“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Global Poverty Project will begin its 1.4 Billion Reasons 2012 tour across the United States in February. We’re traversing the country in 18 weeks across 25 states with 66 presentations booked and counting. There are four of us on the trip and the office is bubbling with excitement as anticipation mounts for when we shotgun out of New York state and zip down to the US south for our first cluster of presentations.
We can hear Meg, our main speaker and former Peace Corp volunteer in Malawi, practicing the text of the presentation in the office next-door. As she rehearses, interjecting anecdotes about Malawi and her experience as a local teacher, we all can’t help but get distracted from our work as we listen. Living 14 hours outside the capital city of Lilongwe, she taught Secondary School in a country where over 40 per cent of the population lives on less that $2 a day.
Sometimes her stories are funny: Malawi fashion revolves around castoff T-shirts with inappropriate or erroneous messaging, including one announcing “Indianapolis Colts, 2010 Super Bowl Champions” (the New Orleans Saints were the real winners). But other times they are heartbreaking: she remembers girls being harassed as they attempted to go to school, corruption diverting critical school funds, and an impoverished security guard being fired for failing to protect a female student.
Dan, our logistics coordinator, sits in the corner desk of the office. He’s in charge of booking presentations and is the resident scheduling expert. Balancing 66 presentations, some in unfamiliar or isolated locations, he’s managed to create a cohesive route winding across highways and back country roads. A former Washington, DC resident, he’s developed USAID agricultural programs in East Africa and South Asia. He’s also an expert at finding engaging ways for us to present, including a spot at the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
Tyler, our videographer, is busy ordering equipment and planning his camera shots. He’s organizing fascinating videos and interviews, focusing on organizations like Heifer International, whose innovative microfinance model includes donating animals to developing countries. Their headquarters are at a sprawling ranch in Arkansas, where we will be visiting for a few days. Tyler has documented everything from development in Africa to hiking in Montana, and he’ll be making videos following every leg of the tour.
As we traverse from one state to the next, we’ll be sharing the mission of the Global Poverty Project: to end extreme poverty within a generation, specifically focusing on preventable child deaths. It’s an ambitious goal for a pressing issue: about 21,000 children under the age of five –15 each minute – die every day. These deaths are preventable with access to vaccines, adequate sanitation, and maternal health care.
From February to May, we’ll present engaging personal stories and debunk myths about foreign aid
which have co-opted U.S. dialogue on issues like preventable child deaths. In innumerable polls, Americans overwhelmingly believe that the U.S. government spends a larger portion of the total federal budget on foreign aid than defense spending, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, or infrastructure. The truth? The U.S. spends less than 1% of the federal budget on foreign aid.
Additionally, many believe that increased foreign aid is a cause championed by Democrat Presidents and representatives. Yet the U.S. presidents that have historically appropriated the largest amounts of aid are Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, who in 2003 gave the largest amount in foreign aid in three decades. All of the largest spenders were Republican.
We’ll be visiting states with vastly different political and social conceptions. We imagine that presentations in Butte, Montana will bring a different assortment of questions than those garnered from Washington, DC or New York City, NY. Or maybe they’ll be the same. Either way, we hope to build a movement where issues of poverty, and especially child mortality, can be discussed in any community.