Divesting From A Contributor To Poverty

It costs money to be sheltered. Food, water, and shelter are three basic necessities you have to buy. Think about it: what if you only had two dollars a day to spend on a house? If our Virginia weather is any indication I think you’d be screwed and our storms might be considered mild compared to many other places in the world. During this Two Dollar A Day Challenge (TDC), its been raining on our shelter for the last few days, but yesterday in Bangladesh a violent storm destroyed roughly 700 tin and mud houses, killing 41, and cutting off electricity to thousands. Weather is a much more dramatic issue to the impoverished, and it is only getting worse.

Climate change puts those who are poor in the firing line ahead of those who can pay for protection. Inclement weather causes drought and destroys crops. It drains people’s savings during their recovery. It displaces more families and causes more migrations. Because of this, foreign aid and economic development cannot ignore environmental issues, least of all those encouraging them. Governments in places like Honduras have to be held accountable for the loss of forested area from 57 percent to 44 percent in twelve years, dropping below the average in Latin America.

FullSizeRenderWhat might the TDC do to help draw attention to the issue of climate change?

Divest UMW is an on campus student movement trying to get the administration to remove their investments in the fossil fuels industry. TDC sees a similar problem of approach in blanket solutions to global poverty as it does in campus green initiatives. Just as blind, unguided charity may do nothing to help someone escape a poverty trap, recycling programs may be a good thing, but they only prolong the issue without getting to the real source of climate change, the fossil fuel industry itself. We have to get to the root of the problem. Our institutions are only putting a band-aid on a bullet wound and we think Divest UMW is trying to help sew it up.

The good news is that institutional change is possible. Take British Colombia for example: according to the World Bank, the province “has shown how revenue from a carbon tax can provide targeted support for the poor while also reducing business and income taxes. The Canadian province created a low-income climate action tax-credit that provides quarterly payments to the poor to offset higher prices. Today, British Columbia has one of the lowest income taxes in the country, a thriving economy fueled in part by green growth, and its emissions have fallen.”

Two birds, one stone. We believe UMW is in the fight against poverty, we politely encourage it to consider divestment to be on the same side.

We care about poverty, and poverty is made worse by climate change. Therefore, we care about climate change. Every group on campus should consider what they take for granted, including shelter from a natural disaster. Remember, it costs money to be sheltered. Divest UMW is part of a greater movement to keep the misfortunate around the world from worsening effects of global warming. Let’s be humbly conscious of how we try to help people and what people we try to fund.

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The Two Gender Challenge

Gender. Lets apply an important college issue to the Two Dollar A Day Challenge.It’s a subject that has been targeted heavily by NGOs, IGOs, and Microfinances alike. Women and men may share the same space in their economic lives, but they often exist in very different worlds. I’m not just talking about staying at home to take care of the family or leaving to go to work; I’m talking about micromanaging a life on less with a different set of priorities. Studies have shown that men are less likely to spend money on the community than are women. Part of this has to do with what is required of women in their daily lives, such as taking care of children. How would this show up in our campus poverty simulation? Does does gender play a role in TDC compared to the reality of the developing world?

Women in the developing world have a lot stacked against them. Repression causes higher mortality and income differentials among other things. Gender gaps are persistent and the World Bank has repeatedly made clear that economic growth is closely tied to the closing of these gaps. Its not because they’re women that makes them contribute to the economy, its because they create a more diverse, interpretive work force. Women are not an extraordinary gender and neither are men, but all of these repressive forces can’t make this distinction. They serve to furnish poverty. Gender gaps are an issue exacerbated by poverty and exacerbating poverty at the same time, as women have to pay for it physically and financially.

The US has little room to boast, seeing as our ratio of female to male earned income is at 60 percent while Madagascar is at 71 percent, Rwanda’s is at 79 percent, and Mozambique is at 90 percent. In terms institutional change the news isn’t much better. We’re ranked 60th in women’s political empowerment below India, China and Uganda. In some respects, we suck at equality no matter the economic class. We know this is an issue at home and abroad, but we find it incredibly difficult to get to the issue even during the TDC.

