The Housewife’s Guide to Tackling Poverty

“O Children of dust! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor…” ~ Baha’u’llah

I once saw a child barely two years old sitting on a heap of wet filth sifting through its contents in Kabul, Afghanistan. That image, framed by my car window lasted for two seconds before the car lurched forward taking me away. I have not forgotten you, little child. This post is dedicated to the poor. The voiceless masses of our world.

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Writing this from my safe, sanitised little world and warmly heated home, poverty seems a million miles away. Yet, I must not forget that for every 3.6 seconds while I’m writing this, someone dies of hunger. I must not forget that 15 million children die of hunger every year. (that’s the entire population of Finland, Denmark and Norway put together). I must not forget that 925 million people in the world today do not have enough food to eat.

This is one of the greatest injustices in our world. The extremes of wealth and poverty. And we are all part of that great injustice in one way or another. Our ignorance. Our indifference. Our greed. Our nation’s economic and trade policies. Our lack of legislation protecting the rights of the poor. Our poor governance. Our gender inequality. Our savage destruction of natural resources. Our lack of human rights. Our moral laxity. Our exploitations.

Our lack of vision of the oneness of mankind.

SONY DSCThe housewife in me longs desperately to whip up a neat solution to remove the stubborn stain of poverty from the face of the earth. But some stains require more than just quick fixes. And as any good homemaker knows, some stains are just unresponsive to simple formulae when the problem lies deeper than just a surface blot.

The eradication of poverty requires a closer study and a deeper understanding beyond monetary and economic mechanisms alone. It begins with us asking some seriously hard-hitting questions and challenging our current status quo.

  • What can we do that we haven’t done to tackle poverty?
  • What are the root causes of poverty that we haven’t dug deep enough to uproot?
  • Why have current strategies failed to produce the desired results despite decades of rigorous efforts and enormous outlay of funds?
  • What are the sustainable solutions?
  • What can we do to ensure the security and prosperity for all mankind?

These are some thoughts and proposals I would like to share with you based on our experience as a family in the development field and living in Afghanistan. It is my sincere hope that we can re-write the script of poverty that has been handed down to us.

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1.  Re-thinking our World View

Poverty eradication begins with a paradigm shift in our thinking. The root problem of poverty lies in the very way we look at the world. Our present system of governance is very much based on the principle of separation. It operates on a “Us and Them” mentality. This mindset is the foundation that breeds poverty.

Until and unless we really see ourselves as ONE species, rather than divided nation-states, it will always be the survival of the fittest. Winners and losers. The rich and the poor. In a thriving home, all members of the family look out for one another. A house divided will surely fall. “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong in the world.” ~ Dr. Paul Farmer

2. Be Anxiously Concerned with the Needs of our Age

Inbuilt into a mother is an underlying anxious concern for her children’s well-being. She anticipates their every need. She is ever watchful. She is ever-ready to leap to her children’s defence. She will go to the ends of the earth to provide for her child. We protect what we love.

Likewise, the issue of poverty must be given that level of priority in our lives. I fully believe we will witness far less poverty if more economists, politicians, businesses, educators – most of all, if you and I display the same kind of earnest striving, sacrifice, compassion and knowledge with which we approach the things we love and cherish.

Until and unless we love humanity as ourselves, recognising them as friends and family, seeing the sacredness of all life, we will not be able to fully centre our deliberations on the crisis of this present age and crack it.

SONY DSC3. Recognising a Spiritual solution to an Economic problem

We have always assumed that poverty is the absence of money. But poverty is the absence of Justice. Of Unity. Of compassion, trustworthiness, respect, generosity, fair-mindedness. Poverty is the absence of ethical, social and material resources. Poverty is man-made.

If justice were the hallmark of our civil society, good governance, decision making and trade relations, poverty would not be as rampant as it is today.

Just as a tree is known by its fruit, the health of the world is known by the condition of its people. Poverty is simply a sign of a world that is ill. And until we diagnose and see beyond merely the economic symptoms, we will be searching for answers in all the wrong places.

4. Re-thinking poverty eradication Efforts

The mechanisms for poverty-eradication has long been defined primarily in material and monetary terms. Approximately, USD2.3 trillion have been spent on foreign aid over the last five decades. Tragically, the aid has not achieved the goal and has often resulted in detrimental effect on the recipient communities.

