When my father Paul Morawetz died, sadly, in April 2001, I inherited a share of his estate. It turned out to be far more money than I had ever expected to have. It was clear to me that I wanted to use most of this money to do something, no matter how small, to reduce social and economic injustice, and inequality of opportunity. I am eternally grateful to my father for providing me with the opportunity to do this. I am grateful to him, too, for the chance to test how deeply held my egalitarian beliefs are. I am happy to find that they are deeply held indeed.
I have always believed that life is unfair. In particular, I believe that the biggest lottery in life is: what country are you born in, and into which family? I believe that it is unfair that, by pure accident of birth, some people (like myself) have a relatively easy start in life, being born into families that are relatively well-off, whereas others have to struggle all the way, because they are born into very poor families, or families who (for whatever reason) are less able to support and nurture them. This belief was strengthened 42 years ago when I spent a summer at age 18 backpacking and travelling on third class trains in India, seeing at first hand extreme poverty and deprivation. Although I am not a religious person, "there, but for the grace of God, go I" is a saying that still resonates with me (where "the grace of God" is perhaps replaced by "luck").
Another way of saying this is that I believe in: "From each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her needs." I understand that, human nature being what it is, we don't seem to be able to set up a workable political system along these lines. That doesn't mean we can't try to approach it on a personal basis. After all, why should one percent of the world's population own more than 20% of the world's resources? We are all born and have no choice where or when, we all die and have no choice where, when or how -- to me, that makes us all equal. Why then, should we not do what we can to make economic opportunity and standards of living as equal as we can?
Most of my professional career has been spent trying to contribute to making the world a fairer place, so that those who are less well-off have a better chance of a decent and fulfilling life than they would otherwise have.
I first trained as an economist, specialising in the economics of developing countries. Over two decades, I worked as an economic consultant in Latin America, Asia and the Pacific, in countries including Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, and Sri Lanka. I also taught economics at Boston University to post-graduate students from Africa, Asia and Latin America, students who would apply and implement what they had learned when they returned home. My aim was always to try to make a difference, so that at least some people in some developing countries around the world might be a bit better off.
At the age of 35, for a thousand reasons, I decided to change fields, and began studying counselling and psychology. In 1988, aged 43, I set up in full-time private practice as a clinical and counselling psychologist. My aim in private practice over the past 17 years has been again to help those in difficulties, with the emphasis this time being on emotional difficulties rather than economic ones.
In recent years, I have been inspired by the Dalai Lama. One of the things the Dalai Lama said on a visit to Australia was: "If you want to be happy, help people, because you are the one who gets the help -- if they get some help as well, that's a bonus." I believe strongly in this principle. Certainly, it is deeply fulfilling for me to be able to contribute to the promotion of social and economic justice.
The criteria for grants to projects from the Morawetz Social Justice Fund are flexible, and will no doubt change over the years. At present they are as follows:
1. The grants should make a real difference to the people who receive them.
2. In general, there should be no alternative source of funding available.
3. Grants should encourage long-term sustainable solutions to problems. They should follow the principle: "Give a person a fish, and you feed him or her for a meal; teach people how to fish, and you feed them for life."
4. Grants may not be used to benefit only one religious group. That is, grants may not be earmarked only for Christians, or Muslims, or Jews, etc. This does not mean that grants cannot go to organisations like the Brotherhood of St Laurence or the Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service -- such groups definitely remain eligible, because their good works are open to all, regardless of religion.
5. Grants should have a social justice component. That is, they should address issues of poverty and inequality. Raising society's consciousness regarding inequality and unfairness, and funding research into poverty and ways of alleviating it, are important eligible uses for grants.
6. A significant proportion of grants should go to help people in developing countries, and in particular, to help some of the poorest people in the world.
Why give grants to projects in developing countries? Because I believe that a dollar granted in developing countries can often have a bigger impact in increasing the sum total of human happiness than a dollar spent in richer countries. For example, in one project that the Morawetz Social Justice Fund funded -- provision of a well in a village in Ethiopia -- the cost was $10,000. There are 1,000 people in the village. So the cost of providing a lifetime supply of safe drinking water to each Ethiopian villager was just $10. I cannot think of a better use for $10 than providing safe drinking water to a villager for life! I'd like to show you very quickly some photos of this village, which my partner and I visited just a few months ago. We were hosted by Oxfam Australia.
Girl in bare landscape
The old polluted water source
Well committee in front of well and hand pump
The photo that speaks to me most is the one that shows where the villagers got their water before the well was dug. Women and children from the village would walk for three hours every day to get water from a river that contained dirty, brown, stagnant, polluted water, water in which animals and people bathed, urinated and defecated. You can see a number of animals in the water in the photo. So as you can imagine, the water is full of diseases. By contrast, the water from the well passes the World Health Organisation standards for drinking water fit for humans.
Because we were hosted by Oxfam Australia, we were able to talk to the villagers, with our guide translating into the local language. In one village that has had a well for 11 years, I asked what difference the well had made. One man said: "We don't like to remember this, but before we had the well, our children used to die." Another man said: "The well is our health post."
In the context of grants to projects in developing countries, the top two priorities of the Morawetz Social Justice Fund at present are (a) the provision of safe drinking water, and (b) the provision of education and income-earning opportunities for women and girls.
