Aid to Africa or Exercise?

In light of the current heated and frequently negative debate surrounding aid to Africa and development in general, I would like to highlight what I consider to be an incredibly uplifting approach to fighting global poverty, embodied in the model of Flying Kites Global, a non-profit organization started by three young intelligent optimists.

With the objective of raising the standards of care and education available to orphans in the developing world, the founders of Flying Kites (the name chosen to evoke the carefree spirit that childhood embodies) strongly believe that in order to break the cycle of poverty poor children must receive the highest quality of childcare, have access to excellent medical services and receive a world-class education. A guiding belief of the organization is that children who are provided with merely adequate care – enough food to survive, limited education, rows of bunk-beds and bowls of rice are not likely to be in a position to take on the challenges facing their country, to compete on a world stage, to become accountable leaders or members of society that will push for change.

Taking inspiration from the wise Paul Farmer, the Flying Kites model embodies the idea of making a preferential option for the poor. Whereas Farmer focused on the sick living in poverty, Flying Kites is applying this mission to orphaned children living in poverty. Flying Kites was founded on the premise that children, regardless of their geographical location, deserve the best – exceptional care, a high-quality education, and the chance to enjoy all the innocence and playfulness of childhood.

A question the organization asks, which I find impossible to get out of my head and difficult to answer with anything besides Flying Kites’ own model: what would you want for the children in your life?

The very best… right?

I recently read a quote that equated switching off cell phone chargers to bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon. While I understand that the simple act of unplugging a cell phone charger is going to save a negligible amount of electricity, I tend to look at these acts on an environmental fitness scale.

For example, you can’t expect someone who has never worked out a day in his or her life to jump off the couch and run a marathon. The people who are now unplugging their cell phone chargers didn’t even know that the ship was sinking a year ago – so even in that there is progress.

As studies in weight loss have showed time and time again, it is the small changes to daily habits that end up having the most lasting impact. Also, these acts tend to reinforce each other. An exercise plan that starts out with a daily walk, may over time turn into a run around the neighborhood. When you realize how many hours it will take on the treadmill to burn off that piece of cake, your eating habits start to shift as well.

In much the same way, I find that changes to our daily consumption habits start to shift when we become more aware of the impact. When someone unplugs their charger, they may look around to see what other appliances need to be unplugged. As these actions start to increase awareness, the next steps may be to turn off lights, replace light bulbs, and look for energy star appliances. Then the electric bill arrives and the lower cost is a positive reinforcement – just like stepping on a scale and seeing the results of consistent exercise.

Maybe some people stop here, but many others then look for ways to save water around the house. Or maybe they start to bring their own bags to the grocery store, and start to scrutinize what they put in their shopping cart.

Just as everything in the ecosystem is interconnected, you can’t discount the connection between physical actions and their impact on the mind. These simple, physical, tangible acts help people to feel empowered and they reinforce their sense of responsibility and understanding that their behavior does make a difference.

For the people that already score high on the environmental fitness test, you are the elite marathoners! This is your chance to lead the way by creating innovative technologies, sources for alternative energy, sustainable food systems, and ways to conserve and purify water. The possibilities are endless – and needed – if we are going to turn this ship around. I am glad more people are on board and whether they bail water out with a teaspoon or a solar powered device, I am happy to have all hands on deck.

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