Helping the poor has always been in the context of benevolence and charity which I feel carry a tinge of condescension that we who have so much can afford to spare a few crumbs. The poor are no less worthy than the rich. Nor should they be viewed with pity but equal respect. Tackling poverty is about recognising and restoring a man’s inherent dignity.

In practice, this means giving the poor the opportunity to contribute to society while taking pride in building up a life of their own. It is to require accountability while providing incentives and empowerment. (Note: This approach is vastly different from emergency relief aid which is given unconditionally in acute crisis to prevent certain death caused by widespread famine, drought or civil war.)

SONY DSC5. Redefining Education

In the minds of many, education is seen purely as acquisition of knowledge to primarily secure a good life in terms of financial security and material wealth. Education is seen mainly as a ticket out of poverty. This narrow-minded view plus a lack of vision of the education system has churned out multitudes of trained personnel with no greater ambition than to acquire vast fortunes. This perpetuates the rift between the rich and the poor.

But if the deep and true purpose of education is harnessed, it would also mean moral and spiritual education where our children are taught not only to achieve academic excellence but equally crucial, to cultivate compassion, develop service, high ethical and moral standards which would never tolerate our current system of governance and distribution of wealth.

6. Raising up a new Generation

As a mother, I often think of our present-day politicians, policy makers, economists, world leaders who once were children. Somebody’s sons and daughters. These children were taught to uphold certain values or not. They had fathers and mothers who moulded their young minds for good or not. In that sense, we are all social reformists.

We do not teach our children to share simply because it is a socially acceptable thing to do in the nursery or kindergarten. We teach our children to share so that they may grow up to become compassionate human beings who would consider the rights, honour and welfare of another. The way we bring up our children determines the course of world history.

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7. Safeguarding and Advancing the Rights of Women

The empowerment of women is a critical factor in the eradication of poverty.

Women make up the vast majority of the world’s poorest. Yet studies have shown that when women are empowered, educated and given opportunities to work, all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. In short, communities become more resilient.

8. The need for New Economic theories

“The fundamentals of the whole economic condition are divine in nature and are associated with the world of the heart and spirit… Hearts must be so cemented together, love must become so dominant that the rich shall most willingly extend assistance to the poor and take steps to establish these economic adjustments permanently. This is the true foundation of all economics.”

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Promulgation of Universal Peace)

Today, much of the driving force behind any market system and the economy is motivated purely by maximal profit with scant regard to the environment or repercussions on the fate of millions. The promotion of self-centred actions of governments and corporations, the imposition of import tariffs and quotas, have not helped humanity escape the extremes of poverty, on the one hand, and over-consumption on the other.

Economic considerations underlying poverty alleviation efforts have generally focused on the creation of wealth but not the parallel problem of the over-concentration of wealth. It is the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few that is in urgent need of attention.

9. The need for New Legislations

To protect the rights of the poor and the employees.To regulate extreme profits accrued by companies and individual employers. It is just as important to limit excessive wealth, as it is to limit poverty. We need to have laws governing the extremes of riches and to regulate the excessive fortunes of certain private individuals.

I am by no means promoting communism or the equalization of wealth. But rather moderation in the acquisition and distribution of profits. Trade and employment laws must take into account the equilibrium of interest ensuring the means and security of the employees.

DSC00027 - copy110. What can you and I do?

  • Start where you are. With what you have. Our contributions are all unique. All needed.
  • Approach the issue of poverty scientifically, compassionately and with clear strategies towards a goal.
  • Teach our children to embrace a world beyond cultural, religious and socio-economic boundaries.
  • Meet the poor in our community. Compassion grows side by side with awareness.
  • Sponsor a village/individual through Micro finance loans that change lives
  • Be directly involved in poverty reduction causes through creating awareness programmes. The Hunger Project
  • Volunteer at shelters, soup kitchens.
  • Offer vocational training and employment opportunities.
  • Travel. Meet the locals, hear their stories. Paths are Made by Walking
  • Sponsor a child.
  • Simplify our lifestyles.

I am in no way affiliated nor am I paid to advertise for the organisations recommended here in the above mentioned links.

“Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, … a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.”

~ Baha’u’llah

Recommended reading

1. The Prosperity of Humankind

2.Sacred Economies – Charles Eisenstein

3. The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and so Little Good. – William Easterly

4. United Nations Millenium Goals

5. World Food Programme

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