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The Economics of a Green Skirt

LaurenI laid in bed last night thinking about my green skirt. There’s nothing elegant about this skirt. I only bought it because it was of modest length and thus sensitive toward Sierra Leone's culture. When I arrived in Sierra Leone, however, I was urged by the US embassy not to wear green because it represented the opposition political party vying to overthrow the incumbent in that month’s presidential elections. Thus, I gave my unneeded skirt to Emma. Emma is a long time resident of Scan Drive, the neighborhood in which I have recently come to reside. Scan Drive is a juxtaposition of tin huts and large, elaborate homes. Emma and I became friends after I showed her how to braid hibiscus into her daughter’s beautiful, ebony hair. Emma welcomed me into her house and shared her story with me, her life. I knew giving my green skirt to Emma would hardly fix the challenges she faced, but at least I could thank her for her hospitality.

I laid in bed thinking about my green skirt and that for me it is a symbol of the plight of Sierra Leonean women. I knew my skirt was with Emma. Emma wore it as often as she could; she would not have left it behind. I thought about where she might be at that very moment, hoping that her three children, Esther, Abbibatu, and Samuel, were safe with her. I hoped her husband would not find them. I hoped she had found relief from the pain she suffered under her husband’s violent rule over their family. I hoped that she could smile with hope now, because she will not have to carry out her day knowing that at the end of it she will face another near deadly beating from him.

Emma bore the scars of abuse – physical and emotional. After nine years of marriage, Emma finally decided to escape the abuse she suffered. She took her children and fled her home. Money was just a small piece of the complex puzzle known as poverty. Emma’s poverty was rooted in the emotional and physical abuse she received from the person who should have loved and cared for her the most: her husband. But the only thing Emma received from him was neglect and brutal beatings, so she left.

Economics, so often equated with money, is the study of choices, and what drives people to make the choices they do. At its core, economics uses supply, resources, demand, and needs, to explain the choices humanity makes in a world of constraints. In a world scathed by injustice, economic theory demands the mind to consider the why of people’s choices, both the choices of injustice and the choices of redemption from injustice. In the case of Emma, economics asks why her husband, Samuel, would beat her, and why Emma would flee for her life. Samuel, considering the choices of how to treat his wife, felt that it in someway beating his Emma would be beneficial to him. Emma, considering the choices she had, thought fleeing would be beneficial to her. Samuel and Emma were reacting to their needs and the resources they had, driving them to make the choices they did. Economics brings its expertise to the understanding of choices by analyzing the quantitative drawbacks or benefits of different choices, attempting to predict what choices would be best for the whole, and creating policy to ensure that those choices are made.

However, like poverty, the world is more complex than just an explanation of choices as the point where the resources at hand – supply, meet humanity’s needs – demands. Economics alone leave something to be desired, and thus to fully understand the world and what is best for it, other disciplines, too, must be studied to comprehend the complexity of the world. The Humanities explain the mind, Theology, the soul; the Arts explain the heart, while the natural sciences, the body. When all these disciplines are studied and observed as they naturally interact, together they explain truth. They illustrate how and why the world works as it does, and how God created the world. The philosophy of the liberal arts realizes that one’s discipline cannot be understood in the absence of all others because God created a complex world in which all facets of life interact perfectly yielding a creation bar none. Learning and experiencing the interaction of all disciplines beyond the classroom in the context of our world today allows us to understand how our world has been affected by humanity’s sin, but most importantly, how we can redeem the injustices of our sinful choices.

So as I thought about Emma, her three children, and my green skirt. I thought about how all I have learned in classrooms at Wheaton, through HNGR in Sierra Leone, and through various internships over the past four years will direct me to apply my understanding. Economics has taught me how to consider how resources and needs drive people to make choices, and the liberal arts, how the consequences of these choices affect humanity and the world as a whole.

In a world that grows continually more resource constrained, and as more people suffer under the grips of poverty, I will use my understanding of economics in business and finance to bring justice to the people of this world, like Emma, who find themselves constantly excluded and unable to find the resources to meet their needs, whether the needs of the mind, the soul, the body, or the heart. But beyond my career, my liberal arts experience will inform life choices I make in my commitment to bring redemption on behalf of those who suffer daily from the consequences of poverty and injustice.