Campuses in the US are experiencing a paradigm shift about how we see women in our small, connected societies we call colleges. To the average college student, women’s equality is far from being just a courtesy it is an obligation. In spite of petty politics I think that’s a message we can all agree on. It deserves mention in our intent look at poverty. I asked my friend to see if she was spending her money differently than I was. Peanut butter and rice a roni. Nothing different about that; I see both genders doing lump sums, saving money, and grouping together to cover those with no cash for the day. Women and men are more on par here in terms of living priorities than in the developing world. Neither gender seems more likely to spend money on the community than the other. We are not subject to the repressive forces real women in poverty are facing on the daily and this should also serve to humble us during the week.

So, is TDC a good simulation for gender in poverty? No. There are issues for women in poverty being perpetuated by economic depravity and cultural norms. We should be glad we have the sense to at least know to treat women as equals. Now, we should follow through; collegiate or not, impoverished or not.DSC_0341

Don’t listen to me. I’m a college kid. I’m too idealistic.

Not SureNo one knows enough when they’re 20. Last year this blog was about my experience abroad, but this time I’ll be participating in TDC from a college campus; a bubble sheltered from global poverty. Here, we college kids take on worldly issues almost as if we know what we’re doing. We’re going to school – we must be smart – so we must have a point. Yet by definition, we have less experience than everyone older than us. In some cases students aremore familiar with a problem because they grew up near it, but on the whole college kids just haven’t been around long enough to get the whole picture. So we hear, “Why should we listen to a bunch of…” naïve youth, idealistic youth, radical youth?

Good point.IMG_5736

Indeed, why am I yelling about poverty when all I know is what’s in my textbook? Three things come to mind, first and foremost our strong opinions aren’t out of the ordinary. Everyone has an opinion from the moment they can understand it as children. We just came to an agreement with Iran over nuclear development and someone reading about it in the paper for the first time might have just as fierce a stance as an official in the State Department. One is less educated about it and the other more, but the passion is there. Trust me, we are reminded of how little we know about things every time we apply for a job or an internship.

In terms of our methods, we may seem a little extreme at times; forcing ourselves to be tired, hungry, and sleep deprived during TDC seems like it might be a little drastic to raise awareness about poverty. Why not give more of your time volunteering as an aid worker than sitting around with grumbling stomachs?

Well, right now I’m not being an aid worker, I’m being a student. That’s what I’m at UMW to do, but studies show students are adamant about having an impact in the world. It just so happens I found a much more corporeal way to discuss the issue of poverty on campus, which seems like more of an investment than simply chucking a chunk of change at La Ceiba Microfinance from behind a dry library book. For those of us with a career or other fish to fry, this is usually the way to contribute (not against donating, please donate), but my point is that this doesn’t make TDC on a college campus extreme. Extreme might be dropping our degrees and packing our bags for a favela. That’s not what us college kids are doing, instead we’re investing ourselves in the problem in the way we can – a personal challenge on a global issue.

But this doesn’t solve the problem that we are still less experienced, and my third point is to say that’s how it’s supposed to work. Aid isn’t instantaneous. We develop ourselves so that we don’t screw up trying to develop the world. There’s a reason we look back on life and think “man I was young and stupid back then.”

Maybe if we’re young around poverty and stupid about poverty, we may mature around poverty, and become wise about poverty. That’s an education in and of itself and might be worth tuning in to.

8 Years of the Two Dollar A Day Challenge

This is the eighth year of the Two Dollar A Day Challenge (TDC) and I think its working. Every spring we come together to attempt a week on $2 a day and discuss what we do and don’t know about poverty. As it turns out, there is a lot we don’t know. It isn’t because we’re ignorant, but because we’re removed; almost half of the world’s population is living below the $2 poverty line, but most of us working a desk job or going to school don’t see it on an every day basis. Eventually, when we do get up and attempt to do something about it, we must be aware that we don’t fully understand the situation we’re stepping into. TDC is how we remind ourselves of that fact, and people have been listening.

