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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Libertarian Party Teaches Refugees to Fish

In the wake of the South Asian Tsunami, many groups have poured in to help the refugees. One group is the Libertarian Party of America. We interviewed Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian Party's candidate for US President in 2004, in Aceh, Indonesia, about how the Libertarians are bringing their unique brand of help to this suffering region.

"As I sit here in Aceh," he said, "I am reminded of these ancient words: give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. This is what we Libertarians believe in, and how we conduct our charity. We don't simply give food and medical supplies away to these people, but rather we train them on how to provide for themselves. With the fishing it is easy, many of the men in this village have been fishing all their lives.

"Training them to be doctors is taking a little longer though."

As we looked around, we saw tsunami refugees fishing, their starved bodies barely strong enough to haul the nets in. Unfortunately due to the tsunami, it seems mostly garbage and debris get caught in their nets, rather than fish.

"The death toll keeps rising. With the small amount of fish, and devastation of any agriculture from the wave, it's very difficult to help these people feed themselves," Badnarik said over our lunch of shrimp cocktail and Australian Chiraz. "I'd say so far we've fed about 25% of the survivors, it's difficult but we are not just trying to help them survive, but help them to keep living in the long term."

He also showed us some of the makeshift hospitals that were set up. We saw bodies of many dead and dying people in the tents. "Where are the doctors?" we asked.

"The doctors are still being trained," he said, and brought us to the school, which was a tent with a few doctors from the UN up front and a number of Indonesians writing furiously in their notebooks. "We are very proud of our medical school. Normally it takes years to become a doctor, but we're boiling emergency medicine down to a few weeks. Then we can send these new doctors out to train others.

"We like to think of ourselves as 'force multipliers.'

"Here, would you like some extra malaria pills? These things are like candy, I just can't stop."

We also saw new construction and houses being built. We watched a group of Indonesians who hadn't eaten in days take an hour to pull the side of a house up, with UN civilian contractors watching and directing. The houses appeared even to our untrained eyes as not being quite up to code. We learned later that there had been several collapses and fires among the new construction.

"We cannot just give them charity or help," Badnarik explained, "if we do that they will not learn from their mistakes - they will become dependent on us. Then what will happen to them when we leave?"