In a world where injustice so often triumphs and progress proves so frustratingly elusive, there is the United Nations. I know, you’re thinking the UN is just another pantomime designed to fool the gullible. You’re ready to give up on it as you watch much of the world engulfed by the flames of war.
But I’ve seen the UN at work, and it manages to make life better for millions of oppressed people, despite the obstacles it has to face. I saw UN doctors treating yaws in Haitii more than half a century ago, for example, and I believe yaws is now vanquished. And the work goes on, as old plagues like malaria and polio are beaten back and new plagues like AIDS are confronted.
The UN is hobbled by its structure, of course, and starved for funds. It is, after all, the sum of its parts, and the countries comprising it have selfish and greedy agendas.
Still, the organization’s continued existence sends us a message of hope.
Today, I received an email from the United Nations Foundation, telling of encouraging progress in reducing poverty and saving lives throughout the world. The UN’s annual report on its Millennium Development Goals, established by world leaders in the year 2000, reveals that:
- The number of children who die before the age of 5 has been reduced by nearly 50 percent
- Malaria fighters have saved more than 3 million lives, mostly of children under 5
- Extreme poverty has been reduced by half
- More than 2 billion people have gained access to clean drinking water
- Great strides have been made in providing educational parity for boys and girls in most of the world.
Of course, we don’t often read or hear about this kind of progress. What we get are the UN’s frustrating failures. Hard, grinding work is not news. War is news. Steamy rhetoric and senseless saber rattling are news.
There are even absurd conspiracy theories surfacing in the right-wing media – nonsense about a One World Government, underground prisons and black UN helicopters threatening to invade America.
It seems the UN has become a handy target on which to vent our frustrations.
It’s so tempting to curse the darkness (as John F. Kennedy reminded us) when we could help to alleviate it by lighting a candle. Getting involved with the UN’s good works is one way to light that candle.