This year almost twenty campuses are standing up to take the challenge from East coast to West coast. We are partnering with SIMA, RESULTS, and Oxfam America – a long way to come from just a few people sleeping on Ball Circle. This will be my fourth year participating in TDC and each year I’m always in awe of the scale of the problem outside our campus. Students everywhere are beginning to comprehend that college is a microcosm within larger issues.

In 2008 almost 80% of the Central African Republic’s population was recorded living below $2 a day, the global financial crisis occurred, and TDC took place for the first time at UMW.

In 2011 this year’s unsuspecting graduates stepped onto campus, the Arab spring began, and Pakistan hosted 710 refugees to every $1 of GDP per capita.

In 2015 global poverty rates are said to be declining, TDC sees its biggest year yet, and food production in Southern Asia is predicted to drop by 23%.

UMW is a buzz with activity and TDC is growing, but the world is still spinning. These aren’t meant to make us feel bad, rather they are an attempt to stir sensitivity for the vast economic inequality beyond our campus gates. Things are happening and we can help to make them better and more ethical. For this reason I’m happy to see TDC participants across the country, because it says ‘If we’re going to do something about this, let’s try to do it the best we can’.

Ask Me WhyHumbling and empathizing, come out and sit with us April 6th to April 10th. It’s been 8 years but we still have plenty to talk about.

Month Of TDC In Review 2014

The Month of TDC now comes to a close. The challenge caused me to change my lifestyle over the month, take on new perspectives about poverty, and witness my hyperactive metabolism at work that. All of it served to make for an interesting physical and mental adventure.

What It Was Like

Just like any long-term challenge, you’re new set of rules constricts what you will and will not do. You come to expect things. I came to expect small calculations throughout the day to matter down the line, because when I accidentally wound up with less than I planned, it meant a couple spoonfuls of measly scraps for dinner. I came to expect food fantasies triggered by the aphrodisiac fumes of every bakery in the city. And I came to expect a barrage of thoughts and questions regarding poverty that occupied my mind late into the night.

Given all that, the flip side of a challenge like this is the newborn tactics that emerge to help you cope with the lifestyle change. I learned the tricks of the marketplace, like the butter-zone fifteen minutes right before six o’clock, when old lady vendors only want two things: to get rid of you and to get rid of the extra stock before it goes bad. Great deals. Store loyalty goes a long way, as it does between peers. I learned a deeper meaning of the word ‘gratitude’ when accepting invitations to potluck meals at a friend’s apartment (to which I owe you, June & Freja, an enormous amount of thanks). And I learned how to better approach people on the streets or the doorways of adobe homes and talk to them about how things were. 

Something New

Hunger itself was relatively easy to avoid after a while, but I also came to expect a deficiency in any kind of good quality food. This surprised me actually, because it taught me something that the weeklong Two Dollar A Day Challenge never did: I’ve always balked at the decision to eat fast food simply because it’s cheaper, since it is always better to spend what little resources you have on healthier foods, isn’t it? Buy an apple and leave the fries, right? As it turns out even healthy cheap food is nonetheless somewhat bunk, in that you can tell you’re still putting away low cost produce.

At least McDonalds is at first masked by the taste before you realize you’re eating cruddy food. After thirty days I grew tired of simplistic, bottom shelf items like salty cheese and ended up craving something with more flavor even if it meant flabby burgers from the food stand down the street. (Not to excuse those who depend on such consumption, but the Month of TDC successfully gave a reason for it that I hadn’t thought of before.) Mealtime became more of a box to check, which is really a shame because I honestly love eating. That being said I did learn to get better at cooking since every time I stepped into the kitchen it was like trying to solve a riddle that always started the same: what can I make with these few ingredients?

