How to get rid of poverty ?

17 Jun

He! Wanna find a practical way to eradicate poverty ? Read this 😉

Since I am born, I have perceived the concept of poverty in very different ways.
I remember the images of children in Sahel suffering from hunger appearing on television in the eighties. The same images were put up in the streets as advertisement beside other commercial brands.
The effect on the mind of a small boy like me was rather disconcerting. On one side of the road, attractive pictures of healthy and smiling men or women were suggesting me to drink Coke, or to smoke cigarettes. On the other side, pictures of starving children with round bellies and flies running on the eyes were requesting me to donate for some international humanitarian organizations.
What could I understand from this world?

Sometime, while coming out of the supermarket with a shopping cart full of food, my mother put a few coins in my hand and asked me to give them to the beggar lying at the entrance. I guess she considered this as a part of my education. Similarly I used to hear at the church: “you should give to the poor”. To donate is typically a virtue promoted by monotheist religions. But as a small boy, my intuition was already telling me that it is probably not the best thing to do.

Looking at the starving African children or the beggars in the streets of my country, I could at least understand that poverty is a situation in which people are losing their dignity.
How does it happen? I had no idea. But it was said at school that there are people living above and people living below the poverty line. A certain amount of money was the line. And that amount of money was very different from one country to another. You earn this much per month and you are not poor, you earn that much and you are poor. Poverty is then an economic problem. (?)
It was said also that in most of the countries, the wealth is not fairly distributed. The 20% of the richest were monopolizing 80% (or so) of the country wealth…
Furthermore it appeared that if the money was fairly distributed, no one would have been below the poverty line.

So we have to accept a very weird situation where, on one hand, the global economic system is completely unfair but actively promoted, and on the other hand, humanitarian organizations employ an army of experts and volunteers who are in charge of making the world less unfair.

Before landing in India I had conceived it as a country where thousands of people were dying in the streets. I am now visiting India for the last 10 years. I didn’t really see people dying in the streets, but I could feel what poverty is. The country is populated with beggars, underclass people and desperate farmers.
Reading about the history of the country, I came to know that when the first English explorers travelled throughout India, they all reported that they didn’t see a single beggar in the whole country. Amazing!
There is no doubt that the economic system that has come in place is the cause of most of the poverty issues around the globe. Shifting the exchange system from the local level to the global level has probably been the biggest mistake.
In the rural areas of India, the tribal villagers who still have a decent life are the ones who do not depend much on the urban markets for their livelihood. They produce themselves most of the basic commodities in the villages, and their local exchange system maintains a beautiful social harmony. The “consumers” meet the “producers”, there are fewer middlemen, and everybody have more or less the same economic status. But in these remote villages also, the global economic forces are seeping into the local economy and are threatening their lifestyle.
So what can we do about it?

Firstly we should stop to consider that as citizen we have no power (I am not talking about our voting right). At the end of the day, corporates, governments and supranational entities are not the masters of the humankind destiny. We can use the system to change it, as consumers, because this is how we are considered…
Without consumers, the system dies. If we can make it to die, we can surely make it to change, we just have to make the right decisions every day to force a turning point.
It may require understanding the social and environmental processes which have been involved in production, transportation, marketing, etc. Not a very easy game… especially because of the lack of transparency and the trickery of the marketing agents.

So how to make the right decisions as consumer?
Try to use, as much as you can, your local resources and share with your neighbours what you have to share.
I love some recent initiatives in this regards: the LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) or the groups of neighbours who decide to procure their vegetables, dairy products and meat directly from local farmers to avoid purchasing at the supermarkets.
For the Indians I can even give a more practical suggestion. Why to purchase a packet of Lays (for instance) that will just transfer your money to the corporate? Just go to some local Dhaba or to the street sellers, and have some delicious samosa or other locally made namkeen. You will have more for your money, you will feed the local economy, you will promote local employment, you will generate no waste and I am sure you will be delighted by the friendly attitude of the local seller, if you become his/her regular customers.

That’s one way for transforming our socioeconomic system for making it fairer and more sustainable. But perhaps there is an even more efficient way to get rid of poverty.

When a beggar asks me for charity I usually don’t donate. When I donate it is really because I have too much of pity. Somehow my donation is made just to release my bad feeling.
I don’t see anything good in giving a few coins to a beggar. He may purchase a little bit of food with my money, but he and I remain at our respective position. To give a few coins to a beggar and to go on your way is a bit cowardly. It doesn’t bring any dignity, it doesn’t help the beggar to come out of his/her poverty.

