Dear William Easterly,
I remember a time when the only things that mattered were snowball fights on days off from school, my lemonade stand on sticky summer days, our family's annual trip to the pumpkin farm, and sipping hot cocoa while watching Aladdin. I remember a time when the only thing that mattered was my life - my own little bubble in a place called Ames, Iowa. But my bubble was soon burst. Your image of ten-year-old Amaretch gathering eucalyptus leaves is seared in my memory forever. After reading The White Man's Burden I came to the realization that the atrocities in the world are far more complicated than what meets the eye.
The world's problems are varied and complex, and in the process of understanding them I always find myself searching for more - searching for a solution to end global poverty. The White Man's Burden has answered many of my questions at a far deeper level and in more pragmatic ways than any other book I have read.
I'll admit that before I started reading your book, I did not think piecemeal solutions were the answer. The issue of global poverty is so overwhelming that even the best of minds have failed to satisfactorily solve it. The situation can at times be disheartening; how does one instance of change cure the suffering of many?
For the last four years, my school has taken a group of students on a trip to Uganda, Africa. We have built a girls' school and student dormitory in Tororo, an elementary school in the village of Mawagala, and a workers' training center for the Women's Concern Ministry in Mbale. Our work has helped improve the economic and educational opportunities of people in those areas, but before reading your book I found myself asking: how much change are we really effecting?
Upon completing your book I experienced an epiphany, a flash that has changed the way I view the fight against poverty. I realized that in our Uganda project, we were the Searchers who were adapting to local conditions and making a difference in the lives of those villagers. I strongly believe now that piecemeal solutions which address specific problems are the only way to initiate change. Currently I lead a club called Students Helping to Eliminate Poverty and Hunger (SHEPH) whose mission is to raise money globally for reliable organizations that can act as Searchers.
The Malawi mosquito net system described in The White Man's Burden inspired SHEPH to take on a malaria prevention project of its own. Last year we raised over $3,000 to help the village of Mbale, Uganda fight malaria. The Women's Concern Ministry believes that the "Malawi model" will work in Mbale, and they have been trying to develop their own system for distributing mosquito nets. If successful, their system will have the potential to save hundreds of lives.
On my family trips to India I have been exposed to abject poverty and noticed that the problems there have reached staggering proportions. I have oftentimes found myself discouraged and dispirited to try and assist in solving the water, education, disease, famine, and many other problems prevalent in India. But the most important thing I learned from your book is that we must never give up. This past semester, SHEPH raised $5,000 for a school called Drkslikshi Balangan in northern India. Of course our small step will not solve India's education problem, but it is a practical response from our community that enables poor girls in another community to receive an education.
Your book has helped me understand that Searchers need to start at the grassroots level. You have wholly convinced me that "we need Searchers to find out what the reality is at the bottom; we need Searchers to find solutions that work." This is something I will always remember in times of discouragement. I used to think that organizations like the World Bank were on the verge of solving all the world's problems, and that if they couldn't do it at this point, they just needed more time. You have made it clear that there is no panacea for global poverty, but rather a set of solutions that will be specific to individual communities. There is still so much to be done, still so many problems that need to be fixed. You have presented me with proof that it's not going to be easy, but that it's not impossible to translate good intentions into effective results.
My mission in life will be directed towards helping children like Amaretch attend school. Thank you, William Easterly, for instilling in me the hope that collectively we Searchers can alleviate the suffering of many - one tiny step at a time.