The Physical Effects

After the three day fast at the beginning of the month, I had a sense of what sort of physical effects might be coming. There was a ghostly sense of exhaustion that haunted me at all hours of the day, coming and going as it pleased. I could tell I wasn’t getting enough sustenance on a week-to-week basis: In the states I hover around 164 pounds (75kg) when I’m fit and well fed. After three months of traveling in South America – where the rare workout consisted of a brief visit to the rock gym – my muscle and fat reserves had diminished to roughly 154 pounds (70kg), which was more or less expected and gave me a benchmark going into April. But when I stepped onto the scale, a little over halfway into the challenge, I had dropped to an alarming 150 pounds (68kg). That gave me pause.

In response I began a small workout routine on my apartment floor, and tried to balance my six-sol budget to capture all of the food groups. This was difficult, as it seems two dollars was just enough to get three of the four important nutrients in one day. Not to mention volunteering at 12,795 feet (3,900mts) and pulling ten-hour shifts at the clinic demanded a lot more than an inconsistent diet. I found myself staggering fruits and vegetables on a schedule. The weight loss eventually leveled out, but I unfortunately hit rock bottom on April 28th coming in at 148.5 pounds (67.5kg). I can feel my family cringing as I write this.

The more noticeable effects came from the rollercoaster my body experienced when I attempted to make the challenge more entertaining for myself. I tried switching up my imaginary income so I could have anywhere from $0 to $3 at random. I went on hikes and long walks with only one kind of food to see how long it took until I came to hate the taste. I branched out with edibles and tried buying things like unfamiliar plants, grains, traditional herbs, and goat and sheep organs. Heart’s my favorite. I even went three days eating exclusively food cooked on the street, which did things to my digestive track that I have never seen before and will probably never speak of again.

Cheating, Learning, Concluding

When breaking the rules of TDC, it simply asks you remember that those who live on two dollars a day for real don’t have the choice in the first place. I found myself sparing a cup of coffee or the occasional pastry two or three times a week, and there was always a sense of guilt sitting on my shoulder and squawking into my ear like a parrot. Walking the blurry line between keeping myself sane and maintaining the purity of the challenge was an uncertain experience. The world’s poor truly don’t have the option of a luxurious life with extra food, yet most of them probably haven’t experienced such habits with enough frequency to miss them when they’re gone. It didn’t feel right anywhere I turned.Last Call

Despite the moral conundrums of imitating poverty, I believe the challenge has done what it was designed to do: I spent the entire month of April investigating and engendering myself with an onslaught of empathetically emotional experiences that have changed the way I see poverty in the world. The contrast I found with my daily life was a stark one and helped me realize just what kind of things genuinely poor people go through that I may never have to. There is no way for me to really know what that life is like, but such an undertaking has left me with a healthier respect for the things I don’t know. I hope that next time I approach someone receiving aid that I never feign to understand the complexities of their day-to-day life, nor the exact reasoning for helping them.

Gaps In The Supply Chain

MarcoIt’s interesting to get a closer look at just how a country works to help its least fortunate citizens. Recently I got to learn about the administrative supply chain of the Peruvian government that delivers aid to the poor. There are five large social welfare programs all subservient to The Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion (MIDIS). To address the impoverished families as a whole, MIDIS made them a deal that said ‘you send your kids to school everyday and we’ll feed them. You send them to the clinics and we’ll give you $35 a month.’

Although this only continues through the elementary years, it provides an incentive structure to help keep the children healthy and the parents financially stable. To maintain a sense of efficiency in a timely manner the socialized bureaucracy then breaks down into a crew of private delivery companies that compete for government bids. Getting all these organizations to function properly together requires social-worker watchdogs that are constantly on the prowl, doing oversight and checkups.

That job falls to a man named Marco who, at the prospect of some free research labor, was happy to have me along. He revealed to me the logistical issues of feeding those on two dollars a day, and the economical facets of aiding each community. Simply working out the kinks of the private company delivery operations is a chore; one of the schools we visited in Huarocondo had 67 students but only received food enough to feed 40. Other schools have up to 360 kids to feed, all of whom would otherwise only receive three meals of basic potatoes at home.

