistanis acknowledge that an overwhelming majority of Pakistani teachers are unqualified to teach, and cannot be fired. That democratic MNAs, MPAs, senators, and ministers have helped teachers get their jobs. That the Supreme Court will invariably help them keep those jobs. That the World Bank building new schools for incapable and disincentivized teachers -- much like putting stale wine in fancy new bottles -- will simply not do the trick. That the Ministry of Education with no reason to exist other than to keep its officers and office boys (and drivers and clerks) employed, has no capacity to think. That the provincial departments of education, with the best civil service officers busy getting Masters and PhD degrees, are bereft of talent, even when the political and administrative will to perform does exist.
This is a massive agenda, even in terms of a policy conversation. It does not represent even the tip of the Titanic, but it does represent a set of serious issues. Pakistanis should get serious about education. 3 cups of tea just won’t do for 70 million school-age kids. Thomas Friedman can afford to not be serious. He speaks of Pakistan from a helicopter in Helmand. Pakistanis have no such luxuries.
Mosharraf Zaidi is a public policy adviser and columnist who writes for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk, and the International News in Pakistan. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com
Gates Foundation Helps Poor Save Money, Open Accounts (Update1)
Interview by Farah Nayeri
Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, wants to provide the poor with a safe place to put their money.
The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $350 million toward projects that let the planet’s poor who have no access to banking keep cash deposits via their local post office, lottery outpost, or cellphone account.
The foundation, which had an endowment of $29.7 billion on Dec. 31, spends two-thirds of its resources on health. Since 2006, when billionaire Warren Buffett promised to give it 10 million shares in his company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. -- a pledge the foundation said was worth $31 billion when made -- the Gateses have branched out into new areas, including banking services for the poor.
“We looked around at what were the financial needs or requirements of poor families,” says Bob Christen, 53, who heads the foundation’s 20-person financial-services division. “There’s a tremendous demand for deposit services, for a safe place to keep your money.”
“Poor people have to save in ways that really aren’t very convenient,” says the affable, silver-haired Christen at a meeting in a London hotel lobby. He wears a striped white shirt with beige trousers; reading glasses dangle from his neck.
To the lay observer, microfinance is often confused with microcredit, or loans to the poor, pioneered by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and his Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank. Today, more than $2 billion a year goes to microcredit, says Christen; rather than add more money to that heap, the Gateses were looking to “make a difference.”
How can savings accounts help? Often, the poor are poor because of their inability to face sudden costs linked to illness, crop failure or unexpected calamity. “When you look at what takes people into poverty, it’s medical emergencies, loss of a job, lack of a safety net,” he explains. “Having deposit services can change people’s vulnerability to circumstances.”
Yet in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, many lack bank accounts. For the almost 2.5 billion people who live on less than $2 a day, a trip to the bank to put away cash might involve a costly bus or taxi ride and hours of waiting in line. “You’ve got to be out of pocket $3 to save a couple of dollars,” says Christen.
So the poor save with cash, jewelry, extra building materials and spare animals. “Stuff gets stolen, animals die, and things happen to those savings that erode their value,” says Christen, who notes that informal savings shed a fifth of their value, on average, each year. “That’s the equivalent of going to the ATM and getting only $80 for the $100 you put in.”
Banking can be a way out. “It sounds less direct than a loan,” says Christen. “Except that as you go up, things happen, and you get pushed right back down again, because you don’t have safety nets.”
Acting through a long list of partner institutions such as Opportunity International Inc. and the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A., the Gates foundation funds so-called “agent banking.” The aim is to make banks hook up with retailers in villages or neighborhoods where cashiers can take people’s deposits and funnel them into their accounts.
Another method is to let people buy airtime for a prepaid cellphone account that they can then send to another cellphone account. That way, people can “load up a little bit of money and send it to their mom by the phone,” says Christen.
The longer-term aim is to persuade successful savings banks in one country to expand into neighboring countries or markets. Another plan is to link credit unions in Africa so an accountholder in one place can bank in another. “These are things we take for granted here,” he says.
Christen has a lifetime’s experience in development finance. After the Peace Corps sent him to Chile and he married a Chilean woman, he worked with credit unions and agricultural cooperatives in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Latin America, where he has spent most of the past 30 years.
He also worked for six years at the World Bank as a senior adviser to the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP), helping draw up standards for the industry. Christen still heads the Boulder Institute of Microfinance, which brings together the top experts in microfinance once a year.
The Gates foundation is a change from all of that.
“I’ve never actually worked for an organization that donated money: It was never my job,” says Christen, who now lives in Seattle and sails in his spare time. “What’s nice is to be able to be strategic in a place where I can execute.”
What role do Bill, who tops Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires, and Melinda play in his work? “I don’t see them every day, but they’re a pretty engaged couple,” he says. Do they leave him alone? He laughs. “I have a fair amount of autonomy,” he says. “I’m doing exactly what I set out to do, so I’m pretty happy.”
Christen says the Gateses’ profile helps the cause. “We’re already starting to see savings moving up people’s agenda just because we’ve declared our interest in it,” he says. “It’s a powerful voice: That’s a lot of what’s fun about it.”
IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.
Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.
One place to observe this alchemy of gender is in the muddy back alleys of Pakistan. In a slum outside the grand old city of Lahore, a woman named Saima Muhammad used to dissolve into tears every evening. A round-faced woman with thick black hair tucked into a head scarf, Saima had barely a rupee, and her deadbeat husband was unemployed and not particularly employable. He was frustrated and angry, and he coped by beating Saima each afternoon. Their house was falling apart, and Saima had to send her young daughter to live with an aunt, because there wasn’t enough food to go around.
“My sister-in-law made fun of me, saying, ‘You can’t even feed your children,’ ” recalled Saima when Nick met her two years ago on a trip to Pakistan. “My husband beat me up. My brother-in-law beat me up. I had an awful life.” Saima’s husband accumulated a debt of more than $3,000, and it seemed that these loans would hang over the family for generations. Then when Saima’s second child was born and turned out to be a girl as well, her mother-in-law, a harsh, blunt woman named Sharifa Bibi, raised the stakes.
“She’s not going to have a son,” Sharifa told Saima’s husband, in front of her. “So you should marry again. Take a second wife.” Saima was shattered and ran off sobbing. Another wife would leave even less money to feed and educate the children. And Saima herself would be marginalized in the household, cast off like an old sock. For days Saima walked around in a daze, her eyes red; the slightest incident would send her collapsing into hysterical tears.
It was at that point that Saima signed up with the Kashf Foundation, a Pakistani microfinance organization that lends tiny amounts of money to poor women to start businesses. Kashf is typical of microfinance institutions, in that it lends almost exclusively to women, in groups of 25. The women guarantee one another’s debts and meet every two weeks to make payments and discuss a social issue, like family planning or schooling for girls. A Pakistani woman is often forbidden to leave the house without her husband’s permission, but husbands tolerate these meetings because the women return with cash and investment ideas.
Saima took out a $65 loan and used the money to buy beads and cloth, which she transformed into beautiful embroidery that she then sold to merchants in the markets of Lahore. She used the profit to buy more beads and cloth, and soon she had an embroidery business and was earning a solid income — the only one in her household to do so. Saima took her elder daughter back from the aunt and began paying off her husband’s debt.
When merchants requested more embroidery than Saima could produce, she paid neighbors to assist her. Eventually 30 families were working for her, and she put her husband to work as well — “under my direction,” she explained with a twinkle in her eye. Saima became the tycoon of the neighborhood, and she was able to pay off her husband’s entire debt, keep her daughters in school, renovate the house, connect running water and buy a television.
“Now everyone comes to me to borrow money, the same ones who used to criticize me,” Saima said, beaming in satisfaction. “And the children of those who used to criticize me now come to my house to watch TV.”
Today, Saima is a bit plump and displays a gold nose ring as well as several other rings and bracelets on each wrist. She exudes self-confidence as she offers a grand tour of her home and work area, ostentatiously showing off the television and the new plumbing. She doesn’t even pretend to be subordinate to her husband. He spends his days mostly loafing around, occasionally helping with the work but always having to accept orders from his wife. He has become more impressed with females in general: Saima had a third child, also a girl, but now that’s not a problem. “Girls are just as good as boys,” he explained.
Saima’s new prosperity has transformed the family’s educational prospects. She is planning to send all three of her daughters through high school and maybe to college as well. She brings in tutors to improve their schoolwork, and her oldest child, Javaria, is ranked first in her class. We asked Javaria what she wanted to be when she grew up, thinking she might aspire to be a doctor or lawyer. Javaria cocked her head. “I’d like to do embroidery,” she said.
As for her husband, Saima said, “We have a good relationship now.” She explained, “We don’t fight, and he treats me well.” And what about finding another wife who might bear him a son? Saima chuckled at the question: “Now nobody says anything about that.” Sharifa Bibi, the mother-in-law, looked shocked when we asked whether she wanted her son to take a second wife to bear a son. “No, no,” she said. “Saima is bringing so much to this house. . . . She puts a roof over our heads and food on the table.”
Sharifa even allows that Saima is now largely exempt from beatings by her husband. “A woman should know her limits, and if not, then it’s her husband’s right to beat her,” Sharifa said. “But if a woman earns more than her husband, it’s difficult for him to discipline her.”
WHAT SHOULD we make of stories like Saima’s? Traditionally, the status of women was seen as a “soft” issue — worthy but marginal. We initially reflected that view ourselves in our work as journalists. We preferred to focus instead on the “serious” international issues, like trade disputes or arms proliferation. Our awakening came in China.
After we married in 1988, we moved to Beijing to be correspondents for The New York Times. Seven months later we found ourselves standing on the edge of Tiananmen Square watching troops fire their automatic weapons at prodemocracy protesters. The massacre claimed between 400 and 800 lives and transfixed the world; wrenching images of the killings appeared constantly on the front page and on television screens.
Yet the following year we came across an obscure but meticulous demographic study that outlined a human rights violation that had claimed tens of thousands more lives. This study found that 39,000 baby girls died annually in China because parents didn’t give them the same medical care and attention that boys received — and that was just in the first year of life. A result is that as many infant girls died unnecessarily every week in China as protesters died at Tiananmen Square. Those Chinese girls never received a column inch of news coverage, and we began to wonder if our journalistic priorities were skewed.
A similar pattern emerged in other countries. In India, a “bride burning” takes place approximately once every two hours, to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry — but these rarely constitute news. When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news.
Amartya Sen, the ebullient Nobel Prize-winning economist, developed a gauge of gender inequality that is a striking reminder of the stakes involved. “More than 100 million women are missing,” Sen wrote in a classic essay in 1990 in The New York Review of Books, spurring a new field of research. Sen noted that in normal circumstances, women live longer than men, and so there are more females than males in much of the world. Yet in places where girls have a deeply unequal status, they vanish. China has 107 males for every 100 females in its overall population (and an even greater disproportion among newborns), and India has 108. The implication of the sex ratios, Sen later found, is that about 107 million females are missing from the globe today. Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently, deriving alternative figures for “missing women” of between 60 million and 107 million.
Girls vanish partly because they don’t get the same health care and food as boys. In India, for example, girls are less likely to be vaccinated than boys and are taken to the hospital only when they are sicker. A result is that girls in India from 1 to 5 years of age are 50 percent more likely to die than boys their age. In addition, ultrasound machines have allowed a pregnant woman to find out the sex of her fetus — and then get an abortion if it is female.
The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
For those women who live, mistreatment is sometimes shockingly brutal. If you’re reading this article, the phrase “gender discrimination” might conjure thoughts of unequal pay, underfinanced sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In the developing world, meanwhile, millions of women and girls are actually enslaved. While a precise number is hard to pin down, the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, estimates that at any one time there are 12.3 million people engaged in forced labor of all kinds, including sexual servitude. In Asia alone about one million children working in the sex trade are held in conditions indistinguishable from slavery, according to a U.N. report. Girls and women are locked in brothels and beaten if they resist, fed just enough to be kept alive and often sedated with drugs — to pacify them and often to cultivate addiction. India probably has more modern slaves than any other country.
Another huge burden for women in poor countries is maternal mortality, with one woman dying in childbirth around the world every minute. In the West African country Niger, a woman stands a one-in-seven chance of dying in childbirth at some point in her life. (These statistics are all somewhat dubious, because maternal mortality isn’t considered significant enough to require good data collection.) For all of India’s shiny new high-rises, a woman there still has a 1-in-70 lifetime chance of dying in childbirth. In contrast, the lifetime risk in the United States is 1 in 4,800; in Ireland, it is 1 in 47,600. The reason for the gap is not that we don’t know how to save lives of women in poor countries. It’s simply that poor, uneducated women in Africa and Asia have never been a priority either in their own countries or to donor nations.
ABBAS BE, A BEAUTIFUL teenage girl in the Indian city of Hyderabad, has chocolate skin, black hair and gleaming white teeth — and a lovely smile, which made her all the more marketable.
Money was tight in her family, so when she was about 14 she arranged to take a job as a maid in the capital, New Delhi. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten with a cricket bat, gang-raped and told that she would have to cater to customers. Three days after she arrived, Abbas and all 70 girls in the brothel were made to gather round and watch as the pimps made an example of one teenage girl who had fought customers. The troublesome girl was stripped naked, hogtied, humiliated and mocked, beaten savagely and then stabbed in the stomach until she bled to death in front of Abbas and the others.
Abbas was never paid for her work. Any sign of dissatisfaction led to a beating or worse; two more times, she watched girls murdered by the brothel managers for resisting. Eventually Abbas was freed by police and taken back to Hyderabad. She found a home in a shelter run by Prajwala, an organization that takes in girls rescued from brothels and teaches them new skills. Abbas is acquiring an education and has learned to be a bookbinder; she also counsels other girls about how to avoid being trafficked. As a skilled bookbinder, Abbas is able to earn a decent living, and she is now helping to put her younger sisters through school as well. With an education, they will be far less vulnerable to being trafficked. Abbas has moved from being a slave to being a producer, contributing to India’s economic development and helping raise her family.
