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Pakistan Center for Philanthropy

The Good that Men Do
August 22, 2008 — The Friday Times

By Jim Moody

Former US congressman Jim Moody urges the government not to close the National Commission For Human Development at this crucial juncture in the nation’s progress

As a strong friend of Pakistan since my days serving here in the US Peace Corps, reinforced by frequent official and business visits, I congratulate the new government that represents a hopeful new chapter, and urge it to reconsider the announced decision to de-fund the National Commission for Human Development. The solid facts are that closing NCHD would:

  • Eliminate an informal village school network that has to date enrolled 8,235,000 children ages 5 to 7 who would otherwise not be in any school.
  • Stop the training of 46,000 supplementary teachers that has enabled 540,000 children to attend insufficiently staffed government schools.
  • Close 121,187 community literacy centers that have already trained 2.86 million women to read.
  • End the support of over 1 million women volunteers going door-to-door to train mothers how to prevent infant death through ORS and other basic interventions.
  • Close the special patient welfare centers at District Hospitals now providing medicines, blood donations and transportation for sick or immobile patients.
  • Disband over 300,000 volunteers helping various community-improvement projects at the grassroots level.
  • Close the 16 Microsoft-assisted computer-learning centers in remote areas such as Thatta and Badin.

I have personally witnessed NCHD's work at the village level, from Narewal province to the NWFP area, and was very moved as I watched the children learn how to read and write, as I met the voluntary workers who go door to door helping mothers learn to prevent needless death of their infants, as I spoke with the teachers helping women become literate.

Defunding NCHD would tell international donor organisations such as the UN Development Program, World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that their six-year investment in this UNESCO award-winning educational program for children and parents in rural Pakistan has been suddenly and inexplicably cut off—allegedly for political reasons. Particularly puzzling since all funds have been carefully and continually audited by independent outside authorities, disproving any claims of malfeasance or wastage.

It will be puzzling to international donors trying to help Pakistan to see the new leadership seeking to direct a country expressly pledged to uphold the principles of a great and profound religion, Islam, cut off assistance to millions of children who have done no more to deserve their circumstance of birth than we more privileged did. Each of the three holy prophets urged us to care for the poorest among us, Mohammed (PBUH) most recently.

Eliminating NCHD's work will deprive hundreds of thousands of families access to fundamental health care and education to improve their lives and thus increase the difficulties facing these parents and children whom surely God loves.

Forcing several million children out of village schools where there is yet no Ministry of Education presence will require many parents to choose between illiteracy for their children and sending them to madrasa schools where they will 1eam to read but the curriculum may lack training in science, math and other subjects necessary to secure meaningful and sustaining jobs in an increasingly digitised world. Today's children need familiarity with many subjects in addition to religious training.

A wider point: If Pakistan's elite continues to live the good life while ignoring the plight of their poorest citizens, and now cutting off proven and effective means of their self-improvement, it will surely deepen alienation and anger (that even a non-Pakistani like me call see in the rural areas) with dire consequences certain to result at some point.

There is ample historical precedent to alarm us: 200 years ago the upper and educated c1asses of France ignored plight of the poorest among them as they lived the "good life" with fine homes, servants, lovely dinner parties. As anger and alienation mounted among ordinary citizens a spark finally erupted into violence, including numerous executions of society's “betters.” The lucky ones fled to other countries, their lives wrecked.

Living in China as a child I personally witnessed a similar scenario of the wealthy educated few living luxurious lifestyles and ignoring the education and basic needs of their less fortunate citizens. The inevitable revolt, sparked by an articulate spokesman—Mao—led to an extremist regime starting with mass executions and imprisonment while a lucky few fled to Taiwan never to see their homes again. Millions who could not flee died under the dire and punitive regime that prevailed for decades until the extremist system finally mellowed.

In more recent times I also witnessed the same scenario in Iran, Pakistan's neighbor, where the upper levels of society lived lavish lifestyles while ignoring the plight of the other 95 percent of the population and their increasing anger. Finally that alienation boiled over into a revolution led by the mullahs, and also imposed a strict regime starting with numerous executions severa1 of whom I personally knew. Some lucky upper society persons escaped, not to return to their beloved country until decades later if ever.

NCHID is not only delivering tangible assistance such as better health and increased literacy in the poorest areas, but is also fostering a spirit of self-help and voluntary local activism. Most of all, it is raising awareness among people in these neglected areas that (1) they can take steps to better their own lives and that of their children, and (2) they are cared for and appreciated by their Pakistani co-citizens. Nothing could be more important at this time than increasing these forms of social cohesion and confidence. The eventual direction that Pakistan takes will be increasingly determined by how its citizens at all strata share the same positive, inclusive vision.

We who know the generous and sincere nature of Pakistanis, and their unfailing and protective welcome to the stranger, and want to see Pakistan rise to its full potential at all levels as it both achieves greatly and increasingly cares for its own people. Having lived in two countries where the fortunate few ignoring the plight of the many led to disastrous results for all, I cannot remain silent as I see the familiar seeds of a preventable disaster.

Having witnessed the pride in Pakistan during the February election, I hope the new government will make the healing, constructive decision at this crucial early moment in their time of testing.

I respectfully urge the new government to make the moral, wise and pragmatic decision to continue the vital work of NCHD.

Jim Moody is a former member of the United States Congress,
former Vice President of the UN development agency IFAD in Rome, Italy,
and head of the US observer delegation during Pakistan's February election.




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