Thursday, November 8, 2007

Options for the Poor

I believe in giving people opportunity. If they want to remain what we consider poor, who are we to say they can't? There are nomads today who know they can move to cities if they want, Indians who can move off of their reservations, etc. Indeed, while people have been moving from the farm to the city en masse since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, obviously there are those who have chosen all along to stay behind - and more power to them.

But I want to make sure those who choose "progress" and those who choose to live as they always have both have the opportunity to earn a fair wage, wherever they work. That they are free from coercive sex in order to keep their jobs. That they have access to credit (more in one moment). That they are educated in quality schools, so that they can make these decisions in an informed manner - we have folks here in the US who don't have that luxury right now. I want to make sure that, no matter what their choices, parents do not have to watch their children die of starvation; that adults do not have to die of old age at 50, exhausted from a life of toil with no alternative available.

I've taught English to so many people here from other countries (78 to date), from all walks of life. Some of them are short because they did not have proper nutrition as children. Some of them are illiterate because they were pulled from school to work the farm when they were 8. Some of them were raped by Coyotes along their journey here, often within ear-shot or even sight of their family (usually it is our female teachers, and not I, who learn of that). I taught a great group of Vietnamese who were so desperate to escape Vietnam in 1980 that they fled by sea, over 400 of them, and were stranded on an island with no food or fresh water. Before the UN, led by an American, showed up to rescue them, half of their shipmates had died. Half.

I want to help make sure that kind of option is not attractive to anyone.

As for micro credit, Muhammad Yunnis's book, "Banker to the Poor," has probably impacted me more than any book I've ever read. He showed me that one person who simply will not be patient or understanding, who acts as quickly as he thinks, can fundamentally change the world. While most of us are talking - what is micro credit? Does it work? Is it even desirable? - he and legions of disciples are making our questions moot. We don't have to believe; we can just sit back and see for ourselves, or do nothing: we can choose to get out of the way in my father's favorite adage, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way."

I want to lead, because I think there are aspects of education that we can spread as Dr. Yunnis has spread micro credit. I feel beyond fortunate for the talented others, like you, who also want to lead in that regard.