Sub-Saharan Africa and Arkansas are worlds apart, and most people believe they couldn’t be more different. However, I’ve found that to be far from the truth.
I spent the majority of my career as an international development specialist supporting communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. In my past life, my goals and objectives were directed at helping people in far-away lands build brighter futures for themselves.
After spending 13 years of my career supporting international communities, I have learned that there are common barriers to progress that have to be overcome in order for families to access the resources they need to be successful and sustainable across generations:
Access to a safe and reliable sources of drinking water: Water is the lifeblood of healthy places.
Barrier: Residents in many villages have to walk long distances to fetch water, and plumbing is a pipedream for many folks.
Access to high-quality education: Education is the key to a brighter future for children, their families, and communities.
Barrier: Many villages are too small, can’t afford to build a schoolhouse, or are unable to pay teachers. Most children have to travel miles on foot to attend school.
Access to jobs that pay living wages: The opportunity to earn a living wage strengthens families and communities.
Barrier: Investors and employers are few and far between, so villagers struggle to start businesses or find jobs at home. Often, entrepreneurs and workers have to leave town and seek gainful employment in larger cities a few hours’ or days’ travel away from their families. And when entrepreneurs and workers leave, so does the the economic impact they could have at home.
Access to nutritious foods: Nutrition is at the heart of resident health, and health promotes productivity.
Barrier: The easiest crops to grow are often low in nutritional value or so easy to grow that everyone else is growing them too, making a diverse and nutritious diet nearly impossible. Many regions are food deserts, lacking sources of nutritious food.
Access to quality, affordable health care: Healthy people are productive people.
Barrier: If residents in rural areas get sick, they are treated at local clinics that are often under-staffed and under-resourced, and they are rarely taken to a hospital, either because hospitals are too far away or demand cash for treatment. Being treated at a hospital is a luxury, not the norm.
While traveling across Sub-Saharan Africa, I always thought, “How fortunate am I. I have the material things that allow me to be a fat, happy, oblivious American.” Little did I know the problems I was trying to help communities solve on the other side of the world existed in my home state.
My time at WRF has forced me to take a long, hard look at the challenges many Arkansans face, challenges that were more familiar than I was comfortable to admit. I, like my colleagues here at the Foundation, recently toured the state, and I heard that Arkansans lack access to many of the same resources and opportunities villagers across Sub-Saharan Africa deserve. But talking to folks in Arkansas and throughout Africa, I was encouraged and humbled by residents’ drive and enthusiasm to positively transform their hometowns.
At WRF, we help communities harness residents’ passion for improving child and family well-being and for creating a brighter future for all Arkansans. Just like in the field of international development, we aren’t able to do this for Arkansans–we can only contribute to catalyzing or accelerating change. We indirectly support residents with a shared vision for what’s possible and the determination to make that vision a reality. We directly support nonprofits in developing the plans, talent, and resources residents need to create and implement solutions that work in their local contexts.
How can you do your part to remove barriers and help your neighbors access the resources and opportunities they need to make your hometown happier, healthier, and more prosperous? It’s as easy as 1-2-3:
Come together with neighbors and community leaders to create a shared vision for what’s possible
Put together a plan for connecting folks with what they need to make their vision a reality
Use available resources to fuel the positive change residents want
In time, you’ll see that not only can your contribution of time and energy make a difference, it will also have ripple effects that make Arkansas a state where our children and grandchildren thrive.