"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Saturday, March 11, 2006 Building the Political Will to Fund the Fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa
This is the opening plenary, and the speaker is Stephen Lewis, UN Secretary General’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Lewis is incredibly engaging and passionate (and a Canadian!). Most of what he is saying is not terribly surprising, but also not well-publicized. Some of it is anecdotal: -----------
"I remember not long ago visiting the grade 5 class at the David Livingston primary school in Harare, Zimbabwe where the teacher was doing a lifeskills class with her class. She asked her kids to write on pieces of paper what bothers them, worries them the most. All the kids - 10 years old with furrowed brow -- scribbled furiously and then the papers were put into a hat and she drew them out. 7 of 10 children had written the word DEATH. Death of a mother, father, uncle, friend.
And I asked them, 'What do you do in the face of death?' and they said: 'Pray.'
'To whom do you pray?' 'God'.
And after the class I was talking to the teacher and said 'I don't understand the talk about prayer as a response.' And the teacher said, 'You don't understand. If you went to funerals at lunchtime and afterschool , and you spend your weekends going to funerals, then you would understand that your only solace in the face of this is God."
The grandmothers are heroes. They bury their own adult children then they care for their grandchildren. They begin to parent again at the age of 50 and 60. No money for school fees. No money for food and clothes."
His foundation is funding a project in Canada that is pairing Canadian grandmothers with African grandmothers.
'In order to do that in a way that is respectful to African grandmothers, we’re going to bring a large number of African grandmothers to Canada and gather them with Canadian grandmothers – a grandmother’s gathering (October) – so that they gather together and the Canadian grandmother listen to the African gm’s needs, concerns and priorities and then they will respond as they can. A marriage of respect and understanding.'
"This constellation of a continent fighting for survival is real, it sears into the mind, fractures the soul, rivets the heart, you just know when you are there that there is a quotient of injustice that is inconsiconable in the modern world. But there is also hope. We’re beginning to roll out treatment. (The World Health Organization's) 3 by 5 initiative – 3 million in treatment by 2005. We didn’t reach it, but we unleashed a momentum for treatment that is irreversible. Goal is universal access to treatment by 2010.
"Drugs are now available in India sufficiently low in cost (negotiated by the Clinton foundarion) that everyone could be treated at no cost if the western world would deliver on the financial promises that were made.
"When you put the constellation together. On one hand people fighting for survival. On the others the glimmers of hope as we begin to move forward. The essence of the response lies in the privileged community responding to those parts of the world that are underseiged."
"The first test of Gleneagles (the G8 summit this summer) was the conference on the replenishment of the Global Fund. The Global Fund said we need 7.1 billion for 2006-7 to prolong existing programs and fund new programs. Everyone assumed they’d get the money. This was 8 weeks after Gleneagles. It was chaired by Kofi Annan. And it yielded 3.8 billion dollars, fell 3.3 billion short which will be counted in millions of lives.
"It is a grim reminder that the commitments that were made one month can be betrayed literally two months later. It takes incredible tenacity to keep the governments to the promises they made."
"The most effective lobbying is so tenacious so repetitive so constant that they give in just to be left alone.
"You’re fighting because you ar epeople who are driven by a spritiual sense of what is social justice and what is equality. Because the inequalities are so graceless, so ugly as to necessitate compensatory justice."
"This world, in 2005 spent more than 1 trillion on arms. First time we passed 1 trillion since the cold war. The hundreds of billions being spent to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"There is a disparity between the hundreds of billions spent on conlict and the tiny smidgeon of dollars required to repair and rescue the human condition. The disparity speaks to a loss of moral anchor in this world. You are moral people. It’s the struggle to reaffirm that moral sense internationally that your lobbying and your work is about. There is nothing more noble in human activity than to repair or rescue the human condition."
A few of my own comments:
I've been having conversations over time with people like Maureen Shea and Alex Baumgarten (Office of Govt. Relations) and Louie Crew about 0.7% giving and its effectiveness. There is a stream of thought that personal giving is more about assuaging individual consciences and that the real change will come from political advocacy. We all agree that this is wrongheaded.
The spirit of the MDGs is that giving is not done in traditional paternalistic donor-recipient models but about giving money in ways that build partnership (the 8th MDG that makes all the others happen). That's our goal when we ask people, congregations, dioceses and even the whole church to do 0.7% giving -- and give in ways that encourage growing partnerships for development. And that's where many dioceses' companion diocese relationships are such gifts.
It's not charity. It's resourcing partnership.
Stephen Lewis was definitely a proponent of advocacy as the number 1 way to do good in this area (not surprising given his position and that this is an advocacy conference!). I think he's right. So many of the problems involve larger systems -- particularly when you get into legislative changes that are needed in governements, the power of huge chunks of foreign aid and the need for trade reform.
But I hate the argument that the 0.7% giving on the personal, congregational and diocesan level is a bad place to put energy. Again, I'm not saying that Stephen, Maureen, Alex and Louie are saying this -- but I get that argument sometimes. And I think it's creating a false dichotomy.
Our faith is one of incarnation. The Word of God is an eternal, mind- and spirit-blowing thing -- but humanity was able to apprehend it in a way that was incredibly significant when that Word became flesh... was incarnated in a form that engaged us, that was like us, that intersected our lives.
When I talk with people and groups about 0.7% it's not that if you do that you've done your piece and can go home now. It's about incarnation. It's about giving something absolutely gi-normous flesh in your life in a small way ... a way that can then grow. And it should grow into the political advocacy of the kind that is being incarnated in meetings like this.
Once you engage in a true partnership, true communion, barriers fall away. Who we help with our wallets, we help with our voices. It's a natural flow.
I think people who work in global poverty are so used to dealing with scarcity mindsets that they tend to adopt them. We need to not do that because our God is a God of abundance. It's not either advocacy or giving. It's not either prayer or action. It's both ... and all ... and they all feed into each other.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."