Michael Alandu, a native of Ghana has spent the last twenty years living in the US and working for CARE, an international development and relief organization that has led the way to a better life for millions of vulnerable people living in remote locations around the world. When Lynn Parlington of The Sarasota World Affairs Council (SWAC) invited Alandu to share his story as part of their 2022-23 Lecture Series, he eagerly accepted. SWAC, based at New College of Florida, provides opportunities for discussions around world issues to educate and engage Americans on global issues.  As part of his lecture,  Alandu highlighted the global development crises in sub-Saharan Africa to show how we can collectively make the world a better place, especially for kids in areas where there are few opportunities.

SRQ | Women and girls are a vital part of CARE's community-based efforts. Tell us about some of the types of social injustice and discrimination that you're seeing in these remote areas. MICHAEL ALANDU: The biggest discrimination is coming from cultural norms that lead to early marriages, female genital mutilation, lack of educational access, lack of a voice in community development and lack of basic healthcare for women and girls. Also, because the basic infrastructure such as water and healthcare is not available, those who suffer most are usually girls and women. I would like to relate it to simple research evidence that has emerged: If you take girls and boys in primary school at grade one in any rural part of the world, you would find out that most of the girls are doing better than the boys. But over the years you realize that as they get to higher grades, the girls fall out. There was a curiosity about why this happens and the simplest explanation is that when they get home from school, the girls have to help with the chores, they have to go and get water 10 miles away, they have to go and look for the firewood to cook dinner. They have to do all this while the boys are studying. So it means then the girls fall out, not because they're not smart enough but because they don't get the time to invest in their schoolwork.

Tell us about the effort of CareUSA to raise awareness and help these vulnerable populations. ALANDU: CARE has been working globally and we are in about 95 countries working on relief, humanitarian response and development. We work in these communities trying to empower people, create agency for them to be able to pull themselves up by providing the schools, basic healthcare and working with governments to ensure that the healthcare needs of communities are met. We also work around providing women with opportunities to empower themselves economically and to participate in the decisions in their community that impact their lives. We have been in several communities for several decades. We collect the evidence of what we do and that evidence is what we use now to advocate at the level of national governments and internationally for the change that is required to be able to influence the communities where we work. For example, while currently all we hear in the news is about the conflict in Ukraine and a decade earlier, Afghanistan, both of which are very important, there is a global crisis at the moment–130 million people in Africa  are at the risk of famine. The reason why that is a crisis is partly because of the war in Ukraine, because Ukraine was the bread basket of most of these countries. But it's not an emergency. So one of the biggest efforts for CARE is leading a global effort to raise awareness about the hunger crisis and a response because many people, including girls, are dying, unfortunately, just from famine. When we start talking about famine, it means that there's absolutely nothing to eat at all. The communities we work in, people's livestock are dying from the drought and the consequences of it.

I want to emphasize that neglected crises soon become epidemics and are linked to conflicts and other issues that threaten even the security of European and American society. When we invest in these communities, it's not about giving handouts. In my village, several years ago, somebody came to do education, somebody came to do health service. I got my vaccination as a child. We  had a school, we had a clinic. So we could get that. There are many people like me who have emerged from my community. They got a good education and they are around the world. So the humanitarian response comes when there's a crisis, but really, the emphasis should be on prevention. What do we do to turn around communities, to provide opportunities? That's where advocacy is critical. My story is evidence of what is possible when we do international development and we do it well. It is not, contrary to what most people think, giving handouts to people who are just helpless.

How has COVID affected these vulnerable populations? ALANDU: Before moving here in January, I worked in Sierra Leone in West Africa. I was responsible for Sierra Leone and Liberia. At the time I was living there, less than 1% of the population had a vaccine. Those were vaccines that had come from, I think, Russia and China. CARE is running a big advocacy on trying to get vaccines to people in these severely underdeveloped societies, as it  is hardly available to most people around the world. There's research that has come out that shows that thousands of people died from Covid. There was no vaccine, there was no testing, and the combination of that. So to date, even while we are throwing away vaccines here because they're expiring, there's millions of people around the world who only hear that there's a vaccine, but have never had the opportunity to receive it.

