Why Do I Care?
Senator Menendez was fighting a cold. A large contingent of New Jersey Care volunteers sat and stood around the Senator, doing our best to fill his impressive Washington D.C. office, and he was right in his element. We know the Senator is a friend to our cause, and he talked with us in that spirit. He sounded like a teacher, with our group of advocates as his class. The metaphor is apt, because he was giving us some valuable advice about how to advance our mission of ending poverty. The key, he said, is education.Most Americans don't understand why their tax dollars should be sent overseas when we've got so many pressing needs here at home. Their point is valid on its face. There are many important uses for our resources right here in America; the flood ravaged Midwest springs to mind, along with Katrina-damaged New Orleans, public schools, the housing crisis, the fuel-price crunch, rising food prices... So why should we send any, let alone more, of our hard-earned money to developing countries, when we need it so badly?
I get it. Three weeks ago, the company for which I work laid off 274 people, including 80% of my department. My job is not secure right now. I've got a wife in school full-time and an eleven-month-old daughter. Food and gas are costing more every day, and if I do lose my job, the job market is thin. I know we need bold action to ease the economic suffering of working people here at home. And yet, I still boarded a train to Washington Wednesday morning, taking two vacation days away from that job and my family, to ask my Congressional representatives to do more to help the poorest people in the world. So, why?
Two reasons: it's the right thing to do, and it's the smart thing to do.
Two years ago I visited Ghana and saw what truly profound poverty is. I have worked through Habitat for Humanity in some of the poorest areas of the US, but nothing prepared me for what I would see and hear and smell in Ghana. Open sewers, burning trash, crumbling dirt roads and children carrying both malaria and buckets of water for miles along the roadsides. Ghana has made enormous progress in some areas, and where development has moved forward, it is evident. In the village of Boankra, it is the lack of progress that is evident. No wells, no power, no schools. You simply cannot see that kind of human suffering without feeling that you should do something. Listening to Senator Menendez, it struck me that most Americans have not seen that, not really. So how could I expect everyone to understand?
It hit even closer to home for me when my daughter Angelina was born last year. We had some of the best and most advanced pre-natal care available. The doctors, nurses and technology to which we had access were a far cry from what the Ghanaian village women know. When my daughter was born, she swallowed amniotic fluid and emerged unconscious. She didn't cry. I was terrified, but the nurses went right to work to bring her around, and within a minute or two, she was wailing. While they saved my baby, the doctor never took her attention from my wife. She made sure that she did not lose a dangerous amount of blood and kept her safe and calm. Later, when I could breathe again, it occurred to me that if we lived somewhere else, my wife or my baby girl, or both, might be dead. I know now, more than ever before, how fortunate I am to be an American.
I have always believed that from those who are given more, more is expected. I think that's the way it should be. We are the richest society in the history of mankind. Worldwide, we are the wealthiest that civilization has ever been. Just think, no matter how modest your own means may be, even the wealthiest kings and emperors who ever lived in centuries past did not have indoor plumbing or light bulbs or aspirin. Our life expectancies are longer, our educations are better, and our health care is better that at any time in history. If I do lose my job, it will be difficult, but I know we'll be fine. I have been blessed with an amazing education, and our support system is strong. In the developing world, it is a starkly different situation. Do I feel that my life and health is more valuable than a Liberian man's? Or an Indonesian woman's? Do I have any more right than they to the benefits of the incredible genius and hard work of mankind? We have medicine, so we should put it to work where there is disease. We have technology to improve water and food security, so it should be utilized where it is needed. It is happening, but much more is needed. We need more voices to tell our leaders that this is the direction we want to go as a nation.
When we do, America will restore our standing in the world as what Jefferson called the world's "last, best hope". Where there is desperation, there is no stability or growth. There is not peace. We will be a more secure country, a safer world, if profound poverty were ended. Plus, if we help developing nations to be able to help themselves through improved infrastructure, it will save money in the long run. If a country can prevent the worst effects of disaster before it happens and recover more quickly when it does, then less of the far more expensive emergency aid would be needed. If we, meaning rich countries, help poor countries climb out of what Jeffery Sachs calls the poverty trap, less annual aid will be needed and new markets will be created for world goods and services. A more stable world with universal participation in the global economy is a far more prosperous world.
This is why the US should wield what Senator Menendez and others call "Smart Power". If we believe in the sanctity of human life, and we truly desire peace, we must act. Our consciences cannot allow us to do otherwise. We have the resources. What is needed is modest compared to the total expenditures of the US and other rich countries every year. These are not investments we cannot afford to make, but they are investments we can't afford not to make. It is not a choice between health care for us or health care for them. It is not about us and them. It is about all of us. We must be the change we wish to see in the world.
That's why I went to Washington D.C. for CARE's annual conference. It's why I care so deeply about ending poverty. Patriotism means sacrifice, and sacrificing a small part of our wealth for the poorest people, the "least of mine", is in the truest American spirit. So it's also why I am so proud of my country, and my leaders, for listening and taking action to end poverty. Add your voice today.