However out of date records can’t compare to the enormous amount of effort it takes to coordinate one meeting of all the families to pay them their monthly dues. After sending their kids out on the long walk into town, the parents will take their livestock out to graze (commonly known as the chakra) and can disappear for hours into the maze of mountain valleys beyond the road. The supply quantity is there but the demand seems to move around inconsistently, and makes a hard target to hit.

Micromanaging the distributions is all about the details –9 litres of vegetable oil… 100 thousand grams of evaporated milk…stored dry and off the ground etc. – of which Marco and I went inspecting as we stalked classrooms and offices before reconvening to approve or disapprove of what we saw. The more I listened to the conversations with the teachers the more I saw the gaps in the way it worked. The government requires MIDIS to buy food in bulk from Peru itself, which may be supporting national businesses, but presents the problem of quality nonetheless.

Things like quinoa and lentils are in such high demand abroad that the only thing left for MIDIS to give to the schools are ten pound bags of mixed grains which cook at different rates, presenting a problem to the mother’s who volunteer in shifts to come in and prepare breakfast and lunch. Furthermore, because the entire country’s production of breads, potatoes, and meats is so dependent on artisanal family vendors specific to every neighborhood, the government has no industry to buy from. Kids get bags of mediocre crackers from a commercial company for twice the price of two hearty pieces of local bread.

This web of food economics goes deeper than basic supply and demand. I could ramble on about the free riders, institutions, and targeted moneys that all came out of the woodwork once I got up close and personal with government aid programs. Its enough to make one’s eyes glaze over, yet this fascinating tree of giving seems deeply rooted in the world of the poor and those living on two dollars a day. Investigating a new system of poverty alleviation allows me to learn and observe the effects of these efforts, and to see what it really means to these people when someone gives their kid a bowl of beans.

Lost To Alcohol In Poverty

Alcohol abuse is usually treated as a symptom of poverty, but the more I observe its proliferation amongst the poor the more I consider it as a problem in and of itself. Drinking is actually less in South America relative to Europe and the U.S. And of course imbibing is a vice in every culture and isn’t specific to those in need. I should be the first to admit this given that most people my age are actively discovering the meaning of a beer after work and the adventures of a tequila-fueled Friday night. While I don’t pretend to omit myself from my fellow young adults, I do feel the urge to condemn those who turn to drinking as a complement to their poverty. The first thing we tend to do is base our scrutiny of these people off interactions with them.

A local carpenter I had met the day before cornered me one afternoon in the streets of the community. He was swaying as he stood and asked me to come to his house to teach him English and maybe throw a little financial support his way. He would teach me Quechua and we could celebrate the holidays together. I wanted to yell at him and tell him to go do something productive, to leave me alone. I wanted to tell him to stop buying booze and get his own financial support that way. When I finally loosened his grip enough to walk away I said a curt goodbye and left. He followed me.

This became a trend over the next few weeks, with drunkards waiting outside my apartment door and approaching me on the street. Every time I ran into one it put a new twisted perspective on poverty and alcohol dependence that hadn’t occurred to me before. Alcohol itself is a social lubricant, a relaxant, and a depressant all in the same bottle. Even I have found that affording for drinking takes my mind off the Month of TDC, but what kind of influence does such a drug have on someone who is really poor? When their world is predisposed to limitations at every turn, doesn’t that warrant some sense of enjoyment wherever they can find it? Beer is cheaper than tickets to a show or a new TV set. Poverty comes with hardship, and hardship needs rest. Who am I to deny Mr. Carpenter a slew of drinks when I would seldom deny myself a pour at the end of a rough week? Is drinking really a luxury when we all have monetary responsibilities, regardless of amount?

These questions emerge as I worry about future me potentially working in foreign aid, where the moral dilemma of helping addicts and alcoholics in impoverished villages is a common problem. The humanitarian vein in all of us provides the immediate prima facie response: By no fault of their own, people are driven by personal tragedies to drink excessively and require a demonstration of care that donations may be able to provide. We ought help those in need regardless of why they are where they are. On the other hand, a self inflicted waste of human capital would take valuable resources from a family that needs it and feed it, instead, to the vacuum of light beer and Don Blank White Label that smothers him beneath the poverty line.

