A Call To Action

I have been planning on volunteering in La Paz, Bolivia for some time now. During that time, I have done quite a bit in order to prepare: I paid off my student loans, learned some basic Spanish, earned an IT certification, and took many courses on non-profit management, all to be of use once I arrived in Bolivia.

No one regrets more than I do that this hasn’t come to fruition as I expected it would. Due to some complications and uncertainties in other areas of my life, I cannot afford to volunteer in La Paz as I had hoped. I’ve learned that even if one has the heart to volunteer and help the needy, it’s very difficult to actually make it happen. I’m still not sure if it’s better to discard one’s dreams or defer them, but either way, I won’t be volunteering internationally for the foreseeable future. I emailed the director this morning with the bad news.

HOPE’s service and health programs in La Paz, Bolivia have helped thousands of disadvantaged people live better lives. Together with Foundation Arco Iris, they provide healthcare, education, food, clothing, and volunteer support to impoverished families. Bolivia is the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, over 50% of the population lives on less than $2 USD per day. There are approximately 30,000 children and orphans who live and/or work on the streets of La Paz. The need is great.

Please follow this link to see more of their work in Bolivia, follow their WordPress blog, and seriously consider donating to support the effort. I ardently wish that I could help in person, but if it’s not meant to be, we can help from afar.

A Call To Action

Sustainable Development and Planetary Boundaries

More than 1 billion people live in extreme poverty.  About half of them stay in rural areas, half in urban slums.  Most of them have no electricity, no transportation, no healthcare, no safe drinking water, no sanitation, and no schooling.  While great strides have been made in recent years, one out of every seven people on this planet struggle to meet their daily needs.

Industrialization and general development could help those living in extreme poverty attain a higher standard of living.  They could live healthier, safer, and easier lives, free from the myriad of difficulties they face every day.

However, this development must be sustainable.  The goals of economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability must be balanced.  Even the so-called Developed World has yet to achieve the necessary sustainability.  Heavy reliance on fossil fuel energy pollutes the atmosphere and oceans so much that it’s affecting the planet.  If the rest of the world develops along the same lines, we will only experience fleeting gains.

It is imperative that developing nations industrialize on a more responsible path.  The entire world, rich and poor alike, must balance economic growth with protecting the environment.  We all have progress to make, ignoring sustainability would lead to global disaster.

Sustainable Development and Planetary Boundaries

10 Reasons to Volunteer Overseas

“Why?” is the most important question to ask oneself, even for something like volunteering overseas.  Unfortunately, prospective volunteers tend not to consider this question.  This lack of intentionality can lead to misguided initiatives so the volunteer does more harm than good.  There are countless reasons to volunteer, here are five of each:

– Bad Reasons to Volunteer Abroad

  • To escape personal problems
  • To lift poor people out of poverty
  • To travel or have an adventure
  • You can’t hold down a job or pass classes
  • To impress future employers

Elevating the impoverished is a good goal, but a questionable reason.  Such an assumption could be arrogant and offensive.

– Good Reasons to Volunteer Abroad

  • To learn a foreign language/culture
  • To gain perspective on the impact of wealthy countries in the world
  • To put your concern for others into action
  • To share your skills and expertise at an organization’s request
  • To become a more effective advocate for change

Apart from the clear-cut reasons, the main difference is one of perspective.  Miraculously saving the poor from poverty is not a good reason, but taking action to help others is.  One point of view sees themselves as an altruistic savior, the other, as a willing servant.

This is why it’s important to balance sacrificial and selfish reasons to volunteer overseas.  A completely sacrificial mindset could be based on arrogance, as if they have nothing to learn from the intended beneficiaries.  Someone with selfish reasons would only help others accidentally.  But a balanced individual who realizes they have something to give and something to gain, may be better suited.

Volunteers can damage a community if they are there for the wrong reasons.

Volunteers can work within communities to affect great change if they are there for the right ones.

10 Reasons to Volunteer Overseas

Rainbow of Hope for Bolivia’s Street Children

Last night, I attended an event hosted by the Rainbow of Hope for Bolivia’s Street Children foundation.  Social project updates and videos were interspersed with wine and cheese.  70 people smiled at each other since there was something of a language barrier.  The foundation thoughtfully provided translator ear-pieces for the non-Spanish speakers.  Since I passed the A2 exams, I declined and practiced my listening comprehension instead.

RHBSC was founded in 2007 to raise funds to support Fundación Arco Iris.  Father Jose Neuenhofer founded FAI in 1994 to “combat discrimination, marginalization and lack of opportunities suffered by thousands of children and youth living or working on the streets of La Paz – Bolivia.”  In 2011, HOPE Worldwide started supporting FAI’s hospital and nursing education programs.  The three organizations work together to help the impoverished in La Paz.

Bolivia is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Approximately 30,000 children live and work on the streets of La Paz alone.  Arco Iris runs several social programs which include orphanages and vocational training courses.  Their “Refuge House” welcomes adolescents who are pregnant or recently gave birth.  The new mothers receive psychological treatment, professional preparation, and work training to become independent.  Many have been expelled by their families.  Most have been physically and sexually abused.  None of them qualify for governmental assistance.  The biological fathers have no legal or monetary responsibility to the mother or their child.

