February 26, 2008

This Just In: Raw Sewage Helps Kids Read

Being President isn't easy. But I don't think it's as hard as this guy is making it. Honestly.

I'll get right down to business. Liberia is a rough place to raise a family right about now. My friend Lindsay just got back from doing some medical work there. If you want to read a little bit about her story, she wrote a blog while she was there.

Anyway, a brutal fourteen (14) year civil war ended five (5) years ago in Liberia, and almost nothing in the country works anymore. No running water. No electricity. No postal system. No public transit. Widespread unemployment. And no sewage. Yep, no sewage.

President Bush spent last week on a little Legacy Building /Public Relations jaunt around Africa throwing imaginary money at problems he and his administration know nothing about. But back to task at hand. Remember? This country has no sewage system.

So you can imagine my utter amazement at the President's announcement of one million (1,000,000) textbooks for the school children of Liberia. Half of which don't even attend school because they live in such devastating poverty. But the fun doesn't stop there. I mean, why would it? The President also promised desks and chairs for ten thousand (10,000) students. How generous.

I'm not just some wacko left-wing nut job with a chip on my shoulder. The following statements are based on my experience and education in the nonprofit field. And hopefully they will inspire a little thought. Here, watch me stretch this into something worth reading...

My good friends at New Global Citizens are fond of saying, "Local People Know Local Issues." I tattooed it in reverse on my chest so I could see it every time I got out of the shower. So, at least twice a month. But seriously, this is a golden statement. Local people, do in fact have a better hold on what is happening in their communities. Like, whether or not they have running water. And whether or not there is a postal system. Or whether or not there are feces in the street.

Local people in Liberia know that the money our President wants to spend on textbooks, chairs, and desks could be much better spent on a sewage infrastructure. I mean, if the textbooks he's buying cost half as much as what I spend on textbooks, that's a lot of infrastructure potential. Maybe there might be some left over for building some freshwater wells for Liberia's thirstiest children. I know, I know. Big dreamer.

There were also a few million (few,000,000) dollars promised to train a Security Force and some UN Peace Keepers. And here I go thinking that you need to make peace before you can keep it. But that's just my bleeding heart talking again.

All this just reminds me that of why I am in school. If everything goes right, one day I'll be the guy standing right next to the President having a conversation like this:

"Hey, Barack. This is a stupid idea. It's even worse than a Band-Aid. This wound is on our chest, and we're pouring Neosporin on our leg. We haven't even approached the bandage stage. Let alone the right anatomical area."

"Nice analogy, Sam."

"Thanks, man. You should really look into the fundamental issues these people are dealing with. They lack fresh drinking water. There is very little electricity. And no public waste program. Let's hold off on textbooks and desks for now. In the long run, serving the root cause of this devastating poverty will look better for your legacy anyway. I promise. A little counterintuitive, but trust me. These people don't need books. They need sanitation. They need hope."

"Hey, that's my line."

But no. We are dealing with a man and an administration who thought the best way to prevent HIV/AIDS was to spend millions (80,000,000) of dollars on posters (pictured) and create useless acronyms. ABC everybody! A is for Abstinence. B is for Be Faithful. C is for Condom! No actual condoms. No medicine. And no education. Just millions (80,000,000) of dollars spent on pretty pictures, good headlines and great sound bytes. We are dealing with a man that values his legacy over the well-being of people is desperate need.

Reading about President Bush's trip to Africa reminded me of a book. A book that might find itself on the list of books sent to Liberia. It's a short little twenty-seven (27) page book that my mom reads to her kindergarten class sometimes. It's called Everyone Poops. The title is true. Everyone does poop. But only some have to walk around in it.

At least now they can read about it.

"It's easier to tear a country down than it is to rebuild."
George W. Bush


John Spencer said...

"President Bush spent last week on a little Legacy Building /Public Relations jaunt around Africa throwing imaginary money at problems he and his administration know nothing about. But back to task at hand."

That's brilliant Sam! I laughed hard at this post.

I feel the same way when I hear about the distribution of laptops to poor kids in underdeveloped countries. In one country, the two hundred dollar laptops have been dismantled in most villages and their parts used for things like making flashlights. When the western world imports our solutions we usually do more harm than good. Meanwhile, there are amazing, innovative organizations that cannot get any funding to do work where they live among the people and know their problems firsthand.

Anonymous said...

Great post Sam...couldn't have said it any better myself.

Ron GP said...


Ps. I too, hope you're standing next to Barack one day...when you are, I call dibs on being in your entourage

African Kelli said...

Nicely done Sam! I appreciate that you are paying attention to the president's recent African vacation. Nothing says Lame Duck like a passport with wet stamps and a private jet at your beck and call.
May our next president spend more talking to the locals.

Quinn Patrick Kelly said...

We definitely need to see more hypothetical dialogues that like. Brilliant.

Cass said...

i love this post sam. I went to SA last summer and saw some pretty devistating things... one was a clinic loaded - literally at the seams with AIDS medications - but no doctor to administer it. It's not like taking an advil, these uneducated people need doctors to properly administer it or it would do more bad than good. I went with an organization called Helping Hands in Africa - a married couple from SA that grew up there and still live there, a block away. They walk the villages every day. You are so right when you say the locals know more.

I love the little chat you had with Barack. ::)

katherine said...

I don't understand how issues like this go so far...

why did no one mention all of this to Bush? Is he just looking for good PR?

Krystina said...

Well said, my friend.

Samuel Isaac Richard said...

Katie- I think - and hope - that there was someone next to Pres. Bush telling him what the right next move would be. Unfortunately, as Kelli said so perfectly, "nothing says Lame Duck than a passport with wet stamps." I fear that his motives for the trip were less about the well-being of the citizens of Liberia, and more about how America will remember him in twenty (20) years.

Lewis Cash said...

Not sure what to say, other than I continue to be amazed at the ignorance and arrogance of this president.