By Donella Meadows
–December 20, 1990–
“The sheer brutality of the poverty is the hardest for us to get used to. It takes them so much energy just to live a day, it leaves me humble and in awe. Most Ugandans we have met are warm and friendly, quick to smile. Nothing short of a miracle to us that this is so.”
Charlotte Houde Quimby, a nurse-midwife from Plainfield, left last August with her husband Tony to teach at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Since then her letters have been passing from hand to hand through our small community. They are tacked to bulletin boards, read at church, discussed in the general store.
“The babies are stunningly beautiful. The mothers are gentle, shy, and sweet. Each mother has a 25 percent chance of dying in childbirth during her fertile years. The chance of her infant surviving to the age of ten is less than that. Most of the women have 4-8 children, farm all day, lug their water, and cook over wood they must gather. One woman saved money from selling vegetables to buy her medicines.”
Of the $3 trillion economic product of the Third World, 98 percent is generated by the people of the Third World themselves. The remaining two percent comes from all forms of foreign aid. That includes multilateral sources such as the World Bank and bilateral (government-to-government) sources such as the U.S. Agency for International Development. Official U.S. bilateral development aid to all countries amounts to about $12 billion per year, $48 per U.S. citizen.
Writes Charlotte Quimby: “A nurse earns seven dollars a month, has no equipment, linen, drugs, soap, water, or food for patients, and almost no colleagues. She might be alone with 20-40 patients. How these nurses find the courage to show up day after day is beyond me!”
Of the world’s 18 richest nations, the U.S. ranks 17th in the percent of its GNP it gives to foreign aid (0.4 percent). The United Nations asks developed countries to give 0.7 percent of their GNP to aid. Only Saudi Arabia, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and France meet that target.
“I can’t get used to women lying on plastics sheets to labor, or children having teeth removed without novocaine, or patients on the floor because there are three times more patients than beds — this without running water. A man died of AIDS in his mother’s arms in the hall while I was walking to the labor ward! Women go behind the building to void so we can check urine — IF they brought a container to put it in. There is no tape to measure them with, nothing to hear their baby’s heart with. Only two of the mothers I saw had eaten breakfast, though most walked a minimum of one to three miles to get here. Help! Where do I start?”
Of the $12 billion the U.S. gives in development aid the largest chunk by far, $1.2 billion, goes to Israel (that doesn’t count military aid). We give an average of $268 per Israeli, whose average income is $9800 per year. We give $1 per Ugandan, whose average income is $280 per year.
“Francis, a young man who works with us, has lost two family members to AIDS in the last month. The second was his 38 year old sister, the mother of 12 children, six of whom had been killed in a massacre during the war. The last child, an infant she was breast-feeding, also has AIDS. The father, unable to ackowledge his role in all this, has abandoned the family. When Francis learned of his sister’s death, he had to gather firewood for the mandatory all-night mourning, scrounge for food for the kids, buy a coffin, dig the hole, and prepare the ritual reading of her life. He is 23. He will share the cost of caring for the children, but he knows not who will attend the dying baby.”
“Our hearts are always caught in our throats. How are these people sustained?”
Jocie Ditzel’s eighth-grade students at the Plainfield School recently sent Charlotte and Tony Quimby a check for $150. The kids raised the money from bake sales and babysitting and asked the Quimbys to use it for a good purpose. It will go toward school fees for Ugandan eighth-graders.
The Quimbys’ friends and relatives have established a “Friends of Uganda Fund” now totalling $1400. Charlotte’s former colleagues at the Community Health Center are assembling boxes of stethoscopes, fetal monitors, rubber gloves, and drug and birth control samples to send to Kampala. Teachers at Kimball Union Academy are collecting school supplies. Don Penfield of Hanover Transfer and Storage is helping with the logistics of shipping.
Through official channels Americans are among the stingiest people on earth. That doesn’t mean we’re stingy. It means we distrust the bureaucracy and political distortion through which our government administers aid. When we are personally touched, when we can give through someone we trust, our hearts and wallets open wide.
Aid even at its best is only a band-aid. Most of what poor people have they get for themselves, somehow, even in the most difficult circumstances. Nevertheless it’s a shame that our supposedly democratic government does not represent our natural generosity — it’s a shame for the poor and for us and especially for the relationship between the two. One New England valley can do little for Uganda, compared to what we could do as a nation, if we insisted that our government give as compassionately, imaginatively, and gladly as we do, when we see a direct way of giving.
(Checks for Uganda through Charlotte and Tony Quimby can be made out to the Meriden Congregational Church, Meriden NH 03770. Indicate that the contribution is for the Uganda Project.)
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1990