Perhaps the lesson presented by both Abbas and Saima is the same: In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited resource isn’t oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren’t educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy. With education and with help starting businesses, impoverished women can earn money and support their countries as well as their families. They represent perhaps the best hope for fighting global poverty.
In East Asia, as we saw in our years of reporting there, women have already benefited from deep social changes. In countries like South Korea and Malaysia, China and Thailand, rural girls who previously contributed negligibly to the economy have gone to school and received educations, giving them the autonomy to move to the city to hold factory jobs. This hugely increased the formal labor force; when the women then delayed childbearing, there was a demographic dividend to the country as well. In the 1990s, by our estimations, some 80 percent of the employees on the assembly lines in coastal China were female, and the proportion across the manufacturing belt of East Asia was at least 70 percent.
The hours were long and the conditions wretched, just as in the sweatshops of the Industrial Revolution in the West. But peasant women were making money, sending it back home and sometimes becoming the breadwinners in their families. They gained new skills that elevated their status. Westerners encounter sweatshops and see exploitation, and indeed, many of these plants are just as bad as critics say. But it’s sometimes said in poor countries that the only thing worse than being exploited in a sweatshop is not being exploited in a sweatshop. Low-wage manufacturing jobs disproportionately benefited women in countries like China because these were jobs for which brute physical force was not necessary and women’s nimbleness gave them an advantage over men — which was not the case with agricultural labor or construction or other jobs typically available in poor countries. Strange as it may seem, sweatshops in Asia had the effect of empowering women. One hundred years ago, many women in China were still having their feet bound. Today, while discrimination and inequality and harassment persist, the culture has been transformed. In the major cities, we’ve found that Chinese men often do more domestic chores than American men typically do. And urban parents are often not only happy with an only daughter; they may even prefer one, under the belief that daughters are better than sons at looking after aging parents.
WHY DO MICROFINANCE organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks? One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men. Surprisingly frequently, we’ve come across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net; the mother says that the family couldn’t afford a bed net and she means it, but then we find the father at a nearby bar. He goes three evenings a week to the bar, spending $5 each week.
Our interviews and perusal of the data available suggest that the poorest families in the world spend approximately 10 times as much (20 percent of their incomes on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children (2 percent). If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects of poor countries. Girls, since they are the ones kept home from school now, would be the biggest beneficiaries. Moreover, one way to reallocate family expenditures in this way is to put more money in the hands of women. A series of studies has found that when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier.
In Ivory Coast, one research project examined the different crops that men and women grow for their private kitties: men grow coffee, cocoa and pineapple, and women grow plantains, bananas, coconuts and vegetables. Some years the “men’s crops” have good harvests and the men are flush with cash, and other years it is the women who prosper. Money is to some extent shared. But even so, the economist Esther Duflo of M.I.T. found that when the men’s crops flourish, the household spends more money on alcohol and tobacco. When the women have a good crop, the households spend more money on food. “When women command greater power, child health and nutrition improves,” Duflo says.
Such research has concrete implications: for example, donor countries should nudge poor countries to adjust their laws so that when a man dies, his property is passed on to his widow rather than to his brothers. Governments should make it easy for women to hold property and bank accounts — 1 percent of the world’s landowners are women — and they should make it much easier for microfinance institutions to start banks so that women can save money.
OF COURSE, IT’S FAIR to ask: empowering women is well and good, but can one do this effectively? Does foreign aid really work? William Easterly, an economist at New York University, has argued powerfully that shoveling money at poor countries accomplishes little. Some Africans, including Dambisa Moyo, author of “Dead Aid,” have said the same thing. The critics note that there has been no correlation between amounts of aid going to countries and their economic growth rates.
Our take is that, frankly, there is something to these criticisms. Helping people is far harder than it looks. Aid experiments often go awry, or small successes turn out to be difficult to replicate or scale up. Yet we’ve also seen, anecdotally and in the statistics, evidence that some kinds of aid have been enormously effective. The delivery of vaccinations and other kinds of health care has reduced the number of children who die every year before they reach the age of 5 to less than 10 million today from 20 million in 1960.
In general, aid appears to work best when it is focused on health, education and microfinance (although microfinance has been somewhat less successful in Africa than in Asia). And in each case, crucially, aid has often been most effective when aimed at women and girls; when policy wonks do the math, they often find that these investments have a net economic return. Only a small proportion of aid specifically targets women or girls, but increasingly donors are recognizing that that is where they often get the most bang for the buck.
In the early 1990s, the United Nations and the World Bank began to proclaim the potential resource that women and girls represent. “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” Larry Summers wrote when he was chief economist of the World Bank. Private aid groups and foundations shifted gears as well. “Women are the key to ending hunger in Africa,” declared the Hunger Project. The Center for Global Development issued a major report explaining “why and how to put girls at the center of development.” CARE took women and girls as the centerpiece of its anti-poverty efforts. “Gender inequality hurts economic growth,” Goldman Sachs concluded in a 2008 research report that emphasized how much developing countries could improve their economic performance by educating girls.
Bill Gates recalls once being invited to speak in Saudi Arabia and finding himself facing a segregated audience. Four-fifths of the listeners were men, on the left. The remaining one-fifth were women, all covered in black cloaks and veils, on the right. A partition separated the two groups. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience noted that Saudi Arabia aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology by 2010 and asked if that was realistic. “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,” Gates said, “you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10.” The small group on the right erupted in wild cheering.
Policy makers have gotten the message as well. President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Perhaps he was indoctrinated by his mother, who was one of the early adopters of microloans to women when she worked to fight poverty in Indonesia. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is a member of the White House Council, and she has also selected a talented activist, Melanne Verveer, to direct a new State Department Office of Global Women’s Issues. On Capitol Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has put Senator Barbara Boxer in charge of a new subcommittee that deals with women’s issues.
Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room. That’s in part why the Joint Chiefs of Staff and international security specialists are puzzling over how to increase girls’ education in countries like Afghanistan — and why generals have gotten briefings from Greg Mortenson, who wrote about building girls’ schools in his best seller, “Three Cups of Tea.” Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.
SO WHAT WOULD an agenda for fighting poverty through helping women look like? You might begin with the education of girls — which doesn’t just mean building schools. There are other innovative means at our disposal. A study in Kenya by Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist, examined six different approaches to improving educational performance, from providing free textbooks to child-sponsorship programs. The approach that raised student test scores the most was to offer girls who had scored in the top 15 percent of their class on sixth-grade tests a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade (and the glory of recognition at an assembly). Boys also performed better, apparently because they were pushed by the girls or didn’t want to endure the embarrassment of being left behind.
Another Kenyan study found that giving girls a new $6 school uniform every 18 months significantly reduced dropout rates and pregnancy rates. Likewise, there’s growing evidence that a cheap way to help keep high-school girls in school is to help them manage menstruation. For fear of embarrassing leaks and stains, girls sometimes stay home during their periods, and the absenteeism puts them behind and eventually leads them to drop out. Aid workers are experimenting with giving African teenage girls sanitary pads, along with access to a toilet where they can change them. The Campaign for Female Education, an organization devoted to getting more girls into school in Africa, helps girls with their periods, and a new group, Sustainable Health Enterprises, is trying to do the same.
And so, if President Obama wanted to adopt a foreign-aid policy that built on insights into the role of women in development, he would do well to start with education. We would suggest a $10 billion effort over five years to educate girls around the world. This initiative would focus on Africa but would also support — and prod — Asian countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan to do better. This plan would also double as population policy, for it would significantly reduce birthrates — and thus help poor countries overcome the demographic obstacles to economic growth.
But President Obama might consider two different proposals as well. We would recommend that the United States sponsor a global drive to eliminate iodine deficiency around the globe, by helping countries iodize salt. About a third of households in the developing world do not get enough iodine, and a result is often an impairment in brain formation in the fetal stages. For reasons that are unclear, this particularly affects female fetuses and typically costs children 10 to 15 I.Q. points. Research by Erica Field of Harvard found that daughters of women given iodine performed markedly better in school. Other research suggests that salt iodization would yield benefits worth nine times the cost.
We would also recommend that the United States announce a 12-year, $1.6 billion program to eradicate obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury that is one of the worst scourges of women in the developing world. An obstetric fistula, which is a hole created inside the body by a difficult childbirth, leaves a woman incontinent, smelly, often crippled and shunned by her village — yet it can be repaired for a few hundred dollars. Dr. Lewis Wall, president of the Worldwide Fistula Fund, and Michael Horowitz, a conservative agitator on humanitarian issues, have drafted the 12-year plan — and it’s eminently practical and built on proven methods. Evidence that fistulas can be prevented or repaired comes from impoverished Somaliland, a northern enclave of Somalia, where an extraordinary nurse-midwife named Edna Adan has built her own maternity hospital to save the lives of the women around her. A former first lady of Somalia and World Health Organization official, Adan used her savings to build the hospital, which is supported by a group of admirers in the U.S. who call themselves Friends of Edna Maternity Hospital.
For all the legitimate concerns about how well humanitarian aid is spent, investments in education, iodizing salt and maternal health all have a proven record of success. And the sums are modest: all three components of our plan together amount to about what the U.S. has provided Pakistan since 9/11 — a sum that accomplished virtually nothing worthwhile either for Pakistanis or for Americans.
ONE OF THE MANY aid groups that for pragmatic reasons has increasingly focused on women is Heifer International, a charitable organization based in Arkansas that has been around for decades. The organization gives cows, goats and chickens to farmers in poor countries. On assuming the presidency of Heifer in 1992, the activist Jo Luck traveled to Africa, where one day she found herself sitting on the ground with a group of young women in a Zimbabwean village. One of them was Tererai Trent.
Tererai is a long-faced woman with high cheekbones and a medium brown complexion; she has a high forehead and tight cornrows. Like many women around the world, she doesn’t know when she was born and has no documentation of her birth. As a child, Tererai didn’t get much formal education, partly because she was a girl and was expected to do household chores. She herded cattle and looked after her younger siblings. Her father would say, Let’s send our sons to school, because they will be the breadwinners. Tererai’s brother, Tinashe, was forced to go to school, where he was an indifferent student. Tererai pleaded to be allowed to attend but wasn’t permitted to do so. Tinashe brought his books home each afternoon, and Tererai pored over them and taught herself to read and write. Soon she was doing her brother’s homework every evening.
The teacher grew puzzled, for Tinashe was a poor student in class but always handed in exemplary homework. Finally, the teacher noticed that the handwriting was different for homework and for class assignments and whipped Tinashe until he confessed the truth. Then the teacher went to the father, told him that Tererai was a prodigy and begged that she be allowed to attend school. After much argument, the father allowed Tererai to attend school for a couple of terms, but then married her off at about age 11.
Tererai’s husband barred her from attending school, resented her literacy and beat her whenever she tried to practice her reading by looking at a scrap of old newspaper. Indeed, he beat her for plenty more as well. She hated her marriage but had no way out. “If you’re a woman and you are not educated, what else?” she asks.
Yet when Jo Luck came and talked to Tererai and other young women in her village, Luck kept insisting that things did not have to be this way. She kept saying that they could achieve their goals, repeatedly using the word “achievable.” The women caught the repetition and asked the interpreter to explain in detail what “achievable” meant. That gave Luck a chance to push forward. “What are your hopes?” she asked the women, through the interpreter. Tererai and the others were puzzled by the question, because they didn’t really have any hopes. But Luck pushed them to think about their dreams, and reluctantly, they began to think about what they wanted.
Tererai timidly voiced hope of getting an education. Luck pounced and told her that she could do it, that she should write down her goals and methodically pursue them. After Luck and her entourage disappeared, Tererai began to study on her own, in hiding from her husband, while raising her five children. Painstakingly, with the help of friends, she wrote down her goals on a piece of paper: “One day I will go to the United States of America,” she began, for Goal 1. She added that she would earn a college degree, a master’s degree and a Ph.D. — all exquisitely absurd dreams for a married cattle herder in Zimbabwe who had less than one year’s formal education. But Tererai took the piece of paper and folded it inside three layers of plastic to protect it, and then placed it in an old can. She buried the can under a rock where she herded cattle.
Then Tererai took correspondence classes and began saving money. Her self-confidence grew as she did brilliantly in her studies, and she became a community organizer for Heifer. She stunned everyone with superb schoolwork, and the Heifer aid workers encouraged her to think that she could study in America. One day in 1998, she received notice that she had been admitted to Oklahoma State University.
Some of the neighbors thought that a woman should focus on educating her children, not herself. “I can’t talk about my children’s education when I’m not educated myself,” Tererai responded. “If I educate myself, then I can educate my children.” So she climbed into an airplane and flew to America.
At Oklahoma State, Tererai took every credit she could and worked nights to make money. She earned her undergraduate degree, brought her five children to America and started her master’s, then returned to her village. She dug up the tin can under the rock and took out the paper on which she had scribbled her goals. She put check marks beside the goals she had fulfilled and buried the tin can again.
In Arkansas, she took a job working for Heifer — while simultaneously earning a master’s degree part time. When she had her M.A., Tererai again returned to her village. After embracing her mother and sister, she dug up her tin can and checked off her next goal. Now she is working on her Ph.D. at Western Michigan University.
Tererai has completed her course work and is completing a dissertation about AIDS programs among the poor in Africa. She will become a productive economic asset for Africa and a significant figure in the battle against AIDS. And when she has her doctorate, Tererai will go back to her village and, after hugging her loved ones, go out to the field and dig up her can again.
