One Billion Hungry People

19 07 2009

In my last post, I ranted about the sour economy and how terrible it was for students in North America to try and find a job in these troubled times. Perhaps I’ve been in my own country for too long again, and searching back through media stories today, this one hit me hard:

World hunger ‘hits one billion’

The UN said almost all of the world’s undernourished live in developing countries, with the most, some 642 million people, living in the Asia-Pacific region. In sub-Saharan Africa, the next worst-hit region, the figure stands at
265 million.

Here I am, feeling a bit undervalued and thinking that students in the North American recession have got it so tough, and BAM! this headline makes you sit up again and wish you could just crawl back into your safe academic hole. True as it is painful, while most students are being beleaguered to ‘just get a job’ and ‘stop messing around’ with our lives, there remains a full sixth of humanity which is slowly starving out their years on Earth.

Chronic malnutrition affects people long after they have begun eating normally again, killing many young children and causing stunting, lower life expectancies, eye and brain damage, and causing their own children to be smaller years later, thus repeating the trend. Most people who die from malnutrition actually die from micronutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc. For example according to prestigious medical journal The Lancet; Iodine deficiency is the number one preventable cause of mental damage worldwide.

According to Jean Ziegler* , mortality due to malnutrition accounted for 58% of the total mortality in 2006: “In the world, approximately 62 millions people, all causes of death combined, die each year. One in twelve people worldwide are malnourished. In 2006, more than 36 millions died of hunger or diseases due to deficiencies in micronutrients”

Fascinatingly enough, when I was working in Morocco last summer, I asked my fairly educated (high school or higher) students  if people had ever died of hunger in Morocco. The answer they unanimously gave was:
no, never, not since before Mohammed (blessed be he) was alive, not since before Christ, has anyone died of hunger.

Interesting. And I bet you would find many people in countries around the world who would echo their sentiments.
– Sarah Topps

*(the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food for 2000 to March 2008)





Difficult times for university students and recent grads

16 07 2009

The economy is down, job searching this summer is tearing students apart in North America – most of my friends are having some form of difficulty finding work. And not just work that pays a decent wage, or even minimum wage, work that is any more challenging than flipping burgers or doesn’t involve someone screaming at you every fifteen minutes or so – now even these hated positions are scrapped over like the final pieces of carrion by vultures.

As a top student at one of the best and easily the most well-known university in Canada for my field of studies – I followed the same path that has previously offered the best chances for interesting and sometimes paid work opportunities this summer:

I asked my current manager if he would be able to keep me on for a summer position… no such luck.
I tapped my professional contacts… no luck.
I applied for, and was accepted to an internship program… but in the end couldn’t afford the plane ticket and visa costs to reach the country where the internship was to take place due to funding cuts by CIDA this year.
I searched on the internet for hours, finding internships, jobs and volunteer work which appealed to me and applied to dozens of spots, all well before deadline… no luck.
I asked past employers if they needed employees for the summer months… no luck, many are still downsizing.
I spoke with friends, family, friends of the family, family of friends… no one was hiring, anywhere.
I applied for jobs in the paper – in English, in French, in Spanish – in Alberta, in BC, in Montreal, even in Europe… no luck. I had some job interviews, and even a few offers, but moving and housing would cost more than the salary offered.
I took job interviews with companies I would never wish to work for, such as telemarketing and door to door sales, heavy manual labour that paid less than minimum wage or waitressing positions in sketchy restaurants that ran drug deals out the back… then I decided risking my safety and/or sanity wasn’t quite worth the minimum wage positions.
I even worked manual labour for 4 weeks while I tried to come across something more stimulating (or better paid).
And put myself in a somewhat risky situation with a bipolar boss who paid under the table cutthroat wages and screamed at us when he couldn’t find his cigarettes which were on the table behind him.

Finally… I’ve had enough. Sometimes you can put in all the work, and your luck or timing will be off by just enough that you just miss the spot you were trying so hard for. Better luck next time…

On the other hand, I have the luxury of having paid all of my bills already and not having any dependents at the moment (besides my kitty, who I have fed and taken to the vet when I didn’t have money to buy food for myself or pay all my bills on time) and realistically, I’m far more likely to wear myself down, wear myself out or put myself in the way of some serious harm – whether physical strain, mental breakdowns or simply feeling terrible about my life – than to actually make enough money to make those things worth it.
I’ve paid all my bills for the summer, and I’m not going to starve to death, I can keep my cat healthy, keep me healthy and far happier than I would be, working some shitty job where in the end, half my pay is lost due to my bosses losing track of my hours or short-changing me on my shift hours etc.

