Interconnectedness of our World

Ryan Murphy
May 5, 2011

Ryan Murphy, Columban Volunteer

Last month, I attended the World Bank’s and the International Monetary Fund’s “Civil Society Meetings” held in correlation with their 2011 Spring Meetings. Topics ranged from global economic recovery, food price volatility and climate change. Originally, I was pretty hesitant to partake in this conference out of disapproval for some of their policies. I have learned it never hurts to listen to everybody, even those you do not agree with. Although, I still opposed some policies, I found hope in the two events that I attended. It was reassuring to see international teamwork and acknowledgment of our common interest to help others.

The first panel I attended was entitled, “Cash and Clarity: Filling the Black between Aid and Budget Transparency”. The panel consisted three organizations, “Publish what you Fund”, “International Budget Partnership” and the “World Bank”. They discussed transparency and accountability in foreign aid. Although, in every country, governments’ functions vary, on the ground, at the local level, there are a lot of similarities in the use of aid. By understanding the parallel in constructing a school in Kenya and Honduras, aid can be given directly to the most effective institutions. The panelists were working together to track where funds from multinational organizations and large donor countries are going and where they are being utilized the best. They are also trying to track the process from when a government receives aid to when it is used on the local level. Tracing the money from point A to point B, limit the chance for corruption from within the recipient government. It also ensures money is given to solution based organizations. It sounds like a very complicated situation but if successful, aid and loans could make a bigger impact.

The second event was a round table discussion on “Social Protection for Climate-Induced Migration.” The discussion was facilitated by a Bangladeshi non-government organization, Hazrat Mohammad. They explained their efforts to address the influx of climate migration to the Bangladeshi capitol of Dhaka. In the southern region of Bangladesh, people are suffering what was once a fifty year flood now every five years. As flooding introduces sea water to the soil, the salt has killed off all agriculture. At the same time, the northern part of the country is currently facing a severe drought. The rural farmers from all over the country are moving in record numbers to the capitol looking for work. The shanty-towns around the capitol have no electricity, sanitation or social infrastructure. Children have no access to an education and have since turned to petty crime, begging or become victims of human trafficking and child prostitution. Women, with no job opportunities often sell their bodies for money to feed their families.

So often, we might not think of the interconnectedness of our world. Our action here in the United States for the better or worse, can impact someone half way around the world. First, when a country or organizations invest in local projects in developing nation, there can be dramatic change and benefit to the people. A few thousand dollars can change an entire community with a school or medical clinic. On the same note, our lack of actions can also have a negative outcome. Our irresponsible uses of fossil fuels indirectly lead to the increase in poverty and exploitation of small farmers in Bangladesh. Everyday our actions and decisions we make an effect other all around the world. Deciding to walk and not drive, when possible, is doing your part to not add to the plight of Bangladesh. Drinking only fair trade coffee and ecologically safe products ensures your helping to preserve the people and nature in foreign countries. Ignorance is not an excuse and we are responsible for what we have done and what we have failed to do and how that impacts others.

After 60 years of violence and repression in Myanmar (Burma), hope continues to shine through. The most well known leader in democratic reform has been Aung San Suu Kyi. Besides being under house arrest for years, she persists in peaceful opposition to violence perpetrated by the government. Along with members of the Burmese Democracy Network, and 88 other groups, they have created a letter to the government. The letter asks the new President to declare a cease fire with all ethnic groups seeking autonomy, the release of all political prisoners and demands to solve political issues though dialogue. This bold action could result in arrest, torture or even death. In 1989 and in 2007, when civilians openly protested against the government, thousands died and even more were arrested.

While peaceful struggle for democracy enters another stage in Myanmar, the U.S. State Department has stepped up its engagement with the government. The U.S. Senate approved an envoy to Myanmar that will start a dialogue with the isolated regime. Next month, HBO will début the documentary, “Burma Soldier,” which is critical of the repression. The film will hopefully increase awareness in the United States. The documentary depicted the story of a former soldier’s transformation to a democratic peace advocate. One soldier describes his early years in the military and how his fellow soldiers raped, beat and killed civilians. After he was severely injured by an explosion, he realized he “had a voice.” Bravely speaking out for peace during the 1989 demonstration; he was imprisoned for 15 years. The documentary gives a voice to the horrors he lived as a political prisoner.

Last week, many of us from the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach attended the premiere of “Burma Soldier” and a panel discussion at the U.S. State Department. For so long now, peace has been an illusion in Myanmar, still hope preservers. We pray for the Burmese people. God willing, all the new attention and activism will spur change. Nothing is impossible with faith, remember “thee with faith the size of a muster seed can move mountains” (Mathew 17:20).