There are many metaphors for the role of foreign assistance. For our part, we like to think of aid as a kind of lubricant, a few drops of oil in the crankcase of the developing world, so that gears move freely again on their own. That is what the assistance to Tererai amounted to: a bit of help where and when it counts most, which often means focusing on women like her. And now Tererai is gliding along freely on her own — truly able to hold up half the sky.
Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times Op-Ed columnist and Sheryl WuDunn is a former Times correspondent who works in finance and philanthropy. This essay is adapted from their book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” which will be published next month by Alfred A. Knopf. You can learn more about “Half the Sky” at nytimes.com/ontheground
Development Challenges in Pakistan
Middle East Institute, Washington DC
19 August 2009
The Middle East Institute’s Center for Pakistan Studies hosted Shamsh Kassin-Lakha for an address focused on the progress of locally-managed social development in Pakistan. Dr. Lakha is a veteran government and education policymaker and former President of the Aga Khan University. He based his statements on the growth of two elements in Pakistan—local philanthropy and civil society—as the foundation of local social development.
Dr. Lakha cited acute poverty, lack of good governance and the poor mobilization of adequate resources as the contributors to uncertainty and radicalization in Pakistani society. These have been detrimental to development. Advancement in infrastructure and standards of life in Pakistan have only reached a few, particularly the elite. Such a lack of equity, he contended, causes widespread discontent with such pervasive social injustice, and potentially breeds radicalization. Moreover, the
international community is experiencing donor fatigue due to the misappropriation of funding in development projects.
As the development challenge has grown in Pakistan, Dr. Lakha said civil society groups have taken on the tasks of implementing development programs in a variety of areas, including women’s empowerment, economic growth, judicial reform and environmental protection. Civil society groups have prospered from a healthy partnership with the state, which has in recent years opened itself to counsel and cooperation with citizen bodies and non-state partners. Grassroots development
projects are effective in addressing basic community needs. Supported by philanthropy, such initiatives can become credible conduits of change, he said.
Yet the big question for Pakistan is how philanthropic and religious giving can be translated into sustainable social development. “Organized philanthropy” provides effective means by which to optimize donations from local Pakistanis and the diaspora community, Dr. Lakha mentioned. The largest such initiative is the Pakistan Centre of Philanthropy (PCP), which facilitates the translation of donor gifts into social development, providing a link between grassroots initiatives, the government
and the donor community. The PCP offers certification of NGOs, insuring the credibility of projects and thus fostering trust in the delivery of funds to programs.
With a rise in charitable giving in Pakistan since 2000, as well as external donations, private-public partnerships of “organized philanthropy” are an effective model for project delivery in Pakistan. Such a model facilitates grassroots—rather than externally implemented—development projects. Dr. Lakha cited the large potential for the expansion of such programs and private-public partnerships in Pakistan.
Religious philanthropy emanates from efforts to promote equity and social justice, he said, supporting locally-run and volunteer-based development initiatives can deliver such ends.
FMFB and Harvard University to Research Social Performance
Karachi, Pakistan, 11 September 2009 - The First MicroFinanceBank Ltd. (FMFB) recently signed an agreement with Harvard University to develop social performance indicators through a participatory approach whereby the poor articulate their needs and influence the Bank’s creation of microfinance products and services.
The ultimate aim of this project is to integrate the social performance indicators into the Bank’s organisational performance management system so they can be used to assess the impact of the Bank’s services on poor populations in Pakistan.
Guy Stuart, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is working with FMFB to conduct research on a participatory approach for the development of the indicators. This project will survey 10,000 households throughout Pakistan to understand how communities rate poverty and what they consider as poverty indicators. The survey will differentiate the rural, urban and mountain rural areas of Pakistan. The Social Performance Research (SPR) project has been undertaken in partnership with Harvard University and with financial assistance from the Swiss Development Corporation.
As part of the SPR project, FMFB and Harvard conducted a series of participatory need assessment surveys across Pakistan in addition to Participatory Wealth Ranking (PWR) exercises. Through these exercises, a cross section of poor households in rural and urban areas was engaged to identify and prioritise their needs so that the Bank could address them through targeted financial services. These indicators will be integrated into FMFB’s management information system so that the Bank can conduct impact assessment surveys to track the changes in the livelihood of the poor in relation to its services. The methodology for this project was piloted in 500 households, in nine areas throughout Pakistan. Now that the pilot is complete, 10,000 households will be surveyed.
FMFB, as a member of the Global Social Performance Task Force, has also been engaged to translate its social development mission into practice through the implementation of social performance management into its core operations.
Over the last 70 years, the Harvard Kennedy School has been leading research into public policy and is one of the world’s most prominent social science research institutions, with 15 centres of research and more than 30 degree programmes. Each year, faculty at the school write more than 35 books and publish more than 300 academic papers on subjects ranging from the nature of leadership to urban poverty. In partnership with FMFB, the Harvard Kennedy School is responsible for the research and the development of the scorecards and evaluating the results of the PWR exercises.
FMFB is a non-commercial, private sector microfinance bank licensed by the State Bank of Pakistan. FMFB has been ranked as seventh among top 100 microfinance institutions by World Bank affiliate, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor. The Bank strives to alleviate poverty through sustainable economic development by offering credit, savings and life insurance services along with an efficient and low cost fund transfer service to its target populations. FMFB has over 157 business locations comprising 89 automated branches and 68 Pakistan Post Sub Offices throughout Pakistan. From December 2008 to June 2009, FMFB has disbursed over 219,820 loans, valued at PKR 3.054 million (US $0.04 million).
For further details, please contact:
Head of Communications & Brand Management
Tel: +92-21-35822432, 35370095
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About the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance
Since its establishment in 2005, AKAM has brought together over 25 years of microfinance activities, programmes and banks that were administered by sister agencies within the Aga Khan Development Network. The underlying objectives of AKAM are to reduce poverty, diminish the vulnerability of poor populations and alleviate economic and social exclusion. AKAM is a not-for-profit, non-denominational, international development agency created under Swiss law. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. It is governed by an independent Board of Directors. The Chairman of the Board is His Highness the Aga Khan.
Kenya charity agencies given tax relief
By KENNETH OGOSIAPosted Wednesday, September 16 2009 at 22:15
Money donated to charity organisations will be exempted from tax as the Kenya Treasury seeks innovative ways to reduce hunger and human suffering in the wake of prolonged drought.
Humanitarian organisations meeting under the East African Association of Grant-makers have asked well-wishers to take advantage of the waiver to help communities facing starvation.
The association’s chief executive, Mrs Lucy Githaiga, on Wednesday said the food deficit and drought highlighted in the press called for concerted efforts to support the government’s emergency programme.
Organisations that are members of the association include the Aga Khan Foundation, the Rattansi Educational Trust, the Kabaka Foundation and Kilimo Trust.
All of them are worried about the high rate of children dropping out of school due to hunger — an issue the Daily Nation raised on Tuesday.
Under the Income Tax Act for Charitable Organisations (2007), the Finance minister can approve any project that helps in reducing poverty or suffering or that helps develop education in the country for the tax waiver.
“We are allowed to claim deduction of capital expenses, administrative expenses, repayment of loans, payment of taxes and donations to other trusts from the total income,” Mrs Githaiga said.
On Tuesday, the Nation published a report revealing how more than 500,000 children have been forced out of school by hunger, and thousands more risk joining them if nothing is done.
It said that in the Rift Valley, for example, rain failure has forced families to scavenge for food in the most unlikely places, including quarries, and most consider themselves lucky if they have a single meal in a day.
In Eastern and North Eastern provinces, and in pastoral communities in particular, children have abandoned school in droves and left their homes in search of water and pasture for their families’ livestock.
The school feeding programme under the World Food Programme came just a week after the start of the Third Term, at the end of which Standard Eight pupils sit their national exams.
However, the plan is likely to be strained by the millions of households across the country that will rely on food donations until harvests are made from the coming rains.
The report estimates that 3.8 million Kenyans will need food aid in the next six months — a sharp increase from the 2.6 million currently receiving food rations from the WFP.
[Feature]The women who would restore a symbol of Hunza’s history
September 21, 2009
by Noor & Asghar Khan
As the nine hundred years old Altit Fort gets completely restored in the year 2010, not only would facade of the ancient fort have changed in the middle of Hunza valley, a deeper social change would also have taken roots in terms of perceptions regarding gender roles in the society.
Traditionally labour of the the female folk of Hunza was limited to bringing up children, grazing animal, watering crop fields, collecting wood for fuel, grass for the cattle, or doing other indoor choirs, as allowed by the society. However, with the passage of time the women of Hunza adopted other roles entering other mainstream professions, like teaching, medicine, politics, social development and, recently, the armed forces. This was made possible by the education system introduced by His Highness the Aga Khan, through AKDN.
Now, the women of Hunza have taken yet another step towards social emancipation.
Seventy percent of the total people working on restoration of the fort are trained female skilled workers. Female electricians, carpenters, masons and plumbers restoring the Altit fort are making history by venturing into new areas of opportunity and expression, hitherto considered forbidden for the “fair” sex.
This is a welcome change as far as economic, psychological and social independence of the women of Hunza is concerned.
The restoration project is undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The trust has trained and employed a large number of women of Hunza, creating new opportunities of earning livelihood for half of the population, while also breaking taboos that limited choices for the women to a selected number of gender roles, as determined by a patriarchical society.
It is, now, also important to further work for objective sensitization of the society at large regarding the changed gender roles and their implications. One major negative implication can be lesser work available for the men who used to perform such tasks in the past. This might frustrate a segment of the society, no matter how small.
What is required is a holistic, inclusive, strategic planfor balanced social development where the emancipation of one segment of the society does not shrink choices for the other, neutralizing the impact of change. This is vital for maintaining social harmony and family life, in a changed and charged social environment.
Men of Hunza have, logically, been supportive of the processes that have led to creation of the society that we have today. What they need to further understand is that when the social roles are changed, rules of the game of social life also change, by default. They will have to learn to live and compete in a beautifully different and a meritocratic society.
October 26, 2009
Bill to Increase Access to Contraception Is Dividing Filipinos
By CARLOS H. CONDE
MANILA — Gina Judilla already had three children the first time she tried to terminate a pregnancy. “I jumped down the stairs, hoping that would cause a miscarriage,” she said. The fetus survived and is now an 8-year-old boy.
Three years later, pregnant again, she drank an herbal concoction that was supposed to induce abortion. That, too, failed.
Three years ago, in another unsuccessful attempt to end a pregnancy, she took Cytotec, a drug to treat gastric ulcers that is widely known in the Philippines as an “abortion pill.”
What drove Ms. Judilla, a 37-year-old manicurist, to such extreme measures is a story of personal tribulation familiar to many Filipino women. She and her unemployed husband are very poor — barely able to buy vitamins for their youngest child, let alone send more than two of their older children to school.
“When I had my third child, I swore to myself that I will never get pregnant again because I know we could not afford to have another one,” Ms. Judilla said in a recent interview at her home in Pasig City, on the eastern outskirts of Manila.
Abortion is illegal in the Philippines. Birth control and related health services have long been available to those who can afford to pay for them through the private medical system, but 70 percent of the population is too poor and depends on heavily subsidized care. In 1991, prime responsibility for delivering public health services shifted from the central government to the local authorities, who have broad discretion over which services are dispensed.
Many communities responded by making birth control unavailable.
More recently, however, family planning advocates have been making headway in their campaign to change that. Legislation before the Philippine Congress, called the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act, would require governments down to the local level to provide free or low-cost reproductive health services, including condoms, birth control pills, tubal ligations and vasectomies. It would also mandate sex education in all schools, public and private, from fifth grade through high school.
Supporters of the bill cite urgent public health needs. A 2006 government survey, which interviewed 46,000 women, found that between 2000 and 2006, only half of Filipino women of reproductive age used birth control of any kind. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization based in the United States that researches reproductive health policy, 54 percent of the 3.4 million pregnancies in the Philippines in 2008 were unintended.
Most of those unintended pregnancies — 92 percent — resulted from not using birth control, the institute said, and the rest from birth control that failed. Those unintended pregnancies, the institute says, contributed to an estimated half-million abortions that year, despite a ban on the procedure. Most of the abortions are done clandestinely and in unsanitary conditions. Many women resort to crude methods like those Ms. Judilla tried.
The bill’s main proponent in Congress, Representative Edcel C. Lagman, also says there is a need for a check on population growth in the interest of national welfare. The Philippine population is estimated at 98 million and is growing at more than 2 percent annually, one of the highest rates in Asia. “Unbridled population growth stunts socioeconomic development and aggravates poverty,” Mr. Lagman wrote in an op-ed column in The Philippine Daily Inquirer recently.
But attempts to make reproductive services more broadly available have met resistance, leading to the defeat of several bills in Congress over the past decade.
The main opposition in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country has come from the church and affiliated lay organizations, which say the proposed law would legalize abortion. In churches across the country, signs have been posted that read: “Yes to Life! No to RH Bill!”
One organization, the Catholic Alumni United for Life, said in a position paper that the legislation would promote abortion by financing abortion-inducing drugs, and therefore “violates explicit Catholic teaching.”
The Rev. Melvin Castro of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, an arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said the Catholic Church and the laity would fight the bill, if passed into law, up to the Supreme Court.
“The Constitution is very clear that the state should protect life from conception up to its natural end,” Father Castro said.“Regardless of their religion, Filipinos are God-fearing and family-loving. This bill will change that culture.”
Still, proponents of the bill are optimistic, noting that this is the first time such legislation has won the support of the House committee on health. Previous proposals never even made it into committee. They also cite public opinion surveys that show support for the bill and hope it can be passed before the current Congress adjourns in June.
It seems certain that debate over the legislation will heat up with the approach of national elections in May.
