Living With Volatility

Posted by Gaddi Vasquez
October 1, 2008
Child with Food Ration in Colombia

About the Author: Ambassador Gaddi H. Vasquez is the 8th U.S. Representative to the United Nations Organizations in Rome.

All eyes are on the United States. Not on the presidential campaign, but on Wall Street and Capitol Hill. Yes, the markets are volatile. There’s no doubt we are vulnerable. Yet while traveling in Colombia I realize how fortunate we are that, unlike the world’s poorest, volatility is not a constant for us.

For the millions of displaced people in Colombia instability is a fact of life. Today in Guajira, the northernmost Colombian state, I met a few communities who are making strides to manage their risk to hunger, disease, and poverty. With the help of the United Nations and U.S. food assistance, they are reestablishing their lives and maintaining their culture, even steadfastly avoiding displacement from their ancestral land.

What keeps them going against great odds, often after having lost family members and suffered from the violent Colombian domestic conflict? Quite simply an opportunity for something better, a more stable life with economic opportunities. For a group of over forty families outside of the town of Riohacha, a slice of land on which to settle pays great dividends. Leadership and determination has turned this diverse, rural community with displaced from around Colombia into a cohesive group that helps one another build family homes. For this and other labor, they receive food from the World Food Program to supplement the crops that they grow.

Stability for indigenous groups does not come easy. The indigenous make up 3% of the total population of Colombia but more than 6% of the displaced. School feeding programs aim to minimize one of the side-effects of displacement: loss of educational opportunities for youth. I marveled, as I have done elsewhere in the world, at how a simple meal maximizes learning and is an incentive for parents to send their kids to school. In the case of the Wayuus in rural town of Dibulla, a well-balanced lunch also preserves an indigenous language and traditions.

The young girl in the photo is from one of the vulnerable indigenous groups that live in the Sierra Nevadas. Her elders welcomed us to a site to which they had walked more than three hours to receive a ration of food that includes enriched U.S. flour and vegetable oil. Illegal armed groups and isolated living conditions make their access to food difficult; however, through a UN partnership with a local indigenous organization, supportive local government officials, and USAID, they have been able to retain their land.

We’ll take a close look at how the urban poor cope with displacement tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Editor's Note: Read Ambassador Vasquez's next entry about his travels in Colombia.



District Of Columbia, USA
October 1, 2008

Jennifer in Washington, DC writes:

Great post, Ambassador Vasquez.

District Of Columbia, USA
October 1, 2008

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

@ Ambassador Vasquez,

I couldn't help this last week but think something similar to what you wrote at the beginning of your entry. Americans do face economic uncertainty, but it is not a constant for most of us. Yes, sadly, many Americans live in poverty, and struggle, but the poverty most Americans face does not compare to the poverty of living on a dollar a day. It is heartbreaking and unconscionable that so many people live in the world under such circumstances. Thank you so much for your efforts to combat poverty and hunger. As America will likely be forced to tighten its budget, I hope it does not cut back on food assistance programs and other efforts that help so many. I also hope that Americans continue to contribute privately to organizations that seek to feed and help the poor.

Florida, USA
October 2, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

@ Ambassador Vasquez, "What keeps them going against great odds...". That comment struck me and made me think "what does keep any person going against poverty/hunger/disease?" Hope. In all due respect, I have seen hopelessness and despair in our own country among the poor. We continually say that our poor are better off then other countries' poor. But poverty isolates people no matter where they live. During President Johnson's presidency there was a "war on poverty" in our country. Not a perfect solution but it did recognize our own struggling people. There have been studies on what generational poverty does to individuals. How it affects a person's ability to think, to learn, and to reason. One word -- negatively. It is not a "character flaw" that individuals can not get out of poverty, but rather a cycle that goes unbroken unless there is intervention. With the economic struggles our country is facing, a growing number of people are falling into poverty. What course are we going to take to help our own? When will we, again, recognize the poor here at home and give them hope?

