Imagine a voice from Africa the G-8's working dinner
The Group of Eight convened Friday in Huntsville, Ont, for two days of meetings. World Vision President Richard Stearns imagines what a voice from Kenya might have told the leaders as they convened their meetings. G-20
Special to The Times
IMAGINE if Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had an extra seat at the table for the opening dinner Friday of the G-8. I'm quite sure the maitre d' at the Deerhurst Resort could easily have squeezed a ninth chair at the table.
My nominee for that ninth seat would have been Evelyn Juma.
Juma, 37, lives in President Obama's "adopted" nation, Kenya. She personifies the eradication of poverty in the developing world, and would offer those leaders insights not found in their briefing binders.
Imagine the scene in the resort's main dining room. Juma, who launched a poultry farm and expanded her successful grain business through a World Vision microloan, feels a bit intimidated, but musters up the courage to challenge her dinner partners: "Gentlemen and Ms. Merkel, the decisions you make this weekend have the power to change the lives of the billion poorest people on earth.
"You can continue to make strategic investments, empowering people to help secure a brighter future, or you can retreat from your previous commitments and watch the chasm expand between the wealthiest and poorest nations. The choice is yours."
She remarks that in sub-Saharan Africa over the past few years, $40 billion in debt has been canceled for several nations, about $14 billion in increased foreign assistance has been spent, the cost of antiretroviral drugs has been lowered, and 42 million more children are in schools.
"These efforts are helping nations, such as South Africa, to become players in the global economy, so long as men and women with integrity are elected to leadership positions," she says.
As the salad plates are taken away, and the main course is served, Juma politely steers the conversation with the president toward maternal and child health. President Obama nods attentively as she notes there remains an enormous gap between the developed and developing world.
"We share Kenyan heritage," Juma says, "so you need to know that sub-Saharan Africa's child mortality rate is 24 times that of industrialized countries. And did you know, Mr. President, women in the poorest countries are nearly 300 times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth than women living in industrialized countries?"
Juma concedes that the news is not all grim.
Since 1990, child mortality has dropped from 12.5 million annually to 7.7 million. However, the administration's FY 2011 budget request, which includes a $351 million increase for maternal and child health, offers only $90 million for vaccines and immunizations — far below what is needed to help ensure child mortality continues to drop.
Finally as dessert is served, Juma articulates her most compelling argument: The elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission and the end of malaria-related deaths could be accomplished by 2015, during Obama's potential second term. More than eradicating nuclear weapons or making Social Security solvent, these two extraordinary public-health accomplishments could define Obama's presidency.
"Don't allow the momentum and hope you have inspired in my village and my country to be squandered," she tells him. "They will pay dividends for decades in ways we cannot imagine here tonight."
Their conversation is interrupted as dinner ends and the eight world leaders adjourn to their rooms. Ms. Juma? Juma is returning to Kenya right away. Her son Griffin, 11, needs a new bicycle, so he can ride — not walk — to school three miles away.Richard Stearns is the president and CEO of Federal Way-based World Vision, the international Christian humanitarian organization.
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