Brian Lehrer: ...In the US, we have 5% of the world's population, 30% of the world's wealth... Are we creating or just hoarding global wealth? Most of us don't feel rich as individuals but when we are so rich as a nation -- and while tens of thousands of children die every day from hunger-related causes in the world, what is our responsibility? When scarcity contributes to genocide in a place like Darfur, what is our responsibility then? And in the context of our national elections, how different are Democrats and Republicans on these issues? We'll have this conversation not in debate form but with New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, just back from reporting on poverty in Africa, and the student essay contest winner he took with him, Casey Parks, a student at the University of Missouri Graduate School of Journalism who had never been out of the country before -- one of the reasons she was chosen... We're delighted to have them back. Maybe you saw the two heartbreaking columns that Nick wrote from Cameroon about the woman named Prudence who died in childbirth from no access to care.... Casey -- you told us before you left that you had seen poverty in Mississippi growing up but you were curious to see how different poverty looked in Africa. How would you begin to describe the difference?
Casey Parks: I imagined that it would be different but I didn't feel that difference at all before I went. In Mississippi the people I know who are poor can always get food stamps or always get medical care. We saw so many people who... all they eat is casava which basically has no nutritional value. We saw so many people dying from malaria because they don't have mosquito nets or because they're living out in the bushes because of instability in certain countries. We met so many people who have no access to healthcare. Who,even if they could pay for the healthcare can't get anywhwere near hospitals because they're too far away and the roads are too bad. This is a completely other level. I expected it would be different but not at all like what I actually experienced.
BL: How different from what you expected? Was it shocking? Did it make you see the world any differently?
CP: Certainly it did! It's really strange for me to be back in the US and try to make sense of the US after seeing all this. You know, I didn't really feel it. I knew the numbers. But the numbers didn't resonate. There were numbers that are easy to forget or TV programs that I'd flipped through. When you actually talk to someone -- when you look them in the eye and you see.... You know, the kids break everyone's heart. When you look at a kid who has absolutely nothing to eat or you see a huge family sharing the smallest of meals that has no nutritional value, it's hard to come back and go out to a restaurant and feel good about yourself.
BL: I guess that's why Nicholas Kristof writes so much about stories of individuals. Nick, I've read a lot of newspaper columns in my life but I don't think I'll ever forget the two you wrote about Prudence, the woman whose life and death struggle during childbirth you told over two columns like a medical and political suspense story. My god, what a tragic story! No modern medical care. A doctor who left her in the hospital without operating for days when she finally got there -- because she didn't have $100. What was the moral of that story to you ?
Nicholas Kristof: Well, you know these kinds of things happen every day. About once a minute. Half a million women die a year in childbirth and it's really because neither donor nations like the US nor the recipient nations like Cameroon make it a priority. The number of women dying in childbirth has been stuck for the past 25 years. As Casey said, you can know that intellectually. But for me just being there by Prudence's bedside and just seeing her fade away for totally needless reasons... you can't put it away. Also I think that sometimes there's a tendency for us in this country to think, well, people in the developing world are used to death and suffering because they experience so much of it. Anybody who was there by Prudence's bedside -- saw her husband begging for us to help save her, see her mother and her sisters stay there every night by her bedside -- would not have said that.
More of the interview and links to Casey's blog can be found at The Scribe.