Economic depression has devastating effects on both rich and poor countries.
But how do economies work? And how does Nations derive their wealth?
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The Great Depression changed the lives of people who lived and farmed on the Great Plains and in turn, changed America. The government programs that helped them to live through the 1930s changed the future of agriculture forever. Weather touched every part of life in the “Dirty 30s”: dust, insects, summer heat and winter cold. York County farm families didn’t have heat, light or indoor bathrooms like people who lived in town. Many farm families raised most of their own food – eggs and chickens, milk and beef from their own cows, and vegetables from their gardens. Continue Reading…
According to UIS-UNESCO report, globally, six out of ten children and adolescents are not learning a minimum in reading and mathematics. The total – 617 million – includes more than 387 million children of primary school age and 230 million adolescents of lower secondary school age. This means that more than one-half – 56% – of all children won’t achieve minimum proficiency levels by the time they should be completing primary education. The proportion is even higher for adolescents at 61%.
Is this statistic applicable to Singapore? Despite being an affluent country, there are still a group of children from underprivileged families who do struggle with reading. Having the ability to read opens up minds and doors of opportunities for children to fulfil their dreams and become contributing global citizen. Thankfully, there are several reading programs catered to help this group of underprivileged children in Singapore.
1. ReadAble – A community of passionate people who believe in beating poverty one word at a time.
I’d rather get bombed and die straightaway. Don’t make me lose a limb or something. I’ll be very upset,” quipped Singapore-based Dr. Lim Chin Siah who volunteers with the Nobel laureate Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders.
Sporting a beard, a loose white tee, baggy khaki-coloured pants, and a pair of casual sandals, the laidback 36-year-old wasn’t typically what would conjure in one’s mind when thinking of the word ‘doctor’. He described himself as ‘bochup’ (meaning nonchalant in the Hokkien dialect), which seemed rather ironic given the fact that the guy repeatedly puts his life on the line in war-torn countries to save others.
A full-time consultant in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Singapore General Hospital, where he has practised medicine for the past 12 years, Dr. Lim consistently juggles approximately half a year’s worth of unpaid leave to attend missions with the humanitarian organisation which renders emergency medical assistance in places afflicted with natural disasters, epidemics, and armed conflicts. His three missions so far, have found him much fulfilment.
“I can live on less things now,” casually joking about how much lighter his luggage on his recent third mission trip was compared to the first one. Perhaps light-heartedness was one of the things it took to be a frontline emergency doctor.
Nonetheless, these stints with MSF aren’t without sacrifices. Looking rather worn, the cheery doctor recounted, half in jest, how one of his missions abroad led to him missing his only brother’s wedding; the result of a one-month delayed flight back home which left him helplessly stuck in a far-flung province in Afghanistan.
“My mum was calling me and I was very stressed because I was the best man. What’s more, was the long-distance calls and poor reception. But whatever happened was beyond my control.” Cheekily adding that he wasn’t around for his nephew’s birth as well.
Citing his most challenging mission to be also his most recent one, the doctor detailed his three-month stint in Saada, Yemen. It involved sudden influxes of patients, sometimes as many as 50 at a time, while active bombings meant that the grounds were regularly shaky. As much as he admitted that it was pretty stressful for him, Dr. Lim quickly remarked that the stress levels experienced by the local medical staff who permanently lived and worked there were much worse.
Despite having medical professional friends who were amongst the 42 fatal casualties in last year’s tragic Kunduz hospital airstrike, Dr. Lim expressed his ‘ideal’ hope to eventually become a full-time doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières.
“If MSF isn’t there, these people will have a zero chance of help at all. But at least if we’re there, we can give them a chance. We can’t save everybody, but for those whom we can, they definitely benefit from our presence.”
