Vice President Al Gore launched a partnership yesterday between Baltimore and the U.S. Agency for International Development designed to apply here the agency's expertise in helping people mired in poverty.
Speaking at a conference titled "Lessons Without Borders," at Morgan State University, the vice president referred to the efforts of the tens of thousands of health workers, literacy teachers and small business advisers sent abroad since 1961 to focus America's attention on the plight of the Third World.
"It is time to bring this knowledge back home," he said.
"The idea might sound strange but it's not," he added. "Whether developing a vaccination program in Malawi or Manhattan, some lessons are universal."
The partnership is the first of its kind, but other cities -- Chicago, Atlanta, Boston -- have expressed interest in drawing on AID know-how.
J. Brian Atwood, AID administrator, said, "It is people like those in Baltimore who invested in the foreign aid programs. Why shouldn't they benefit from it?"
The suggestion by Mr. Atwood, made on C-Span television late last year, was seized upon by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
The vice president spoke to about 250 health and social workers and community activists at the Morgan conference, plus as many guests.
After that he visited the Family Place on Ashland Avenue -- which provides services to needy families, such as literacy training, prenatal care, nutritional information and vaccinations -- and was shown around an immunization bus that roams Baltimore's neighborhoods inoculating children.
At Morgan State, Mr. Gore pointed out that in 1990, only 39 percent of American children were immunized against measles. (In Baltimore, fewer than half the city's two-year-olds are up to date with their immunizations, said Charlotte Crenson, a city health program administrator, who was on hand for the vice presidential visit to East Baltimore.)
Because of AID's skills abroad at propagating the importance of inoculations, a lot of developing countries are doing much better in immunization, he said.
AID marketing techniques also are effective at spreading the word in foreign countries about the protection that breast feeding provides against infant illness.
The agency encourages and underwrites banks in Third World countries to lend small amounts to poor people who have no collateral, but do have an idea for a business, or "microenterprise," Mr. Gore said.
The vice president called the use of volunteers "an excellent example
of community empowerment, a technique we can use here. Something developed to help nations elsewhere can help here."
And the reverse can be true. Baltimore can teach AID a thing or two, agency officials said. For example, workers at Healthy Start, a prenatal care program, have devised strategies for dealing with substance abuse among the people it helps.
Healthy Start was founded in 1990 to help lower infant mortality rates in certain Baltimore neighborhoods that had reached Third World levels -- 19 deaths per 1,000 live births in Harlem Park and the area around Johns Hopkins Hospital, according to Daisy Morris, who runs Healthy Start.
"When we began we found that substance abuse was a tremendous problem, between 30 and 35 percent of [expectant] moms" had it, Ms. Morris said. This experience, Ms. Morris believes, is "what gave us the edge on a lot of cities, because we understood our moms."
Margaret Neuse, deputy director of AID's Office of Population, who has visited Healthy Start, said, "We have a lot to exchange with Baltimore. We have met different problems."
Everyone who addressed the Morgan State conference stressed that the partnership would be more than a rhetorical one, a friendly gesture from a Democratic president to a political ally in a nearby city. They insisted this was the case even though AID is prohibited by law to operate within the United States.
Other speakers included Mr. Atwood; U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat; and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th District.
Mr. Atwood announced that a working group would be set up with representatives from AID and the city to decide on reasonable expectations for the partnership.
Mr. Slater listed several likely AID initiatives. It would send field directors just returned from abroad to Baltimore to lecture and hold seminars; provide access to AID's enormous library to Baltimore health and nutrition workers; create internships for social workers from the city; and send people in the local helping professions to visit foreign development programs. Later in the day, Mr. Gore went to the Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn and continued a theme that he raised at Morgan State: the benign intervention of government.
"Twenty-five or 30 years ago, more than 70 percent of the American people felt that government would do the right thing in solving national problems. Now only 20 per cent believe that," he said.
"We have to put the customers (citizens) first," he emphasized.