Katherine Fleming International Development Award
Katherine Fleming International Development Award
Celebrating 20 years
Celebrating 20 years
Katherine (Katie) Fleming graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in 1985. After completing her studies as a Rhodes Scholar (1985-1987), she began her career as a programme officer for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Eastern and Southern Africa. From 1993 to 1995, Katie served at UNICEF’s headquarters in New York City followed by a return to Africa. She died at her home in Tanzania in May 1999 at the age of 35.
Katie dedicated her life’s work to overcoming child poverty in Africa. At the time of her death, Fleming worked for the United Nations Children’s Fund where she was committed to human rights and defense of those rights on behalf of children everywhere. Family and friends created the Katherine Fleming International Development Award in loving memory of her lifetime dedication to supporting the elimination of child poverty in Africa.
Each year, an African woman leader from Coady International Institute’s Diploma in Development Leadership receives the prestigious award at StFX Homecoming Coffee with Coady event. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the award with a celebration planned Oct. 5, 2019 to further honour Katie’s memory.
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Katie Fleming’s 1989 X-Ring Ceremony Address
I have to say at the outset that I feel more than a little under-qualified to be here. I have been away from StFX only four and one half years and while I have had some quite interesting experiences during that time, I can hardly pretend to have developed any particular expertise. I’m afraid I cannot offer you the wisdom of experience or the insights of advancing years. So, on this very special day of yours, as you begin to think about what you might do with the education you’ve earned here at StFX, I’d like to share with you a few of my thoughts on the world you are about to enter. As we come to the end of the 1980s and begin a new decade, I want to describe the world out there, at least as I see it, in the hope of persuading you of how much this world needs you: your ideas, your ideals and above all the values that StFX has taught you.
Let me begin with the international political scene. It has been an extraordinary decade in international political relations. In the four and one half years since he came to power in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev has been the catalyst for more sweeping changes in international relations than we’ve seen since the Second World War. Not only has he taken on the Herculean task of reshaping the Soviet economy, he has also completely overhauled Soviet foreign policy. The impact of his initiatives is being felt the world over. Every day it seems another country in the East Bloc embarks on a path of reform which, only months (indeed weeks) ago would have been considered unimaginable. Solidarity is in power in Poland; Hungary is preparing for its first genuinely free elections in decades, East Germany and Czechoslovakia are ridding themselves of oppressive dictatorial rulers. It takes your breath away.
This revolution in international political attitudes has even begun to change our attitude toward the environment. Finally, we are beginning to recognize that our approach to wealth creation in the industrial countries carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. Who would have dared to hope, even a few years ago, that the environment would be a key issue in national elections in Canada and the United States?
To channel your talents and ideals where the world most needs them is to live by the rules of StFX. It is the standard against which you and I will be judged. It is also the way to ensure that yours is a meaningful and happy life.
The penultimate change in international political relations is, of course, the astonishing thaw in the relations between the superpowers. Four years ago, when you were beginning your StFX careers, Ronald Reagan was still calling the Soviet Union “the evil empire”. Now George Bush is in the uncomfortable position of holding himself back from too generous praise of Mr. Gorbachev. The new closeness between the Soviet Union and the United States has led to great progress in arms control negotiations. It has also precipitated the welcome resolution of numerous stubborn regional conflicts. After more than seven years of brutal occupation, the Soviets have left Afghanistan. The Vietnamese are leaving Cambodia. The South Africans have been persuaded to end their illegal occupation of Namibia and to allow that country finally to achieve its independence. The savage war between Iran and Iraq has been halted. There are even hopeful signs that the tragic civil war in Ethiopia may be heading toward resolution. From Southern Africa to Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union to the Persian Gulf, there are signs that the world is becoming a safer, saner place.
There is no denying that these international political developments of the 1980s are spectacular. They are preoccupying the politicians and the media, they are on the minds of all of us. However important these changes are, they are not in my view the chief characteristic of the world you are entering. The real story of the 1980s is not the end of the Cold War, nor is it the disintegration of Communism in Eastern Europe. The real story of the 1980s is the silent suffering of the majority of mankind — those who live in the developing countries.
For the rich countries, the 1980s will be remembered as the decade during which they enjoyed the second longest economic recovery since the Great Depression. Since the end of the recession of the early 80s, trade among the industrialized countries has grown at impressive rates. And, trade pacts like the Canada-US free Trade Agreement and the increasing integration of the EC planned for 1992, will add momentum to this intra-rich country trade, at considerable cost incidentally, to the developing countries, who find themselves shut out from such pacts.
The poor countries of the world will remember the 1980s quite differently. For them it has been a decade of despair. All over the developing world the poor have been forced to contend with the crippling effects of falling prices for their commodities, rising debt service obligations, stagnant foreign aid and investment flows, to say nothing of drought and famine. In the last few years alone per capita spending on health and education — the two key ingredients to the development of precious human capital — has fallen by 50 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. Throughout the developing world there are now 30 million street children, living literally on the margins of existence. What we are witnessing is a gradual and calamitous erosion of hard-won improvements in living standards secured in the 1960s and 70s.
