One of the things that Helen Ulaky's grandchildren remember her saying most often is, "Finish your dinner! People are starving in Europe." An early 20th-century immigrant, she remembered hard times as a child in her native Hungary and knew first-hand from correspondence with family in the old country how difficult many of their lives remained.
Many Americans today are far removed from the harsh realities of poverty and near-poverty that our ancestors may have experienced. Like many immigrants of the last century, my great-grandparents' move to America opened the door to new opportunities for their children and grandchildren that they could hardly have imagined. Few are immune, however, from the possibility of hardship like that which Helen remembered so strongly and tried to convey to her grandchildren as they sat at the dinner table. In fact, even today one of five Europeans lives in poverty, the large majority of them in my great-grandmother's native Eastern Europe. Amazingly, many of these poor are significantly better off than those in other areas of the world whose suffering includes lack of access even to safe drinking water.
Although poverty clearly remains a worldwide problem, I am heartened by the efforts of people such as Dr. Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, the "father" of micro-lending, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2006. His book Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty is eye-opening and inspiring.
I am happy to participate in an organization like Kiva that gives anyone with access to a computer the ability assist others around the world struggling to support themselves and their families under difficult circumstances. I am also hopeful that innovations such as LifeStraw will help to change lives by bringing access to clean water to those in need. FreeRice.com, Ten Thousand Villages, Catholic Relief Services, Food for the Poor: there are so many avenues for change that each one of us can participate in today.
On this Blog Action Day 2008, my thoughts turn to those throughout the world who struggle to provide food and water for their families each day. Mindful of them (and the many grandmothers of the world), I hope that you'll finish your dinner and do your part to bring an end to poverty.
As Jeffrey Sachs stated in his book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time:
"It all comes back to us.
Individuals, working in unison, form and shape
...Let the future say of our generation that we sent forth mighty currents of hope, and that we worked together to heal the world."
Do your part to make a difference in the life of someone who is living with or close to poverty today. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Help keep a small business owner in the developing world out of poverty by making a micro-loan at Kiva.org
- Help feed the hungry while you and/or your kids test your knowledge at FreeRice.com
- Join Catholic Relief Services in praying, learning, participating and speaking out
- Donate to those in need through Food for the Poor
- Purchase items created by local artisans throughout the developing world at Ten Thousand Villages, which ensures that the artisans receive fair compensation for their work through fair trade
- Print a letter to your President or Prime Minister through the Poverty.com website
- Get involved in World Food Day - October 16, 2008
- Learn about other ways to make a difference in the lives of those in need
Special thanks to my daughter for her help with suggestions and revisions for this article. Her knowledge of the current global challenges continues to motivate me to learn more and do more to make a difference in the lives of those in need.
Blog Action Day is an annual nonprofit event uniting the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters as they post about the same issue on the same day. This year's goal, according to the Blog Action Day website, is to raise awareness of poverty and trigger a global discussion.
If you'd like to read more about poverty, visit the Blog Action Day 2008 website for links to the words of more than 12,000 participants worldwide, including another of my articles at A light that shines again: "Denying famine a future": Blog Action Day 2008.