Tennessee, USA
October 4, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

How about what GW asked for: The Religious and Social groups to pitch in more....

Why build a bigger church? Why not use Fasting days as replacement in food cost sent to the poor instead of self gratification? Why should anyone live in splendor when the person whose shoes they walk in did not? Why not take that money and give it to the poor?

I am not promoting socialism via Religion; but there is much truth to be said for giving from the top of these Religious sectors since they do not pay taxs yet receive all the benefits from local State and Federal Services.

We need to fix our economic situation to help more -- you cannot give what you do not have.

In our effort to help the rest of the worlds people in so many ways, We are not the Nation we were economically.

The UN needs to do more and China, Russia, India as well as the Arab nations need to give more...we cannot do it all.

New Mexico, USA
October 5, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Ambassador Vasquez, there's an old irigation method used by the Native Americans of New Mexico that might help these folks out in becoming more self sufficiant.

They take low-fired clay urns, (1-2 gal. capacity) and bury them up to the neck in the fields, 3-6 foot apart, set a flat stone on top after they are filled with water, and osmosis does the rest.

The porosity of the clay will allow the water to wick out in a constant controlled rate.

Since there is virtually no evaporative loss, it conserves water in times of drought.

The technology involved isn't 21st century and it's still labor intensive to keep the urns topped up every other day or so, but you'll have a real nice field of corn that is basicly drought resistant, as long as the local well (or open water source) doesn't run dry.

This was the way the ancestors of the 80 year old tribal elder from one of the local Pueblos grew crops for thousands of years in this area on land otherwise non productive due to the high desert environment, altitude and minimal rainfall for months at a time.

In the approach to foreign assistance, I see a "top-down/bottom-up" methodology in sync via debt relief, millenium challenge corp. grants at the top and the hands on effort at the local level to raise people up.

And for us domesticly I think USAID/DoS has something to teach Congress.

Rather than cut its funding, Foreign assistance should become the inspirational model for domestic economic stability.

I mean, what would 700 billion poured into a domestic branch of USAID do to inner cities I wonder?

And how many jobs would it create?

See, the concept of the Civilian "reserve" Corp outlined recently by DoS for nation building efforts is missing an opportunity by calling itself a "reserve" when it should be full on, full time.

At home or abroad.

And combined DoS/ USAID have less employees than DoD/US military has in its marching bands according to Sec. Gates.

Mmmm, I think I'd set up a DoS civilian corp like the National Guard, state by state, home based except when on call overseas. Put out a call for volunteers? You'd have enough man power just by re-contacting the FSO applicants that didn't make the cut. DoD supplies transportation, through domestic National Guard procurement.

All Congress has to do is get creative with discovering funding methods that incorporate existing infrastructure.

It could improve FEMA's efforts in times of natural disaster...relieve stress on existing social services, etc.

I agree with Susan's premis that we can do better at home, and like foreign assistance, that's an investment made in people's future, with a greater expected return for all.

October 6, 2008

Louiscarls in Brazil writes:

hi! i liked very much this blog.

Virginia, USA
October 20, 2008

Donald in Virginia writes:

20 October 08

Great idea Eric in New Mexico

Any tips that can be used to help people is just pure Gold!!!

I hope people realize that Charcoal is also the best filter you can use when filtering water and air. People should learn what they can do to survive. It shouldn't all be put on Governments or other countries to continue bailing them out. They need the proper equipment, the right security, and above all the right attitude in accomplishing the goals of trying to farm. They need medical supplies, and hospitals. Above all the need people to care...

"You give a man a fish he eats all day...teach him to fish and he can eat for a lifetime..." Fishing and Growing crops should be encouraged in all countries.

I will also pass on tips that can help...Especially if it can make someones day!!!

I'm the Author of the Book "Smart Survival Secrets" which was written to help people survive!!!

October 21, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Eric in NM & Donald in VA... Dead Poets Society (chuckle!)


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