Ever sent or received a care package? Whether or not you’ve ever been the sender or the recipient, you probably never wondered about the origins of this type of benefaction. If you’re like me, you’re already thinking, “who cares?” and laughing to yourself at the stupid little pun you just made. Trust me, no one thinks you are funny (except me). But let that not dissuade you from availing the answer to the unasked question!
In 1946 an organization founded as Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE) began providing survivors of World War II emergency assistance packages containing various meat and shortening products, sweeteners, chocolate, egg and milk powders, and coffee. Later those packages would come to include medicine, blankets, tools, and other supplies. Since then the organization, now known as Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (still CARE), has expanded its mission to reduce poverty in the poorest communities worldwide, while continuing to provide emergency relief to victims of natural disaster and political conflict. While emergency relief response addresses “immediate lifesaving needs for food, clean water, temporary housing, sanitation, medicine and other basic necessities,” CARE’s approach to poverty reduction is based on root-cause analysis and strategic planning for the long-term self-sufficiency of the recipient community. Their presence in the community is predicated by cultural literacy of the region and seeks to empower residents through education, training, and advocacy. Among the many issues CARE addresses are health, water access, resource management, and economic development. These are building-block issues aimed at reducing or eliminating the sources of impoverishment, which can range from disease and malnutrition to geographical isolation and more.
If you are still reading this, you are probably already aware of the very simple things that we take for granted as inhabitants of the industrialized world. For instance, how often are you acutely aware of the importance of clean, safe water? About how you generally don’t have to worry about searching for water, gathering water, transporting water? Ever have to circumvent local officials or warlords to provide drinking water to your home or family? Are you concerned about water-borne diseases? Seems like such a simple nothing kind of thing but if you didn’t have it, rest assured much of your available energy would be invested in some or all of these issues. When people have ready access to safe water they are healthier, have more time for education and family, are more productive, and are better able to provide for themselves.
Why am I telling you all of this? This is just one example of the type of “root cause” that can make a profound difference in the lives of an entire populace. From CARE’s website: “We look at the big picture of poverty, and go beyond the symptoms to confront underlying causes … with a broad range of programs based on empowerment, equity and sustainability.” With that in mind, the organization works at the grassroots level to support the target community by buying supplies and recruiting staff and volunteers locally. But CARE also works to engage policymakers at every level to influence the decisions that can enhance or cripple progress.
Anyway, before I go into a Sally Struthers bit, I’d rather try to make clear as to why I am bothering to write about this at all: We are all connected. Everything that is consumed or wasted by us as individuals has a real impact somewhere else. As we humans advance technologically we see our world get smaller. Hopefully we can see the artificiality of the things that separate us and realize that no one deserves to be born under better circumstances than anyone else. Those of us who have the means or the freedom to do as we wish should not take for granted that everyone else has the luxury or even the opportunity to change their situation alone. What we choose to do with the situation we are given defines the kind of people we are. Are we the kind of people who will sit fat and happy with our lot in life or are we the kind of people who will put something, anything at all back in the pot for others to work with? Extrapolating from CARE’s latest newsletter, the amount of money you might spend buying fast-food lunches for a week could help them provide a community with safe drinking water for a year.
So what can you do? First, read for yourself about the current and ongoing campaigns for assistance (tsunami victims, Sudan refugees, Nigerian food-shortage, and more). Next, the easiest thing to do is send money. If you are so inclined you can contact CARE to help you create your own online soapbox for relentless e-campaigning to your friends and family. Or you can contact a local chapter for volunteering clerical or fundraising duties. If you want a more hands-on approach and would like to see beautiful Guatemala or Peru there are current programs to volunteer abroad with CARE in both of those countries. And lastly, for the truly, truly, ultra-motivated: you can download from CARE’s policy resources for DIY advocacy and use it to bug the hell out of both political administrations and the media about the far-reaching consequences of the domestic and foreign policies of industrialized nations. Whatever form you want your “care package” (heh) to take, you can dramatically affect someone’s ability to lift themselves out of destitution and that, in turn, lifts us all.
Copyright 2005, Heather Egland
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.