Beaming, he shared a photo of an Afghan boy not more than 10 years old, with plastic bags wrapped around his feet as shoes. The child had made a miraculous recovery after being in a coma for months, having suffered a shrapnel lodged in his head. We are unable to show the image as MSF has a policy not to distribute pictures of its patients. But the gusto in which Dr. Lim talks about this young boy makes it apparent that encounters such as these make him feel that his sacrifices are worth it.
Médecins Sans Frontières’ difficulties in recruiting
Kelly Dilworth, an anaesthetist, in the intensive care unit of the burns unit in Al Shifa (Gaza) where two brothers, 8 and 4 years old, are hospitalized after being severely burned when a missile fell on their house. Photo by Samantha Maurin/MSF Image: https://pride.kindness.sg/singapore-based-doctor-saving-lives/
Médecins Sans Frontières relies on dedicated individuals such as Dr. Lim Chin Siah, willing to be on the frontline.
In 2015 alone, 75 facilities assisted and run by MSF were attacked. Earlier this month, the international non-profit organisation announced its withdrawal from the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), holding no hope that the WHS will be able to address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, nor the repeated violations committed against MSF staff and patients in conflict zones.
“In general, it is difficult to recruit medical field workers for mission in war zones,” said Dr. Rhitam Chakraborty, the MSF Hong Kong Field Recruitment Manager.
The spokesperson added, “We always respect the individual’s decision in terms of accepting a mission be it in a war-torn or stable context. Security of our teams in the field is a top priority for us.”
There are in total just eight active field workers from Singapore. With regards to the lack in Singaporean medical professionals joining the organisation, MSF cited the ‘difficulty to leave their current stable job for 6-9 months, which is the usual availability period MSF asks for a nurse or medical doctor or non-medical profiles’, along with the lack of the organisation’s awareness in Singapore as possible reasons.
MSF faces the particular challenge in recruiting medical professionals with good experience in tropical medicine and infectious diseases, but it does believe that Singaporeans spreading and raising awareness about the humanitarian crises happening globally would help bring changes on the frontline.
As Médecins Sans Frontières has not been registered in Singapore, Singaporeans may donate to the organisation’s causes via its Hong Kong office at https://ssl.msf.hk/donate/en.
Aside from doctors, MSF is also in need of non-medical professionals for the efficient running of its medical activities and programmes. For those interested to work with MSF, kindly visit www.msf-seasia.org.
Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a two-volume novel following the four March sisters through their adolescence and young adulthood, was first published in the late 1860s. Almost 150 years later, the book remains remarkably popular; in fact, the unassuming tale is one of the ten most beloved books in America, according to a poll released recently by Harris International.
The story’s popularity persists in defiance of our modern age of snark. The book, a semi-autobiographical but highly idealized narrative drawn from Alcott’s own youth, is saccharine, frequently preachy, and fairly old-fashioned. The beloved matriarch of the March family, known by her daughters as “Marmee,” frequently admonishes her girls against sins such as “chasing men” (hussies!!) and urges them to embrace “womanly” virtues such as modesty in dress, quiet voices, domestic skills, and nurturing qualities. “Womanly” is used almost interchangeably with “good” in describing the female characters’ actions, and if the emphasis on modesty in the March family seemed slightly odd and old-fashioned at the time, it seems downright retrograde today.
Modern readers would not be alone in finding Little Women a bit fusty. The author herself notoriously described her children’s stories as “moral pap for the young.” She wrote the books not for artistic reasons, but to pay the bills. Yet it can’t be denied that her stories have spoken to generations of readers. Maybe because there are some genuinely good lessons for living in there — as well as some sneaky progressivism, endearing characters, and funny stories of everyday life. All in all, Little Women may not be perfect, but most of us could learn a great deal about how to live today from this old-fashioned novel.
1. No matter how hard it may be, try to forgive. Some offences may seem unforgivable, but refusing to accept a sincere apology usually leads to nothing but more suffering. When impetuous Jo refuses to invite obnoxious youngest sister Amy to a show, Amy vents her rage by burning the only manuscript of the book Jo has been labouring to write. At first, Jo withholds her forgiveness, but when Amy almost dies in a skating accident, Jo realizes that her sister is far more important to her than even her cherished book. So close to losing Amy, she sees that holding grudges is more likely to lead to bitter regret than to a sense of righteousness.
