In the Congo, women and children have had to endure two decades of warfare. The period has been marked by thousands of displaced refugees, and by systematic rape and other atrocities by government soldiers and rebels against women. Western governments and capitalism prop up this system of abuse and violence, which is kept going by foreign mining of rare earth minerals for cell phones and other electronics.
Nigeria accounts for more than 30 percent of early childhood deaths for malaria and for 20 percent of deaths attributable to HIV/AIDS. According to the UN, Nigeria accounts for one in every eight child deaths--a trend that must be combated.
Other places where conditions are dire for tens of thousands of children include Cambodia, Guinea, Mozambique and Nepal. In Nepal more than 26,000 children die before age five, according to a Save the Children report.
In Angola and Namibia, countries experiencing their worst drought in 30 years, more than 100,000 children are without food, according to UNICEF. The drought, along with severe flooding in West Africa, may well be the result of climate change, another factor that can have a direct negative impact on people's well being.
President Obama stated this in his first inaugural address: "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean water flow." That help from the developed world can be effective in improving the lot of the world's poor is evident in Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, and Tanzania. These countries have experienced a two-thirds reduction in child mortality, much of it the result of work done by UNICEF, OXFAM, Save the Children, and Doctors without Borders.
One leading proponent of ongoing concern and care for the poor and needy of the world was Mahatma Gandhi, who said: "I believe implicitly that all men are born equal. All, whether in India or in England or America, or in any circumstance whatever, have the same soul as any other... I consider that it is unmanly for any person to claim superiority over a fellow being. He who claims superiority at once forfeits his claim to be called a man."
Another twentieth-century figure whom I admire for his decency, courage, and humanistic principles is Nelson Mandela--who is, fortunately, unlike Gandhi, still with us. Mandela's ethics are based on the South African philosophy of Ubuntu, which advocates a fundamentally active form of human kindness and empathy. Ubuntu ethics should be expanded globally.
Another avatar in the pursuit of decency seems to be Malala Yousafzat, the 16-year-old girl who was shot by the Taliban for going to school in Pakistan. We must wait for time to tell the full impact of her efforts. Following surgeries, Malala has recuperated from her injuries and written a book. She now studies and follows the teachings of Badshah Khan, a non-violent Islamist and protege of Gandhi. While Malala's campaign for universal education for girls and women is a righteous one and deserves our support, we should continue to bear in mind the thousands of girls in Swat Valley and other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan who remain victims of oppression and whose names we do not know.
All Men Are Brothers, Autobiographical Reflections--Gandhi
A Man To Match His Mountains--Bashah Khan,
Non-Violent Soldiers of Islam--Eknath Easwaran
Half the Sky--Nicholos D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn