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New Episode: Super Tuesday

What does Bangladesh have to do with Super Tuesday? Just some friendly (non-partisan) words of advice:


I’d write more but, much of what I said I have already written up earlier when I was giving my take on the Davos Question.

My Take on the Davos Question

What do I think will make the world a better place? Well, that’s what this whole project is about. I don’t have a 100% set-in-stone answer, but I’m trying to share as much of my journey finding that answer. One thing is certain, the more I let Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’s message sink in – the more I believe it to be true.

Jeffrey Sachs and Me at the Notre Dame 2006 Forum on Global Health

What will make the world a better place? Ending extreme global poverty.

Why? Because:

1) Ending extreme poverty will keep us all healthier. Global pandemics incubate among the global poor before migrating to richer nations.

Don’t believe me? Well, as Dr. Sachs pointed out, recent studies into the origin of the AIDS virus suggests that it originated in Africa – years and years before it first appeared in America. But, no one cared. Why? Because Africans die – that’s seen as “normal” in this world as Dr. Sachs points out.

2) Ending poverty will help us fight terrorism. Terrorists recruit from the desperate and offer them a fictitious reward for sacrifices the leaders are too cowardly to make themselves.

When I went to the Cyclone Sidr Disaster Area, there was one thing I noticed most – everyone was in shock and everyone was vulnerable. Many had lost loved ones and were struggling to find the strength to carry on. They could be very vulnerable to a message from a radical extremist promising a better life if they just sacrifice themselves to a terrorist cause. Thankfully, Bangladesh isn’t as prone to Islamic Extremism as elsewhere in the world. But, as long as this extreme poverty (and with it extreme desperation) continue – terrorists will always have an easy recruiting base.

3) Ending poverty is critical to maintaining our personal identity as good natured human beings.

I decided to start this project because I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror anymore. As I point out in my about page, everyday, 30,000 children die due to poverty and illnesses that can be easily treated. Am I doing enough? Over half the world – over 3,000,000,000 people – live on less than $2 a day. Am I doing enough? Each year, over 8,000,000 people die because they were simply too poor to stay alive. Am I doing enough? Before this project, all I was doing were just a few paltry donation here and there – usually around Christmas time.

I kind of envied others for not having these thoughts when they saw themselves in the mirror. I think a lot of us don’t think about these issues because we kind of assumed that the problem is so immense and so huge – it can’t possibly be solved and we are too small and insignificant to be a part of the movement towards that goal. But look at me – I’m running on small family donations and my 2006 tax return. It’s not a lot of money – but look how much I’ve been able to do! I’m just one person – currently unemployed. Imagine what we could all do if we tried?

Okay, so how this sounds all high and noble – but how do we get to that goal? It’s simple – we complete the eight Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations and agreed upon by almost every country in the world. We’ve been laxing on our commitments to fund these development goals – but we always seem to find money for other things.

PermaNet (Mosquito Net) Given to a Single Mother of Two

Why is this approach the best?

1) It can appeal to those who are either politically left or right leaning.

What if there was this terrorist cell working in Africa trying to develop a pathogen that would kill many Africans before spreading to Europe and America? It wouldn’t take much effort to get people on both the left and the right to unify and authorize millions and millions of dollars in spending to stop this from happening.

Why then, does the consensus break down when the threat is the same but the situation causing it is a little less dramatic? Because of the poor state of health in Africa, disease festers, mutates, and grows. Nature will create this pandemic on its own if we continue to neglect things – the only thing terrorists need to do is sit back and wait.

Supporting the MDGs isn’t a slippery slope to “one-world government”, global taxation, or the lessening of national sovereignty. It’s a logical, non-partisan, self-interest based course of action.

2) It is not a move towards socialism or communism, nor is it a refutation of market economies.

“Are we trying to prove a theory, or are we trying to save lives?” asked Dr. Sachs in regards to laissez-faire economics. Even if you believe that market economics will eventually benefit everyone – a lot of people can die before that benefit reaches them. The MDGs isn’t akin to starting a Soviet Russian-style command economy. This doesn’t involve telling people what to produce or how to work. Rather, it’s about opening up possibilities. Someone who isn’t fighting off deadly disease can focus on work and building a life. Someone who knows how to read and write has more job options than someone who is illiterate. Those who aren’t starving can aspire to earn a living that is more than just subsistence.

If people can earn a living – they’ll eventually want to live it up.