Already, the church has issued statements calling on Senator Benigno Aquino III, expected to be the opposition’s presidential candidate, to oppose the bill. Mr. Aquino, the son of Corazon Aquino, the late president, who was extremely close to the church, has said he will not do this.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is barred from running for another term, has been sending mixed signals about her position. In previous statements, however, she has said she will let her Catholic faith guide her.
“My faith has a very, very strong influence on me,” she said last year.
Other politicians, particularly those on the local level, have chosen to side with the church. In 2000, Jose Lito Atienza, who was mayor of Manila at the time, issued an executive order ending government-financed birth control in the capital. Condoms and other contraceptives were removed from government clinics and hospitals. Patients who asked for them were turned away.
Mr. Atienza, who is now the environment secretary, defends his order as “the right thing to do.”
“Contrary to what many are saying, that policy was meant to protect women, to protect their wombs from those who want to take away life,” he said.
Passage of the reproductive health bill would automatically nullify Mr. Atienza’s order, said Clara Rita A. Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights, a nonprofit group that supports the bill. “The poor women of this country need this law to protect them,” she said.
November 1, 2009
New Life for the Pariahs
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Perhaps the most wretched people on this planet are those suffering obstetric fistulas.
This is a childbirth injury, often suffered by a teenager in Africa or Asia whose pelvis is not fully grown. She suffers obstructed labor, has no access to a C-section, and endures internal injuries that leave her incontinent — steadily trickling urine and sometimes feces through her vagina.
She stinks. She becomes a pariah. She is typically abandoned by her husband and forced to live by herself on the edge of her village. She is scorned, bewildered, humiliated and desolate, often feeling cursed by God.
I’ve met many of these women — or, often, girls of 13, 14, 15 — in half a dozen countries, for there are three million or four million of them around the world. They are the lepers of the 21st century.
Just about the happiest thing that can happen to such a woman is an encounter with Dr. Lewis Wall, an ob-gyn at Washington University in St. Louis. A quiet, self-effacing but relentless man of 59, Dr. Wall has devoted his life to helping these most voiceless of the voiceless, promoting the $300 surgeries that repair fistulas and typically return the patients to full health.
“There’s no more rewarding experience for a surgeon than a successful fistula repair,” Dr. Wall reflected. “There are a lot of operations you do that solve a problem — I can take out a uterus that has a tumor in it. But this is life-transforming for everybody who gets it done. It’s astonishing. You take a human being who has been in the abyss of despair and — boom! — you have a transformed woman. She has her life back.”
“In Liberia, I saw a woman who had developed a fistula 35 years earlier. It turned out to be a tiny injury; it took 20 minutes to repair it. For want of a 20-minute operation, this woman had lived in a pool of urine for 35 years.”
Dr. Wall started out as an anthropologist working in West Africa, and he speaks Hausa, an African language. But he concluded that the world needed doctors more than it needed anthropologists, so at age 27 he went to medical school.
He has had a dazzling career as an academic, writing several books and scores of journal articles, but his passion has been ending the scourge of fistulas. In 1995, he founded the Worldwide Fistula Fund, and he has been campaigning tirelessly year after year to build a fistula hospital in West Africa. That has been his life, his dream.
Now it is a reality.
The West African country of Niger recently approved Dr. Wall’s plan for a fistula hospital, affiliated with an existing leprosy hospital run by SIM, a Christian missionary organization. Eventually, when $850,000 in fund-raising is complete, a new 40-bed fistula hospital, modeled on the extremely successful Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital of Ethiopia, will rise on vacant ground next to the leprosy hospital. (For information on how to help, please visit my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground.)
For the time being, an existing operating theater in the leprosy hospital has been renovated for fistula repairs. Dr. Wall has already shipped a container of medical supplies to Niger, and he expects to go with a team to conduct the first fistula repairs there in December.
The day the final approval came through, Dr. Wall sent me an elated e-mail message with the news. “There are tears in my eyes,” he wrote.
Aside from repairing fistulas, the hospital will also organize outreach efforts to promote maternal health and reduce deaths in childbirth. It will also undertake education and microfinance efforts to empower women more broadly.
It could be just the beginning. The new hospital is part of a grand vision to eradicate fistulas worldwide by building 40 such hospitals in the world’s poorest countries. The plan, drawn up by Dr. Wall, would cost $1.5 billion over 12 years and operate as an American foreign aid program.
I can’t imagine a better use of foreign assistance dollars — or better symbolism than having the most powerful nation on earth reach out to help the most stigmatized, suffering people on the planet. The proposal for the global plan is circulating in Congress, the State Department and the White House, as well as among religious and aid organizations that are lining up to back it. President Obama hasn’t signaled a position yet, but I hope he will seize upon it.
The new fistula hospital in Niger is a tribute to the heroic doggedness of Dr. Wall, and with luck it will be replicated in many other countries. Anybody who has seen a fistula patient after surgery — a teenager’s shy, radiant smile at something so simple as being able to control her wastes — can’t conceive of a better investment.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
Founded in 2006 by Mr. Nasruddin Rupani, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin and a renowned industrialist in the global Gems and Jewelry industry, the Rupani Foundation aims to reduce poverty and promote social entrepreneurship within Mountain communities. Motivated by the Islamic ethics of philanthropy and the ethos of corporate social responsibility, the Rupani family has resolved to invest their time, knowledge and resources toward this end.
The Foundation's objective is to create economic opportunities, knowledgeable leadership, and 'aristocracies of merit' for the marginalized communities, particularly women and youth. The first significant area of endeavor is to assist the Mountain communities in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and the surrounding regions.
Charity drive looks to spread 'Joi' around
By Tamara Gignac, Calgary Herald
November 27, 2009
Hafiz Mitha (left) and co-workers (from left) Mathew Chow, Sheryse Legaspi, Thomas Politeski, Paul Oslund, Phead Meas and Steven Mah are hoping to distribute 1000 boxes to needy people in Calgary this Christmas season.Photograph by: Grant Black, Calgary Herald
The recession has been kind to Hafiz Mitha. Business is booming at his upstart web design firm, Joi Media, but the 25-year-old entrepreneur is troubled by the fact that many in the city are struggling to afford basic necessities.
With Christmas fast approaching, the company has launched a citywide campaign to supply useful items and gifts to children and adults in need.
Dubbed "Joi to the World," Mitha and business partner Brock Murray hope to fill 1,000 shoeboxes and distribute them to various agencies in the city.
Joi filled 350 boxes in 2008 and hopes to more than triple that number this year.
They are getting a little help from corporate donors like Scotiabank but are reaching out to the public to assist in their goal.
"Our company has actually thrived through the recession. We've grown to three times the size and would like to fill three times the boxes," said Mitha.
"We've been so blessed and we want to give back to our community."
Some may hold an unfortunate misconception that 20-somethings are apathetic when it comes to philanthropy, but the Joi campaign proves otherwise, said the former banker and University of Calgary graduate.
The initiative was spearheaded entirely by Joi staff --a team of people under the age of 27.
Not only that, 90 per cent of last year's donations came from the 18-to-35 demographic.
The Joi campaign is looking to fill shoeboxes with a variety items for children, such as diapers, wipes and bottles as well as school supplies, colouring books and crayons.
For adults, toiletry products that include toothpaste, deodorant and soap are ideal as well as useful items such as warm hats and gloves, transit tickets, books and grocery store vouchers. Gifts such as zoo passes, movie tickets or department store gift certificates are also welcome.
These are just ideas, said Mitha. It's up to the individual donor what he or she would like to give; however, used items and most food products will not be accepted.
Items collected will be distributed to various Calgary agencies, including the Calgary Women's Emergency Shelter, Inn From the Cold, Sheriff King Home and Awo Taan Healing Lodge.
Individual boxes can be picked up at Joi Media's office. The company will deliver and pick up larger quantities from interested donors. For more information, call 403-457-8008 or visit www.joimedia.comand click on the Joi to the World icon.
December 6, 2009
Aid Gives Alternative to African Orphanages
By CELIA W. DUGGER
MCHINJI DISTRICT, Malawi — The Home of Hope orphanage provides Chikodano Lupanga, 15, with three nutritious meals a day, new school uniforms, sensible black shoes and a decent education.
Her orphaned cousin Jean, 11, who balked at entering the orphanage and lives with her grown sister, has no shoes, raggedy clothes and an often-empty belly. Repeating third grade for the third time, Jean said she bitterly regretted that she did not grow up in the orphanage where Madonna adopted a boy. Had she stayed, she whispered, “I would have learned to read.”
In a country as desperately poor as Malawi, children placed in institutions are often seen as the lucky ones. But even as orphanages have sprung up across Africa with donations from Western churches and charities, the families who care for the vast majority of the continent’s orphans have gotten no help at all, household surveys show.
Researchers now say a far better way to assist these bereft children is with simple allocations of cash — $4 to $20 a month in an experimental program under way here in Malawi — given directly to the destitute extended families who take them in. That program could provide grants to eight families looking after some two dozen children for the $1,500 a year it costs to sponsor one child at the Home of Hope, estimated Candace M. Miller, a Boston University professor and a lead researcher in the project.
Experts and child advocates maintain that orphanages are expensive and often harm children’s development by separating them from their families. Most of the children living in institutions around the world have a surviving parent or close relative, and they most commonly entered orphanages because of poverty, according to new reports by Unicef and Save the Children.
“Because there’s money in orphanages, people are creating them and getting children in them,” said Dr. Biziwick Mwale, executive director of Malawi’s National AIDS Commission.
The Home of Hope’s founder, the Rev. Thomson Chipeta, 80, said children needed the orphanage because their families were so poor. “If the children can be given the privilege of a home like this one, it’s much better,” he said.
Madonna’s charity, Raising Malawi, pays for most of Home of Hope’s operating budget and also supports community centers where orphans who remain with their families can go for food and services, said the charity’s executive director, Philippe van den Bossche. He said orphanages were not the best solution but were needed when families could not or would not care for children.
In Madonna’s video on AIDS orphans in Malawi, “I Am Because We Are,” she says she was drawn to the country when she was told such children “were everywhere, living on the streets, sleeping under bridges, hiding in abandoned buildings, being abducted, kidnapped, raped.”
But across Africa, demographic data shows that even the poorest extended families usually take in children whose parents have died. And while AIDS has worsened the orphan crisis in Africa, the United Nations recently estimated that of 55.3 million children in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost at least one parent, AIDS accounted for 14.7 million of them.
The Joint Learning Initiative on Children and H.I.V./AIDS, which brought together dozens of international experts to review hundreds of studies, this year strongly endorsed programs that give the poorest families modest financial support, including cash transfer programs like Malawi’s.
More than a billion dollars in foreign aid has been spent over the past five years for orphans and vulnerable children, but some major donors cannot break down how their contributions were spent. Researchers say donors need to weed out ineffective, misconceived programs, scrutinizing those that are managed by international nongovernmental organizations or governments but reliant on volunteers in villages to do the work.
“An enormous amount of money is going into these efforts with very little return,” said Linda Richter, who runs the children’s programs at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council.
Here in Malawi, hundreds of community groups have won small grants to start small labor-intensive businesses and are expected to donate all the profits to orphans. Pauline Peters, a Harvard University anthropologist, and Susan Watkins, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who have independently done years of field work in Malawian villages, say orphans have received few benefits from the millions spent.
“The donors have fantasies of the way things work — that you can mobilize villagers to care for children who aren’t theirs without paying them to do it,” Professor Watkins said.
In Kandikiti, where Jean Lupanga’s family lives, a group of 20 villagers won a $4,000 grant last year to start a pig farm to help orphans. The group bought nine pure-bred hogs, built them a residence nicer than those of most people and posted volunteers to guard it round the clock. They also bought 10 bicycles, vaccines for the pigs and paid their members to attend training sessions.
More than a year later, they have not sold a single one of the white, floppy-eared, European-bred pigs. In a village where scruffy local pigs trot freely among the huts, the group’s leader fell silent when asked who could afford such expensive pork.
“We’ve never done this before,” said Selina Sakala, 47, chairwoman of Mmasomuyere Orphan Care.
Malawi’s cash transfer experiment, financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and supported by Unicef, directly helps destitute families who care for many children or have no able-bodied adult to earn a living. Children whose families got the grants were healthier, better fed and clothed and more likely to be in school than children in families that got none, according to a randomized community trial conducted by Boston University and the University of Malawi and paid for by Unicef and the United States government.
Professor Miller said the program had yielded “fabulous benefits” but cautioned that the country needed better safeguards to prevent corruption and fraud in the future.
Throngs of Malawians gathered one recent day under shade trees to collect the cash. Many grandparents had walked miles on bare feet as cracked and parched as the earth. Officials in plastic chairs checked photo identity cards. Recipients unable to read or write left an inky thumb print, then twisted the precious bills into the hem of a skirt or tucked them in a pocket.
Families who have been collecting the grants for a year or two say they have made a difference. Velenasi Jackson spends the $20 she gets each month on staple foods and clothes for the 10 orphaned grandchildren who share her two-room mud hut in the village of Nyoka. They no longer go whole days with nothing to eat, she said.
“A gift is never too small,” she said.
Here in the Mchinji District, the Home of Hope looks after 653 children, from infants to teenagers. Its founder, Mr. Chipeta, leaning on a hand-carved wooden staff, gestured to each building on a tour of the grounds and proudly named the donor who paid for it. Among them were churches and individuals from the United States, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, South Korea and Germany.
In a letter Mr. Chipeta gives visitors, he says the home needs their prayers, love and support — with the phrase “See Our Budget” in parentheses.
Chikodano Lupanga has lived at the home since she was 6. Her house mother, Enelesi Chiduka, 59, said she was responsible for looking after 80 girls, making sure they showered twice a day, attended daily prayer sessions and did their chores.
