Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why help Ethiopia (or anywhere in Africa)?

This is a question I'm often asked.  Typically, it comes in a form that sounds something like this:  "Why would you spend your efforts and resources helping people in Africa (Ethiopia) when there are people in need in the United States?"

Here are a few thoughts along those lines -- some, I'll admit, may be a little politically incorrect, but they do reflect the reality I see both here and there.

1.  Poor in Africa does not equal poor in the United States.
In the United States, a single person under age 65 with no kids is officially below the poverty line if their annual income is below $11,702/year.  The poverty line for married couples and families with children is higher, for example a single parent with four children is below the poverty line if annual income is less than $26,434.  In the U.S. between 13% and 17% of the population  lives below this poverty line.

According to Oxford University, in 2010 78% of the population of Ethiopia lived on $2 per day or less.  That is a total of less than $750 per year.

While things cost less in Africa, at least things like services and food, there is no doubt that Ethiopians are in much worse shape economically than residents of the U.S..  There can be little debate that the degree of "need" in Africa, is much greater than the degree of "need" in the U.S..  If there is still a question in your mind, please, travel to Africa and see for yourself -- poverty there will certainly shock you.

2.  There is a huge difference in opportunity in Africa versus the United States.
While it is harder to quote relevant statistics, few would argue that free public education through grade 12 is available to all children in the United States.  There are few children in the U.S. that miss out on that opportunity because of poverty, lack of schools, or an inability to pay educational fees.

In Africa, many children receive little or no schooling because of the effects of poverty.  It is common for children to progress through a few elementary school years, barely attaining functional literacy, and then to leave school to help support their families.  Many others receive no  formal education at all.

The lack of educational opportunity translates directly into limited opportunities to start businesses, capture good paying jobs, or otherwise better themselves.  And because of these systematic deficiencies over many years, infrastructure and commerce are not developed to the point to properly utilize many of the people that do actually achieve a higher level of education.  The very reason that your African taxi driver may very well have a degree in engineering

I've often said that there are undoubtedly Nobel Laureate quality minds living in remote villages in African countries who will never have the ability to develop and contribute to their countries the way they can in the United States.  The same thing can be said for the areas of commerce, academics, and to some degree, the arts as well.

What a terrible shame it is to see so much potential wasted simply because there is little to no opportunity for it to develop.

3.  I have a personal connection to Ethiopia.  So could you.
There is an old saying that charity "...begins at home."  And there is no doubt that we all feel more likely to help and support those we are connected to.  Further to that, it is undoubtedly true that our connections are generally geographically centered around where we live.

During my career, I traveled extensively around the world.  Because of the two factors I listed above, I always felt a strong connection to Africans, whom I considered to be wonderful people with limited options to better themselves.  By visiting, seeing, interacting, and opening my heart, I already had a connection to Africa.

When Paula and I adopted three children from Ethiopia, my connection was further strengthened. How could I even think about these three beautiful children that have so blessed our lives, and not also feel tugs at my heartstrings over the plight so many of their family members and friends face with in their home country.  As a result, I developed a greater tie with Ethiopia specifically, and Africa, in general.

My connections have been further strengthened by the aid trips I've made with DOMA International, to actually help provide some direct assistance to people who desperately need our help.  I can't even begin to describe how humbling it is to realize that a small effort on my part can make all the difference in the lives of people around the world.  The expression of their thanks through song, dance and touch still echoes through me.

Please take a few moments to watch this video of our last trip to Bora.  You can find it here on Youtube.  Bora Video.  If you ever wondered if your help made a difference, or was appreciated by those receiving it, this should put those concerns to rest.

If you'd like to learn more, check out my series of blogs on my last trip with DOMA.  You can see the first entry here.  Ethiopia trip blog posts.

In closing, while I do agree there is need in the United States to help those who are less fortunate, it pales in comparison to the need in Ethiopia and other African countries.  In an increasingly shrinking world, we need to think of those in the Earth's remotest corners as "close to home" or "neighbors" and direct a portion of our efforts at helping to such places.