President Jimmy Carter’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1999 answered the question: “What is the greatest challenge facing humankind in the 21st century?” By this time in his life he had been president of the United States, visited nearly 200 countries and had met most of the world’s heads of state.
His answer was: “the growing chasm between the richest and the poorest people on earth.”
I have recently become a grandmother to twin babies from Ethiopia. I now understand the truth of which he spoke. Several years ago my daughter began “sponsoring” a little child from a drought-ridden community across the seas. I believe this relationship prompted her to select adoption as the avenue in which to build their family.
My daughter and husband wanted to spare at least one child from the struggles they knew their “sponsored” child had had to endure. Together our family learned of the 55 percent of the world that did not have access to clean water and the host of health issues associated with that shortage. Ninety percent of all sickness in developing nations is related to unsafe drinking water.
Tesfahun, the little 4-month-old baby boy waiting in the orphanage for his adoption to be completed was struggling to stay alive. He did not have cancer or a rare childhood disease, he had diarrhea. Diarrhea takes the lives of 3,500 children under the age of 5 every day in developing nations.
Tesfahun, and those at the orphanage who were so familiar with this deadly opponent, fought the battle and won. He became healthy enough for adoption. Six weeks before my daughter and son-in-law were to fly to Africa and bring Tesfahun home, they received a phone call announcing that Tesfahun was a twin.
His brother Mulugeta had arrived at the orphanage and was very sick; he had a hole in his esophagus causing him to aspirate fluid into his lungs, leading to chronic pneumonia. It was determined that he would die in Ethiopia, for there was no medical facility capable of treating him. His adoption was expedited in six weeks in order to save his life.
That “chasm” that Carter spoke about between the “richest and the poorest people on earth” was playing itself out right before our eyes and hearts.
Fifty-five percent of the world lives on an income of less than $2 a day. In practical terms that means one meal per day, per family. One of the primary causes of poverty is lack of access to clean water. Without clean water there is little chance of good health. Without good health there is lack of strength for work. Without work there is lack of opportunity for business, and thus the cycle of the “extremely” poor in the developing nations goes on.
Mulugeta is now here in Maine, wrestling with his brother and in good health. But there are 20,000 children under the age of 5 that die every day from easily preventable diseases related to their poverty. Can you imagine hearing of a daycare center with 20,000 children under the age of 5 inside, burning to the ground with no survivors — everyday another daycare, another 20,000 children?
We have the opportunity and power to change this. Not everyone can adopt, or even sponsor a child, but I believe everyone can do something to help “bridge the chasm between the richest and the poorest people on earth.” As the Christmas season approaches I wanted to leave you with the president’s closing wisdom that building that bridge is a “potentially rewarding burden that we (the industrialized nations) should all be willing to share.”
Let “the greatest challenge facing humankind this century” lead us to generosity and joy. Please visit www.worldvision.org this Christmas to share a most “rewarding” burden.
Carol Smith lives in Acton.