Quiet and serious, Chikodano said her family could never have afforded to send her to high school or to give her a diet that included chicken and fish. “I have lots of friends, and the other needs not met at home are met here — school fees, clothes, shoes,” she said.
Nine years ago, Chikodano’s cousin Alice, now 31, took her and Jean to the Home of Hope. Chikodano went quietly, but Jean, only 2 or 3 years old and deeply attached to her big sister Alice, sobbed inconsolably and remained with Alice. The family has recently started getting the monthly cash grant, but it is too soon for it to have made much impact.
Jean, a shy, expressive girl with a heart-shaped face, lives the arduous life common to poor rural children across Africa. She fetches water, pounds maize and cooks over smoky fires. At last glance, she was scrubbing Alice’s little boy with soapy well water sloshed from a plastic bucket.
Investing in Early Childhood Development (ECD)
Posted on 21/04/2009
Worldwide 200 million children under five years of age are not achieving their development potential due to poverty, poor health and nutrition, and lack of stimulation and learning opportunities[i]. The vast majority of these children are from disadvantaged households and communities in low-income countries.
Early childhood lays critical foundations for a person’s entire life – a finding demonstrated not only by the latest advanced research in neuroscience and genetics but by nutrition and child development studies and programme evaluation data, including data from AKDN’s own programmes. Investments in Early Childhood Development (ECD) offer outstanding returns – both in human and financial terms. Numerous studies have demonstrated the improvements in education, health, social development and economic growth indicators attributable to ECD. World Bank economists[ii] conclude that, “well targeted ECD programmes cost less and produce more dramatic and lasting results than education investments at any other level”. ECD programmes help reduce the social and economic disparities and gender inequalities that divide societies and perpetuate poverty and are preferable to costly remedial action.
What are Early Childhood Development programmes?
Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes are concerned with ensuring young children have a good start in life. They address health, nutrition and protection from harm. They offer opportunities for enjoyable learning and promote a sense of identity and self-worth. They enable students to communicate effectively and get along with others.
ECD programmes are about influencing people and influencing the contexts in which children are growing up so that the overall development of children is supported. Social, cultural, economic, geographical and political contexts are key. Within the lives of young children, “contexts” translates into the different environments which impact on them, including families, communities, health services, ECD centres, schools, district bodies and national policy. ECD programmes are about influencing these factors and addressing issues which undermine children's development.
ECD programmes are defined internationally as being concerned with children from before birth to the age of eight years. A wide range of initiatives fall under the ECD umbrella – from working with families to changing systems which marginalize, neglect or exclude some children. They are about a range of supports for families, communities and institutions that strengthen the ability to care for and nurture children.
Early Childhood Development programmes are therefore concerned with:
Interactions within the family:Parenting/ caregiving programmes (within maternal and child health, nutrition, or education initiatives) emphasize parents and other family caregivers as the first and most important carers and teachers of children;
ECD centres: Structured programmes aim to provide a safe and secure environment, warm and responsive caregivers, and stimulating learning activities for children. These may be formal or informal centres/spaces in the community, homes, local schools or work sites;
Community planning and mobilisation: Community-level initiatives work to create enabling and safe environments for young children and promote access to food, healthcare, ECD provision, safe water, adequate sanitation, etc.;
Influencing community-based health service provision, disease prevention and health promotion: ECD initiatives in health care promote services that are supportive of the continuum of maternal and child health, nutrition, and overall development (including pre- and post-natal care, immunisation, growth monitoring, mental health, etc.);
Influencing the early years of primary education: These initiatives work with government and non-government primary schools to promote the implementation of child-centred, active-learning methods in early primary grades and support a smooth transition for children as they enter school from home or ECD programme;
Resource and training institutions: Diverse institutions and programmes provide leadership and capacity-building to community/government programmes. They also conduct research, influence policy and provide networking opportunities;
Research: Specific studies, in addition to regular monitoring, enable analyses of the inputs, processes, outcomes and wider impact of different interventions;
Advocacy: Local and macro-level initiatives work towards systemic change by promoting ECD at the government level through efforts such as advocating for specific policies and budget allocations;
Public awareness: Initiatives at many different levels (community to national) use media, well-known figures, study findings etc. to highlight the importance of attention to the early years.
As the bullet points above suggest, early childhood programmes are concerned with many players and all aspects of children’s development.
Keys to Early Childhood Development and Poverty Reduction
Mother and Child Health: A key to healthy early childhood development is a continuum of care for mothers, neonates, infants and young children at a time when they are all particularly vulnerable to a range of risks. In the very early years, health care and a healthy environment play pivotal roles in child survival and development and build the basis for a healthy adult life. Mothers and children need the continuum of care from pre-pregnancy through pregnancy and childbirth and through to the early days and years of life. Safe and healthy environments, including good quality housing, clean water and adequate sanitation facilities, safe neighbourhoods, and protection against violence, are all essential. Good nutrition begins in utero and depends on adequately nourished mothers. The initiation of early and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is as important as ensuring access to healthy diets for infants and young children. These measures can be assured by improving food security and changing prevailing knowledge, attitudes and practice.
Child Development and Well-being: The psycho-social aspects of development also have profound significance, both for individual success, quality of life, and long-term social change. This is particularly important in many of the countries where AKDN works – impoverished areas where people’s child-rearing practices are often dictated by the demands of daily survival. In these situations, people naturally focus on keeping children fed, enhancing their physical skills and teaching social responsibility. They tend to underestimate the significance of their key role in supporting children’s broader learning, language development and sense of themselves.
However, research and practice shows that parenting programmes can help build children’s knowledge, skills and, equally important, confidence and sense of agency. The value of centre-based ECD programmes has also been demonstrated across multiple contexts. These programmes provide an expanded range of experience for young children, helping them develop skills and form attitudes that will enable them to make good use of learning opportunities both within and beyond formal education. ECD programmes emphasise the development of children’s ability to interact effectively with their world. They support the development of confident, life-long learners who are more likely to gain the skills needed to break out of the cycle of poverty and become active, healthy members of society.
A programme for young children, therefore, can be seen as an entry point for responding effectively to many of the factors underlying poverty. The direct benefits for children’s healthy physical, social, emotional and academic development are an important and well-known part of this. In addition, safe and stimulating childcare frees up caregivers to work. Parenting/caregiving programmes can be very effective in giving families an increased sense of control over their lives while providing them with information and building a sense of agency to act on their own behalf and on behalf of their children.
ECD Initiatives in the Aga Khan Development Network
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has been supporting ECD initiatives for several decades. Earlier AKDN agencies and institutions were amongst the few international bodies which recognized the critical long-term impact of ECD for both individuals and society.
The different parts of the network work in ECD in a variety of ways reflecting each agency or institution’s own particular mandate. However, they are all guided by the principle that ECD interventions should be appropriate to the cultural context, affordable for families, based on sound and current evidence on child development, genuinely involve families and communities, and be sustainable over the longer-term.
The Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) supports pre-primary classes within AKES primary schools in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, independent nursery schools in East Africa, and community-based day care centres in rural Gujarat in India. More recently, a new Early Learning Centre established in Dubai is set to begin operations in 2009. Additional planning is underway to significantly expand access to ECD in the coming years in Central Asia, Pakistan and India.
The Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), which works in eight countries in Central and South Asia, East Africa and the Middle-East, focuses particularly on mothers and children under five years of age. Programmes include safe motherhood, child survival and health promotion and disease prevention education activities at the community level. Community-based health care is linked with health service delivery units – from basic health centres up to full-fledged hospitals. Many of these initiatives are undertaken in partnership with the Health Programme of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), including, for example, the support to maternal and child health programmes in Afghanistan and Syria.
The AKF Education Programme established its early childhood work in the early 1980s, starting in Kenya, India and Portugal. For many years, the East African Madrasa Early Childhood Programme was AKF’s flagship ECD initiative in Kenya, Tantania and Uganda. However, the ECD portfolio has expanded significantly both within countries and into 12 additional countries, often through partnerships with other AKDN institutions and initiatives.
Through these activities, AKF has piloted and established a range of ECD programme models, including centre-based pre-schools, outreach pre-schools that are linked to central centres, transition programmes with the lower grades of primary schools, a growing cluster of parenting/ caregiving initiatives to strengthen families’ supports for their children, and a few day care models (home-based, centre-based and work-based). An additional area of work has been to establish new ECD training and resource centres -- or strengthen existing ones -- in order to help catalyse and drive ECD programming demand and quality (e.g., Madrasa Resource Centres (MRCs) in East Africa, the Teachers’ Resource Centre in Pakistan, and the planned ECD centres in Lisbon and Cairo).
AKF also responds to, and often creates, opportunities for policy dialogue and influence as countries start to formulate ECD policies and plans (e.g., in Kenya, Zanzibar, Uganda, Syria and Kyrgyzstan). In recent years, AKF has also been collaborating with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) to establish ECD programmes in Cairo (Egypt), and Delhi (India). These efforts are jointly supported by the AKTC Historic Cities Programme and AKF.
ECD initiatives at the Aga Khan University (AKU) in Pakistan and East Africa are more recent additions, but they are critically important to AKDN’s efforts in the area of ECD. This work is led by the two Institutes of Educational Development (IED), the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health (DPCH), and the Human Development Programme (HDP). Specialized courses (certificate and/or diploma-level) for ECD teachers and professionals offered through the IEDs in East Africa and Pakistan and through HDP are beginning to meet some of the human resource development needs for ECD in these regions.
In addition, new research in ECD is being under-taken at AKU in Pakistan, providing critically needed evidence on best practices in ECD. One example is the project, being conducted by the DPCH, which will compare the impact of different interventions (standard M/CH support, M/CH plus child development, and M/CH plus enhanced nutrition supplements) to mothers through the Lady Health Workers in rural Sindh. The study examines the relative (and combined) effects of these interventions on mother and child outcomes, and will follow children up until eight years of age. The potential for the IEDs, HDP, and DPCH to serve as leading resource institutions in their countries (and regions) is considerable. There is a growing need for such hubs for the development of professionals and leaders in the field and where multi-disciplinary research can be undertaken. Such research might include further exploration of the basic science of child development, the testing of hypotheses regarding key factors contributing to child outcomes, as well as rigorous assessments of programme impact.
The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) is also looking to do more to meet the ECD needs of young children whose parents work for the various AKFED-related companies in Africa. In Kenya, the Frigoken and Alltex companies together serve around 60 children aged six months to three years for mothers working in the factories. Assessments are planned for additional companies in West Africa in 2009 in order to ascertain the needs and opportunities for linked ECD services. The Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) is also about to pilot some new financial products which will directly benefit young children and their mothers.
AKDN ECD Programme Data
AKDN agencies are beginning to consolidate programme data to understand the array and nature of current investments in ECD and to assess gaps and opportunities. Global coverage data for ECD programmes led or supported by AKDN in 2008 follows:
Education Data: (Education-focused, with health and hygiene elements)
2008 ECD activities EXCLUDING
work at lower Primary ECD efforts INCLUDING work with primary grades 1-3
# children 128,199 402,602
# ECD centres/ classes 2,487 5,060
# parents in parenting/ caregiving programmes
# teachers/ ECD workers 4,059 12,834
# communities/districts 1,982 / 190 3,632 / 210
Beyond the basic coverage statistics, AKDN agencies and programmes are increasingly concerned with core education outcome indicators including school enrolment, retention, and achievement. For example, in Uganda, a study led by the Madrasa Regional Researcher found the repetition rate in Grade 1 for children who had participated in an ECD programme was 3.5 percent -- less than half that for those who had not (7.3 percent). In a regional MRC study (Uganda, Kenya, Zanzibar), preschool experience was significantly associated with higher cognitive ability. In Pakistan, AKDN supports a project working to improve access to and the quality of pre-primary and early primary classes in 287 government and community schools. The government’s national figure for drop-out in Grade 1 stands at 23 percent, while for schools supported by this programme, the figure is only 1.5 percent. In both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, children from AKDN-supported pre-schools (including home-based pre-schools) are out-performing children who have not been to pre-school when they go to primary school. Beyond the numbers, parents and teachers in all of the very diverse contexts in which these programmes operate strongly endorse their importance. More studies tracking children through school, and combining both quantitative and qualitative data, are needed.
2008 Health Activities
# children < 5 targeted in community/primary programmes 375,800
# women targeted in community/ primary programmes 627,600
# Community Health Workers 2,215
# Basic health centres (AKHS/ gov. / others) 211
# Comprehensive Health Centres (AKHS/ gov./ others) 48
# Hospitals (AKU/ AKHS/ others) 9
# communities / districts 2,108 / 107
Other core health outcome indicators being tracked within AKDN programmes include rates for infant and child mortality, immunization, skilled attendant delivery (also ante- and post-natal visits), and stunting, as well as percentages of households with safe water and adequate sanitation. There are significant differences between and within regions, countries and districts. Health programme achievements include, for example, increased immunization coverage (e.g., from 62 percent to 98 percent in the programme area of the Community-Led Child Survival programme in Maharashtra, India), increased use of impregnated bed-nets for under-fives and pregnant women (e.g., from 7 percent to 47 percent in the health programme area in Mozambique), and increased use of ante-natal and institutional delivery services across programmes. Monitoring and research studies are critical to demonstrate the outcomes of health programme interventions and their interaction with education-focussed interventions.
AKDN agencies are working to strengthen resource institutions, build local capacity for the sustainability and local appropriateness of ECD programmes, and contribute to the growing field of ECD research and knowledge in their different locations. Moreover, staff involved in ECD across AKDN agencies and institutions are building complementarity and convergence across the different initiatives. The sheer size and dynamism of the different agencies’ and institutions’ programmes makes this complex but it is vital given the potential synergies. Partnerships with others (including a range of academic institutions) involved in the field of ECD) will continue and be further expanded to ensure maximum impact.
