Walking to the gym tonight for a session of stretching I passed a family of five or so idly standing across the footpath. A little toddler, eyes fixed ahead, started unsteadily walking toward his father from his sister across the path I was to pass.
I tried to sidestep the child, but instead seemed to be like a magnet and for a few seconds it was as though we were doing some strange dance together. I stood and watched, the child reached his father, then staggered off in the direction of more adventure.
The father and I exchanged a few remarks. It turns out this child had been walking only less than a week. Everything was before him now. The family encouraging his every move- doting in wonder.
How remarkable a young child is, and how wrong that so many children particularly in Sub-Sarahan Africa never reach the age to take their first steps. This should be a sobering reflection for us all.
What if it were you instead?
Yesterday I made a post about The Big Divide- Rich and Poor. My friend Suji responded with a great comment on facebook:
I was confronted today by the reality of what the big divide means at street level…sydney siders going hungry because they can’t earn enough to pay their bills or feed themselves. Unacceptable!
I gave it some thought and responded with this comment:
Hey Suji, where was that? The sad thing is if you start looking around you can see that it is more prevalent than expected. The tragic thing in that circumstance is when people slip from a position of not enough money or food into a behavioural pattern where they accept that as the norm.
In my blog I was addressing more the distinction between what you have described (an ethical question: who is responsible- community, government, ‘the super-rich’, the individual) and those who have no choice or not even a chance of good policy to make a difference- those whose only certainty is to have filthy water, disease and dysfunctional governance.
I think that is unacceptable!
So much need. Where should we start? What do you think Suji?
I am not sure of exactly what Suji saw, but I believe it is an important point that she made. I was a little reluctant to share the next piece of information, but in the interests of an open discussion about poverty I think it is important: In the past, I have been in both situations that Suji described. Confronted by the reality of what the big divide means at street level. And at another time going hungry because I didn’t earn enough to pay my bills or feed myself. Not great admissions. Both unacceptable.
But what is it that is unacceptable? That it happens or the situation itself? Who is responsible? Is anyone responsible? Can we draw a comparison to those in extreme poverty?
Again, I would return to reframing the situation. As much as the situation is unacceptable here in Sydney, what is considerably worse are those 4,000 children dying of diarrhoea every day. Unacceptable because of filthy water, disease and dysfunctional governance.
To share more about myself, I have also been confronted with the bitter tragedy of infant mortality with the death of my brother’s young son, Zander, who lived a life measured in hours not years. I felt the grief that he and his wife experienced, and the implications this had for our family and friends.
I cannot fully comprehend what this would be like to occur on a larger scale with a horrible frequency. Sierra Leone in 2007 was recorded as having the highest rate of child mortality of 262 deaths per 1000 children under the age of five. That is completely unacceptable.
I promise you I will be thinking of how wrong these figures of child mortality are for every step of the 24,000 metres I will run for each of the 10 runs over the coming 30 days. 24,000 is the number of children over the age of five who die daily using data from 2008. How I wish it was a lot less, and not because I would prefer to run a shorter distance.
I am asking you to participate in the 10 City Bridge Run. This is not a spectator sport. If you are able, please sponsor me for $24.
Check out the link to the Countdown to 2015 initiative I received sent through from my mate Stephen Mayers here in Sydney.
Another example of some of the great work and focus people are bringing to the urgency required to address the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
A summary might be that there are many reasons to be optimistic about progress toward achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, however the progress has been unevenly distributed. It is time to seriously focus on a countdown toward the time horizon set to achieve these goals of 2015.
Take some time to click through this site and watch the embedded video. What is your response?
UNICEF reported in 2009 that 8.8 million children under the age of five died during 2008. Tragically this would be the same as 24,000 children dying every single day. For comparison, it is worth noting the stark contrast that 50% of these deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa while only 0.1% occur in the “Industrialised Countries”.
UNICEF, the United Nations funding agency for the relief of children in need, is a reliable source of information. In their November 2009 publication The State of the World’s Children Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child gives insight into how different the lives of others can be, and how great their need can be often in comparison to our own. For example, UNICEF report that in 2008:
- 2.5 billion people lacked access to improved sanitation
- 1 billion children were deprived of one or more services essential to survival and development
- 148 million children under the age of five in developing regions were underweight for their age
- 101 million children were not attending primary school, with more girls than boys missing out
- 22 million infants were not protected from diseases by routine immunisation
- 4 million newborn babies worldwide died in the first month of life
- 2 million children under 15 years of age were living with HIV
- 8.8 million children under the age of five died, equivalent to more than 24,000 children dying daily
- 500,000 women died from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth
(Source: UNICEF The State of the World’s Children Special Edition: Celebrating 20 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 2009, p.18-19)
Anup Shah produces a website with much of this information presented clearly for easy reading and can be found here.
How should we respond to this information? Shock, disbelief, vigilance, anger, compassion, sadness?
Maybe the bigger question is what are we prepared to do about it.