Catholic Herald staff
Faith guides and inspires Dr. Jacqueline Brux’s passion for helping the poor.
An economics professor emeritus at UW-River Falls and member of St. Bridget, River Falls, Brux has dedicated much of her personal and professional life to advancing social justice.
“I want good programs for the poor in the U.S. and the world,” she said.
A Wisconsin native, Brux has an undergraduate degree in politics and economics from UW-Stevens Point and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Her educational focus — economic development in poor countries — guided her career at UW-River Falls, where she founded the cross-disciplinary Center for International Development to get more faculty involved in international humanitarian efforts.
She’s also written and revised a college textbook on economics and social issues, now in its sixth edition.
Brux has worked and researched in countries on several continents — Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, Mexico, Chile — but much of her work has been on the effects of economic development in Africa, where she has also traveled extensively.
“My first trip took me to Burkina Faso in West Africa, where I was a consultant on incorporating women into agricultural programs,” she said. “Also in West Africa, I did a sabbatical in Ghana, researching the impact of structural economic reforms on the people. … My most recent African excursions took me to Kenya and Uganda, where I researched and started a micro-credit program for very poor women entrepreneurs.”
Gauging the effects of government reform on the impoverished is her academic focus.
“Much of my work has been on the impact on people of economic reforms — the term merely refers to movements toward greater capitalism, as in socialist economies taking on some aspects of capitalism (successfully in Vietnam, Cuba, China; less successful in Russia, Ghana, Mexico, and Chile); or it could mean simply shifting from some degree of capitalism to a greater degree of capitalism,” she explained.
In her experience, the difficulties and dangers plaguing poor nations famine and starvation, violence and war, disease, lack of access to education, displaced populations and more — are compounded by political problems.
“As an economist and lover of Africa, I hate to say it, but I think that poorly run and often corrupt governments are a major problem,” she added. “This is often quite a problem in Africa, but I always point out to students that most African countries became independent of colonization in the 1960s or later. They haven’t had the centuries that countries like the U.S., and many countries in Latin America or even Asia (have had).”
Education, health care, infrastructure — Brux believes all are essential to helping families climb out of poverty. From a political perspective, she also supports giving more development assistance to foreign countries as opposed to security assistance, which goes to less impoverished nations — Israel and Egypt, for example.
“We know that poverty can breed extremism or even terrorism – certainly if we provided development assistance to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc., we wouldn’t have to worry so much about terrorism,” she added. “People gravitate to the people that help them.”
Brux traces the roots of her humanitarian work back to her teenage days. In college, she joined the national nonpartisan Bread for the World organization, and she remains an active member.
“BFW refers to itself as a Christian citizens’ lobby on world and domestic hunger and poverty issues,” she explained. “They educate members about these issues and encourage them to write to their legislators to ask support or opposition to measures that would affect the poor worldwide. I believe I was one of the first members in 1973, which coincides with what was then called the world food crisis (which was particularly serious in Africa and parts of Asia).
“It was exactly what I was looking for – a way to work with others in effectively making legislative changes that would help the poor,” she added.
She is now bringing Bread to the World to her parish.
“I’ve been given permission to start a local BFW group at St. Bridget Church in River Falls, and I will be placing notices about the first meeting in October,” she said.
On a more personal note, Brux is also a wife, mother and grandmother. Her husband, a musician, never travels with her; they have two children – Corey, who lives in River Falls with his two children, and Christina, who is married to a Kenyan and living in Norway with their three children.
“This is why I have to travel to Norway so often – babies change so quickly!” she said.
For her, the sacraments are the most cherished part of her faith, and she also loves the Catholic Church’s long history of caring for the poor, strangers and outsiders, and its social teaching.
Catholics who want to get involved in international humanitarian issues can begin by visiting Bread for the World at www.bread.gov, Brux suggested. Or, they can just send money to a reputable humanitarian organization.
“Catholic Relief Services is so broadly respected in the field and uses an extremely high percent of budget on the needy people themselves, so I am very comfortable sending money to them, and you can designate the part of the world you wish to use the money for,” she added.