Sunday, August 21, 2011

Speak up

United Nations Photostream
What does it mean to advocate for the poor in the current political climate?

I wish I knew. I talked recently with a relative who has been involved in advocacy for almost half a century. When I asked him who he trusts, what steps he would take, how to start, he just shook his head. “We’re all just pawns.” He repeated it several times, a decades of engagement summed up in four discouraged words: “We’re all just pawns.”

Angry voices call for cuts in foreign aid while children starve in Somalia. Caring people shrug: what can we do? Yes, it’s complicated.

But sit a minute with the chart below. Here’s what it shows: In March 2002, twentytwo of the world’s wealthiest countries agreed to move towards a goal of each giving 0.7 per cent of their national income as aid to the poorest countries. This conference was attended by U.S. President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac among others. The original commitment has been reaffirmed repeatedly in the years since, with an understanding  0.7% of the developed nations gross national income would provide enough funds to meet the UN Millenium Goals of eradicating extreme hunger, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDs and malaria, achieving universal primary education.

Here’s the chart:

In total, the US gives more aid than any other nation. But as a percent of per capita income, we’re competing with Greece, Italy, and Japan for least generous nation.

  • Less than half of the reflected aid from the United States goes to the poorest countries
  • The largest recipients are strategic allies such as Egypt, Israel, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Israel is the richest country to receive U.S. assistance ($77 per Israeli compared to $3 per person in poor countries).
One argument raised in these discussions is that the church /Christians/ caring individuals should feed the hungry, not governments. It’s hard to find statistics about international giving; the best I can find is this:

“The highest estimates from recent years put individual U.S. donations to overseas aid at 0.16 percent of national income, according to the Center for Global Development’s Steven Radelet. (More conservative estimates suggest that this number may actually be as low as 0.03 percent; an OECD estimate put the number at 0.06 percent.)

So - using the generous estimate of 0.16 percent, add it to the 0.21 percent of foreign aid - all US giving combined, private and governmental, is still less than half a cent for every dollar earned, less than half of what we promised back in 2002, less than the governmental aid alone of half of the world's wealthiest nations. 

Who is my neighbor? I’m picturing those very frail children in the evening news. The mothers who love their starving children as much as I love my own.

An easy start is a check to Care, Conpassion, Oxfam, or World Vision. Or a quick text to any organization listed by CNN in their "how to help Somalia" roundup. 

Jo Harrison/Oxfam 
Easy next step: an online petition, asking congress and other leaders to follow through on internation aid commitments, through ONE,  Bread for the World, Care.

The next step takes a little more time: Bread for the World calls it “an offering of letters.” Taking the time to write personal letters to senators, representatives, President Obama, asking that relief funds not be considered when other priorities are cut. Bread for the World offers suggestions, and a quick way to find representatives addresses

A final step, maybe more difficult, but possibly most fruitful, is to engage others in the conversation. Post the ONE petition on your facebook page, or talk with others about what’s at stake in cutting foreign aid. An article this past winter in the New Republic explains why “Real Conservatives Don’t Slash Foreign Aid.” As the article makes clear, the UK, despite a tight budget and cuts in almost every area, has “ringfenced” foreign aid, taking it out of discussion for reductions, for three compelling reasons:
1. It makes sense economically: foreign aid is the most cost effective way to strengthen fragile nations and head off potential terrorism.

2. It makes sense diplomatically. Foreign aid build good will not just with receiver nations, but with other countries working together to end global poverty.

3. It makes sense morally. “A sense of compassion for the enormous suffering across the globe and a determination to help reduce it is neither a liberal cause nor a conservative one. It is a human cause.”

So, give, of course. Pray: yes. But speak up, speak out, "open your mouth." Remind those you know, those who represent you: God is on the side of the poor, and as a nation, we've promised to do more.

Proverbs 31:9
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (NIV)
Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy. (NKJV)
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.  (NLT)

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments.