Monday, June 12, 2006

[California] Seniors can do their part helping end world poverty

from Inside Bay Area

AS THEY AGE, some seniors turn inward because they no longer feel needed. Retired, with time on their hands, they wish they could make a difference in the world. What they don't realize is that the world is literally starving for what they and all other people of good will have to offer.

Every three seconds a child dies of hunger and disease. How often do we hear such statistics and then continue with what we are doing? What if one of these malnourished children was dying right in front of our eyes? Wouldn't we be moved to do something about it? Why does such poverty continue and what can seniors and others do to relieve and even eradicate it?

The United Nations World Food Program explains that enough food is produced to feed the world, but 815 million people in developing countries still go hungry. Natural disasters, droughts, wars, poverty, agricultural infrastructures and exploitation of the environment prevent universal distribution of the world's food supply.

Fair trade could lift millions of people out of poverty, but unfair trade rules deprive poor countries of $800 billion per year. Just 0.01 percent of that could prevent blindness in 30 million people. Many countries are paying more in debt repayment than goes to their own health and education needs. Debt cancellation can spur dramatic improvements. For example, it enabled Mozambique to provide free immunizations for children.

There are reasons to hope that the world community will commit itself to end extreme poverty. Under U.N. auspices, in 2000 industrialized nations renewed their dormant 1970 pledge to devote 0.7 percent of their gross national product to humanitarian assistance. The U.N. Millenium Project set ambitious goals to be achieved by 2015:

Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.

These efforts are not limited to governments. Many public and private nonprofits and religious organizations offer ways for seniors and others to contribute time and money toward these goals.

For example, the ONE Campaign, a faith-based anti-poverty coalition of charitable organizations and celebrity partners, is rallying more than 2 million Americans to fight extreme poverty and global AIDS.

Seniors who want to make a difference can contribute their time and resources to local, national and international efforts to share the world's wealth more equitably and to make sure that children can learn and thrive, not struggle to survive.

For some it might mean taking the ONE Campaign pledge to support fair trade, debt relief, anti-corruption measures and finding additional resources for basic needs at a cost equal to 1 percent of our federal budget. Others may want to consider volunteering in the Peace Corps, becoming active in a local advocacy or service group or giving regularly and more generously to certain charitable organizations and considering bequests, as well.

A senior can make a difference in our hurting world.

Standing with and supporting vulnerable people can add meaning, purpose and deep satisfaction to the life of someone who hasn't been feeling very needed.

We can take a small or big step today, now, before we continue what we were doing or lamenting the lack of things to do.

Sandra J. Cohen, R.N., and Roger Cormier are elder care managers who help families plan and coordinate care of an older relative at home or in a care facility. You can reach them at (510) 652-3377 or (925) 945-8855 or visit

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