In 2009 inventories of services, programmes and resource institutions across and beyond AKDN will be completed. These together with a number of detailed situation analyses will be used to improve planning, address gaps and reach many more young children and their families in areas where AKDN operates. The aim is to improve the reach, quality and effectiveness of ECD programmes across sectors.
For more information, please see:
AKDN education pages
Aga Khan Foundation
Jailoo Kindergarten Programme: More information and Video on BBC World Challenge Site
Madrasa Early Childhood Development Programme: 25th Anniversary Brochure; Video & Podcast
December 17, 2009
His Gift Changes Lives
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Here’s a story for the holiday season. A 30-year-old former refugee is putting together a most extraordinary Christmas present — the first high school his community has ever had.
Valentino Deng, 30, is the central figure in the masterful 2006 best seller, “What Is the What,” by Dave Eggers. The book records Valentino’s life after the Sudanese civil war strikes his remote town in South Sudan. His friends were shot around him. He lost contact with his family, and he became one of the “lost boys” of Sudan. Fleeing government soldiers, dodging land mines, eating leaves and animal carcasses, Valentino saw boys around him carried off and devoured by lions.
At one point, Valentino and other refugees were attacked by soldiers beside a crocodile-infested river. He swam to safety through water bloodied as some swimmers were shot and others were snatched by crocodiles.
Valentino learned to read and write at makeshift schools in refugee camps by writing letters in the dust with his finger. Improbably, he turned out to be a brilliant student with a cheerful, upbeat personality. And in 2001, the United States accepted him as a refugee.
Valentino had earned the right to take it easy for the next 600 years; instead, he sets an astonishing example of resilience, compassion and charity. He and Eggers channel every penny made from “What Is the What” to a new foundation dedicated to building a high school in his hometown in Sudan.
That’s what I find so inspiring about Valentino. For a quarter-century, world leaders have averted their eyes from horrors in Sudan — first the north-south civil war that killed two million people (more than died in all the wars in America’s history), then the genocide in Darfur and now the growing risk of another civil war. In that vacuum, moral leadership has come instead from university students and refugees like Valentino.
Now Valentino’s school is beginning to operate in the town of Marial Bai — a modern high school serving students from thousands of square miles. It had a soft opening earlier this year with 100 students, and he is hoping to increase to 450 students in the coming months — but that means dizzying challenges.
“I want to enroll more than 50 percent girls,” Valentino said. “But to do that, I have to house them, because families will not allow a girl to go far away to school without a place to stay.
“For now, I’ve enrolled 14 girls,” he added. “But they go home, and then they have to take care of siblings, collect firewood, fetch water. So I’m worried about how much they can learn.” In addition, a high school girl can fetch a huge bride price — about 100 cows — and Valentino thinks the best way to avoid early marriage and give the girls a chance to study is for them to live in a dormitory on the school grounds.
Decades of civil war have left South Sudan one of the poorest places on Earth, where a woman is more likely to die in childbirth than to be literate. In recent years, only about 500 girls have graduated annually from elementary school in South Sudan — out of a total population of eight million.
Valentino’s every step has been Herculean. Building supplies had to be trucked in from Uganda through a jungle where a brutal militia called the Lord’s Resistance Army murders, rapes and loots. There is no electricity or running water in Marial Bai, so the high school’s computers will have to run on solar power. When a microscope arrived the other day, a science teacher was overcome. He had never actually touched one.
The school has a certain American ethos. Valentino is requiring students to engage in service activities, such as building huts for displaced people. “We focus on leadership,” he explained.
Eight high school teachers from the United States, Canada and New Zealand traveled at their own expense to Valentino’s school last summer to train teachers and work with students. They raved to me about how eager the students are to learn; some students burst into tears when the volunteers had to leave.
“What he’s accomplished in his hometown is astounding,” Eggers said. “A 14-structure educational complex built from scratch in one year. It boggles the mind.
“He’s succeeded where countless NGOs stumble, mainly because he knows the local business climate and can negotiate reasonable local prices for materials,” he added, referring to nongovernmental organizations.
Valentino is still fund-raising and looking for volunteer teachers. He needs $15,000 to finish a dormitory for girls, and much more to dig wells and operate the school for the first three years. (More information about the school is at www.valentinoachakdeng.org.) But he’s relentless.
“I’m the lucky one,” Valentino told me. “I must be the one who will make a difference.”
December 31, 2009
Sparking a Savings Revolution
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
There’s an old saying about poverty: Give me a fish, and I’ll eat for a day. Give me a fishing rod, and I’ll eat for a lifetime.
There are many variations in that theme. In Somalia, I heard a darker version: If I buy food, I’ll eat for a day. If I buy a gun, I’ll eat every day.
But these days, there’s evidence that one of the most effective tools to fight global poverty may be neither a fishing rod nor a gun, but a savings accounts. What we need is a savings revolution.
Right now, the world’s poor almost never have access to a bank account. Cash sits around and gets spent — and, frankly, often spent badly.
“We used to buy a three-liter bottle of Coke every day,” recalled Socorro Machado, a 49-year-old homemaker in a village here in northwestern Nicaragua. That was a bit less than a gallon, and the cost of $1.75 consumed a large share of the family’s budget.
Then Catholic Relief Services, an aid organization, arrived in the village with a new program to promote savings. It provided a wooden box with a padlock and organized savings groups of about 20 people who meet once or twice a month, typically bringing 50 cents or $1 to deposit in the box.
Some of the money is lent out to start a small business, but the greatest benefit of these programs seems to be that they provide a spur to save.
“Now we buy a bottle of Coke just once a week, and we put the money in savings,” Ms. Machado said. She saves about $5 a month in her own name and another $5 a month in her son’s name and has plans to buy a computer for him eventually.
Some people in the development world argue that microlending has been oversold, and there has been a bit of a backlash against it lately — including a “no pago” movement here in Nicaragua. This “don’t pay” effort has been orchestrated by the leftist government of President Daniel Ortega.
I don’t agree with the criticisms of microloans, for I’ve seen how tiny loans can truly transform people’s lives by giving them the means to start small businesses. Even so, there’s evidence that the most powerful element of microfinance is microsavings, not microloans.
One of the ugly secrets of global poverty is that a good deal of suffering is caused not only by low incomes but also by bad spending decisions. Research suggests that the world’s poorest families (typically the men in those families) spend about 20 percent of their incomes on a combination of alcohol, cigarettes, prostitution, soft drinks and extravagant festivals.
In one village here in Nicaragua where children were having to drop out of elementary school because they couldn’t afford notebooks, a midwife, Andrea Machado Garcia, estimated to me that if a man earned $150 working in the mountains as a day laborer during the coffee harvest, he might spend $50 on alcohol and women and bring back $100 to support his family.
One challenge is that those men don’t have a good, secure way to save money, and neither do poor people generally. It just sits around, itching to be spent. It’s also vulnerable to theft, covetous family members and demands for loans from relatives.
In West Africa, money collectors called susus operate informal banks but charge an annualized rate of 40 percent on deposits. Yes, you read that right. You pay a 40 percent interest rate on your savings!
In Kenya, two economists conducted an experiment by paying the fees to open bank accounts for small peddlers. They found that the peddlers who took up the accounts, especially women, enjoyed remarkable gains. Within six months, they were investing 40 percent more in their businesses, typically by buying more goods to be resold.
Many aid groups including CARE and Oxfam now offer savings programs in some form, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is studying how best to promote financial services for the poor. A Web site, www.matchsavings.org, lets donors match a poor person’s savings to increase the incentive to build a savings habit.
So it’s time for a global microsavings movement. Poor countries should ease the regulations (such as requirements for banking licenses) that make it hard for nonprofits to operate microsavings programs.
Hugh Aprile, a Catholic Relief Services official here, noted that savings schemes are very cheap to start because no capital is used to provide loans. “It’s people using their own money,” he said, “to build far more than they ever thought they could.”
Maybe it’s hard for us to believe considering how much animus there is toward fat-cat bankers in the United States, but the world’s poor might benefit hugely from the ability to bank their money safely.
January 17, 2010
Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex and Giving
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Want to be happier in 2010? Then try this simple experiment, inspired by recent scholarship in psychology and neurology. Which person would you rather be:
Richard is an ambitious 36-year-old white commodities trader in Florida. He’s healthy and drop-dead handsome, lives alone in a house with a pool, and has worked his way through a series of gorgeous women. Richard’s job is stressful, but he spent Christmas in Tahiti. Unencumbered, he also has time to indulge such passions as reading (right now he’s finishing a book called “Half the Sky”), marathon running and writing poetry. In the last few days, he has been composing an elegy about the Haiti earthquake.
Lorna is a 64-year-old black woman in Boston. She’s overweight and unattractive, even after a recent nose job. Lorna is on regular dialysis, but that doesn’t impede her active social life or babysitting her grandchildren. A retired school assistant, she is close to her 67-year-old husband and is much respected in her church for directing the music committee and the semiannual blood drive. Lorna believes in tithing (giving 10 percent of her income to charity or the church) and in the last few days has organized a church drive to raise $10,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti.
I adapted those examples from ones that Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, develops in his fascinating book, “The Happiness Hypothesis.” His point is that while most of us might prefer to trade places with Richard, Lorna is probably happier.
Men are no happier than women, and people in sunny areas no happier than people in chillier climates. The evidence on health is complex, but even chronic health problems (like those requiring dialysis) may have surprisingly little long-term effect on happiness, because we adjust to them. Beautiful people aren’t happier than ugly people, although cosmetic surgery does seem to leave patients feeling brighter. Whites are happier than blacks, but only very slightly. And young people are actually a bit less happy than older folks, at least up to age 65.
Lorna has a few advantages over Richard. She has less stress and is respected by her peers — factors that make us feel good. Happiness is tied to volunteering and to giving blood, and people with religious faith tend to be happier than those without. A solid marriage is linked to happiness, as is participation in social networks. And one study found that people who focus on achieving wealth and career advancement are less happy than those who focus on good works, religion or spirituality, or friends and family.
“Human beings are in some ways like bees,” Professor Haidt said. “We evolved to live in intensely social groups, and we don’t do as well when freed from hives.”
Happiness is, of course, a complex concept and difficult to measure, and John Stuart Mill had a point when he suggested: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”
But in any case, nobility can lead to happiness. Professor Haidt notes that one thing that can make a lasting difference to your contentment is to work with others on a cause larger than yourself.
I see that all the time. I interview people who were busy but reluctantly undertook some good cause because (sigh!) it was the right thing to do. Then they found that this “sacrifice” became a huge source of fulfillment and satisfaction.
Brain scans by neuroscientists confirm that altruism carries its own rewards. A team including Dr. Jorge Moll of the National Institutes of Health found that when a research subject was encouraged to think of giving money to a charity, parts of the brain lit up that are normally associated with selfish pleasures like eating or sex.
The implication is that we are hard-wired to be altruistic. To put it another way, it’s difficult for humans to be truly selfless, for generosity feels so good.
“The most selfish thing you can do is to help other people,” says Brian Mullaney, co-founder of Smile Train, which helps tens of thousands of children each year who are born with cleft lips and cleft palates. Mr. Mullaney was a successful advertising executive, driving a Porsche and taking dates to the Four Seasons, when he felt something was missing and began volunteering for good causes. He ended up leaving the business world to help kids smile again — and all that makes him smile, too.
So at a time of vast needs, from Haiti to our own cities, here’s a nice opportunity for symbiosis: so many afflicted people, and so much benefit to us if we try to help them. Let’s remember that while charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves. Helping others may be as primal a human pleasure as food or sex.
January 24, 2010
What Could You Live Without?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It all began with a stop at a red light.
Kevin Salwen, a writer and entrepreneur in Atlanta, was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, back from a sleepover in 2006. While waiting at a traffic light, they saw a black Mercedes coupe on one side and a homeless man begging for food on the other.
“Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal,” Hannah protested. The light changed and they drove on, but Hannah was too young to be reasonable. She pestered her parents about inequity, insisting that she wanted to do something.
“What do you want to do?” her mom responded. “Sell our house?”
Warning! Never suggest a grand gesture to an idealistic teenager. Hannah seized upon the idea of selling the luxurious family home and donating half the proceeds to charity, while using the other half to buy a more modest replacement home.
Eventually, that’s what the family did. The project — crazy, impetuous and utterly inspiring — is chronicled in a book by father and daughter scheduled to be published next month: “The Power of Half.” It’s a book that, frankly, I’d be nervous about leaving around where my own teenage kids might find it. An impressionable child reads this, and the next thing you know your whole family is out on the street.
At a time of enormous needs in Haiti and elsewhere, when so many Americans are trying to help Haitians by sending everything from text messages to shoes, the Salwens offer an example of a family that came together to make a difference — for themselves as much as the people they were trying to help. In a column a week ago, I described neurological evidence from brain scans that altruism lights up parts of the brain normally associated with more primal gratifications such as food and sex. The Salwens’ experience confirms the selfish pleasures of selflessness.
Mr. Salwen and his wife, Joan, had always assumed that their kids would be better off in a bigger house. But after they downsized, there was much less space to retreat to, so the family members spent more time around each other. A smaller house unexpectedly turned out to be a more family-friendly house.
“We essentially traded stuff for togetherness and connectedness,” Mr. Salwen told me, adding, “I can’t figure out why everybody wouldn’t want that deal.”
One reason for that togetherness was the complex process of deciding how to spend the money. The Salwens researched causes and charities, finally settling on the Hunger Project, a New York City-based international development organization that has a good record of tackling global poverty.
The Salwens pledged $800,000 to sponsor health, microfinancing, food and other programs for about 40 villages in Ghana. They traveled to Ghana with a Hunger Project executive, John Coonrod, who is an inspiration in his own right. Over the years, he and his wife donated so much back from their modest aid-worker salaries that they were among the top Hunger Project donors in New York.