3) It doesn’t require drastic change or expenditure.

The amount of money required by any individual nation to contribute towards completing the MDGs is in the single digit percentages. In fact, as Dr. Sachs points out, if we stopped Pentagon funding for just ONE DAY – every man, woman, and child in Africa could be protected from Malaria for the next twenty year. Many Americans consider America to be a Christian nation. What if, every Christmas Day, the money that would normally be directed towards military expenditures gets redirected towards projects that reflect the spirit of Jesus and the message of the Bible?

I didn’t have time to make a separate video for the Davos Question on YouTube. But if you want the world leaders to be able to see Episode One of the Uncultured Project (which includes clips of ND 2006 Forum – used with permission) here’s how you can help make that happen. Go to this page and click on “view/vote”. Then there is a search for videos section. Search for unculturedproject – there is no space between “uncultured” and “project”. Episode one should appear – click it, and give it a thumbs up. Voting ends pretty soon actually – so don’t worry if you’ve read this after it’s too late to vote.

What Would Sachs Say? The Cyclone Tragedy and Poverty

ND Forum - Sachs

“You can see children dying before your eyes. What conceivable justification could there be for this?”

I heard Dr. Jeffrey Sachs say this during his speech at the Notre Dame Forum back in 2006. Those words ran through my head as I walked among the freshly buried graves from deaths caused by Cyclone Sidr. In his speech, he was referring to about deaths caused by malaria – an easily preventable, easily treatable disease. But these words seemed equally applicable to the situation I was in as well. Although I didn’t realize it by watching the news reports, after coming to the disaster area, it seemed quite obvious as to why some people died and others were able to survive.

In fact, it’s so simple even a child could have figured it out.

“Cyclone Shelters” are basically multi-story buildings made with something a bit more sturdy than mud and straw. They can be made of brick, steel and/or concrete. “Going to a cyclone shelter” is just basically going to a one or two-story school. These were the only kind of buildings that survived the wrath of the cyclone. My basecamp, a school turned into a disaster shelter, was across the street from a little cottage-like home. This home, like the shelther, was made with concrete and bricks. And like the shelther, the house stayed intact while all the straw houses and huts around it were wiped out. The solution to saving lives in Bangladesh is as simple as the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. If you have a house made of brick, a cyclone can huff and puff – but it won’t blow your house down.

If it’s this simple, why didn’t anyone else come to the same conclusion? Well, part of the reason is that we live in a 30-second news spot culture. 30-second news spots are great – perfect in fact – for very quickly providing sound bites and flashy images. You mention a death toll, show some destroyed homes, cut to a crying person, and then call it a wrap. But, there is so much more to this tragedy than just that. If people spent more time examining it, they would have a better understanding. That’s what I’m trying to do here by sharing my experiences. Because, showing photos of devastation caused by a cyclone – followed by pleas for donations – is the easy answer to this problem. What happens when the next cyclone comes? And the one after that? And after that?

I’m going to get preachy here for a second and say this: if people in my generation want to make an impact in this world, and leave the world in a better condition than what it was when we inherited it – we have to look at things and examine them for more than 30 seconds. The world would be a better place if we, instead of trying to help people recover from their loss, we tried to help them prevent a loss in the first place. Something as simple as raising the standard of living for the poorest of the poor – so that their homes could be made out of brick instead of mud – could save countless lives. But that’s the harder answer – because it involves more than just making a small donation. It involves more than just looking at something in the news for 30 seconds. It involves actually examining it, thinking about it, and taking action.

Caring for people our the world doesn’t mean your socialist, or communist, or against people taking care of themselves. In fact, caring for the suffering of others can be in our own self-interest. As I was walking in the cyclone disaster area, I remembered how Dr. Sachs finished that part of his speech:

“We have to understand the problem, and we have to solve it. We have to understand that it is urgent, because our own survival is going to depend on it as well. You can’t leave millions of people to die and believe you’re safe. You can’t believe we’re fighting terrorism if we’re neglecting life by the millions. It’s impossible.”

First YouTube Video Posted

So where have I been these past few days? Been pretty busy. But also because I’ve been going through the footage I’ve shot to create this little summary/montage to show what I’ve been up to while I’ve been here. Take a look:

My goal since the start of this project was to be video blogging this whole experience. But, this has been a bit slow going. Hopefully this video will be a good start in changing that. This project is short term and I’m glad I was able to upload some videos while I’m still in the country.