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As I See It

Once again, wife Debra and I are serving as a host family for a couple of international visitors, who are here for a month studying how business operates in the United States.

The Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID) operates the program through Jackson State University with funding from the U.S. Department of State.
Our two guests, Kamol Davronov and Anvar Akobirov, are from Uzbekistan, which became an independent country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both are Muslim, and they speak English much better than I speak Uzbek.

Having served as a host family on two other occasions, we’ve gotten to know six visitors through the MCID program. In addition to the six who have lived in our home, we have met dozens of others through office visits and other functions.

As with any group, all of our visitors have been very different, unique personalities. I think that Americans tend to stereotype people from other countries and in so doing, we deprive them of the individuality that we so cherish here in America.

The State Department has notified the Mississippi Consortium for International Development that, due to budget problems, the program will be curtailed next year. It’s likely that it will be discontinued thereafter.

You might be wondering, who cares? What possible difference could it make whether a few hundred visitors from developing countries are given the opportunity to learn about America and interact with some Americans?

For one, I care.

I realize that the cost of this program is borne by the taxpayers and that some would say that, in the broad scheme of things, it’s not that important. Well, I’m a taxpayer, and I think it is very important.

In fact, I wrote a support letter to Secretary Colin Powell asking him to continue the program and received one of those bureaucratic responses that merely acknowledged my letter and promised to give the matter consideration.
Yeah, right.

For me, the best example of why the program should be continued came with a short conversation I had with a guy from Vietnam, whom I met while picking up our newest visitors. The gentleman’s name is Do Nam Thai and he is the development director for Junior Achievement Vietnam. He lives in Hanoi.
For all of us old enough to remember the Vietnam War, the city of Hanoi should ring a bell, as it was the capital of North Vietnam and the headquarters of our so-called enemy. Two things struck me during our conversation.

Number one, I didn’t know Junior Achievement operated in Vietnam, though I probably should have. As a long-time supporter of JA, anything pertaining to the organization is of interest to me.

Second, and far more important, I realized that had our circumstances been slightly different, I could have met this man on a battlefield while looking down the barrel of an M-16 rifle rather than enjoying conversation and finger food at the International House in Jackson. He and another Vietnamese visitor asked to have their picture taken with me and I obliged.

As we stood there arm in arm I pondered how differently things could have been just a short 35 years ago.
Could the MCID program help prevent future war? I can’t say with absolute assurance that it could. However, I do know that it’s much easier to hate a faceless enemy in a distant land than to sanction war against a country that includes people with whom one has shared finger food. Further, it’s easier to assume the inherent evilness of all Muslim people unless you have hosted some in your home and seen pictures of their family and told them about your family.

My experience in other countries has been limited to a part-time six-year stint in Mexico during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

At first, I had no idea what to expect of the Mexican people. Would they hate me for being an arrogant “gringo?” Would they rob me and throw my remains in the Rio Grande? None of the above.

Gradually, as I got to know them and earned their trust, I realized that people are people and generally all have the same hopes and fears. We all want to live in peace, have the necessities of life and hope toward a better world for our children.

Does the Mississippi Consortium for International Development program promote peace, economic development and hope for the future? Yes, it does. However, if that’s not enough reason to continue the effort, there may be a moral obligation worthy of consideration.

As I recall, the Scripture says something about much being demanded from those who have been given much. It’s worth thinking about.

Thought for the Moment—
The role of government is not to create wealth but to create an environment in which entrepreneurs can flourish.
— President George W. Bush, speaking to the
National Federation of Independent Businesses

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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