In this niche issue area within the greater burden of poverty, my experience with alcohol on two dollars a day has led me to a semi-drastic conclusion: these folks don’t deserve help, at least not my help. Alcoholism is patiently alleviated by close relationships and intimately instilled codes of conduct, the kind of love and care that an aloof foreign organization is rarely capable of giving. It may appear cold and practical, but then again so are simple donations. The required affection for deep seeded troubles is lost, to some degree, when we try and spread out our efforts to cover the large spectrum of needs in the poor world. At some level the local society – the friends, family, and company – take on a responsibility to better themselves for themselves. I’m not saying a focused, concerted action couldn’t cater to such a dearth in welfare, but we are indeed alien to the culture and shouldn’t flatter ourselves with overzealous obligations lest we leave those we can actually help out in the cold. We out of town good-doers are not omnipresent curers and we are reminded of this by gentleman like Mr. Carpenter, who test how far we’re willing to go to help those who seem lost.

I would love to hear why I’m wrong in the comments:



Incomes And Shocks On A Two Dollar Budget

What fun is a challenge without a twist to keep it interesting? As time goes on in the Month of TDC the constant trips to the market have allowed me to familiarize myself with exactly how much food two dollars can buy. The two-dollar budget hasn’t necessarily gotten any easier, but I suppose I am impatient when thinking past the routine to the feast on May 1st. I sometimes feel like a middle school boy again, who waits impatiently, tapping his foot, and listening for the bell. As a result I decided to inject yet another dose of reality into the last two weeks of the challenge:

Just south of Cuzco, in the last town beneath the mountains, there is a tiny community of identical houses built in six parallel strips. A few years ago the river that cuts through the area swelled in a rainstorm and flooded the whole valley floor. Everything below the water level was inundated and destroyed. The mirror image housing and the scores of reconstruction projects you see there today are put on by the government to repopulate the basin. Passing this on the way to my volunteer made me wonder how a poor community would weather such an event, since a torrent of river water would not have differentiated between low and high income neighborhoods as it drowned the small community. Tragedy doesn’t discriminate, even from those living on two-dollars a day.

At the TDC event held at my university (eloquently captured in this video) they have a way of including such variants in the weeklong challenge. Every morning you pull from a hat to decide your income for the day, since budgeting exactly two dollars per twenty-four hours isn’t entirely realistic, and also to determine a ‘shock’. These are strokes of fortune and misfortune that either add money or take away from your day’s spending money. They were based on taxes, natural disasters, and other features of the Honduran environment where La Ceiba Microfinance operates. Using this model I decided to employ the same method to complicate my Month of TDC in the Peruvian setting.

April 17th I was afforded two dollars to spend, but was taxed twenty cents because of an unexpected frost on the western region’s mango fields. On April 18th I got zero dollars to spend and similarly had no up or down shocks. Luckily I had left over lentils and pasta from the week prior, which I quickly used up. April 19th I pulled from the hat a one-dollar budget, but then lost a third of it when a landslide took the life of one of my sheep. Today I got lucky and was awarded two dollars of income again with the added bonus of the Semana Santa festival – providing free food – and boosting my total to three dollars.

This has, of course, spiced things up a bit and I am thankful for the break in standard scheduling, but again I get a bit queasy when I treat poverty as a game. A natural disaster such as flooding may infuse a little more excitement into my day, however the corporeal loses felt by the real Cusqueñan peoples in that valley were no doubt devastating. I have to check myself and realize the horror from their perspective, when from my white-bread tourist life the only real difficulty in the last month has been the drop in exchange rate by five cents. The volatility of a poor life deserves careful consideration and mindful attention, especially for those working in sectors of foreign aid.