I’m lucky, and I recognize that. Not having to work for 6 weeks during a recession where finding a job as a student is a nightmare and keeping one is hellish at best, is truly something to be taken advantage of, and I intend to spend the time working on my thesis, prepping for my classes next year and taking care of myself mentally so that I might not break down when it all goes to hell next April when my thesis will be taking over my life.

For a few lucky ones, life still worked out in their favour – even more so than it did for me, and several of my most talented friends have been offered interesting and stimulating work or educational placements this summer – including my friends Alexandra in Nepal, Eric in Syria, [see their collective blog here], Lynn in Tunesia [click here to follow her adventures and those of the other AIESECers from McGill], and fellow AIESECer Amina Samy in India, and good friend Kelly Garton in Panama.

Next year I will be one of these lucky people, as the internship offer which I qualified for with AIESEC McGill still stands until February of next year, by which time I will have chosen one to undertake post-graduation in May 2010. (I’m very excited to see what I will end up choosing… there are so many options!)

As for right now, I remain happily unemployed, working hard on my thesis, my final paper for a summer class and my blog, organizing the international trips for my VP position in the McGill International Student Network for 2009/2010, coming up with ideas for my other VP position on the IDSSA (International Development Studies Students Association) academic board, keeping my body healthy, helping my cat with his physical therapy and enjoying spending time with friends I might not see again for several years after this summer.

All in all – not a bad way to spend the last 6 weeks of a summer when unemployment is rampant and most of my friends are wallowing in misery-filled jobs, huge amounts of debt, or both. I think I’ll just appreciate that for now I have the most luxurious of resources – time.

– Sarah Topps





Global Giving helps you find a project to support

6 04 2009

Hi, would you like a little world-changing idea this morning?

How about a little idea with your coffee today?

Hi there, would you like to change the world?

These are the phrases that GlobalGiving is using to sell itself to passer-bys on the street walking to work in the morning.

http://www.globalgiving.com/

GlobalGiving is an online marketplace that hosts pre-screened charitable causes who are in need of some funding and need a way to connect with donors that won’t add to their operating costs. GlobalGiving categorizes the projects by region and by topic – e.g. women, environment, health, human rights, etc. to allow you to find a cause you believe in more quickly. Even a quick browse through the site will have you emptying your online pockets of spare change (metaphorically speaking) because each cause just seems so worthwhile and they ask for donations ranging from the tens of thousands to mere pennies. So if you feel like you’ve got a few spare pennies, and even if you want to just check it out… watch this promotional video explaining how GlobalGiving works:

– Sarah Topps





1125 Billionaires ($US), 3.25 Billion with $2

4 04 2009

There are 6.74 Billion people on the planet – according to census data gathered over the last ten years.
The global economy, or world GDP currently sits at an estimated 70.65 Trillion US dollars.

Let’s do some basic math…

:              6 740 000 000 human beings on the planet
: 70 650 000 000 000 dollars floating around the world today

In 2003, the world owed $5 Trillion ($5 000 000 000 000) in debt globally.

Where do you think the greatest debts are found? The media would lead us to believe that the poorest countries, in Africa, Asia and Latin America would be the culprits. But take a look at this map, provided by Jeremy at Make Wealth History:

Global Debt by Country

Global Debt by Country

The darker the colour, the more heavily indebted that country is.

External debt is made up of both personal and public debt – that is, credit cards and mortgages AND government loans. External debt is the total amount owed to someone OUTSIDE of the country.

When you look at global external debt, the results look like this:

Top Ten Countries by External Debt (October ’08)

  1. United States – $13,703,567 million
  2. United Kingdom – $10,450,000 million
  3. Germany – $4,489,000 million
  4. France – $4,396,000 million
  5. Netherlands – $2,277,000 million
  6. Ireland – $1,841,000 million
  7. Japan – $1,492,000 million
  8. Switzerland – $1,340,000 million
  9. Belgium – $1,313,000 million
  10. Spain – $1,313,000 million

Not exactly poor countries are they?

This compares to:

169. Equatorial New Guinea – $338 million
183. Fiji – $127 million
194. Kiribati – $10 million     …. side note: it is actually pronounced “Ki-ri-bas” according to this book (very funny read)
202. Palau – $0

– Sarah Topps








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