We all can help ward off poverty's "silent tsunamis"
This past year has been a laboratory for our faith and our humanity, starting last December as those of us in Seattle were cleaning up from...
Special to The Times
THIS past year has been a laboratory for our faith and our humanity, starting last December as those of us in Seattle were cleaning up from Christmas dinner. An earthquake-triggered tsunami in Asia snuffed out nearly 300,000 lives in a matter of hours.
The tsunami was only the first in a series of disasters: locust plague and famine in Niger; drought and extreme hunger elsewhere in Africa; hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma, which killed thousands, left millions homeless on our Gulf Coast and in Central America, and nearly obliterated an American treasure, New Orleans; and finally, an Oct. 8 earthquake that killed tens of thousands in South Asia and exposed millions to a harsh Himalayan winter.
Those killed — and those left homeless, traumatized and grieving — included Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, people of other faiths, and people of no faith. Their beliefs informed, strengthened and comforted them as they dealt with issues of life, death and rebuilding their lives.
As we witnessed suffering on our television sets, our own beliefs were challenged. Would we demonstrate the charity required by our faiths and our humanity? Would we love our neighbors as ourselves?
The answer is a qualified "yes."
The world responded quickly to the tsunami — $2 billion in private and government aid in the first week alone. While most aid came through official channels such as governments and the United Nations, Americans have a long tradition of supporting private faith-based and humanitarian organizations.
Ordinary Americans showed unprecedented generosity, crashing records and charity Web sites in the days and weeks after the tsunami. In addition to government aid, we gave $1.6 billion through private organizations. We were even more generous when disaster made landfall in the United States, giving nearly $3 billion to help our countrymen recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Industry experts expect 2005 to be a record year for charitable giving, topping the 2004 total of nearly $250 billion to churches, schools and health organizations.
That's the good news. The bad news is that 2005 was a deadly year in other ways. One million people, mostly children, died of malaria. More than 3 million died from AIDS. And a shameful 11 million babies and young children died of preventable causes such as hunger and diarrhea. Lives lost through "silent tsunamis" caused by extreme poverty.
The pain was felt by starving children in Niger. By mothers whose children die from malaria because they can't afford a mosquito net. By teenage orphans who sell their bodies to feed their brothers and sisters, exposing themselves to the same disease that took their parents. By 29,000 children who die each day before reaching their fifth birthdays because they don't have clean water, adequate food, immunizations and basic medicines — things we take for granted.
Their suffering is just as real as that of the mothers, fathers and children we see on television after a hurricane, earthquake, tsunami or other disasters with higher media appeal. It's much harder to motivate people to respond to a disaster so entrenched yet so invisible as extreme poverty.
Yet, we can overcome deaths from disease, hunger and poverty. Two decades of solid development work, much of it funded by the U.S. government, have reduced child mortality from 40,000 a day to 29,000; the decline is even more dramatic when population growth is factored in.
Thankfully, there are people who look beyond event-driven disasters, and in the process propel the issues of poverty, hunger and disease into the headlines. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is making inroads in the fight against malaria, AIDS and illiteracy through strategic investments in research and technology. Even more visible is Bono, the self-described "rock star with a cause," who has challenged world leaders and ordinary people alike to wipe out poverty.
We don't have to be rich or famous to exercise our humanity and our faith. For Christians, our example is the widow praised by Jesus for giving what little she had. Small gifts can be strategic in saving lives: $8 will buy a mosquito net; $20 will immunize a child; 25 cents will buy oral rehydration salts that can save a child from diarrhea.
We also can lend our voices to the cause. The ONE Campaign, a coalition of faith-based and other humanitarian organizations, is attempting to relegate poverty to history by engaging ordinary Americans and challenging world leaders. Information on joining the ONE Campaign can be found at www.worldvision.org/one.
Finally, people of faith can employ a powerful weapon: prayer. Pray that every child can experience life in all its fullness. And pray that every person will exercise their faith and their humanity to make it happen.
Richard E. Stearns of Bellevue is the president of the U.S. offices of World Vision, based in Federal Way. World Vision is an international Christian humanitarian organization.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.