Nowhere has the 1980s wreaked as much havoc as in Africa. In 1979 Africa’s debt stood at $50 billion, by 1988 it had risen to $250 billion. During the same period, export earnings, which provide the foreign exchange to repay the debt, have declined drastically. Per capita consumption in Africa — already the lowest in the world — has fallen by one-fifth in the course of the 1980s. Malnutrition has stunted the physical and intellectual growth of a whole generation of African children. Endemic diseases, all but eradicated in the 1970s, have reemerged. Several African countries are reporting falling life expectancy. At the end of the 1980s, average per capita income in parts of Africa is less than what it was in 1960. The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa calls the 1980s a “lost decade”; if the devastating trends of the 80s continue into the 90s we will have lost a generation.
If you are not yet convinced of how utterly savage the 1980s have been to the poor countries of the world, let me quote you one more incredible statistic. In 1979 the net flow of resources from the rich countries to the poor countries amounted to $40 billion. In 1988 the net flow was $50 billion but IT WAS IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION: the $50 billion net flow was from the poor to the rich. In other words, the poor countries’ received in foreign aid, loans investment etc. $50 billion less from the rich than they paid out to the rich. The poor are subsidizing the rich.
So, at the end of the 1980s the world is numbed by two equally striking but dangerously different phenomena. On the one hand we see economic growth and prosperity marching on in the Western world and hope and freedom coming at last to those so long oppressed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. On the other hand, in the developing countries, we see almost nothing but deeply entrenched poverty, with all its attendant human misery and degradation. Beside increasing wealth and life-giving hope we find life-threatening poverty and despair. All in the same decade. All in the same world. The world that confronts you.
What’s going on? What’s gone wrong? How did we get to this point where we tolerate the FURTHER deprivation of the worst off? We’ve never had more detailed, more complete, more graphic knowledge of the depth of human suffering in the developing countries and yet the gap between rich them grows ever wider.
We are I think in the grip of a moral crisis. How else do we explain the further impoverishment of the poor at the same time that we in the rich countries have never been better off? By some perverse process it has become easier and easier for us to insulate ourselves from the disastrous fate of others. To our peril, by our inaction if not by our words, we have bought into the old and patently false view that the poor are the architects of their own destitution. If these mean-spirited, self-centered values that drive our money-hungry world seem quite alien to you it is because they are not the values of this place. You know from the day you arrive here that StFX lives by a quite different set of rules. You are welcomed here by a “buddy” anxious to help you find your way and this difficult-to-define yet deeply touching sense of community never leaves you. Soon, you too will find yourselves at a loss to explain to non-Xaverians just what accounts for such large groups of close-knit StFX alumni found in the most far-flung places. There is no better evidence of what is special about StFX than the motto of the university itself QUE CUM QUE SUNT VERA, WHATSOEVER THINGS ARE TRUE, education in the SERVICE of one’s fellow women and men, education in the SERVICE of the world and its problems. That’s what motivated Jimmy Thompkins. And that’s what’s right.
I hope you don’t think I’m exhorting you all to become development economists, what an insufferable bore that would be. I am saying that whatever you do, wherever your talents take you always be conscious of, always FEEL the world around you. If you are planning a legal career, look for ways to use the law to benefit those who most need your help, if you are planning a career as a scientist, help us find better ways to ward off global warming and protect the ozone, if you are looking toward a career in medicine help find a remedy to the scourge of AIDS. Don’t insulate yourselves from the world’s problems, throw yourselves into them. They need you.
You are, by definition, the privileged. Your education here at StFX has changed you, it has shaped and molded you. The most important thing it has taught you is to set high standards for yourselves, intellectually and morally. What I’m saying is take that little gem of knowledge with you when you leave here and let it guide your choices. Continue to exercise yourselves, intellectually and morally, always raising the standard just a little bit higher. It is this process, this exercise, that makes us fully human. And I think this must be what Moses Coady had in mind when he said:
We have no desire to remain at the beginning, to create a nation of mere shopkeepers, whose thoughts run only to groceries and dividends. We want our women and men to look into the sun and into the depths of the sea. We want them to live, to love, to play and pray with all their being. We want them to be whole, eager to explore all the avenues of life and attain perfection in all their faculties. We desire above all that they will discover and develop their capacities for creation.
To channel your talents and ideals where the world most needs them is to live by the rules of StFX. It is the standard against which you and I will be judged. It is also the way to ensure that your’s is a meaningful and happy life.
“Everyone admired Kate for her consistent good mood. She was always on top of her game, always cheerful and willing to help colleagues, whether it was with understanding a situation or planning action. I only have great memories of her.”
– Arleen Seed, Regional ICT Officer, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO) 1990-1993
“Kate was very young, 32 years old. Yet she was able secure a place at the policy table while engaging on substantive issues always with a smile. It was a joy watching her moving through the corridors and getting the job done…. Kate was ahead of her time. She left us way too early but she will never be forgotten.”
– Louis-Georges Arsenault, Deputy Representative, UNICEF Western Africa Regional Office Mali,1995-1998
“Kate was an exceptionally talented young woman. From the moment I met her, I was deeply impressed by her extraordinary intelligence and her high level of competence. She was an unusually clear thinker and also a very capable writer. I was not only impressed by her talents, including being a Rhodes scholar and an Olympic swimmer, but I also strongly admired the depth and commitment she demonstrated in her personal relationships, particularly in her marriage to John Zutt, and her devotion as a mother.”
– Tessa Wardlaw, UNICEF Headquarters New York, Chief, Data and Analytics Section 1993-1995
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