The Salwens’ initiative hasn’t gone entirely smoothly. Hannah promptly won over her parents, but her younger brother, Joe, was (reassuringly) a red-blooded American boy to whom it wasn’t intuitively obvious that life would improve by moving into a smaller house and giving money to poor people. Outvoted and outmaneuvered, Joe gamely went along.
The Salwens also are troubled that some people are reacting negatively to their project, seeing them as sanctimonious showoffs. Or that people are protesting giving to Ghana when there are so many needy Americans.
Still, they have inspired some converts. The people who sold the Salwens their new home were so impressed that they committed $100,000 to the project. And one of Hannah’s closest friends, Blaise, pledged half of her baby-sitting savings to an environmental charity.
In writing the book, the Salwens say, the aim wasn’t actually to get people to sell their houses. They realize that few people are quite that nutty. Rather, the aim was to encourage people to step off the treadmill of accumulation, to define themselves by what they give as well as by what they possess.
“No one expects anyone to sell a house,” said Hannah, now a high school junior who hopes to become a nurse. “That’s kind of a ridiculous thing to do. For us, the house was just something we could live without. It was too big for us. Everyone has too much of something, whether it’s time, talent or treasure. Everyone does have their own half, you just have to find it.”
As for Kevin Salwen, he’s delighted by what has unfolded since that encounter at the red light.
“This is the most self-interested thing we have ever done,” he said. “I’m thrilled that we can help others. I’m blown away by how much it has helped us.”
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
February 4, 2010
From ‘Oprah’ to Building a Sisterhood in Congo
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Five years ago, Lisa Shannon watched “Oprah” and learned about the savage, forgotten war here in eastern Congo, played out in massacres and mass rape. That show transformed Lisa’s life, costing her a good business, a beloved fiancé, and a comfortable home in Portland, Ore. — but giving her a chance to save lives in Congo.
I found myself stepping with Lisa into a shack here. It was night, there was no electricity, and a tropical rainstorm was turning the shantytown into a field of mud and streams. Lisa had come to visit a woman she calls her sister, Generose Namburho, a 40-year-old nurse.
Generose’s story is numbingly familiar: extremist Hutu militiamen invaded her home one night, killed her husband and prepared to rape her. Then, because she shouted in an attempt to warn her neighbors, they hacked off her leg above the knee with a machete.
As Generose lay bleeding near her husband’s corpse, the soldiers cut up the amputated leg, cooked the pieces on the kitchen fire, and ordered her children to eat their mother’s flesh. One son, a 12-year-old, refused. “If you kill me, kill me,” he told the soldiers, as his mother remembers it. “But I will not eat a part of my mother.”
So they shot him dead. The murder is one of Generose’s last memories before she blacked out, waking up days later in the hospital where she had worked.
That’s where Lisa enters the story. After seeing the Oprah show on the Congo war, Lisa began to read more about it, learning that it is the most lethal conflict since World War II. More than five million had already died as of the last peer-reviewed mortality estimate in 2007.
Everybody told her that the atrocities continued because nobody cared. Lisa, who is now 34, was appalled and decided to show that she cared. She asked friends to sponsor her for a solo 30-mile fund-raising run for Congolese women.
That led her to establish Run for Congo Women, which has held fund-raising runs in 10 American states and three foreign countries. The money goes to support sponsorships of Congolese women through a group called Women for Women International.
But in her passion, Lisa neglected the stock photo business that she and her fiancé ran together. Finally, he signaled to her that she had to choose — and she chose Congo.
One of the Congolese women (“sisters”) whom Lisa sponsored with her fund-raising was Generose. Lisa’s letters and monthly checks of $27 began arriving just in time.
“God sent me Lisa to release me,” Generose told me fervently, as the rain pounded the roof, and she then compared Lisa to an angel and to Jesus Christ.
Scrunching up in embarrassment in the darkened room, Lisa fended off deification. She noted that many impoverished Congolese families have taken in orphans. “They’ve lost everything,” she said, “but they take children in when they can’t even feed their own properly. I’ve been so inspired by them. I’ve tried to restructure my life to emulate them.”
It’s true. While for years world leaders have mostly looked the other way, while our friend Rwanda has helped perpetuate this war, while Congo’s president has refused to arrest a general wanted by the International Criminal Court, while global companies have accepted tin, coltan and other minerals produced by warlords — amid all this irresponsibility, many ordinary Congolese have stepped forward to share the nothing they have with their neighbors.
So Lisa is right that Generose and so many others here are awe-inspiring. Lisa tells her story in a moving book, “A Thousand Sisters,” that is set to be published in April. Congo is now her obsession, and she is volunteering full time on the cause as she lives off the declining royalties from her old stock photos.
She earns psychic pay when she sees a woman here who named her daughter Lisa. After we visited Congolese Lisa, I asked American Lisa about the toll of her Congo obsession — the lost business, man and home they had shared.
“Technically, I had a good life before, but I wasn’t very happy,” she mused. “Now I feel I have much more of a sense of meaning.”
Maybe that’s why I gravitate toward Lisa’s story. In a land where so many “responsible” leaders eschew responsibility, Lisa has gone out of her way to assume responsibility and try to make a difference. Along with an unbelievable cast of plucky Congolese survivors such as Generose, she evokes hope.
On this visit to Congo, Lisa is organizing a Run for Congo Women right here in Bukavu, for Feb. 28, with Congolese rape survivors participating. You can sponsor them at www.runforCongowomen.org. And one of those participating in the run, hobbling along on crutches and her one leg, will be Generose.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
February 28, 2010
Learning From the Sin of Sodom
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”
Over the last decade, however, that divide has dissolved, in ways that many Americans haven’t noticed or appreciated. Evangelicals have become the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria, and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in Congo.
A pop quiz: What’s the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization?
It’s not Save the Children, and it’s not CARE — both terrific secular organizations. Rather, it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based Christian organization (with strong evangelical roots) whose budget has roughly tripled over the last decade.
World Vision now has 40,000 staff members in nearly 100 countries. That’s more staff members than CARE, Save the Children and the worldwide operations of the United States Agency for International Development — combined.
A growing number of conservative Christians are explicitly and self-critically acknowledging that to be “pro-life” must mean more than opposing abortion. The head of World Vision in the United States, Richard Stearns, begins his fascinating book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” with an account of a visit a decade ago to Uganda, where he met a 13-year-old AIDS orphan who was raising his younger brothers by himself.
“What sickened me most was this question: where was the Church?” he writes. “Where were the followers of Jesus Christ in the midst of perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Surely the Church should have been caring for these ‘orphans and widows in their distress.’ (James 1:27). Shouldn’t the pulpits across America have flamed with exhortations to rush to the front lines of compassion?
“How have we missed it so tragically, when even rock stars and Hollywood actors seem to understand?”
Mr. Stearns argues that evangelicals were often so focused on sexual morality and a personal relationship with God that they ignored the needy. He writes laceratingly about “a Church that had the wealth to build great sanctuaries but lacked the will to build schools, hospitals, and clinics.”
In one striking passage, Mr. Stearns quotes the prophet Ezekiel as saying that the great sin of the people of Sodom wasn’t so much that they were promiscuous or gay as that they were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49.)
Hmm. Imagine if sodomy laws could be used to punish the stingy, unconcerned rich!
The American view of evangelicals is still shaped by preening television blowhards and hypocrites who seem obsessed with gays and fetuses. One study cited in the book found that even among churchgoers ages 16 to 29, the descriptions most associated with Christianity were “antihomosexual,” “judgmental,” “too involved in politics,” and “hypocritical.”
Some conservative Christians reinforced the worst view of themselves by inspiring Ugandan homophobes who backed a bill that would punish gays with life imprisonment or execution. Ditto for the Vatican, whose hostility to condoms contributes to the AIDS epidemic. But there’s more to the picture: I’ve also seen many Catholic nuns and priests heroically caring for AIDS patients — even quietly handing out condoms.
One of the most inspiring figures I’ve met while covering Congo’s brutal civil war is a determined Polish nun in the terrifying hinterland, feeding orphans, standing up to drunken soldiers and comforting survivors — all in a war zone. I came back and decided: I want to grow up and become a Polish nun.
Some Americans assume that religious groups offer aid to entice converts. That’s incorrect. Today, groups like World Vision ban the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversation.
Some liberals are pushing to end the longtime practice (it’s a myth that this started with President George W. Bush) of channeling American aid through faith-based organizations. That change would be a catastrophe. In Haiti, more than half of food distributions go through religious groups like World Vision that have indispensible networks on the ground. We mustn’t make Haitians the casualties in our cultural wars.
A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda.
If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
March 14, 2010
Partying to Change the World
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Maybe the most common question I get from readers is: What can I do?
They’ve read about malaria, or mass rape, or AIDS orphans, and they want to make a difference. Should they call the White House? Write a check? Howl in hopeless despair?
There’s never a perfect answer, but here’s one ingenious approach: Throw a party!
Let’s back up. In 2004, a Colorado woman named Torkin Wakefield, a Peace Corps veteran with a lifetime of experience in aid work, was temporarily living in Uganda. Her daughter, Devin Hibbard, then just out of graduate school, came to visit, and they strolled together through a slum in Kampala, the capital.
They stumbled upon a woman named Millie Akena making jewelry beads out of trash paper outside her mud-walled home. They bought a few necklaces from Millie, for about 75 cents each.
Over the next few days, mother and daughter received many compliments on the necklaces — especially when they explained where the beads came from. Jewelry from garbage!
Hmm. A gleam in their eyes, Torkin and Devin returned to the slum, asked Millie to gather her friends and bought up more than 225 necklaces.
American friends loved the beads. So Torkin and Devin, with their friend Ginny Jordan, formed BeadforLife. It’s a nonprofit seeking to promote entrepreneurship through an international jewelry manufacturing operation.
They returned to Uganda to work with the women on improving jewelry designs and assuring quality. To cut costs, they asked friends traveling back to the United States to smuggle bags of necklaces in their suitcases.
Then they began marketing the jewelry through bead parties in the United States — a bit like Tupperware parties. Typically, one woman invites her friends, and they come to her home to buy necklaces, bracelets and earrings for between $5 and $30. Last year alone, Torkin says, there were 3,000 of these parties, attended by about 100,000 people.
“It’s not a handout; we’re totally opposed to that,” said Devin, who is now based in Uganda for the project. “This is a symbol for us of women really working hard.”
BeadforLife recruits women who are earning $1 a day or less, and who seem particularly hard-working and entrepreneurial. Once enrolled, they get training in how to cut strips of scrap paper, roll them tightly, glue them and seal them — and, presto, a beautiful bead.
The beads are not painted, and their color comes from the paper itself (with writing sometimes faintly visible). Magazine ads and aid group brochures are prized for their rich colors. Torkin remembers wincing when she saw women making beads from brochures explaining how mothers can prevent AIDS transmission to their babies. “I just hope that someone had looked at them before they were cut up,” she said.
Bead makers earn about $200 per month, half of which is deposited in brand-new savings accounts (one huge problem for the world’s poor is that they lack a safe way to save). The women are also encouraged to trade their beads to the program for antimalarial bed nets, condoms, deworming medicine and family planning supplies.
The centerpiece of the 18-month BeadforLife program is training bead makers to start small businesses. They get coaching in business management, and some learn trades like making jam or raising chickens.
The bead makers get about $600 to open their own shops or start some other small business, and after a year and a half they graduate and new bead makers are enrolled. The aim is not to create lifelong jewelry manufacturers, but to turn women into bustling entrepreneurs.
These days, Torkin and Devin are no longer smuggling their merchandise (it turned out that the necklaces weren’t subject to American duty, they say, so subterfuge was unnecessary). Their biggest challenge is how to manage $4 million in annual jewelry sales so that it makes the most difference.
BeadforLife reflects several fascinating trends in the battle against global poverty. One is the increasing interest in using businesses and entrepreneurship to create jobs and a more sustainable economic liftoff. A second is a focus on women, because of evidence that they are more likely than men to invest business profits in their children’s education and health. A third is the growing attempt to engage American supporters by asking them to do something other than just writing checks.
Increasingly, Torkin and Devin have also been using the bead parties to try to educate the jewelry buyers about Africa. To go with the beads, they’ve developed a curriculum on global poverty for American schools. They’ve also been taking Americans to Africa to see the work firsthand.
“At first, we thought BeadforLife was just for Ugandans,” Torkin said. “Then we realized that a lot of this was about helping Americans get involved.”
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
April 13, 2010
Banks Making Big Profits From Tiny Loans
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
In recent years, the idea of giving small loans to poor people became the darling of the development world, hailed as the long elusive formula to propel even the most destitute into better lives.
Actors like Natalie Portman and Michael Douglas lent their boldface names to the cause. Muhammad Yunus, the economist who pioneered the practice by lending small amounts to basket weavers in Bangladesh, won a Nobel Peace Prize for it in 2006. The idea even got its very own United Nations year in 2005.
But the phenomenon has grown so popular that some of its biggest proponents are now wringing their hands over the direction it has taken. Drawn by the prospect of hefty profits from even the smallest of loans, a raft of banks and financial institutions now dominate the field, with some charging interest rates of 100 percent or more.
“We created microcredit to fight the loan sharks; we didn’t create microcredit to encourage new loan sharks,” Mr. Yunus recently said at a gathering of financial officials at the United Nations. “Microcredit should be seen as an opportunity to help people get out of poverty in a business way, but not as an opportunity to make money out of poor people.”
The fracas over preserving the field’s saintly aura centers on the question of how much interest and profit is acceptable, and what constitutes exploitation. The noisy interest rate fight has even attracted Congressional scrutiny, with the House Financial Services Committee holding hearings this year focused in part on whether some microcredit institutions are scamming the poor.
