September 24, 2008

September 25

Some of you might have noticed the badge in the right-hand column of this blog over the last several weeks. In New York today, world leaders are meeting, ostensibly to check progress on the Millennium Development Goals and recommit themselves to these “eight commandments” that are aimed at eliminating poverty. Mostly, I imagine, they’ll just end up talking a lot, making promises they don’t keep, and wondering if they’ll get a chance to meet with Sarah Palin. But I digress…

Before I moved to South Africa, I vaguely knew what the MDGs were and vaguely thought they were important. Now that I’ve spent a year working with some of the very people the MDGs were designed to assist, I think I have a clearer picture of how we might move towards the more just world embodied by the MDG commitments. There’s lots I could write here but I want to limit myself to two points I’ve come to believe over the last year.

The first is that money alone will not allow us to achieve the MDGs. I wrote about this extensively in an earlier post, which I suggest you read now. Basically, my thought was that in Itipini, where I work, money is not an obstacle to education so school fees should not prevent anyone from going to school. But I still see children not in school during the middle of the day for a variety of social issues (they have a child, they need to look after their sister while their mother is in town, there are too many chores to be done) that can not necessarily be addressed by cash. So if we want to achieve the MDGs, not only must we devote more financial resources to the effort, we must also devote a significant chunk of personal resources as well.

The second point is that achieving the MDGs will take time. I am convinced that the first step in getting a handle on the HIV epidemic is for everyone to know their status but too many people are still too afraid of the knowing the result and not aware of the treatments that are available to help them. I told a story in my last monthly e-mail about how it took me three months of off-and-on conversation before a friend of mine agreed to be tested for HIV. This friend speaks English fairly well and, I think, trusts me and IT STILL TOOK THREE MONTHS. And that was ONE PERSON. There are MILLIONS in South Africa like her.

One thing I’ve realized while working in Itipini is that for poor people, their time horizon - how far they plan in the future - is short, as in tomorrow. They ask, “How can I survive until tomorrow?” In contrast, I take life a year or two at a time and make plans on that basis. God’s timeline, however, I think must be beyond our conception. And if we believe that God has a plan for all of us, we sometimes must acknowledge that our timelines (I wanted my friend to have a test right now!) are not necessarily the right ones.

So we need more than just financial resources to be thrown at the problems of the world and we need to acknowledge the ways in which our efforts are part of a larger effort, the full extent of which we might not be able to recognize.

(And, yes, I realize I am a day early but I wasn't sure I would be able to get online tomorrow.)

For more on the Anglican/Episcopal response to this day of action, check out


Abuela Marty said...

Jesse, thanks for your comments about timelines. The idea of planning 1 to 2 years out is a luxury I do not reflect on often enough.

Border Explorer said...

Hi, I'm visiting some of the MDG posts today. Jesse, I love this one. You're a fine writer. I'm going to track Mthatha Mission so I can learn more about the work you've been doing in Africa.