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Students discuss Third-World poverty

Jan. 27, 2004

By Yuan Sheng, reporter

Six international students spoke about poverty issues to a group of Baylor social work students Saturday at the School of Social Work.

The weekend course called International Social Work ran from 1 to 5 p.m.

Jorge Carmona Reyes, a graduate student from Mexico, talked about the poverty and social services in his country.

According to Reyes, of the 105 million Mexicans, 40 percent live under the poverty line, and only 10 percent can be considered wealthy.

'The northern part of Mexico is a developed part; the central part of Mexico completely depends on the industry of [Mexico City,] and the south part is completely underdeveloped,' Reyes said. 'Poverty is like a sickness that we want to get rid of.'

Reyes listed several programs carried out by the Mexican government and private organizations to address the poverty issue.

The first program, called Plan Puebla Panama, is aimed at reducing poverty in the area from Puebla, Mexico, to Panama. The program involves building infrastructure and factories in the area. But the problem is local people are more concerned about preserving their traditions and culture instead of developing the economy.

Another plan is implemented by the first lady of Mexico.

'What they do is to get resources to help kids on the street,' Reyes said.

Under the plan, celebrities are invited to give speeches and concerts to raise money for poor children.

Mexico also has a program that offers technical support and bank loans to farmers. But the problem is farmers may misuse the money and default on the loans.

Reyes said causes of poverty in Mexico include corruption and imported products. Imported goods usually have lower prices than domestically-made products. Therefore, many small businesses in Mexico go bankrupt in market competition.

Musheer Kamau, a sophomore from Trinidad and Tobago, said people under the poverty line in his country account for 21 percent of the population at present, compared with almost 36 percent in 1992.

'We are extremely proud of [the drop in poverty figures],' Kamau said. 'We don't really like people feeling sorry for us.'

Kamau also said his countrymen don't want charity.

'[We] want international social workers to come and enable us [to improve economy],' Kamau said.

'Don't come with an attitude of negativity and despondence, and doom and gloom. Come with something positive to contribute,' he said.

When talking about 'brain-drain,' the immigration of well-educated people from developing countries to developed nations, Kamau said he didn't 'want to contribute to this. I want to return [to my country] with my training and with all my enthusiasm to help those in poverty.'

According to Dr. Laine Scales, assistant professor of social work, many students in this class, motivated by a Christian calling, are interested in international social work. Scales said this was the third year they had the class.

Jamie Bauman, a graduate student from Athens, Texas, said it was her first time to discuss poverty issues cross-culturally.

'[This class] is an opportunity to get my feet wet, know what I need to have to get a career internationally and become more aware of different social work situations and ways to work with them,' Bauman said.