When Barack Obama took office, I remember saying to a friend, “In a way, I feel sorry for the guy; there are so many messes, so many emergencies he has to deal with all at once, it’s gotta be overwhelming. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; an economy headed south in a hurry; immigration, health care and education reform; Guantanamo; the hopeless black hole of the ‘war on drugs.’ I mean, how’s he even going to know where to begin?”
Eight whirlwind months later, perhaps the last thing the president needs is a reminder about something that he and the Congress still have not yet addressed. But McOwiti Thomas, a UNM graduate student, and the activist volunteers of RESULTS haven’t taken their eyes off the goal toward which they’ve been working for years: the creation of a Global Fund for Education. It’s a $2 billion commitment the president made during the campaign ... but one that could get lost in the avalanche of so many more high-visibility concerns.
Making sure the Global Fund promise doesn’t fall through the cracks is the task to which RESULTS has dedicated its efforts. RESULTS is a national advocacy organization for common-sense, grassroots-level reductions in global poverty and hunger.
I first met members of its Albuquerque area chapter a few years ago when they were building support and contributions for a micro-loan program developed in Pakistan, Bangladesh and other impoverished parts of the Third World. They’ve focused on fostering small-scale business ventures at the village level. Now they have added education to their agenda.
McOwiti Thomas is a Kenyan studying for his MBA at UNM and working as public information officer for the Long Term Ecological Research Network Office at the Department of Biology on campus. What sets him apart from many of his peers around the world is the dream he shares with the men and women of RESULTS.
There are still 75 million children in the world who don’t have the opportunity to attend school—at all.
McOwiti is helping to build a school in Wambusa in the Nyanza Province of Kenya, near his hometown. And he’s supporting it financially on an ongoing basis through money he sends home with the assistance of many Albuquerque residents and even elementary school students.
In this country, even a modest new elementary school can cost $25 million to construct. We have professionalized and complicated classrooms beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. Yet we sometimes forget the simple reality of education for most of the people on Earth: learning to read and write.
A couple of years ago I wrote about Greg Mortenson, the American mountain climber in Three Cups of Tea who has built hundreds of village schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan. It seemed to me then that his efforts were likely to provide a better defense against terrorism than the military approach we’d chosen as a national policy.
The point was that education can be an amazingly inexpensive investment in human potential. That’s also the same understanding that makes it possible for McOwiti to be the main financial support for a school where 400 Kenyan children, aged 5 to 13, learn literacy, arithmetic, health and basic science concepts.
The Global Fund for Education has been proposed as the method for taking Greg Mortenson and McOwiti’s dreams and moving them to worldwide scale. President Obama, as a candidate, pledged $2 billion as the United States’ ante to the fund, and other governments and foundations around the world have been asked to donate to it as well.
The dream is impelled by the simple fact that today, in the first decade of the 21st century, there are still 75 million children in the world who don’t have the opportunity to attend school—at all. Those millions will in the near future be adults without the basic tools for survival in a rapidly changing world; that puts them at high risk for being exploited economically or even for being recruited into the angry, hopeless organizations of terrorists that abound in urban slums and desperate rural villages.
RESULTS needs all of our help in the pursuit of its goal. It asks that we contact our congresspeople and the White House with gentle reminders of the importance of the Global Fund for Education. Sowing hope through education is too important a task to have pushed off the table, even at a time when the clamor for much bigger and more expensive initiatives is growing deafening.
Realizing McOwiti’s dream and RESULTS’ hope would only take a few minutes of your time. We will all reap the benefit from that effort at bringing literacy to 75 million children.