Another world is possible
The prophet Isaiah envisioned a world where no child would die young or live in misfortune. In stark contrast is the current unparalleled crisis of children orphaned and otherwise made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS. Yet there are small signs of hope that the "Isaiah agenda" can become reality.
"Never again will there be in [the world] an infant who lives but a few days� My [people] will long enjoy the works of their hands� They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune.(1)" Isaiah 65:20�23
Although many Bible scholars and theologians in different places and at different times have offered varying interpretations of this ancient text, many are agreed that it describes God's desire, intention and purpose to give children long life (v. 20), health and prosperity (v. 21) and justice (v. 23).
Today, both social injustice and economic disparity are increasing, with disastrous consequences for the lives of children caught in this quagmire. Added to this, the HIV and AIDS crisis has created unprecedented numbers of orphans and vulnerable children, who already have the burden of social and economic inequity. The pandemic has left millions of children highly vulnerable and predictions are that the situation for children will only get worse.(2)
Yet the more I read of the Millennium Development Goals, and
the numerous other commitments made by our world leaders on behalf of the world's children, the more I am convinced that
another, transformed world is possible � a world with transformed leaders and partnerships that put children's health and well-being at the centre of all policy formulation, strategic
planning and programming.
This conviction is not baseless. It comes from my strong belief
that God is present among people and at work in the world to
bring to completion the �Isaiah� vision and agenda, as revealed by God and written down in Isaiah 65:17�25.
Building that world
Contrary to this vision, dream and purpose, the current crisis of orphaned and vulnerable children is without parallel in history in many parts of our globalised world. Unquestionably, this has profound implications for our future in terms of long-term human survival, well-being and development; the survival of future generations relies on a transfer of human capital (knowledge, skills, values, character formation, modelling, etc.) from the preceding generation. A generation of disadvantaged children born to disadvantaged children repeats the cycle of deprivation, poor health and early death. And the intensity and impact of this cycle increases as the number of children, families, whole communities and nations in desperate circumstances continues to soar.
But is this situation inevitable? The answer is �No�. Policy changes and resource allocation decisions must be acted upon with the same zeal we put into other concerns.We must take real steps towards achieving and surpassing the Millennium Development Goals and other promises.This will help bring about a transformed world as desired, willed and purposed by God and recorded for both our attention and action in Isaiah.
Building another world from the current one � a world that puts
children's health and well-being at the centre of all our leadership and development goals � can be made possible by transforming the way resources and power are currently distributed across gender, race, age and national boundaries.
More than cosmetic changes
Comprehensive and exemplary policy principles for bringing
about this transformation have been agreed to so far, in various paper commitments. Unfortunately, many of the organisations and governments that participate in putting these good intentions on paper are the very same ones whose policies and actions create a socio-economic and spiritual environment that multiplies the pauperisation, suffering and early death of the world's children.
A few adjustments and cosmetic changes in our global systems
and relationships will not be enough.We need a transformed
global humanity that looks closely at the current disease epidemics, wars, widespread hunger and violence against children. Are these not symptoms of things that have gone wrong in the way we relate, train, trade and live with one another as individuals, families, communities and nations of the world?
Our world is in need of many �Davids� to transform our
�Goliath-sized� structures, systems and thinking processes that
continue to keep 80% of the world's children from enjoying a
safer, healthier and fairer world as envisioned by Isaiah many
There are those among us who are saying that there are no
alternatives in the way we currently relate with one another as
members of the one world.They say this is the world with victors and the vanquished, with the prosperous and the deprived, with those who are obese and pay dearly to lose weight and those who cannot keep body and soul together, due to hunger, malnourishment and illness � and you have to accept it as it is.
However, there are those, like me, who think and know that
another world � more humane, more loving and more considerate to all her children � is possible.
A way forward
No country has ever achieved long-term growth that addresses
children's vulnerability without massive investments in education, health and practical support through social assistance and welfare transfers.We need to ensure that macro-economic policy is coordinated with well-conceived and well-implemented social policy, to address both short- and long-term needs for survival and development. People must be lifted out of poverty through adopting socio-economic
policies, programmes and partnerships that are multi-sectoral, multi-level and multidimensional.
We cannot accept broken and half-achieved commitments to human rights, health and development for children � we must monitor and evaluate promises by state, non-state and inter-state actors.
The challenge before us is to maintain our vision of a transformed world that is safer, healthier and fairer to children.We should not be seduced by the forces of those who
would wish to subvert that vision by encouraging and popularising cosmetic responses.
Several things will help us to keep focused.The first is to be grounded firmly in the life experiences of those children most oppressed, marginalised and abandoned by the current systems.The second is to consider (as individuals, families, local communities, institutions, businesses and nations) laying down those aspects of our policies and actions which continue to inhibit many children. Children discriminated against by gender, age and location cannot experience the abundant life willed by God in the Scriptures and in various conventions, declarations and proclamations.
Finally, we must be prepared, like Jesus, to be ridiculed, branded and maligned by those who would want to maintain the status quo of the current world order which is largely unsafe, unhealthy and unfair to 80% of the world's children.
Children must not die young!
The Isaiah agenda and mission shows clearly that our socio-economic and political systems, processes and relationships have fallen short. But let us delight in the conviction that God is
present and active in our efforts aimed at transformation. Even though in many parts of our two-thirds world we are still faced with the horrors of millions of children either losing
their lives or losing their parents at an age they need them most; although many of our working men and women find it increasingly hard to make ends meet; and although our old
folks are dying long before their bodies wither away... we still know that so many �Davids� can defeat so many �Goliaths�. And if God is the initiator of this mission of a transformed
world, who can be against those state, inter-state and non-state actors working together, committed to that divine purpose?
Let us work toward a global partnership and solidarity movement around the Isaiah agenda, beginning with its first conviction that children should not die young. Let all our places and countries of worship, education, work and residence mobilise in partnership with each other and with all people of good will. For I can see a global partnership unfolding which
believes that another world is possible as a working base for the programmes of thought and action � a world that is safer, healthier and fairer to all its children. ■
� Rev Canon Gideon Byamugisha is World Vision's Church/FBO Partnerships Advisor on HIV and AIDS-related stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and mis-action. A teacher by
profession and a pastor by calling, Canon Gideon is a keen student of international relations, leadership and development.
1. Bible references can be read in full at http://www.ibs.org/niv.
2. UNICEF, Fighting HIV/AIDS: Strategies for success 2002�2005, June 2004