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Good Reads: From rethinking foreign aid, to homeless children, to privatized space

This week's roundup of Good Reads includes a new approach to foreign aid, an epic walk across the planet, the plight of homeless children in New York, how technology advances compassion, and the launch of private space rockets.

By Staff writer / December 28, 2013

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visits a high school in Pétionville, Haiti.

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

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What is the key to making foreign aid more effective and ending extreme poverty? According to Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist known for his work in Haiti, donors fail to adequately invest in improving local systems that ultimately bear the responsibility for implementing national aid.

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Staff writer

Allison Terry works on the web team at the Christian Science Monitor, coordinating online infographics. She contributes to the culture section and Global News blog, and previously reported and edited for the national news and cover page desks.

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“Despite agreements on aid effectiveness reached in Rome, Paris, Accra, and Busan over the last decade, 80 percent of aid from major bilateral and multilateral donors to fragile countries still bypasses the systems of local public institutions,” Dr. Farmer writes in Foreign Affairs. “But the aspiration to improve the lives of those living in extreme poverty through better public health, public education, and public works by definition requires public-sector capacity.”

Farmer points to post-earthquake Haiti as an example of how aid institutions fail to build local capacity. Less than 10 percent of funding went directly to the Haitian government, perpetuating a trap of dependency on foreign aid. For 2014, Farmer recommends that aid institutions instead focus on new ways to involve local partners in every step of project development in order to reduce the need for foreign assistance altogether.

Retracing early humankind’s footsteps

Journalist Paul Salopek has almost completed one year of a seven-year journey: walking 21,000 miles to retrace the migration of Earth’s early Homo sapiens. From the Great Rift Valley in East Africa to the tip of South America, he is following a trail that dates back at least 60,000 years.

Mr. Salopek described the first leg of his journey – crossing paths with nomads, asphalt highways, cities, and multimillion-dollar sugar production plants – for National Geographic, which is supporting his “Out of Eden Walk.”

What does he hope to learn during a walk through 2,500 generations of human history? Many things, he writes: “to relearn the contours of our planet at the human pace of three miles an hour. To slow down. To think. To write. To render current events as a form of pilgrimage. I hope to repair certain important connections burned through by artificial speed, by inattentiveness. I walk, as everyone does, to see what lies ahead. I walk to remember.”

Invisible children

Beyond New York’s new commuter bike lanes and upgraded parks, there is a disturbing sign of the city’s growing inequality: More than 22,000 children are homeless, the highest number since the Great Depression.

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