What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why Sierra Leone?

I was posed a very good question last night and thought that I should answer here on this page as well.
"You are from the US, what about looking to help the people right here in this country that need it as well?"
 I was caught a bit off guard by the question and I'm not sure why.  I ended up with pretty much a three tiered answer.  Firstly, I do not see myself as an "American".  I know that nationalism is ingrained within us all from an early age - and not just into American's, but into just about everyone.  National pride, the Olympics, holidays, school history lessons, wars, they are all laced with a "what's within our borders" versus/in comparison to "what's within their borders".  I struggle with this because, A, I am trying to minimize as much competition in life as I can, and B, what makes a person born on one side of a line in the sand more or less valuable than someone born on the other?  I consider myself a 'citizen of the world' (Though I hate the cliché), and more importantly I view us all as equal partners in both humanity and our whole ecosystem.  I believe that we all need and deserve compassion and 'human' security as much as anyone else, no matter where we come from or live.

Secondly, and probably most importantly to me, ties directly into the first one.  As I see us all as being of equal worth, then effort should strictly be based on need.  I am poor by US standards, yet I have food, shelter, familial support, education, security, etc.  There are a tremendous amount of people in the US struggling these days - especially given the economic situation we currently face - but imagine what this recession is doing to people in the developing world that rely on US and European investment when there isn't even money being spent here?  Where do they sell their goods when consumer spending is down in the rich countries?  People in poorer countries were, and are, far worse off in terms of basic human needs (as judged by our Western measures).  A great one of these measures is the UN's Human Development Report.  Just think about this, when adjusted for purchasing power (PPP) the average person makes 679 US dollars in one year!!  (in terms of per capita GDP - dividing the population of the country by it's total dollar value output). They measure it all equally in terms of what it can by, looking at each country on one scale.

Now imagine that for yourself?!   If you make $679 in one month in the US you are desperately poor, that is $8,148 annually.  Now imagine a family of four, five, six... making that for the whole year!!  The people in these developing world countries are truly poor.  Not what we consider 'poor' here in the US, we make $45,592 per year in per capita GDP and consider a family of four to be poor if they make under $22,050 annually.  The US is a very rich country (8th in terms of per capita GDP), and it ranks 13th out of 182 countries in the world as measured by the Human Development Report.  Sierra Leone ranks 180th.  Third from last.  That means that statistically speaking, of the 6.8 billion people in this world there are only .006% of people live a worse life than those in Sierra Leone.  99.99% of the world population lives at a higher standard of living than Sierra Leoneans.  They truly need the assistance more than we do.

I should also say though that it pains me to have to 'prioritize' or 'triage' the situation like this.  I read a statistic several years ago that said that 2 billion people will go either without adequate food or clean water that year - and this is a global phenomena that touches even the US.  You can go to either the South Bronx or Appalachia and you will see destitute people.  People that could use help.  Yet they have outlets, social services, food stamps, homeless shelters, educational and training services, etc.  These services are grossly inadequate in my view, but this is what a social welfare system does and can do, it helps to provide for those in need.  In Sierra Leone, none of these services exist, there is not social safety net - and they really need it.

This line of volatile thinking above segway's well into my third point.  I think that if anyone wants to help the US and its poor, that it is never going to start in this country.  The entire system is way to engrained with the arrogancy of itself.  The US is the world's super power.  It is a fully established socio-economic entity that has lead the world for a century.  It views democratic capitalism as the victor, and its political, cultural, and economic systems are far too entrenched to be able to change or experiment with on any level.  Just think of the American political debate, red v. blue, liberals v. conservatives, republicans v. democrats, and NO ONE wants to hear what they other side is saying.  There are no alternatives, mainstream or otherwise, especially and truly revolutionary ones!!    Intractable ideology and closed minds.  Need I say anything more than simply refer to the New York and California State budgets?

America is a mess, but one with such fortified positions and issues, that it is virtually unnavigable.  I believe that to bring about any change in America it is going to taken proven results from elsewhere, and a collapse of the American system and its subsequent standing in the world - which some would say is currently happening.  However, with no alternative pathways for human development and security on a larger scale right now, we are left wanting.  This is where my interests lie, looking to create new pathways to human development that break free of current ideological constraints.

This project is not just about Sierra Leone, it is about the US, it is about Europe, Asia, Africa, the whole of the Americas, everywhere.  Sierra Leone is a place that I have studied and have developed an affinity for.  It is a small country of just under 6 million people that has been devastated by a recent civil war and has a relatively cleanish slate build upon.  Yet it still maintains incredibly proud traditions and history as it was created to be a home for freed slaves, and was once considered the "Athens of West Africa".  Projects undertaken there are not only to assist the local population, but can also be used to learn from and then to be used elsewhere.  If some of the ideas that we are working with can become successful, then the whole world could benefit from them in time - including the United States.  Think local, act global.                    

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