How Poor are you?
On a morning when it seems that the whole economic fabric of the world is falling apart, I’m asking myself what it is to be poor. Over the past ten or fifteen years, incomes in Ireland have increased considerably and so have costs. We constantly hear the phrase because we’re worth it, and unfortunately many of us believed it. In global terms we were living beyond our means, wanting and having more and more, demanding the earth, paying ourselves too much and borrowing like as if money was going out of fashion and now it has!
During this boom period, in Ireland, we thought we were super heroes, who had solved all our financial problems ourselves, that we had got where we were on our own hard work and abilities and some of that is true.Some even believed that we were up there with the top rich countries in the world. We had lost the run of ourselves and sometimes lost our soul. Even then our experts were drawing poverty lines and deciding who was above or below it, and looking at relative poverty and statistical curves within this little speck of island land on the edge of Europe. Now that the little boy has declared that the king has no clothes, we will have to have a new look at ourselves and decide how rich we really are, even after the soap has left the bubble and surface tension has deserted us.
We have to do a little thinking and realise that being part of a global economy puts demands and responsibilities on us in return for our high standard of living.
Maybe that constant growth is unsustainable; that we can’t have more and more, while others on the same globe have less and less, and are we now poor?
What does being poor mean and who is poor? Academics and statisticians spend their lives deciphering universes of data on this very question. Real Poverty is simple, it doesn’t need a graph.
On Tuesday January 20 when I arrive in the Village of Kazando, 15 miles south west of Mzuzu City in Northern Malawi, I will have no problem in telling what being poor is. You might say they are really poor or even really really poor. So if some people this poor, there must be 99% of the rest of us on the same planet relatively rich.Everyone in Ireland is relatively rich compared to them.
When W4Z first met these villagers, this time last year, they lacked even the most basic of resources, like clean water and adequate food. We solved the water problem, by helping them to put in a well and a simple pump. The food was more complex; we had to feed them during the hungry season, until March and then convince them that they should build a simple dam. Finally we had to hold their hands, do the dam and give them small amounts of seed and fertilizer. Now about twenty families will be food secure for the next year. This means they will have maize and some soya. Now we have to start on vegetables, a fish pond, chickens and bees.
Their problems stem from a serious lack of, money (they have none), local leadership and self esteem. They have acquired a learned dependency expecting the guys in the white jeeps will arrive as before, give then whatever and are never seen again until the next televised emergency: their lack of clothing means they don’t attend even the most rudimentary education and the health service is distant if you have no transport other than your feet. If a woman has difficulty in childbirth, herself and her child probably die. If the maize harvest fails due to lack of rain or artificial fertilizer, people can and do die. Floods, Malaria, and rudimentary hygiene cause havoc, not to mention HIV and AIDS.
Put simply, poor people lack the basics, like clean water, adequate suitable food, health and education. They lack any kind of asset. They are unable to break out of their hand to mouth existence; even a single unforseen emergency can mean the end.
We, at W4Z try and bring poor villagers a hand up, with inspiration, some relevant education, challenge and a small spot of zero interest micro credit.
I have observed in Kazando that the women are illiterate and uneducated, and don’t send their children to school. So I feel that the education of girls could have the single biggest effect after water and food. If a mother is educated she will see that her children are educated. If the education includes horticulture, diet and health care, then people are on their way. The ripples can impact all aspects of life.
Now, on reflection; How rich are you?