Jennifer Lentfer is the senior writer for Oxfam America in Washington, DC.
My eyes start to glaze over whenever I see or hear news about the “developing world.” Poverty statistics. Famine. Conflict. Injustice. Rarely is another narrative presented about the issues facing 80% of the world’s population who live on less than $10 per day.
It’s troubling. It’s overwhelming. Even as a seasoned international aid worker, I often don’t know where to start.
So what if everyday people were given a chance to respond constructively to these perplexing global issues, rather than with despair or cynicism?
Enter Hasan Minhaj. The Los Angeles comic and filmmaker travels to India and South Africa to determine if comedy is truly universal, and if it can be used as a tool to help save the world. Since comedy is born out of adversity, shouldn’t up-and-coming comics in these countries have lots at which to poke fun? The show, Stand Up Planet, is born.
In India, Minhaj learns that over 50 percent of Indians defecate outside, resulting in 1600 kids dying each day in India of sanitation-related illnesses. In South Africa, he delves into the nation’s income inequality and AIDS crisis, visiting two very different neighborhoods and a male circumcision clinic.
Despite these big problems in front of them, the comics he meets in Mumbai and Johannesburg are killing it. They demonstrate exactly how they are turning “problems to punch lines.” The comics he meets represent the tremendous human potential that lies within every place in the world, despite what you hear.
Ok, so I’ve got a joke for you.
That’s right. Even though 81% of the US population believes we have “a moral responsibility to work to reduce hunger and severe poverty in poor countries,” our federal government spends less than one percent of its budget on aid that alleviates suffering from man-made and natural disasters or promotes economic growth in poor countries.
That, to me, is a total joke.
Brave and forthright comics like Aditi Mittal and Mpho Popps, who Minhaj meets on his journey, and other countless leaders are making positive changes in their nations and neighborhoods. That’s why, my organization, Oxfam America is working to deepen the US government’s commitment to making poverty-reducing foreign aid more effective.
Whether helping local farmers increase their crop production or supporting neighbors to rebuild after a natural typhoon, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.
Mittal and Popps don’t just crack people up. The comics tackle deep-rooted economic problems like sweatshop labor and even touchy historical topics like colonialism and racial injustice in a way that informs, inspires, and empowers people.
US foreign assistance to fight poverty and injustice is building on the vast amount of creative and enterprising problem-solving skills that local leaders around the world employ. Cutting aid won’t close the budget gap – but it will close the door on a better future for the world’s most vulnerable people.
That’s why we can’t afford to let Congress duck their responsibilities. Tell Congress: Oppose any cuts to lifesaving, poverty-reducing foreign assistance.
Watch the premiere of Stand Up Planet on Wednesday, May 14 on PIVOT, Link TV, or KCET-Los Angeles, then lend your voice.