Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 5, 2012 - Defeating Poverty

Nicholas D. Kristof is one of our favorite journalists who writes for the New York Times.  We love him because he goes around the world telling the stories of disenfranchised people and advocating for change at every turn.  His writing is thoughtful, practical, often humorous, and smart. 

Today's column will be a new favorite of mine.  Reporting from Malawi, Kristof writes about the struggle to get out of poverty, some of the self-destructive behaviors that impede success in that effort, and one family's success in improving their situation.  

He writes, "Yet poverty is sometimes romanticized, and it’s more complicated than that. Alfred, 45, told me that even as his children were starving, he spent an average of $2 a week on local moonshine and 50 cents on cigarettes. He added that he also spent $2 or more a week buying sex from local girls — even though AIDS is widespread."

We haven't lived in Tanzania long enough for me to know if that example is true here (although I strongly suspect it is so), but this quote instantly brought me back to Kenya.  We heard example after example of men spending the very little money their families have (almost always earned by their wives) on alcohol or sex.  One of our former housekeepers told us that her daughter's husband forced her to give him her salary at the end of every month, used it to get drunk and then beat her.  

Kristof says, "It’s a vicious circle: despair leads people to self-medicate in ways that compound the despair."   And that is something that I think all poverty - wherever it is in the world - has in common.   Kristof goes on to write about some microfinance solutions that can really assist and inspire families to get out of poverty.  And he talks a lot about hope.

In fact, Kristof wrote a whole book about ending oppression for women around the world, so I just wanted to say here that from our understanding of living in East Africa: women are the answer to ending poverty!  Women will make money and use it to educate their children (like Rose is doing with her daughter Karen) or to improve their villages, or to improve their own skills.  Not that men are hopeless, but that vicious cycle is somehow harder for them to break I think.  Women are the key!

I am encouraging anyone reading that if you ever decide to give charitably to a cause in Africa, do your research.   Organizations with microfinance activities are a good way to go and, in my opinion, it would be even better to ensure that your money is going to help women.  Some other helpful links are here and here.  Giving a little bit can bring so much hope in the poorest places, and a little bit of hope can go a long way to making a big change.

Kristof knows a lot more than I do, and in his article he writes, "That’s precisely what I’ve seen in many countries: Assistance succeeds when it gives people a feeling that a better outcome is possible, and those hopes become self-fulfilling as people work more industriously and invest more wisely."


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