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Oct2ThuCelebrating progress on the slow journey to justice. October 2, 2014 by James Read and Don Posterski
As the 14-year-old son of a farmer in Malawi, William Kamkwamba harnessed the wind.
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
In 2001, famine left his family eating only one meal a day. There was no money to send William to school, so he went to the meagre local library. He found books on science and used a dictionary to understand the English illustrations. A picture of a windmill intrigued him. The description said that windmills could create electricity and pump water.
With fortitude and ingenuity, William scrounged materials from the junkyard. He cobbled together a discarded tractor fan, an old bicycle frame and shock absorber, a melted plastic pipe and a used motor. Eventually, he was able to power four small lights with the windmill-generator he built.
A few years later, he built a second windmill that pulled water from a small well near his home to irrigate his family's farm. As a result, they began growing two crops of maize a year.
In 2007, William was discovered by some journalists and invited to give a TED Talk (a global forum for sharing ideas) in Tanzania, and then another in Oxford, England. To listen to him in his own words, go to ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_how_i_harnessed_the_wind.html. Today, he is studying to be an engineer at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
The Williams of this world give us reasons to celebrate. They represent the best of life—optimism, creativity, intelligence and the imagination to solve problems.
We also celebrate the social, medical and economic global progress that is being achieved through the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals represent a strategic attack on poverty, with measurement indicators to assess progress. And there is good news.
- In the last 20 years, the mortality rate for children has dropped 41 percent. A staggering 7,256 young lives are being saved every day
- In the same timeframe, 700 million fewer people are living on less than $1.25 per day (from 47 to 22 percent) and are being lifted out of extreme poverty
- Safer sources of water have been accessed for 2.1 billion people in the past 21 years. The MDG target was reached five years ahead of time
- Remarkable gains have been made in the fight against malaria. Mosquito nets and other interventions have averted an estimated 1.1 million deaths
- Eight million people are receiving medical treatment for HIV-AIDS, and the Global Fund is funding the treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmissions of the dreaded disease
- The proportion of undernourished people has decreased from 23 to 15 percent
We are moving from inequity to hope. The slow journey to justice is happening. We shout out “Thanks be to God” for the resources being raised and the progress being made.
But there is still enormous, life-denying disparity. A new report from Oxfam, a global anti-poverty group, finds that the world's 85 wealthiest people hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion—or half of the world's population. Our world is skewed in favour of the rich.
William Kamkwamba's first experience in New York City calls us to pursue more fairness, more equity in our world. Standing at a construction site, William lamented: “I watched giant cranes lift enormous pieces of steel into the sky, and it made me wonder how America could build these skyscrapers in a year, but in four decades of independence, Malawi can't even pipe clean water to a village … or keep electricity in our homes. We always seem to be struggling to catch up. Even with so many smart and hardworking people, we are still living and dying like our ancestors.”
The chasm is too wide. The inequality is immoral. Even with the advances, the disparity is still unjust. The distance between the more developed and the less developed dishonours God's equal love for all humanity.
At the International Social Justice Commission, we think about these things and try to do something about them. What do you think?
Dr. James Read and Dr. Don Posterski work for the International Social Justice Commission, The Salvation Army's strategic voice to advocate for human dignity and social justice with the world's poor and oppressed. Visit salvationarmy.org/isjc for more information. Their new book, When Justice Is the Measure, is available at store.salvationarmy.ca, 416-422-6100, firstname.lastname@example.org. For an e-book, visit amazon.ca.