(a) Access to safe drinking water is needed to eliminate the diseases, some of them potentially fatal, that are carried in polluted water, and to free up the long hours that many villagers in developing countries have to spend each day walking to fetch water.
Common diseases caused by polluted drinking water and unsafe sanitation and hygiene practices include: cholera, hepatitis A, dysentery, giardiasis, polio, E.coli, diarrhea, typhoid, salmonella food poisoning, bilharzia, guinea worm, intestinal parasites such as hookworm and tapeworm, and eye diseases such as trachoma.
In the projects we visited, provision of safe drinking water was only one part of the project. Education was also provided on sanitation, HIV-AIDS, gender equality, and on everyone being part of "owning" the well.
Local village women were involved closely in the planning and execution of the digging of the well, thereby increasing their sense of self-efficacy and empowerment, and increasing their status and leadership opportunities. And the girls and boys and women who had to spend many hours fetching water are now able to go to school and/or devote themselves to more productive activities in agriculture, animal husbandry, spinning cotton for sale at market, and so forth.
As one woman said: "We all participated in digging the well, and we all pay monthly contributions for hiring a person to guard the well and for maintenance, so we are all part of it. The well has made a huge difference in our life." The well committee is required to be composed of equal numbers of males and females.
(b) Women's and girls' education is singled out for grants in developing countries partly because girls are discriminated against in access to education in some countries. In addition, once girls and women are educated, they are more likely to have fewer children, which means that they can devote more resources and attention to each child, so each child is likely to have a better start in life. At a society-wide or macro level, for these and other reasons, economic and social development (as measured by per capita income, life expectancy, and so forth) are closely correlated with the level of female education. Providing income-earning opportunities for women has similar benefits.
Grants from the Morawetz Social Justice Fund in its first two years amount to a total of more than A$ 333,000 (more than US$ 250,000). Just under half of this has gone to projects in developing countries. Grants to projects in developing countries so far include the following:
These grants have been made through Oxfam Australia, Students Partnership Worldwide, the International Women's Development Agency, the Afghan Australian Volunteers Association, and Opportunity International. In all cases, a local developing country NGO was involved as well.
Most individual grants are in the range of A$ 5,000 to A$ 10,000 (approx US$ 4,000 to US$ 8,000), with some smaller and some larger. Even small grants can be very powerful for the recipients. To quote just one response, from a coordinator of Students Partnership Worldwide, after SPW received several small grants, none greater than A$ 5,000 (approx US$ 4,000):
"I am ecstatic. I cannot say thank you enough, for myself, the others at SPW, our volunteers, and of course, the communities we work with in India, Nepal, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa. I hope that you know that your generosity means so much more than money alone. Your support and affirmation really spurs us on.....to know that there are others out there who share our passion and commitment is just so energising and exciting. I just can't wait till our volunteers in-country find out!"
In making grants, we select organizations that have a proven track record of making sure: (a) that the money gets to where it is supposed to go, (b) that grants makes a difference, and (c) that grants are cost-effective. In addition, grant recipient organizations must operate together with local organizations on the ground, thus ensuring that local wants and needs are taken into account, and building local developing-country administrative capacities in the process. For example, in Ethiopia, Oxfam works with REST (the Relief Society of Tigray), OSHO (the Oromo Self-Help Organisation), and other similar local groups. On our recent visit, we were hosted by Ethiopian personnel from both REST and OSHO, and we were able to see at first-hand the magnificent and important ground-level work that they do.
Grants within Australia have been to a wide variety of social justice projects.
One category consists of projects for disadvantaged youngsters and "Kids at Risk". These include a pre-school reading program for disadvantaged kids, a program of social action with disadvantaged teenagers, mentoring of at-risk adolescents, providing housing for homeless youth, and financing an external assessment of an innovative program for youth at risk that needed such an assessment to be able to apply for ongoing funding from the state government.
The aim of some grants is to contribute to research, education and information on poverty and unfairness, including a grant funding research on child poverty and what can be done to reduce it. One grant has been to the Education Foundation, to help them to do nationally some of the excellent work they have done in Victoria in supporting, broadening and deepening the educational experiences of students who attend public or state schools (the schools which most low-income students attend).
There has also been a grant to a jobs program for the long-term unemployed. And some Australian grants go to projects related to improving the lot of asylum seekers.
In summary, why did I set up the Morawetz Social Justice Fund? Because I believe that the world is not fair. This is my way of trying to make it just a little bit less unfair. As I said to the people in the Ethiopian village when we visited them: "I believe that we are all brothers and sisters... we in Australia have safe drinking water... it is not fair that you in this village did not have safe drinking water... That is why we funded the well." It is as simple as that. I have tears in my eyes as I write this bit -- it is simple, and yet it still moves me deeply.
It is my hope that the Morawetz Social Justice Fund will be passed on down the generations, to play a small role in promoting social and economic justice, reducing inequality of opportunity, and making the world a fairer place. I am delighted that my three children, Deb, Ben and Simon, have already shown an interest in it. I hope that they will take it over when I am gone, and then pass it on to their children, and their children's children...
David Morawetz, Ph.D.
Clinical and Counselling Psychologist
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