Help for a community comes from the most unexpected place.
In May, 2011, the town of Joplin, Missouri, was destroyed by a tornado that was over a mile wide. The tornado killed 161 people, destroyed 6 public schools, and completely demolished Mercy Hospital. The town seemed to be in a hopeless situation. As the Washington Post explains, although insurance would cover the reconstruction of the schools, there was no money, even on a state level for text books, and the school district looked doomed. That is until a phone call from an embassy staffer at the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington D.C. came in to the Superintendent C.J. Huff’s office.
The embassy staffer told the superintendent that the UAE wanted to donate one million dollars to the district, but not so they could buy textbooks, they wanted the school district to “think big” so Kimberly Vann, the school system’s development director “pitched the most ambitious plan that came to mind,” she suggested giving every student a computer. The staffer thought it was a wonderful idea, and today, thanks to the donation from the UAE nearly 2,200 Joplin high schools students have their own MacBook laptop, funded by the UAE. They use the laptops to “absorb lessons, perform homework and take tests.”
But that is not where the assistance ends. The UAE also donated fice million dollars to build a new, 12-bed neonatal intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital, something that the town did not have before the tornado. The NICU is set to open in 2015, and according to the hospital’s chief executive Gary Pulsipher, the donation was, “A huge shot in the arm. Their message to us — ‘Even though you’ve been through this awful event, we want to come back stronger’ — was so inspiring.”
According to the Post, these gifts and others like them across the nation,
…[A]re part of an ambitious campaign by the UAE government to assist needy communities in the United States. Motivated by the same principal reasons that the U.S. government distributes foreign assistance — to help those less fortunate and to influence perceptions among the recipients — the handouts mark a small but remarkable shift in global economic power.
For decades, the United States has been the world’s largest provider of foreign aid, paying for the construction of schools, health clinics and vaccine programs in impoverished countries. It still is, but the level of donations has been increasing among nations with new financial clout, including China, India and oil-rich Persian Gulf states. And at least one of them now sees poor parts of the United States as worthy recipients for that same sort of assistance.
The UAE has also pledged fice million each to both New York and New Jersey to help rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, they have donated over 150 million to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C., and in 2005 both the UAE and Qatar both donated 100 million to help with Hurricane Katrina relief. When asked about the increase in assistance to the US, the UAE ambassador to the United States said, “We spot needs and we try to help.”
Photo: AP/Charlie Riedel