Blood And Antiseptic. Cultural Sensitivity Part 2

SalaI was dealing with cultural differences until she pulled out the knife. Everyone knows that practicing tolerance when visiting another’s home is good manners. Before sending students abroad my university preaches ‘Not weird, just different’ for confronting cultural shock. Many factors contribute to differences in how people live their lives and that deserves respect. We only have to compare the east and west coasts of the United States to know that. Nonetheless, when we take on the challenge of experiencing someone else’s world we see how far we are willing to go before we reach something that stumps us.

On a cold day at the Huancarani health center, I thought little would really surprise me after spending a few weeks in Peru. That was until I heard a commotion down the hall and went to see what was going on. A worried mother came through the door with a one-year-old girl in her arms. The child had been burned by what was probably scalding water, and had a dreadfully raw area of exposed skin spanning across her chest and on top of her shoulders. Screaming her head off, every little move seemed like torture to her. Soon there were a few nurses and medical interns at her side inspecting the wound and discussing what to do. For one reason or another they decided not to wash it. They laid her down on the table and began cutting away the dead skin and applying antiseptic while the mother held her down.

Freja (a nearly graduated medical student from Denmark) shook her head a little as the two of us stood back by a speckled oxygen tank and a dilapidated chair. We were waiting to help should they need it, but just as they were about to lay on another gauze the door swung open. The father came in with a family doctor from their rural community. She had with her a green canvas bag from which she removed a knife and rather large guinea pig, fighting to escape from her grip. The guinea pig (or cuy) for all intents and purposes is a sacred animal in the ancient Andean tradition and everyone in the room knew what she wanted to do with it.

Immediately the nurses threw up their hands and there was an explosion of voices. The father scooped up his daughter and held her away from the bottle of antiseptic like it was full of poison. The family doctor shouted loudly in Quechua and took the cuy by the neck, giving it two twists, as one would pry a weed from the dirt, before the animal hung in her hands like a limp sack of flour. Finally one of the nurses took some semblance of control and told the father that they had years of medical experience and that their treatment was going to save his child while the cuy would only make her worse. The father, on the verge of tears, pleaded that this woman had just as much if not more experience in traditional medicine and had been with their family since the beginning.

Unnoticed by everyone the woman had used the knife to gut the poor rodent and pool a handful of blood in her palm. She dashed across the circle of people and dumped the red liquid onto the child, coating the burn. She stopped screaming. The healthcare staff was horrified and Freja turned her head in disgust. The family was ushered from the room and out of the building as they continued to, literally, wring out the dead animal onto the girl. It was over just as quickly as it had begun.

We tried to make sense of what had happened. On one hand this story could be told in retrospect as a satirical portrayal of a silly outdated culture that hasn’t yet come to grips with the modern times. At best the girl will sport an opaque scar for the rest of her life and be miserable until the skin heals over. On the other hand, however, a worst-case scenario is more serious. The child reacted positively when liquid was applied to the burn, and since the antiseptic would have only encourage pain without proper washing, the family probably thought the cuy blood was actually curing their daughter. After the clash in the health care center, they would most likely not return even as their child got worse. Dehydration, foreign liquids, and living conditions where the level of sanitation is next to nil could mean a massive infection spreading over ten percent of her body and without medical attention could be fatal to a one year old. That’s a dead kid.

Cultural sensitivity should be utilized regardless of profession, but this is the gordian-knot-esque conundrum faced by any and all who pursue a career in the field of international affairs. How do you react when the opposing cultural practice falls so far outside your own bounds of reality that it has no chance of being tolerable? When there seems to be no way of calling it anything other than ‘wrong’. At the sight of the woman striding towards the child, blood in hand, there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me to stop her. Yet I have been told that to act on that voice would be to cross a cultural boundary and step on a set of norms where I have no right to be. I ask myself, “If I were really living on two dollars a day, away from modern medicine and immersed in an ancient Incan culture, wouldn’t I believe that to work too?” With the potential fate of the child’s worst case scenario in mind, I’m not sure I can believe that line to be uncrossable.