Blog Action Day: A little does go a long way

Poverty exists everywhere in the world, but its face changes from continent to continent, from country to country, from region to region. The very definition of poverty also changes; some people consider themselves poor because they can’t go overseas during the holidays, while others consider themselves poor because they can’t afford to eat more than once a day.

But I’m not here to paint a depressing picture that will make you want to cry out in despair. There is more than enough of that going around, and while it helps raise awareness, it doesn’t do much more than that. To be bolstered to act, one needs to know that what one does actually amounts to real change. And that’s why I’d rather talk about what can be done at the grassroots to help eradicate poverty.

While giving people money and food does help to get them fed and clothed, and donations to such organizations as Sun Youth, Renaissance and The Old Brewery Mission do help, this doesn’t solve any of the causes of poverty. There are many such causes unfortunately, including corporate & personal greed which created and maintain an unjust distribution of the world’s wealth. A more personal cause of poverty is a person’s lack of capability to get out of his or her situation of poverty. In layman’s terms, it means that a person lacks the skills and knowledge to get out of his or her situation. This however doesn’t have anything to do with the person’s capacity to acquire such capabilities.

There is unfortunately no one magical solution to solve the problem of poverty. However, there are certain principles that should guide us which can make our efforts more efficient.

First and foremost is the concept of human dignity. Poverty doesn’t mean a lack of humanity; poor people deserve the same respect as rich people, if not more, since they have survived terrible conditions. Neither does poverty mean a lack of capacity; it just means that these capacities haven’t been brought out and honed.

The concept of human dignity is directly linked to the second concept. Ever heard of the expression: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach him how to fish, feed him for life”? The concept of human dignity implies that the person we want to help is able to help himself once certain conditions have been met.

Two of the three activities I’d like to suggest to you are directly linked to this lack of capabilities. The first one is to sponsor a child so that he or she can get an education. You can go through an organisation or find a school that accepts direct donations. One such school would be Banani International Secondary School in Zambia.

But money isn’t the only thing that is lacking; there is a scarcity in human resources on a continent that has been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Many teachers have died since the beginning of the epidemic, and, combined with the brain drain, this has created a big shortage in teachers and educators. If you can go there for a short time (3 months) or, even better, give an entire year to serving the children in Africa in a school somewhere, you would be helping the next generation acquire precious skills.

Unfortunately, one might long to go but not be able to; good thing there are other ways to help! The third suggestion I have is to contribute to microcredit schemes. To learn more about microcredit, you can watch a great, inspiring and uplifting documentary by PBS on the subject, which you can find here.

In short, microcredit means that you are going to be lending someone a sum of money that is ridiculously small by North American standards; within a set amount of time, the person you have lent this money to will develop her business and eventually pay you back. I’m purposefully using the feminine because most of the successful recipients of microcredit loans have been women (around 80%). And if you’re wondering how many people actually return the loans, well, let’s just say that the return rates are the highest in the world; they are well above 90% (you can read more about microcredit here and here).

How does one go about lending money to an African entrepreneur? One way of doing so is through organizations such as Kiva, which is one of the few person-to-person lending sites currently in existence. It makes the experience all the more interesting in that you know exactly where the money goes, who receives it, what happens to it and you get feedback on that person’s success.

There is probably a lot more you can do; if none of the suggestions above appeal to you, then good for you! This means that you now have the exciting challenge of finding something else to do that will make your tickle your noodle.

Yes, I did just write tickle your noodle. Maybe my capacities need some further honing, too.

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