2. Don’t give in to jealousy; there will always someone with more than you of whom to feel envious. The March family does not live in abject poverty, but their means are clearly not lavish. With four young girls in the house and little money coming in, there are bound to be occasions when the sisters yearn for the stylish dresses, European tours, and opulent parties of their wealthier acquaintances. But the Marches are constantly reminded that many live in deeper poverty than they do and that they should be grateful for what comforts they do have.
3. Giving is a greater joy than receiving. Not only do the sisters get frequent reminders of their relatively good fortune, but they also find it’s better to focus on helping destitute neighbours than to gaze longingly at their rich neighbours’ lives. In the very first scene, the girls sit around the fire complaining about their newly straitened circumstances: “‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. ‘It’s so dreadful to be poor!’ sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.” But only a few pages later, the girls have rallied and resolved to spend their small amounts of pocket money not on treats for themselves, but on presents for their self-sacrificing mother. To top it all off, they reluctantly take their own Christmas breakfast to a starving family nearby. Though the sacrifices are difficult at first, they are all more content than if they had been selfish.
4. Fine feathers often hide not-so-fine birds, so focus on what’s underneath rather than external elegance. At any rate, having such fancy clothes and baubles might seem worthy of envy, but as eldest sister Meg finds when she’s gussied up for a party, it’s not all that she dreamed of. She notices that “there is a charm about fine clothes which attracts a certain class of people, and secures their respect,” but it’s a superficial sort of regard. The expensively dressed women she admired had gossiped about her and paid her no attention when she was in dowdy dresses, but their newfound affection can’t conceal the hypocrisy and shallowness hidden below their silk gowns. It’s easy to judge people by their clothes, but it’s a poor metric for discerning their true character.
5. Figure out what you’re good at and stick to it. The March sisters might seem like little prodigies at times, but the reality is that none of them is particularly distinguished in terms of talent. They just don’t let their limitations get them down. Beth, the musical sister, practices her piano whenever she can. Amy, the artistic sister, is willing to put aside her vain obsession with her appearance to spend hours improving her sketching. Jo, the literary sister, scribbles constantly. And while Meg isn’t much of a creative she focuses on learning to cook and keep house — domestic arts that are challenging in their own right. The girls aren’t quitters, and they aren’t dabblers — they know their strengths and passions and they’re willing to dedicate time and effort into cultivating them. Accordingly, Jo eventually makes a tidy living writing, and Amy becomes an accomplished artist, though she never achieves fame with her skill, and Meg runs a tidy household. That investment in their talents paid off!
6. Don’t obsess about dating. Little Women adheres to 19th-century norms when it comes to marriage, though Alcott herself never married. Though all three girls who survive until adulthood do marry (even Jo, who declares once, “I don’t believe I shall ever marry”), they don’t spend much time flirting with, gossiping about, or dreaming of men. As Marmee remarks to Jo, “We … had better not get ‘romantic rubbish,’ as you call it, into our heads.” Instead, the girls all focus on their family life and personal development, develop real friendships with good men, then make wise marital choices.
7. Family should come first. We live in the age, and the country, of the individual. Little Women should remind us that, if we’re lucky enough to have loving families, we should appreciate and care for them. Family love is the heart of the book, whether it’s sisterly love, parental love, or marital love. The Marches don’t cavalierly end friendships, disown family members, or play fast and loose with the hearts of romantic partners. Even unpleasant Aunt March isn’t neglected. But when she offers to adopt a child to alleviate the family’s financial struggles, she is gently refused: “We can’t give up our girls for a dozen fortunes. Rich or poor, we will keep together and be happy in one another.” What a beautiful thought.