Are pregnant mothers able to access medications or prenatal care at all? And what type of care does the newborn receive, if any? ALANDU: Please excuse the story I'm going to tell, but I want to tell it in a way that brings home the question you just asked me. I used to work in the DR Congo for six and a half years. It's one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but because of hunger, disease and war, the people in that country have no better life than just the basic subsistence. I used to go deep into communities. Travel by air, then go by road, and ride a motorcycle into the midst of nowhere. On one occasion, on arrival in the community, we were told about a woman who had just died and I was curious to know why the woman had died. This was a woman who was in labor and she was having difficulty that the local labor attendant couldn’t manage so they decided to move her to a clinic. There are no roads like we would think about here, so they decided to put her on a moped. Think about somebody trying to have a baby and having difficulty and then being put on a moped. All this man riding the moped could think of, "How fast can I go to get this woman some care?" But the faster he went, the more he made her bleed and she just dropped off the motorbike and died. Now, I tell this story and I'd always tell people that it is very difficult to tell the story, but it tells you how women live.

In some places of the world, women are reduced to their harshest conditions of life. They have the burden of providing the basics. They don't have any healthcare. They hardly see the children get the shots that they need, basic nutrition is not available, and then they have the burden of farm work. They're excluded even from the decisions that affect them in those communities. Malaria is a common death of kids and infant mortality is very high because of malaria. So it's a long story, but the whole idea of medical service is beyond the reach of several people who are living around the world. That's one of the areas also that CARE does a lot of work trying to reach these communities, providing healthcare, etc.

Are these communities receptive to your efforts? ALANDU: People are very welcoming. When I go to the community, sometimes I tell them, it's like when you play a soccer match, you require 11 people on each side. Now, if you go to the match and leave some of your best players at home, you are never going to win. People appreciate it. People understand mathematically that if you have a woman and a man and both can bring an income together, it adds to more. People appreciate that women have a strong influence on who their children would become. Even in some of the societies, women are the matriarchs. So in Southern Ghana for example, you become a king because your mother is from the royal family, not because your father is from the royal family. You inherit the kingship through your mother. So there's a receptiveness, but it's a process. We call it the community engagement process. We discuss with the community, and they get to know us. For example, when I worked in the Congo, I went to areas that were part of the conflict, but nobody attacked me, because they knew that I was bringing something to the community that would benefit their families, their wives. Generally people see the change in their communities. Men see that and then as the women even begin to make money, the women are very intelligent, as you know. They begin to even help the man have a better life. He sees the change in the diet he has at home. He sees that his kids are going to school. He sees that his son has nicer shorts. These women don't take their money. What we realized is, when they make money, they don't use it to buy some jewelry or something in it. No, they use it for family. They use it to promote their family and gradually it brings the men in. Now we have a program we call Men Engaged, so we bring these men into a forum where we let them see, "Look at how this is happening."

It takes time to change societies, to change norms, to change behaviors, to turn around education. If you have a woman who is 40 years old, and I as an aid worker, development worker, have to deal with that woman, she's coming with a baggage of 40 years. I cannot turn that around in a year. I can turn that around gradually, but the impact of my work is going to be most significant when she begins to pick up on it and transfers it to the next generation. We want to break that generational trap.

Let's talk about climate change. Does that affect these areas that you're in? ALANDU: Unfortunately, climate change has such a significant impact on these communities because most of them rely on nature for agriculture. The rains come, you make your farm, you harvest. When the floods come, they destroy all the farms. When the rains don't come, that destroys everything. Climate, in fact, is one of the biggest crises that if left, might destroy a lot of what we currently know as organic production that happens in most parts of the world. It destroys communities and the worst part of it is that it also creates conflict. It creates war. Let me explain. If there's pasture in Sarasota, the cattle herder comes to Sarasota for his cattle to graze and then he moves them to, I don't know, another community. But because of the climate issues, people are now territorial. "You can't get into this space." The cattle might get into somebody's farm. Then it leads to conflict because the cattle herder is going to fight to make sure his cattle can graze and the community is going to fight back.

How does CARE get their funding? ALANDU: We get funding from donors around the U.S. and globally, from governments, from foundations, from individuals. That's how we raise funds to support the work we do in the 95 countries that we work around the world.The citizens in the U.S. have a significant voice in how their governments respond globally.