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This is not the blog I had planned to post today, the one about amusing scooter-riding styles, but my conscience has been stirred, and I’d like to try to stir yours as well.

This blog is nothing more than the musings of a highly advantaged woman on the difficulties and humorous aspects of living a bifurcated life. The USA and Italy… who wouldn’t want to live in either of them? How lucky can a girl be?

The financial crisis of the last months, if nothing else, has pointed out how much so many of us have to lose. We are so fortunate! And it places in even starker contrast the differences between the rich and the poor. If you’re reading this, you are in the ‘rich’ part of the equation – you have a computer, you have some time in which to noodle around, and you can read. And if you’re hungry it’s probably only because you’re on a diet (as I should be).

Over 3 billion people, more than half the world’s population, live on less than $2.50 a day. 1.4 billion live below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.25 a day. No one I know has tried to do that since Frommer’s Europe on $5 a day was outdated. Would we care to try to do it now? I don’t think so.

As a retired librarian (at the prettiest small library in the world) the fact that over 1 billion of the world’s population is absolutely illiterate (that doesn’t count the functionally illiterate) is every bit as disturbing. In the U.S., 20% of the adult population reads at or below 5th grade level, which is below the level needed to earn a living wage. Basic reading and writing skills are closely connected to leaving poverty behind.

I don’t want to be all preachy in this post (oh all right, I want to be a little preachy). The fact is that you and I are rich, and we are rich because of the pure accident of where and when we were born. With luck we’ve taken the good cards we were dealt and are making something of our hands. But we started from a point so far above the truly poor that we probably can’t even imagine what their lives might be like.

I once took a psychology class where I was introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The billion or so people living in poverty cannot think about anything above the lowest level, or perhaps the second lowest level of the pyramid, while we rich people get to think about love and self-actualization and what to read next and which fabulous pasta dish we want for dinner tonight. What a world! How did it get so out of whack?

I haven’t the skill to discuss the underlying economic and political theories of poverty intelligently. But I’ve got eyes and I know what poverty looks like when I see it, as do you: it’s not an idea or an issue.  It’s a small person with huge eyes and a swollen belly.  Thanks to Blog Action Day I can give you a several links to sites where you can do something that will make a very big difference in the lives of the world’s poor, one person at a time. I can’t think of anything else that can make us feel so good for such a small investment of time and money. So won’t you join me?

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria is the official charity of this year’s Blog Action Day.  The name says it all.

Kiva makes very small loans ($25, for instance) to help poor people start very small businesses.

Heifer Project (which commenters below reminded me of) helps feed people by giving them food-producing animals, such as goats, sheep and chickens. They tackle hunger on the very front line.

If you live in the United States, please think about supporting your local Literacy Volunteers, either with a donation or as a volunteer.  If you live in the UK, check out what you can do here. Share the joy of reading and give someone a leg up to a better life!

And stay tuned for that post on scooter-riding; it’ll be along soon.