The Face of America Should Meet the Face of Poverty

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

June 30, 2005 - President Bush represents the United States to the world, and he and our 300 million neighbors will have a lot at stake next Wednesday when he arrives in Scotland for the meeting of the G-8: What will America be known for in the world?

The president will join his colleagues from Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, France and Russia, and, hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will explore ways to fight poverty in the world's poorest nations, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Blair argues that wealthy nations have a moral and political obligation to the poor. Moreover, the ONE Campaign, a collaboration of aid agencies, rock stars and other celebrities, is urging the president to increase foreign assistance by just 1 percent of the federal budget.

Currently, we spend four-tenths of 1 percent for the poor overseas; in contrast, military spending totals 49 percent of the president's $818 billion discretionary budget. He believes that any and all funds for foreign assistance should be earmarked for countries whose governments are responsible and have sound strategies for helping their citizens.

He's right and most Americans would agree.

Hundreds of millions of children and their families are mired in poverty.

But I hope the president's eyes don't get glazed over by the daunting statistics he's likely to hear over the next few days:

• 500 million children have no access to sanitation;

• 400 million children do not have access to safe water;

• 270 million children have no access to health-care services;

• 140 million children have never been to school.

Instead, the president should put a face on poverty — a face like that of Chafuli ("cha-FOO-lee"), a boy I know in Mozambique.

I've visited children World Vision has helped in more than 30 countries — children orphaned by AIDS in Uganda, children threatened by malaria in Malawi, kids near death because of diarrhea in India. I thought I had seen the worst of the worst of such senseless poverty — senseless because without a $5 mosquito net, or without a mixture of water, sugar and salt to stop diarrhea, they're given a death sentence.

Then I met Chafuli.

He was 9 when I spent a day with him in 2000. As the head of the household (his father died of AIDS), Chafuli was responsible for providing his mother and eight siblings dinner, the family's only meal of the day. But there were no chickens pecking the ground for wayward kernels of corn, no cattle grazing in a nearby field, no catfish awaiting a fishhook in a stream near his home.

So, together we traipsed around the countryside near his village, a sharpened stick in his hand, hunting rats. Rat meat was the family's main course.

Now, five years later, Chafuli and his family are thriving. There's a well a few yards from their home, and that means clean water every day. They have goats, and that means a daily source of milk and protein, along with income from selling the offspring. And my friend, now almost 15 years old, is in school, and that means he's learning how to make a better life for himself.

Through Chafuli, President Bush can see what Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, calls "the end of poverty." He can grasp that international aid, distributed wisely and used effectively as "a hand up, not a handout," can bring life-changing solutions to the 2 billion people who live on less than $2 a day.

Many of those 2 billion people have no understanding of the discussions in which President Bush will engage his G-8 colleagues. But the decisions coming out of this meeting will set the course for the next generation of people in the Third World.

So, what will America be known for? Regrettably, to many people the United States is known for its military power and the war on terror, not the power behind our 229 years of freedom, justice and compassion. Not the greatness of our values.

The president himself has said, "One of the most important weapons in the war on terror is the hope of hundreds of millions of impoverished people for a better future."

Their future and Chafuli's — as well as our nation's legacy in the world — may be determined by whether President Bush makes a commitment to devote 1 percentage point more of the federal budget for international aid — for "the least of these."

[Editor's Note: This article first appeared on June 30, 2005 in the Seattle Times.]

Richard E. Stearns, a resident of Bellevue, is the president of the U.S. offices of World Vision, which are based in Federal Way. World Vision is an international Christian humanitarian organization.