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Millennium Promise is the brain child of Professor Jeffrey Sachs - a leading world economist whose mission is to end extreme poverty in the world by 2025. Extreme poverty is defined as people trying to live on less than $1 a day, which currently represents about 1/6th of the world's population (approximately 1 Billion people). Most of those suffering are caught in an extreme "poverty trap" from which they cannot escape on their own.
To put this crisis in perspective, approximately 3,000 people died in the tragic 9/11 attack on the United States. By comparison, each and every day, 20,000 people die of extreme poverty because they are too poor to stay alive (from disease, hunger, or lack of basic shelter and health care). This means that since 9/11, 36.5 million people have died from completely preventable causes. That is equivalent to the entire population of California being wiped out. Every year, 8 million people die of extreme poverty, which equals the population of New York City.
Millennium Promise operates about 80 villages in 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The mission is to achieve the 8 globally endorsed objectives known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were unanimously agreed upon by the 191 UN Member Nations, including the United States. The Millennium Promise has put the MDGs into practice through a multi-pronged approach addressing the major problems simultaneously. By attacking hunger, disease, lack of clean drinking water, inadequate education, women's health issues, etc., the Millennium Villagers receive the assistance needed to achieve self-sustained development. The goal is to provide the initial boost necessary for these disadvantaged people to reach the lowest rung of the development ladder, after which they can begin to climb on their own. This approach is already underway and showing great promise in Africa (see "Sauri" below).
It was this simultaneous approach that really got me interested in this project initially and after reading Jeffrey Sachs book 'The End of Poverty', I knew that working with Millennium Promise was the calling that I had been searching for. I agree with Dr. Sach's assertion that all causes of extreme poverty must be addressed at the same time in order to break the cycle once and for all.
Because of the onset of an unexpected illness 10 years ago, I am extremely limited in what I am able to do physically. The illness left me wondering what my purpose was in life. So for the past several years, I have been trying to focus my efforts and find some way to make a difference in other people's lives. I truly believe I've found that way. I know that raising public awareness of extreme poverty and fundraising for the Millennium Promise program is something I've been called to do.
Most people know that in Africa and other parts of the world people are dying of malnutrition, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other maladies associated with extreme poverty (the most severe state of poverty where people cannot meet basic needs for survival, such as food, water, clothing, shelter, sanitation, education and health care). But until I read 'The End of Poverty', even I didn't grasp just how bad the problem truly is. It isn't OK with me and it shouldn't be OK with any human being on this planet!
Millennium Villages introduce a broad range of interventions that simultaneously address the specific needs of each village. Of equal importance is the fact that the villagers themselves own and drive all the work being done through Millennium Promise. They are our partners and they are the keys to success. These practical, proven, integrated, low-cost investments are provided under the scientific and technical guidance of the Millennium Promise Scientific Council, the UN Millennium Project, and The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Below are the key interventions and the objectives being addressed.
1) Nutrition - Meet the most basic human need by eliminating hunger and malnutrition in the village. This is accomplished by increasing production, access and utilization of nutritious foods, and includes a special focus on improving nutritional status of those in greatest need (pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants under two).
2) Agriculture - Improve livelihoods of all villagers and increase incomes for both on- and off-farm activities.
3) Gender Equality and Education - Invest in the future by assuring full attendance of primary schools for both boys and girls and eliminate gender disparity in schools.
4) Gender Equality and Health - Improve access to medical care and services, with particular emphasis focused on improving women's health and drastically reducing child and maternal mortality rates.
5) Health - Decrease the rate of infection of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other major diseases; and increase access to essential medication for treatment of diseases.
6) Environment - Introduce and educate villages on the principles of sustainable development and integrate these methods into village programs to reverse the loss of environmental resources and enhance ecosystem services.
7) Water - Increase access to clean water and sanitation for households, schools and medical services.
8) Infrastructure - Utilize the power of modern technologies to eliminate the digital divide; making available the benefits of communication technologies, especially access to Internet and mobile telephones services.
For more details, visit MillenniumVillage.org
The first Millennium Village was formed in Sauri, Kenya in June 2004. In this village, more than 60% of the villagers lived in extreme poverty. The problems and hurdles facing this village were nearly the same as those facing the village that we are sponsoring in Mbola, Tanzania. Here is a summary regarding just some of the progress made in Sauri Kenya since Millennium Promise intervened (see more details at www.millenniumvillages.org).
HUNGER - In June of 2004, Millennium Promise found that population growth had led to a shortage of land, and subsequent overuse had diminished the fertility of the limited land available. These factors made it difficult for Sauri's villagers to grow enough food to feed their families and impossible for them to produce excess food for other purposes. As a Millennium Village, Sauri was given fertilizer, new seeds, and better farming techniques. Austin Oumo Oweno, the district's area assistant chief, says that these improvements have helped average production to soar from 1-2 sacks per acre to 7-12 sacks. In fact, the estimated average yield for the 2006 harvest was 6 tons per hectare (an estimated 400% increase over previous yields).
The benefits of increased crop yields can also spill over into other efforts in the village. For instance, a portion of yields is now being allocated to schools so that they can feed their students to improve education. Maize for school lunches is provided by local farmers, who donate 10% of their yield to school feeding programs as part of an agreement to receive subsidized seed and fertilizer.
WATER - Sauri's villagers have always collected water from a number of nearby springs. However, this water used to be unsafe and unclean and was constantly contributing to the spread of disease. Now, the springs in Sauri have been protected. Villagers can continue to gather water without having to fear that it will make them ill. Also, many of Sauri's homes have been equipped with roof-based rainwater harvesting systems, further ensuring access to clean, safe water.
