Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who to Woohoo Wednesday: Anne Hastings

It's easy to lose perspective in a community like Santa Barbara, especially when it comes to to a term like "poverty." While we have a lot of traffic at the Food Bank and many families struggling to make ends meet—and I don't mean to trivialize that struggle—being poor here is being rich in developing parts of the world.

In Haiti, for example, many people live on $1 a day. The country has struggled to find equality and justice since before its independence, and don't get me started about the role of the United States. Well, I'll just say one little thing, because it's relevant to the US Farm Bill. Our policies of subsidizing farmers in the US, and being sure that every corporation along the distribution chain gets to bleed out all the profit the (subsidized) market will bear, we end up having cheap rice to export. So we send it to our poorest neighbor, Haiti (again, being sure that all American shipping companies, etc., are generously paid). There, the rice is sold for much cheaper than the local rice, undercutting Haitian farmers, and pushing them off their land into urban slums. Where they enjoy the starchy goodness of US Humanitarian Aid. Meanwhile, the IMF and World Bank collects on debts accumulated by deposed dictators, payments guaranteed to keep the entire nation in poverty.

As you can tell, I get a little passionate about Haiti. So I was thrilled when the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life decided to host Anne Hastings, executive director of Haiti's largest microfinance organization, Fonkoze. The microfinance model gives women tiny loans, many under $50, but enough to transform lives in a place like Haiti. Fonkoze also educates and supports women in Haiti. Her lecture was entitled "Eradicating Global Poverty: Is It Really Achievable?"

Her talk at Victoria Hall last night gave background on Fonkoze, but focused on Hastings efforts to reach those living in extreme poverty. These people are living on less than fifty cents a day, with no concrete floor, often no roof, no latrine. The children must work instead of attending school. This is crushing poverty, or, as Hastings described it, "The poverty that kills." Hastings used the image of a ladder, on which one might climb out of poverty. "These are the people," she said, "who don't even have one foot on that ladder. Not a wheelbarrow, not a chicken, no way to get started." They are too poor even for microfinance. So, the new program helps them get that first foot on. It costs $300-$1000 for this 18-month intensive program which lifts a family of six out of killing poverty... (Gosh, one wonders... how could the US justify spending that much money on a foreign country? unless that foreign country has oil, of course...)

I was not surprised to hear she is good friends with revolutionary Dr. Paul Farmer, the subject of Mountains Beyond Mountains (he'll be speaking at UCSB October 22.)

Haiti matters for more reasons than I have time to list here. So does poverty. Hastings answer to her own question, Is eradicating global poverty really achievable?: "I don't know. But we have to keep trying." Woohoo, Anne!

And speaking of the Food Bank, tickets are on sale now for the best soup in town at Empty Bowls on Sunday, November 4. See you there!

1 comment:

Trekking Left said...

The Farm Bill may have started out as something good, but it has turned into a horrible thing. And I think it's a perfect example of corporate welfare. If people think the free markets are so great, they shouldn't be supporting this. I say it's time for the Farm Bill to go.