Friday, June 05, 2009

Attitude Adjustment

Mys sister Carlota has taken over the blog today. Stick with it to the last section for an eye opener.

By M. Carlota Baca, Ph.D.

Did you know that about one billion people on the planet do not have access to clean water and 2.5 billion are without adequate sanitation?

On Wednesday, I moderated a panel on global philanthropy and third-world needs, attended in Santa Fe by about 20 foundations that fund across borders. We learned that dirty water is one of the world’s most efficient killers and this can be prevented cheaply and easily. Currently, there are more child deaths annually from bad water than from AIDS, malaria, and TB combined. This is completely preventable.

Two New Mexico outfits are working hard to alleviate this situation: Waterlines ( - a non profit that has done about 600 potable water projects in Central America, Africa and elsewhere, and the Kind World Foundation that funds many of these projects. In 2007, I brokered a potable water project for a Maasai Women’s Shelter in Tanzania, implemented and funded by these New Mexico nonprofits. The project cost only $3500 and enabled village women to avoid spending hours fetching water several times a day from a well six kilometers away. Each bucket of water they fetched yielded less than one flush of my toilet. This freed up time that could be devoted to farming, education and childcare.

Conflict is another scourge that brutalizes too many millions. We learned about the post-genocide efforts in Rwanda to introduce cottage industries in basketry and other crafts, a wonderful Santa Fe nonprofit called Creativity for Peace that brings Israeli and Palestinian teenage girls here every summer for reconciliation discussion and plans for future communication, and another funder that has made great strides in eliminating the grotesque cultural practice of female genital mutilation in some regions.

These are all “good news” stories that are seldom told. As one journalist in the group said, “If it bleeds, it leads.” War will always lead the front page and the evening news. Reconciliation and peace efforts are seldom recognized.

The day after our session, I set my alarm for 4:00am, so that I could watch President Obama’s speech live. It was a remarkable address because it focused on positive things we can do as a nation, both in our foreign policy and in our attitudes. Perhaps the whole world needs an “attitude adjustment.” Predictably, there were the usual partisan and negative naysayers who criticized the talk because they simply cannot nor will not see another way to live – they remain in a kind of “option paralysis” that has bankrupted our country’s moral stance and political will.

Quite a few years ago, I hosted several Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian women in my house who were brought here for a gathering in Santa Fe by Dr. Merle Lefkoff, a well-known international mediator who has also worked in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East. They were brought partly to get them out of the war zone and partly to meet each other and find how much they had in common. Most of them are still in touch with each other a decade later.

During their stay, they were enchanted by my new kitten, Tillie, and were almost fighting over who could hold her. I found it odd, almost disturbing, and asked if they had no pets? “Oh, Carlota,” they said, “There are no pets. We had to eat them.” What extreme of desperation would bring us to eat our pets? It gave me new insight into the degradation and despair of war, quite apart from the shattering, but remote scenes of bombings and violence that are routine on our widescreen, high definition televisions – the new necessity in the American home. I had undergone an attitude adjustment.

It’s hard to feel empathy for people going through things that are unimaginable for us, but we’ve got to try. It’s the first step. We’re so damn rich. And most people are so damn poor. How simple. Resources are finite. Consumption way beyond our needs apparently is not.

In the last few years, I’ve tried to curtail my frequent travel to beautiful capitals of the Western world and have embarked on trips to places like Tanzania, Nicaragua, Calcutta, Bhutan and Uganda. It’s hard to remain remote when one walks through the central market in Kampala, full of many hundreds of squalid stalls such as the one I stopped at where an old man was selling a small pile of buttons. Those buttons were going to feed his family, but I didn’t buy any. Another stall was selling chicken medicine….nothing else. I had something they needed desperately, but they had nothing I wanted. I ended up buying some beads, but I seldom wear them. I should have bought some buttons. Hell, I should have bought some chicken medicine!

There’s an interesting look at global demographics and resources, called “If the World Were a Village of 100 People.” Take a look at it.

If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the demographics would look something like this:

The village would have 60 Asians, 14 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 Latin Americans, 5 from the USA and Canada, and 1 from the South Pacific

51 would be male, 49 would be female

82 would be non-white; 18 white

67 would be non-Christian; 33 would be Christian

80 would live in substandard housing

67 would be unable to read

50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation

33 would be without access to a safe water supply

39 would lack access to improved sanitation

24 would not have any electricity (And of the 76 that do
have electricity, most would only use it for light at night.)

7 people would have access to the Internet

1 would have a college education

1 would have HIV

2 would be near birth; 1 near death

5 would control 32% of the entire world’s wealth; all 5 would be US citizens

33 would be receiving --and attempting to live on-- only 3% of the income of “the village”

1 comment:

Roxanne said...

Thank you, Carlota, for your recent post, and Jim for your blog. I just discovered you tonight.

To Carlota I want to say that the link to "" goes to a site that sells some kind of small boat -- probably not the organization you intended. I think you meant

Thank you for mentioning the global water issue. My daughter is in the Peace Corps in rural Ecuador, providing health education to people in a cluster of small rainforest villages. She is trying to raise money to bring a clean water system to these communities. For some reason, the Peace Corps doesn't fund this type of project. I will contact Waterlines to get some guidance about how she might proceed.

Thanks again to both of you for your posts. Though I live in California, I love New Mexico!