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Lighting the Way to Eradicate Poverty and Terrorism

 

By Judy I. Shane

 

Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, UCLA

Since 9-11, most of us are convinced of the power of grass roots movements. Televisions worldwide have repeatedly displayed images of massive destruction caused by grass roots extremists, who have been operating patiently, quietly, and unobtrusively in small cells throughout the world.

Fortunately, we have a melting pot of collective wisdom from Americans who've immigrated to the U.S. and who offer a third world perspective-people who can shed light on how the seeds of extremism and terrorism are sown. 

Some of these people are operating patiently, quietly, and unobtrusively in another kind of grass roots movement - one aimed at permanently eliminating extremism and terrorism through specific economic and human development programs.

"Our aim is to wipe out poverty-one of the basic causes of extremism," said Pervaiz Lodhie, a Pakistani-American business executive who's highly involved in grass roots efforts to benefit the third world.

"In this speed-driven technological age where the Internet feeds us instant information, we are drawn to quick fixes to solve our problems. Many believe that terrorism would be eradicated if we simply 'extracted' these frightening people from the planet. In haste, we seek to obliterate symptoms rather than taking the time and effort involved in addressing root causes," he said.

Lodhie owns and operates LEDtronics, an advanced technology company with 200 employees in Torrance, California, which produces Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamps. Although he's lived in America for 34 years, he's stayed closely connected with Pakistan through Shaan Technology, a sister company that he also owns. Located in Karachi, it employs over 100 people who help manufacture LEDtronics' products. Lodhie has managed his Pakistani company "hands-on" and has stayed close to third world issues through his work there.

Closing the Gap between the "Have's" and "Have-Not's" 

Lodhie said, "To eliminate terrorism, we need to close up the distance between the 'Have's' and 'Have-not's'. In the West, we talk about access to information. In the third world, we talk about access to food and water, health and safety, education and employment, justice and equity."

He believes that extremists in any religion or organization draw followers from the impoverished. As Americans, he feels we haven't sufficiently addressed this issue. We haven't seen how it's in our best interest to fight against poverty. He asked, "Do people with the means to provide for their families send off their children to isolated institutions to learn from terrorists? Do people with education, meaningful employment, and hope for their future unleash destructive energy on others?"

Lodhie conceded that we can't protect the world from demented individuals, but we can prevent them from creating a stronghold of followers to do their bidding.

First Things First - Safe Drinking Water

Where to start? 

To Lodhie, grass roots efforts involve tackling "first things first." He explained that 70 percent of Pakistan's poverty is in remote rural areas, and that it's not unusual for people to walk 10 miles to find water. "We need to move with lightning speed to accomplish specific objectives. The first is to make safe drinking water accessible to all people."

To help resolve the water problem in areas without electricity, Lodhie used his engineering expertise to develop a kit with a solar powered water pump, which generates energy using two 60-watt solar panels. "The pumps will deliver from 1,000-1,200 gallons a day of water, adequate for 1,000 families," he said. He is currently preparing to test these pumps in the first of three testing sites in Pakistan.

Musharraf's Call for Support

Although Lodhie's acting on his own initiative in creating solutions for people living below the poverty line, his work comes at the request of Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf. On September 3, 2001, Musharraf appointed Lodhie as advisor to Pakistan's National Commission For Human Development, which aims to alleviate poverty through education, health, and economic development programs. (See "National Commission For Human Development" sidebar.) 

Lodhie is very positive about the President and his efforts to help the country. "Musharraf began programs to reduce extremism and develop Pakistan long before 9-11," he said. "The President is an honest, humble, hard-working man dedicated to helping his poverty-stricken people. In the two years that he's served as President, he's advanced the country a decade. I consider it my unwritten duty to use my skills to help him better the conditions in Pakistan."

As an engineer, Lodhie is a problem solver by nature. "All my life, I've applied technological solutions to problems. In this case it's no different." Along with the solar-powered water pump, Lodhie developed a solar panel for lighting rural areas without electricity, using his LED lamps. Lodhie pioneered this energy-saving lighting, which is now widely accepted and used in the U.S. He recently designed what he calls his third world kit for application in underdeveloped areas. His kit holds three LED lights for households without electricity. The solar panel generates enough power during the day to light a home for six to eight hours in the evening. The kit's three lights will illuminate a cooking area, a study desk, and a family room. The solar-powered lighting kits are being placed in two beta sites near Islamabad.

Not a Hand Out - A Hand Up

Who's funding these projects? 

Lodhie said that he's initiating these projects at his own expense to give them "a kick start at the gate." However, after prototype testing, the Pakistani government and agencies, such as the World Bank, Nongovernment Organizations (NGO), and United Nations Development Projects (UNDP), will be seeing the test results and are likely to assist in funding. 

"Most importantly, the village or household receiving the solar-powered pumps or lighting kits will be required to contribute-even if it's a very small portion handled in installments," he said.

"This is about offering a 'hand up' not a 'hand out.' We want the people receiving this assistance to be invested in it. America is generous, but we often don't provide aid in a manner that's effective. The aid gets in the 'wrong' hands - or it's looked upon as charity. We need to teach people how to fish rather than to bombard them with food parcels." 

And how will Lodhie know if his solar-powered water pumps and lighting kits are reaching the poverty-stricken rural areas they are intended for? 

"I'll be in Pakistan next week," he said. "I'll visit the villages where these products are being tested and see for myself." Lodhie will be joining other Pakistani-Americans for a meeting of the Human Development Fund to discuss the work plan and action items with Pakistani President Musharraf

The Ripple Effect

Although Lodhie's current efforts involve Pakistan - his own backyard - he believes that his home country can serve as an example for positive grass roots efforts in other third world countries. "Pakistan could become a model for all poverty-stricken countries, and the efforts could spread to others - South America, Mexico, Africa, India, the Middle East, and more.

"What we're doing in Pakistan is the first small step," he said. "Jumping in, seeing what needs to be done, and doing it (quickly) will have a positive ripple effect. We need to show the world that forming equitable alliances built on mutual understanding - joining as 'one world' to develop humankind - is in the best interests of all countries.

"Every time you take one person out of poverty, provide that person with a job (an appropriate job with respect and dignity), you immediately affect the food resources of 9 to 10 people. When those people start shopping and spending, it affects 100 more people in the immediate area." 

He called it a positive economic cycle - and asked, "What are the chances of these 100 people getting involved in terrorism?"

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