As one of the first to microfinance, Biblically train and help local business clients understand savings services, we at HOPE International are pretty familiar with unconventional ways to fight poverty. But not everyone works for a microfinance organization or an NGO, so what can they do to help the impoverished?
A recent article by Elise Amyx in Relevant Magazine points out some new, unconventional and shockingly simple ways for us all to fight poverty.
Amyx’s first strategy is to Change the Way You Talk About Poverty. Most people think of poverty as a lack of material things, like shelter, food, clothes and money. HOPE International’s president, Peter Greer, says that poverty is actually so much more: “Poverty is an empty heart, a lack of hope, isolation, severed relationships and not knowing God.” That type of poverty, a poverty that extends beyond the physical and creeps into a person’s heart and soul, is something we can all relate to. We have all felt alone, scared or hopeless at one point. We have all experienced poverty on that level, and it is through those types of shared experience that we can come to see that people lacking material things are just the same as we are, with needs just as we have needs.
The second strategy is to Respect the Dignity of the Poor. Charity can be a wonderful thing, especially in times of crises when people need a hand up out of the rubble. But too much charity can lead to entitlement and sense of dis-empowerment in the recipients, making them less likely to work for the things they need and handicapping them in the long run. But give them something they can pay for (at a reduced cost), and they will regard that item as a prize. Amyx found that village girls in the Dominican Republic with very little money to spare will still squeal and jump for joy at the opportunity to buy their own clothes and jewelry – at much reduced prices– instead of just receiving them as handouts. Why? Because it gives them a sense of pride to be able to buy something of their very own, a “prize they were privileged to own.”
Thirdly, Do Your Job Well. Whether you realize it or not, your work is most likely related in some way to the fight against poverty. Amyx pointed out that baristas who make coffee well encourage customers to come back and buy the coffee bought from farmers in third-world countries; people working in the cell phone industry are part of a network providing communications in the far-flung reaches of the world; and those working in human resources or recruiting may be helping someone lift themselves out of poverty. We are all called to be good at our jobs not only because our livelihoods may depend on it, but because someone else’s may as well.
Lastly, Amyx points out that we all need to Rethink Ethical Buying Habits. For example, just because a coffee package says “Fair Trade” does not mean that all the money goes back to the third-world farmers involved in growing the coffee. In fact, “less than 12 percent of the premium we pay for fair trade coffee actually reaches them (the farmers).” And Nicaraguan fair trade farmers actually do worse than non-fair trade farmers. So the lesson is always do your homework. Research what terms like “fair trade” mean and how they actually impact farmers and other food producers.
Until next time,