One day I was passing time on a beach of Mumbai waiting for my evening train. A dozen of children came to me for asking money. They were looking very poor but I refused to give them a single rupee. With my poor Hindi, I started talking to them. Since I was talking to them respectfully and with patience, the social barriers slowly vanished. I participated in their games and bickers. And that made them very happy.
The time passing, they were still stretching their hands for asking money, but they were doing it in a very theatrical way, just to make fun of themselves. And they showed me all the tricks. Spiting a bit of saliva in the palm of the hand, mixing the saliva with a bit of soil and spreading the mixture on the face. Faking to limp. Tearing up the clothes, etc.
They were learning to become good beggars. It became their job, the eldest (about 12) teaching the youngest (about 4).
The relationship been established, I expressed them my disagreement about begging. I tried, for the couple of free hours that I had, to open their eyes on all the other potentials they have as children in the streets of Mumbai. We talked about school, small businesses, their parents, families, where do they live, what do they do, what do they eat, etc.
We all felt that the time spend together was priceless. If I would have been a Mumbai citizen, I would have met them again for sure; unfortunately I had to leave for taking my train.
The mutual joy that we felt together had placed a shining sun in my heart for the rest of the day, and I hoped they were feeling the same.

When I reached the station, I realized that I was still on waiting list. It means that I had no reserved seat. Being not very aware of the rules, I stepped in the train and sat in the corridor between two coaches. The inspector of the train knowing that I was on waiting list asked me to detrain at the next station. I was scared to step down from the train in the night at an unknown station. So I stayed in the train trying to avoid the inspector.
I was ready to spend my night like that, like any other outcast beggars crawling like cockroaches.
Doing a lot of coming and going, it attracted the attention of a couple who asked me if I had any problem. I explained them the situation. They had themselves two sleeper seats. They proposed me to sleep on one of their berth. The lady was very fatty, and I could understand that if they had to share one berth they won’t spend a good night. I declined their kind proposal, but they insisted so much that I finally accepted.
For them it was a real sacrifice. I was genuinely touched by their kindness. I was like a poor in this train and they had given me what I truly needed, a few coins would have not helped me…

You see, giving a coin to a beggar is like escaping the real help that you can offer. Giving time, understanding the difficulty of the person, thinking together about a solution, and genuinely doing something that will help him/her to come out of poverty, is what each of us should do toward someone in need.
Choose one needy person in your neighbourhood, let him/her to share his/her difficulty with you, bring him/her confidence and try to unveil his /her potentials. Guide and support him/her in his/her efforts for betterment of his/her life, and both of you will become richer. Just give him/her a coin, and both of you remain poor.

If each of us does that with one person, along with using properly our consumer power, poverty will be simply eradicated from this world…
That is my belief! 😉

4 Responses to “How to get rid of poverty ?”

  1. Sanjeeva Pandey December 27, 2013 at 23:53 #

    Dear Stephan,
    Very nice perspective, indeed. A person of your sensitivity can write such an account. Congratulations. Poverty in Himachal Pradesh has to be looked at with a prism of gender inequality, conservation of natural resources and fragility of Himalayas. Once again. let me congratulate you for your understanding of poverty.

  2. hillsjester December 28, 2013 at 05:33 #

    Thank you Sanjeevjee,
    Yes, it is like if everyone in India could keep the surrounding of his house clean, the whole India would be clean…
    Very simple, but unfortunately not actual…
    Gender inequality and conservation of natural resources are to be our focus in HP, very true. And I believe that social empowerment of the women are a key to success.
    Another key is to help people to take their responsibilities. Charity, electoral promises and so on, won’t make people to understand that they have to rely firstly on themselves (like it was mentioned in a text you sent recently).
    Poverty is a state of mind.
    We just have to offer conducive environment so that people can open their mind on what they have in their hands and how they can utilize them in an adequate manner to improve their life.
    Feeling good collaborating with you for that !

  3. invest in gold or silver September 19, 2014 at 09:31 #

    Hi!I’ve been reading your weblog for a long time now and finally got the courage too go ahead and giuve yyou a shout out from Dallas Texas!
    Just wanted to tell you keep up the fantastic work!

    • hillsjester September 19, 2014 at 21:17 #

      Thanks a lot for your encouragement. Unfortunately I have no more time to write. Too busy with my work with the villagers of Himachal Pradesh, India. That’s more important 😉

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