Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Less than a dollar a day

Today is Blog Action Day when literally thousands of bloggers are taking up the issue of poverty to "raise awareness, initiate action and to shake the web." Great idea. I'll weigh in.

I originally thought I'd write about how terrible the economy is and my worry that we'll soon be starring in "Great Depression - The Sequel." I've personally lost over $100,000 in 401K savings, and after my divorce and the recession, I am broke. I even borrowed "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck from the library; I figured I'd better start boning up on how to survive the very worst of financial disasters. (Fortunately, I feel absolutely zero compulsion to load everything I own into my VW Beetle and drive across country to pick peaches. Apparently, I would make a lousy Joad.)

Anyway, as I was ramping up to whine, I saw a map that changed my mind. Since a picture paints a thousand words, I'll let you look at how many people in this world live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1 a day:

I don't know about you, but the only way I can live on less than a dollar a day is to stay home and not turn on the computer. The downturn has revived any notion I ever had of frugality, but this is different. We're lucky; very few in the US live in extreme poverty. Western Europe, Russia, and Australia are also faring well. But look at South America and China. Six to 20% of these folks are living on less than a buck a day. And compared to Africa, the South Americans and Chinese are living like overfed royalty.

So even as we fret over lost retirement funds and increasing unemployment, let us remember how much we have here in America - and how we have a responsibility to others much less fortunate than ourselves. This puts a whole new spin into the old Hollies record, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother."

Is there anything we can do to fight hunger and poverty in this world? Here are a few ideas:
  • Provide microloans to the poor via OptInNow. As the organization's website says, "You give a gift that funds a loan. That loan builds a business. And that business helps hard working families out of poverty. When the loan is repaid, it’s recycled, and loaned again and again. It’s giving that keeps going." As an entrepreneur, I like this idea a lot. Giving as little as $25 to start a business? Priceless.

  • Knit something for Afghans For Afghans. The organization "sends hand-knit and crocheted blankets and sweaters, vests, hats, mittens, and socks to the beleaguered people of Afghanistan." I've knitted several pairs of mittens for this non-profit. It really warms my heart to know that I am keeping someone warm in one of the least fortunate countries in the world.

  • Stop buying your daily latte or Diet Coke and donate that money to charity. You might put Starbucks out of business, but you could make a real difference to a family in the Third World.

I'll close this Steinbeck quote: "How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him - he has known a fear beyond every other." Do what you can to quell that fear, to feed those wretched bellies. It is our obligation to each other - and to ourselves, too.

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