Why should we care about supporting and educating children in developing countries, when so many children in our own country need help? As a nonprofit entrepreneur building a residential high school in Africa, I am often asked this question. And there are many answers!
In the Hebrew scriptures the prophet Isaiah tells us, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). In the New Testament, St. Paul encourages Christians to reach out to others in this way, “If one member [of the body of Christ] suffers, all suffer together with it . . . Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:26-27). At baptism Christians are grafted into the body of Christ, and as such have a responsibility to other members of Christ’s mystical body throughout the world. When one suffers, all suffer.
Educating children in developing countries also helps tackle some of the global challenges everyone in the world needs to address:
a) Preventing diseases that flow across borders
b) Protecting our environment, which knows no artificial borders like on maps
c) Enhancing global security – violent extremism is less likely to take root in countries where there are a greater number of opportunities.1 Education is one of those opportunities.
In addition, sometimes we forget how much collective wealth we in the developed world truly have at our disposal. The UN Development Program estimates that Americans spend $8 billion on cosmetics each year, and that annually Europeans spend $11 billion on ice cream and $50 billion on cigarettes.
In contrast, globally we only need $6 billion annually to provide basic education for everyone, and $9 billion to provide clean water and sanitation facilities to people living in extreme poverty. We do indeed have the money to make small lifestyle changes that can radically improve the quality of life for the world’s neediest people without diminishing the quality of our own lives. These conscious changes can profoundly increase our ability to give with no inconvenience to ourselves.
In The Life You Can Save, Princeton philosopher Peter Singer tells the story of a man walking by a pond dressed for work who sees a drowning toddler. Will he jump in the pond to save the child’s life, becoming soaked and making himself late for work? Of course he does. Yet how many children die every day from hunger and the effects of poverty in developing countries because we ‘walk on by’, not giving of our excess?2
Simply put, education saves lives. Education is the difference in developing countries between a life of abject poverty and one of economic independence. Education is the difference between life and death. Yes, we are to defend the oppressed, wherever we find these beloved children of God.
Why help children in developing nations? Why jump in the pond and save the child?3
1Rebecca Winthrop of the Brookings Institute on the video “The Education Crisis in Developing Countries”.
2Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save, New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2009
3Elizabeth Geitz, “The Academy – Frequently Asked Questions”, ImaginingTomorrow.org