Alumni Spotlight: Relieving
suffering, building hope CARE president Peter
Bell *64 roots out poverty, affirms dignity
In too many places in the world, says Peter Bell
*64, too many people live in extreme poverty, supporting themselves
on less than $1 per day. In these places, wholesome food and clean
water are almost unheard-of luxuries rather than the "amenities
we regard as necessities," he explains.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, even a realistic
idealist like Bell, who holds a master's degree in public affairs
from the Woodrow Wilson School, has found that his "vision
for a better world" is a bit more distant. As president of
CARE, the private international relief organization that provides
emergency aid and promotes sustainable development in more than
60 countries, Bell's view carries particular weight.
Bell travels to about half a dozen developing countries each year
to get to know the communities CARE serves and to meet with government
officials to advocate on behalf of the poor. In his seven years
with the organization, he has witnessed the devastating effects
of extreme poverty in 30 countries, including Rwanda, Afghanistan,
Peru, and East Timor, and has seen how the most basic improvements
such as a spigot connected to a clean water supply
change people's lives.
direct relationship" exists between poverty and terrorism,
says Bell, noting that the September 11 hijackers all came from
economically stable backgrounds. "The vast majority of poor
people are intent simply on eking out a living," he explains.
"But the discrimination, exclusion, and sense of injustice
that accompany poverty can make some people susceptible to demagoguery
and extremism. In that sense, poverty is, as Salman Rushdie says,
the ëgreat helper' of fanatics." The world of "hope,
tolerance, and social justice" that CARE seeks to build "would
be the best antidote to terrorism."
CARE has been involved in Afghanistan for over 30 years. In Kabul,
the organization runs a water-and-sanitation program that supplies
clean water to more than a quarter of a million people; CARE also
provides health education and distributes food to war widows. In
other parts of the country, CARE workers help rebuild houses, run
food-for-work programs, implement a community-organized primary
education project that reaches upwards of 20,000 children, and assist
farmers in coping with drought and enhancing their agricultural
Perhaps anticipating what the 21st-century world needs to survive,
CARE has "transformed itself from a charity into a cause,"
Bell says. The organization has done that by expanding its scope
and by advancing the view in the developed world that to fail to
remedy conditions in the poorest countries is an injustice of the
greatest proportions. "We want to be known everywhere not only
for our strengthening of poor communities but also for our unshakable
commitment to the dignity of each person."
By Marianne Eismann '79
Marianne Eismann teaches high-school English in New York City.