Like most poor places, there’s a vast wealth divide in Bolivia.  There’s such little faith in Bolivian doctors that those who can afford it will leave the country for something as simple as a physical exam.  Those who can’t afford it don’t receive medical attention.

Unlike most poor places, La Paz is not hot and humid.  It sits in the high mountains of the altiplano at 13,500 feet.  The yearly average low temperature is 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius).  The streets are cold at night.

I spoke with Kevin Broyle, HOPE Country Director, and Gary Reguerin about volunteering in La Paz.  They both asked essentially the same question and had the same response to my answer.

“When do you want to make this happen?”

“Maybe another 18 months, after I’m out of debt.”

“Well if you have the heart for it, we’d love your help.”

Most of FAI’s and HOPE’s efforts are medically based, but they need non-medical volunteers for everything else.  They have doctors, psychologists, and nurses; they need to fill other roles.  Your service is helpful even if you aren’t an MD, NP, MBA, MPA, or CFRE.

Fundación Arco Iris and HOPE have been doing good work in La Paz for years.  Things have been going well for most of their initiatives this year, but there’s always more work to do.  They’ve helped thousands of children, but there are tens of thousands more to protect.

Follow HOPE’s WordPress for program updates.  Consider sharing and making a donation.  If you don’t connect with these nonprofits, the Project For Awesome fundraiser, which has raised over $1.1M for a variety of organizations, still has a few days left.

Never worry about numbers.  Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.

-Mother Teresa

Rainbow of Hope for Bolivia’s Street Children

Millennium Development Goals

The United States hosted the UN Millennium Summit in New York City from 6 September to 8 September 2000.  Over 100 heads of state attended and made this the largest gathering of world leaders in history at the time.  All 189 United Nations committed to help the world achieve these Millennium Development Goals by the end of 2015:

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To achieve universal primary education
  3. To promote gender equality and empower women
  4. To reduce child mortality
  5. To improve maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability
  8. To develop a global partnership for development

Specific benchmarks within individual goals can be found here and here.

Since 1970, each economically advanced UN member nation has committed to support official development assistance.  In 2013, this commitment totaled $314.6 billion, of which only $134.8 billion was delivered.

In June 2005, G8 finance ministers agreed to provide enough funds to cancel $40-$55 billion of debt.  This allowed impoverished countries to reallocate their resources and progress toward achieving the MDGs.

Despite these funding efforts, the world has experienced uneven advancement toward the Millennium Development Goals.  Slum-dwellers in Western Asia have seen no significant progression, whereas those in Northern Africa have.

The only sub-category which has worldwide insufficient prevailing trends is: Goal 3.3- Women’s equal representation in national parliaments.  Not one region of the developing world is likely to achieve parliamentary gender equality by the end of next year.  Yet, Rwanda’s revised constitution guarantees at least 30 percent of parliamentary seats for women.

Today [2007], Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians in the world with women constituting nearly 50 percent in the Chamber of Deputies and about 35 percent in the Senate.

Millennium Development Goal 1: To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, has three sub-categories:

  • Reduce extreme poverty by half
  • Productive and decent employment
  • Reduce hunger by half

The World Bank estimated that worldwide extreme poverty was reduced by half in 2008 due to the major successes of China and India.  China’s poverty population declined from 453 million to 278 million.  Combined with India’s development efforts, worldwide poverty has substantially decreased.

MDG pov

China’s economic policy reforms reduced their poverty population.  The “open door policy” allowed significant foreign investment in their special economic zones.  In the 1990s, China was the largest recipient of direct investment.  When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, poverty dropped by a third in just three years.  However, this exacerbated the inequality between the urbanized coast and rural inland provinces.

Extreme poverty and hunger have not been equally eradicated in other regions of the developing world.  The impoverished in Sub-Saharan Africa are some who have yet to experience such gains.

Poverty has decreased in Sub-Saharan Africa, but nothing like it has in China.  88% of The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s people survive on less than $1.25 per day.  The US State Department reported that the DRC’s “rich endowment of natural resources, large population size, and generally open trading system provide significant potential opportunities for US investors.  At the same time, the DRC remains a highly challenging environment in which to do business.”  Political instability and corruption stifle large-scale economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The United Nations are already planning their Post 2015 Development Agenda.  David Mepham’s Putting Development to Rights makes several suggestions for the framework.  He prompts “action to address root causes of poverty—such as inequality, discrimination, and exclusion” through policy reforms.  These policies must “challenge patterns of abuse as well as harmful cultural practices like child marriage.”  Mepham claims that Human Rights Watch “has documented many cases of corporate complicity with human rights violations.”  It is crucial that future development initiatives respect human rights in all their work.  Otherwise, so-called “development” may cause more harm than good.

The world has seen staggering progression over the past 14 years.  Some countries have sporadically met the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, whereas others will take more time.  The post-2015 framework must empower people to be agents and not subjects of development.  These philosophical changes would benefit the world and improve millions of lives.

Millennium Development Goals