EDUCATION - Before Sauri became a Millennium Village, Bar primary school was ranked 198th out of the 353 schools in the country of Kenya. One reason for the weak academic performance was the inability of many students to even eat every day. As food production has increased in the village, the school has become able to serve lunch to its students. Over 17,000 students are currently being served lunch every day in all of the area's 28 primary schools. A free meal program has been shown to increase enrollments in very poor communities because it increases parents' incentive to send their children to school where they will be fed without cost to the family. The food helps the students focus on academics and concentrate in class. Now, Bar Sauri Primary School is ranked 4th.
HEALTH - There is now a free clinic that provides treatment and a dispensary that supplies medicine. Personnel is being hired and trained and existing clinics are being renovated and staffed. These changes have improved health and given hope to villagers. Houses in Sauri have been supplied with anti-malarial bed nets, as well as education regarding how these nets are to be used. These nets and malaria treatment in the clinic have led to a major drop in malaria's prevalence in Sauri-it has fallen from 55% to 13%. Bed nets do three things: they physically protect people from insect bites, they repel mosquitoes from the area, and they kill any mosquitoes that land on the insecticide-treated net. Malaria treatment at the clinic gives those who do contract the disease a better chance to survive.
AGRICULTURE & ENTREPRENEURSHIP - One group of villagers is trying to grow mushrooms indoors. Despite initial resistance from villagers, more and more people are getting involved as trial mushrooms start to grow. This project has allowed villagers to work together, and one leader explains, "Every member, when it is harvested, will have a share". Another site of success can be found at the local barber's stand. The barber is constantly busy, sometimes working 11 hour days to keep up with customers' new demand. Once people are willing and able to spend money on the things that they want (not just things they need), the number of services (like the barber business) that can be profitable in the village grows exponentially.
INFRASTRUCTURE - Sauri is now better able to communicate and connect with the rest of the world through a new phone and improved roads. Villagers no longer must embark on a 5 kilometer trek in order to make a phone call. Roads allow both those in Sauri to travel to other places and visitors to come enjoy Sauri's progress. One man plans to establish Sauri's first small hotel. "I was just looking for an opportunity and using it," he explains.
And the best news of all is that Villagers have begun to come up with their own strategies to keep Sauri moving along the path to prosperity. The villagers' success is now largely in their own hands-and they are optimistic about their futures. The village barber tells us, "I think that if I just go on with the hard work, I think I'll just succeed."
First of all, I educated myself about extreme poverty by reading books and internet articles from varying sources and perspectives. If you ask how to solve or end extreme poverty to 10 different people, you might get 10 different answers. My husband and I have been contributing to various charities over the years. It has been our experience that most times, when you give money, it is like giving to a big black box. You have no idea exactly what the money is used for or how much actually reaches the intended recipients. Nor do you know whether the people in charge reflect your values and philosophies regarding a specific problem.
Image by UN Millennium Project
Why Millennium Promise?
I chose to focus on Millennium Promise above all others because I agree with Jeffrey Sachs that those in extreme poverty need help getting on the bottom rung of the poverty ladder. The old adage about picking yourself up by the bootstraps doesn't exactly apply if you can't even afford the boots. People in extreme poverty live on less than $2 per day, they don't spend time thinking about the future because they need to figure out how to keep themselves and their families alive for today -hunger, lack of water, disease are a part of their daily life. Do you think a family stranded in a snowstorm in their car is contemplating the future? Of course not, they are just trying to figure out how to survive and I think that is a point that a lot of people miss. Don't get me wrong, I am not for giving people handouts one after another with no plan. That is why I believe Millennium Villages can work - they provide resources and teach people how to become self sufficient.
My Call To Action - Raise $1.5 Million
After deciding Millennium Promise was the most effective approach to solving this problem, I brainstormed to come up with ways that I could assist the charity. I like to think big! Thinking small means that you will achieve small. With that in mind, I decided that I needed to find a way to raise the $1.5 million. This is the amount necessary to fully fund a Millennium Village of 5,000 people for the initial five years. Of course, I know that it will take a village of people to sponsor a village.
Virtual Millennium Village Poverty Ladder
So to facilitate small business and individual participation, I started what is known as a 'poverty ladder' with an overall goal to raise $1.5 million. The poverty ladder is called the Virtual Millennium Village, Tanzania (since all proceeds will sponsor a village in the Mbola region of Tanzania). Millennium Promise enables folks who start a poverty ladder the ability to track all the funds contributed directly to the ladder.
Partnering with Small Businesses
I am working to find online business and retailers that will sponsor a portion of the overall ladder. For instance, All About Gifts & Baskets has generously set a goal of $200,000 to be raised by the company and their customers. They are asking customers to contribute either $1, $2, $5 or $10 with each gift purchase. And they are matching one for one the funds contributed by their customers. I have also been able to get Wedding Favors Unlimited to use the same type of customer contribution and matching system so that they can ask bride's to open their hearts to the Virtual Millennium Village - Tanzania project as well.
Family - Friend - Public Contributions
Finally, I am asking all my friends and family and all of you to get involved. I know that we can raise the funds!
As of December 2014, our poverty ladder members have raised nearly $93,000 to support our village! Special thanks to All About Gifts & Baskets and Wedding Favors Unlimited. Together with their customers, they have raised $73k and $20K respectively. Our goal is to raise $1.5 million... enough to fund a village of 5,000 people for 5 years.