The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
New Plymouth, New Zealand
December 02
Retired psychiatrist, activist and author of 2 young adult novels - Battle for Tomorrow and A Rebel Comes of Age - and a free ebook 21st Century Revolution. My 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led me to leave the US in 2002. More information about my books (and me) at

DECEMBER 26, 2012 5:18PM

Oxfam Challenges Negative African Stereotypes

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Starving child covered in flies

Starving child covered in flies

It appears a lot of people are as sick to death as I am of the World Vision and Tear Fund TV ads featuring starving, fly-infested African children.

The International Business Times has an interesting article about a study the international aid organization Oxfam released yesterday revealing charitable donations for Africa have been hurt by the “depressing, manipulative and hopeless” TV images used in fundraising efforts.

In a survey of more than 2,000 British residents, three-fifths indicated that constant images of hunger, drought, deprivation and disease in Africa have left them desensitized and apathetic. While almost three-quarters believed it was possible to end hunger in Africa, only one-fifth though they could play some role in bringing it about.

According to Oxfam executive director Dame Barbara Stocking, “The relentless focus on ongoing problems,  at the expense of a more nuanced portrait of the continent, is obscuring the progress that is being made toward a more secure and prosperous future. If we want people to help fight hunger, we have to give them grounds for hope by showing the potential of countries across Africa; it’s a natural instinct to turn away from suffering when you feel you can do nothing to alleviate it.”

The IBT quotes a comment on the BBC website, which pretty much sums up my feelings: “Africa and the third world doesn’t need aid. It just needs rich people in the West to pay a fair price for its agricultural produce and stop living on the backs of the child workers who make all the cheap clothes sold on the high street. Africa’s population doesn’t threaten the planet, it’s people in the West who are using up all the world’s resources to support their unsustainable lifestyle.”

I myself might go a little further and talk about the disgraceful role the US has played in fanning political instability and regional conflict in Africa, particularly in countries with oil and other important resources. On Christmas Eve, the Obama administration announced they will be sending troops into 35 African countries in 2013.

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About 20 years ago three things happened that led me to a startling realization.

The first was that, after 15 years of supporting two children through the Foster Parents Plan, they had reached the age where my support stopped. I was asked if I'd support other children they had waiting.

The second was request by an African friend to assist him with a problem with an American Insurance company. When he'd first arrived here in Canada, he'd sent money home to his brother for a retirement/life insurance policy for their mother. Recently his brother was killed in a car accident. He spoke with the American head office about paying the premiums on his mother's insurance policy directly to head office. They wouldn't allow it because that would have cut out the African branch and put an end to their commissions on the policy that were paid yearly to the branch. With my assistance we got him a policy issued by a Canadian insurance company for his mother in his home country.

The third thing that happened is that my same African friend bought a house and invited me to his house-warming party where I met his sister. She, although based in Canada, worked for a charitable organization that was trying to introduce birth control pills to African women in overpopulated areas.

That conversation with her was the 'kicker' that got me thinking. She showed me some photos of her home in a major city. In the background of one of those photos was an old woman who appeared to be begging on the street. I asked about her and was told that she was a ...(unpronounceable to me word)... and that there were many like her, and that she had to beg so as to survive.

I assumed that the 'name' given by my new friend meant beggar and asked her why she didn't translate it as that. She replied that it did not simply mean 'beggar' but more like "old woman with no children who begs". She further said that such women are the reason so many young women will not go on the pill. They do not want to end up with no children who can support them in their old age.

So you can see what is happening here. Because most African countries do not have any sort of old age government or private pension plan or income, their old people must rely upon their children for support. If a woman has no children - she either dies or begs. The average number of children many women have there is about 8. About half will die from various causes before the age of 10. Of the four remaining children only one is likely to do well enough in life to support his/her mother in her old age. If the woman doesn't have enough children to ensure that at least one will be able to help her she becomes an "old woman with no children who begs".

I can well imagine what women here would do if they were in the same situation. But women here can usually depend upon a government pension of some kind. Most also pay into insurance plans that they can depend upon, but even when they don't, the social security lets them have a chance at survival.

When I put these three things together, I came up with this idea. Let's start a "Save The Grannies" fund to run concurrent with our other save the children funds. Let us make arrangements with an insurance company for policies to be started for every girl child as soon as she reaches one year old (instead of the usual 20 to 30 years old that most insurance companies deal with). Let it mature when she reaches 40 years of age so that she can live decently WITHOUT having had to bear so many children.

Let our contributions be used to pay the premiums for those policies.

If a major reason that women over there have so many children is indeed for survival in their old age, then this guarantee of a pension should open the door for birth control to enter. That would lead to fewer children who would be less of a strain on their mother (and sometimes father) to raise properly. That would also help to alleviate the population problems. It might allow more children to get an education and do better in life.

Someone once said to me that, "We'll solve the problem of poverty only when we figure out how to make a profit by doing so." Well here it is. The insurance companies should love it. The women should benefit by it. The children that are born will benefit by it. And the governments of those nations should benefit by it. We, who support it, can know that we are not pouring contributions into an endless maw of more and more children needing help, and we'll feel much better about donating funds for this.

What do you think?