Rates vary widely across the globe, but the ones that draw the most concern tend to occur in countries like Nigeria and Mexico, where the demand for small loans from a large population cannot be met by existing lenders.
April 18, 2010
A Church Mary Can Love
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
I heard a joke the other day about a pious soul who dies, goes to heaven, and gains an audience with the Virgin Mary. The visitor asks Mary why, for all her blessings, she always appears in paintings as a bit sad, a bit wistful: Is everything O.K.?
Mary reassures her visitor: “Oh, everything’s great. No problems. It’s just ... it’s just that we had always wanted a daughter.”
That story comes to mind as the Vatican wrestles with the consequences of a patriarchal premodern mind-set: scandal, cover-up and the clumsiest self-defense since Watergate. That’s what happens with old boys’ clubs.
It wasn’t inevitable that the Catholic Church would grow so addicted to male domination, celibacy and rigid hierarchies. Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma, and went out of his way to engage women and treat them with respect.
The first-century church was inclusive and democratic, even including a proto-feminist wing and texts. The Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic text from the third century, declares of Mary Magdalene: “She is the one the Savior loved more than all the disciples.” Likewise, the Gospel of Mary (from the early second century) suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples on his religious teachings.
St. Paul refers in Romans 16 to a first-century woman named Junia as prominent among the early apostles, and to a woman named Phoebe who served as a deacon. The Apostle Junia became a Christian before St. Paul did (chauvinist translators have sometimes rendered her name masculine, with no scholarly basis).
Yet over the ensuing centuries, the church reverted to strong patriarchal attitudes, while also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with sexuality. The shift may have come with the move from house churches, where women were naturally accepted, to more public gatherings.
The upshot is that proto-feminist texts were not included when the Bible was compiled (and were mostly lost until modern times). Tertullian, an early Christian leader, denounced women as “the gateway to the devil,” while a contemporary account reports that the great Origen of Alexandria took his piety a step further and castrated himself.
The Catholic Church still seems stuck today in that patriarchal rut. The same faith that was so pioneering that it had Junia as a female apostle way back in the first century can’t even have a woman as the lowliest parish priest. Female deacons, permitted for centuries, are banned today.
That old boys’ club in the Vatican became as self-absorbed as other old boys’ clubs, like Lehman Brothers, with similar results. And that is the reason the Vatican is floundering today.
But there’s more to the picture than that. In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.
Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.
This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.
This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.
So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.
It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness. They’re enough to make the Virgin Mary smile.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
May 2, 2010
Who Can Mock This Church?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Maybe the Catholic Church should be turned upside down.
Jesus wasn’t known for pontificating from palaces, covering up scandals, or issuing Paleolithic edicts on social issues. Does anyone think he would have protected clergymen who raped children?
Yet if the top of the church has strayed from its roots, much of its base is still deeply inspiring. I came here to impoverished southern Sudan to write about Sudanese problems, not the Catholic Church’s. Yet once again, I am awed that so many of the selfless people serving the world’s neediest are lowly nuns and priests — notable not for the grandeur of their vestments but for the grandness of their compassion.
As I’ve noted before, there seem to be two Catholic Churches, the old boys’ club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity in places like Sudan. The Vatican certainly supports many charitable efforts, and some bishops and cardinals are exemplary, but overwhelmingly it’s at the grass roots that I find the great soul of the Catholic Church.
The Vatican believes that this newspaper and other news organizations have been unfair and overzealous in excavating the church’s cover-ups of child rape. I see the opposite. No organization has done more to elevate the moral stature of the Catholic Church in the United States than The Boston Globe. Its groundbreaking 2002 coverage of abuse by priests led to reforms and by most accounts a significant reduction in abuse. Catholic kids are safer today not because of the cardinals’ leadership, but because of The Boston Globe’s.
Yet the church leaders are right about one thing: there is often a liberal and secular snobbishness toward the church as a whole — and that is unfair.
It may be easy at a New York cocktail party to sniff derisively at a church whose apex is male chauvinist, homophobic and so out of touch that it bars the use of condoms even to curb AIDS. But what about Father Michael Barton, a Catholic priest from Indianapolis? I met Father Michael in the remote village of Nyamlell, 150 miles from any paved road here in southern Sudan. He runs four schools for children who would otherwise go without an education, and his graduates score at the top of statewide examinations.
Father Michael came to southern Sudan in 1978 and chatters fluently in Dinka and other local languages. To keep his schools alive, he persevered through civil war, imprisonment and beatings, and a smorgasbord of disease. “It’s very normal to have malaria,” he said. “Intestinal parasites — that’s just normal.”
Father Michael may be the worst-dressed priest I’ve ever seen — and the noblest.
Anybody scorn him? Anybody think he’s a self-righteous hypocrite?
On the contrary, he would make a great pope.
In the city of Juba, I met Cathy Arata, a nun from New Jersey who spent years working with battered women in Appalachia. Then she moved to El Salvador during the brutal civil war there, putting her life on the line to protect peasants. Two years ago, she came here on behalf of a terrific Catholic project called Solidarity With Southern Sudan.
Sister Cathy and the others in the project have trained 600 schoolteachers. They are fighting hunger not with handouts but with help for villagers to improve agricultural techniques. They are also establishing a school for health workers, with a special focus on midwifery to reduce deaths in childbirth.
At the hospital attached to that school, the surgeon is a nun from Italy. The other doctor is a 72-year-old nun from Rhode Island. Nuns rock.
Sister Cathy would like to see more decentralization in the church, a greater role for women, and more emphasis on public service. She says she worries sometimes that if Jesus returned he would say, “Oh, they got it all wrong!”
She would make a great pope, too.
There are so many more like them. There’s Father Mario Falconi, an Italian priest who refused to leave Rwanda during the genocide and bravely saved 3,000 people from being massacred. There’s Father Mario Benedetti, a 72-year-old Italian priest based in Congo who fled with his congregation when their town was attacked by a brutal militia. Now Father Mario lives side by side with his Congolese congregants in the squalor of a refugee camp in southern Sudan, struggling to get schooling for their children.
It’s because of brave souls like these that I honor the Catholic Church. I understand why many Americans disdain a church whose leaders are linked to cover-ups and antediluvian stances on women, gays and condoms — but the Catholic Church is far larger than the Vatican.
And unless we’re willing to endure beatings alongside Father Michael, unless we’re willing to stand up to warlords with Sister Cathy, we have no right to disparage them or their true church.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos videos and follow me on Twitter.
May 9, 2010
Celebrate: Save a Mother
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Happy Mother’s Day! And let me be clear: I’m in favor of flowers, lavish brunches, and every other token of gratitude for mothers and other goddesses.
Let me also add that your mom — yes, I’m speaking to you — is particularly deserving. (As is mine, as is my wife. And my mother-in-law!)
And because so many people feel that way, some $14 billion will be spent in the United States for Mother’s Day this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That includes $2.9 billion in meals, $2.5 billion in jewelry and $1.9 billion in flowers.
To put that sum in context, it’s enough to pay for a primary school education for all 60 million girls around the world who aren’t attending school. That would pretty much end female illiteracy.
These numbers are fuzzy and uncertain, but it appears that there would be enough money left over for programs to reduce deaths in childbirth by about three-quarters, saving perhaps 260,000 women’s lives a year.
There would probably even be enough remaining to treat tens of thousands of young women suffering from one of the most terrible things that can happen to a person, a childbirth injury called an obstetric fistula. Fistulas leave women incontinent and dribbling wastes, turning them into pariahs — and the injuries are usually fixable with a $450 operation.
So let’s celebrate Mother’s Day with all the flowers and brunches we can muster: no reason to feel guilty about a dollop of hedonism to compensate for 365 days of maternal toil. But let’s also think about moving the apostrophe so that it becomes not just Mother’s Day, honoring a single mother, but Mothers’ Day — an occasion to try to help other mothers around the globe as well.
Oddly, for a culture that celebrates motherhood, we’ve never been particularly interested in maternal health. The United States ranks 41st in the world in maternal mortality, according to an Amnesty International report, or 37th according to a major new study in the medical journal The Lancet, using different data sources.
Using either set of statistics, an American woman is at least twice as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a woman in much of Europe.
A friend of mine in New York, a young woman who minds her health and has even worked on maternal health issues, nearly joined the data set last month. She had an ectopic pregnancy that she was unaware of until her fallopian tube ruptured and she almost died.
Maternal mortality is far more common in Africa and Asia. In the West African country of Niger, a woman has about a one-in-seven lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy complications. Women there often aren’t supposed to go to a doctor if the husband hasn’t granted express permission — so if he’s 100 miles away when she has labor complications, she may just die at home.
On the 50th anniversary of the pill, it’s also worth noting that birth control is an excellent way to reduce deaths in childbirth. If there were half as many pregnancies in poor countries, there would be half as many maternal deaths.
It’s certainly not inevitable that women die in childbirth, and some poor countries — like Sri Lanka — have done a remarkable job curbing maternal mortality. But in many places, women’s lives are not a priority.
There’s no silver bullet to end maternal mortality, but we know steps that have made a big difference in some countries. Bipartisan legislation to be introduced this year by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut aims to have the United States build on these proven methods to tackle obstetric fistulas and maternal health globally.
Just the money that Americans will spend on Mother’s Day greeting cards for today — about $670 million — would save the lives of many thousands of women. Many organizations do wonderful work in this area, from the giants like CARE and Save the Children to the tiny Edna Maternity Hospital in Somaliland. Women Deliver and the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood do important advocacy work. And the Fistula Foundation and Worldwide Fistula Fund help women who have obstetric fistulas. (Details are on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground.)
So if one way to mark Mothers’ Day is to buy flowers for that special mom, another is to make this a safer planet for moms in general. And since we men are going to be focused on the flowers, maybe mothers themselves can work on making motherhood less lethal.
I had a letter the other day from a woman in Connecticut, Eva Hausman, who was so appalled when she learned about obstetric fistulas that she e-mailed her friends and asked them to contribute at least $20. To date she has raised $9,000 for the Fistula Foundation.
“Most of the contributions were accompanied by thank-you notes,” she told me. When people thank you for allowing them to donate — that’s truly a heartwarming cause, and a beautiful way to celebrate Mothers’ Day.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos videos and follow me on Twitter.
May 19, 2010
Poverty and the Pill
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Earthquakes are more dramatic. Tsunamis make better television. AIDS is more visceral.
But here’s a far more widespread challenge, one that’s also more fixable: the unavailability of birth control in many poor countries. I’m on my annual win-a-trip journey across a chunk of Central Africa with a 19-year-old university student, Mitch Smith. He won the right to bounce over impossible roads in the region where it’s easy to see firsthand how breakneck population growth is linked to poverty, instability and conflict.
In almost every village we stop in, we chat with families whose huts overflow with small children — whom the parents can’t always afford to educate, feed or protect from disease.
Here in Kinshasa, we met Emilie Lunda, 25, who had nearly died during childbirth a few days earlier. Doctors saved her life, but her baby died. And she is still recuperating in a hospital and doesn’t know how she will pay the bill.
“I didn’t want to get pregnant,” Emilie told us here in the Congolese capital. “I was afraid of getting pregnant.” But she had never heard of birth control.
In rural parts of Congo Republic, the other Congo to the north, we found that even when people had heard of contraception, they often regarded it as unaffordable.
Most appalling, all the clinics and hospitals we visited in Congo Republic said that they would sell contraceptives only to women who brought their husbands in with them to prove that the husband accepted birth control.
Condoms are somewhat easier to obtain, but many men resist them. More broadly, many men seem to feel that more children are a proud sign of more virility.
So the pill, 50 years old this month in the United States, has yet to reach parts of Africa. And condoms and other forms of birth control and AIDS prevention are still far too difficult to obtain in some areas.
America’s widely respected Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research on reproductive health, says that 215 million women around the world are sexually active and don’t want to become pregnant — but are not using modern forms of contraception.
Making contraception available to all these women worldwide would cost less than $4 billion, Guttmacher said in an important study published last year. That’s about what the United States is spending every two weeks on our military force in Afghanistan.
What’s more, each dollar spent on contraception would actually reduce total medical spending by $1.40 by reducing sums spent on unplanned births and abortions, the study said.
If contraception were broadly available in poor countries, the report said, more than 50 million unwanted pregnancies could be averted annually. One result would be 25 million fewer abortions per year. Another would be saving the lives of as many as 150,000 women who now die annually in childbirth.
Family planning has stalled since the 1980s. Republican administrations cut off all American financing for the United Nations Population Fund, the main international agency supporting family-planning programs. Paradoxically, conservative hostility to some family-planning programs almost certainly resulted in more abortions.
The Obama administration has restored that financing, and it should make a priority of broader access to contraception (and to girls’ education, which may be the most effective contraceptive of all).
In fairness, family planning is harder than it looks. Many impoverished men and women, especially those without education, want babies more than contraceptives. As Mitch and I drove through villages, we asked many women how many babies they would ideally have. Most said five or six, and a few said 10.
Parents want many children partly because they expect some to die. So mosquito nets, vaccinations and other steps to reduce child mortality also help to create an environment where family planning is more readily accepted.
In short, what’s needed is a comprehensive approach to assisting men and women alike with family planning — not just a contraceptive dispensary.
Romerchinelle Mietala, a 17-year-old girl in Mindouli, Congo Republic, has one baby and told us that she doesn’t really want another child for now. But she had never heard of contraceptives and, when we explained, was ambivalent. She worried about her status in the village if she didn’t get pregnant again reasonably soon.
“If a woman doesn’t have a baby every two or three years, people will say she’s sterile,” she said.
Another woman in Mindouli, Christine Kanda, said that she is ready to stop now after eight children — two of which have died. But she doesn’t know if her husband will accompany her to the clinic to sign off, and she doesn’t know how she would pay the $1 a month that the hospital charges.
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