Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

I have a somewhat different view of poverty today than I did four years ago. Or, more accurately, I see it from a different viewpoint.

In the summer of 2005, my cousin Christina Jordan and I traveled to Idaho for my sister Jill's wedding. I made the trip from California, she journeyed all the way from Uganda. I knew she was doing some kind of charitable work there, but had not gotten involved nor bothered to really find out what she was up to. She showed us some "peace tiles": amazing artworks created by some of the kids she was working with in Uganda, painted on 8" x 8" pieces of plywood, some of them by kids who had never before held a paintbrush. And she told us of her plans and dreams....

The following summer, she and her three adorable boys spent a few weeks (on and off, traveling around a bit) at our house, and we had long discussions about Uganda and her foundation there, Life in Africa. The day after she arrived, I found out that my daughter Megan, then 17, was going to Uganda! Surprise! Her trip was life-changing, both for her and me.

Today I find myself the president of Life in Africa USA, the stateside fundraising arm of LIA, selling handmade jewelry, raising awareness and much-needed funds to provide education and creative activities to Ugandan children, many of them orphaned or otherwise devastated by fallout from the civil war that raged in northern Uganda for most of the past 22 years.

While I never believed that poverty could be solved by throwing money at it, I really wasn't sure what strategy might work. Now I understand that money can help, by financing small businesses through initiatives such as microfinance, and by ensuring that education is available to all. These types of bottom-up strategies seem to me the only way to create real change, as it has now been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that top-down economics leads only to disaster. The battle is exponentially more difficult in Africa, where government corruption is the norm and enriching oneself at the expense of the citizens has been the prevailing leadership strategy for decades.

More to come.....

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