A half century ago I participated in “Trick or Treat for UNICEF”. Children across the country dressed up in their costumes on Halloween and went door to door collecting pennies for the starving children in Africa. At school we were shown horrific pictures of emaciated African children who looked much like us, except for distended bellies and the flies crawling across their faces. None of us had ever known hunger or want. We were all little middle class American children who had plenty to eat, clothes to wear and a secure home to live in. Even the poorest among us lived like kings compared to those pathetic kids in Africa. We were all eager to help. The situation seemed very simple to our childish minds. There are a bunch of starving kids. We have plenty of food. Let’s send them some of our food. Then they won’t be starving anymore.
So we all donned our Halloween costumes and got our little cardboard UNICEF boxes and went door to door and collected pennies. Some of us added pennies from our allowances and glowed with juvenile satisfaction that we had indeed saved these little friends in a land far away. They would have plenty to eat thanks to our good works.
Fast forward a half century and I am watching the evening news. I flash back to my naïve days of thinking the world is a simple place. I remember my little UNICEF box and the weight of the pennies. On my TV screen is still the same emaciated little African kid I saw 50 years before. He’s still starving and the great-great grandchildren of the flies still crawl across his face.
Let’s skip the statistics about how many kids have died or will die in Africa. Suffice it to say it’s a butt-load. It numbers in the millions. Any number over “One” starving kid is too many. Since my penny collecting days, borders have changed, African countries have come and gone and dictators have ruled and died. The only constant has been the birth of millions of kids into starvation.
As the story of the ubiquitous African famine has played out on the 24-hour news another realization has slowly surfaced. It seems that in every picture there is a mother who has trekked across hundreds of miles to get to a refugee camp in the hope of feeding her seven kids. Now this woman wasn’t living a happy and carefree life last week. She has been living in a pervasive environment of want, most, if not all, of her life. Her parents lived it. Her grandparents lived it.
Here’s the part where you cringe and call me a uncaring misogynistic racist.
Why are these women always dragging seven starving kids behind them? What cultural or religious drive spurs them on to have child after child that they cannot care for? I’m sorry, but I don’t have the answer. Do you?
First world governments and aid organizations pour millions of dollars and tons of food and resources into these countries and nothing changes. The governments are corrupt and much of the aid never makes it to those in need. How about we send Planned Parenthood over there. I realize that it so very politically incorrect to tell people how to handle their reproductive rights. (Except in the USA where it seems to be every crackpot’s business.)
At this point if there is still a female reading this through a red haze of fury, I would like to point out why I say “these women” are dragging seven kids behind them. I point to the women as the responsible party because men are idiots. African men are idiots. American men are idiots. I think that’s one universal truth we can all agree upon. Idiot is an equal opportunity trait in men. If men were responsible for all birth control in America, we would be knee-deep in rugrats. Excuse my vulgarity, but men think with their dicks. That’s why we call them, “dickheads”.
US policies under the Bush administration actually made family planning even more difficult in Africa and other countries.
“Under President George W. Bush, the United States withdrew from its decades-long role as a global leader in supporting family planning, driven by a conservative ideology that favored abstinence and shied away from providing contraceptive devices in developing countries, even to married women.
The Gag Rule prohibited organizations in receipt of US funds from using their own money to provide abortion information, services and care, or even discussing abortion or criticizing unsafe abortion.
We are delighted that President Obama has rescinded it. It even prevented organizations from working on these issues at the request of their own governments.
Today, (June/2011) over 3 billion people – nearly half of the world’s population – are under the age of 25. Almost 90% of these young people live in developing countries. There are approximately 157 million young adults aged 15 to 24 in sub-Saharan Africa; this number is expected to increase to 198 million by 2015.
As this large population segment enters the reproductive years new challenges emerge; adolescent HIV seroprevalence rates are rising, complications related to female genital mutilation continue to challenge the health of an increasing number of young women, and death as a result of unsafe abortion and unplanned pregnancy are on the increase.
The sexual and reproductive health rights of this critical group are being eroded by conservative evangelical civil society. And the traditional societal mechanisms that used to offer these young people the guidance and protections they require are not functioning.
So this Halloween I’m proposing we go door to door and collect for Africa. Not candy or money, but condoms. Condoms for Africa! I can almost see the T-shirt now.