IN A fictitious village in Africa lives a farming family very representative of many farming families in poverty stricken regions in the world. Jamu is a pre-teen girl who is hungry, typically sick with fever, and unable to read or write. She would love an education, but must stay at home to help her mother who has to walk two kilometres twice daily to draw water.
Somi is a little better off compared with his older sister; at least he goes to school — well, that is until he’s too sick to go. He’s had four life-threatening cases of diahorrea in the past year. You see, the whole village relies on water sources that are at the root of the disease and ill-health in the town. There is one good well in town, but the person who manages it limits access to the best water for fear that the pump will break down.
Mathu, father of Jamu and Somi and their two siblings, is husband to Kayla. She battles to manage the logistics of the home to keep the family alive. Mathu works hard on the farm, but yields get lower and lower each year because deforestation in the region has led to the once nutrient-rich top soil to be frequently washed away due to torrential season rains. The whole family constantly battle fatigue.
The teacher at the local school, Aruna, battles with the 50 percent attendance at school and is frequently not able to make school himself as he needs additional work to survive — the school can’t afford to pay him more than a pittance.
Michael is the Minister for Regional Affairs and Infrastructure in the government of the country and would love to help, but his poor country has little influence brokering competitive deals for infrastructure for the country in a global market. His government isn’t corrupt as much as it’s limited by true economic factors.
Jompa is a local product who’s been fortunate enough to get an education as an agriculturalist — he knows the root of the problem is the cutting down of trees for wood to burn. Electricity would address this town’s poverty concerns, but who could possibly afford to set up that infrastructure?
Josephine has moved away from town into the city and is proud to make T-shirts of such quality they’re exported to America and Australia and are sold for over $50 a piece — but she’s paid less than a hundredth of that. She battles to make ends meet and still sends a little back to her family in her home village.
The poor (those that live on less than $1.25 a day) have a radically different experience of life and worldview as compared with us Westerners.
Poverty is a complex problem. It’s an injustice problem, not an incompetence problem. The poor have wisdom, hopes and dreams and are active as they can be in trying to improve their lot. But their livelihoods and assets are precarious, seasonal and inadequate. Their capabilities are compromised by a lack of information, education, skills and confidence. Their institutions are disempowering and exclusionary. Their organisations are weak and disconnected. Physically they’re hungry, exhausted, sick, and they also suffer from a lack of self-esteem because of their appearance. They’re often abused and disregarded by the more powerful. They live in isolated, unserviced, risky and stigmatised areas. They lack sense of security and peace of mind. Gender polarisations are troubling and marked.
Where Innovation Comes In
The goals of international development, very broadly speaking, are to make a high positive impact and achieve sustainability.
Poverty is a complex system any way we look at it. The first steps that those into international development are looking to do are to analyse the problem, the consequences, and the causes — to really understand the dozens of factors that must be taken into account if solutions are to be not only helpful, but of true benefit over the long term.
Then it’s about determining the assets that a community might draw upon to solve their own problems for the longer term.
The good news on the global stage is we’re winning the battle to end poverty!
In 1990 12.7 million children died before they reached five years of age. In 2015, that figure is six million. And whilst that figure is six million too many, there is much to be encouraged by that the strategies to halve poverty in this quarter century have been achieved. But, of course, there’s still more work to do.
It’s good to end with hope. Making poverty history in our time is not only possible, but likely. How good is God that when we dignify the poor, believing they can solve their own problems with our advocacy against their injustices, he makes a way for them to climb into the stratosphere of living hope — a future they believe for; for their children and grandchildren.
But we can never get complacent. If poverty is an injustice issue, even if we end poverty, it may easily reappear, as has slavery. We must be generous supporters and avid advocates, finding a way of making a lattice of good intentions woven through wise practices, in making maximum positive and sustainable impact.
Acknowledgement: this article was inspired by a Maximum Impact wonderfully engaging workshop I attended run by Scott Higgins of Baptist World Aid Australia, organised by Dushan Jeyabalan, on November 18, 2015, in Perth, Western Australia. All of the content in this article was discussed at this workshop. Graphic above is from Baptist World Aid Australia.