Poverty is a tricky subject. As far as we know, poverty has always been around. The Bible indicates that we will always have poor people among us. In fact, most religions have some form of religious practice which involves giving alms to the poor. Poverty is a generally accepted part of our overall global economy.
However, does this mean we should sit still in acceptance and carry on with our lives pretending that 20,000+ children aren't dying from poverty each day? A lot of people think not. Many organizations are out there trying to make a difference in people's lives every day. And they are. My favorites are organizations such as Heifer International, which provide animal gifts and training on how to become self-reliant. With a few goats and hens, a family can get milk, cheese, and eggs and earn a simple living to buy other necessities. Another family may learn how to keep bees and produce honey. This type of aid is a lot more meaningful than dropping packages of food from a helicopter and taking off (although I understand the need for emergency food supplies).
This past Sunday, Rebecka and I participated in the Greater Milwaukee CROP Hunger Walk at the beautiful lake front of Milwaukee. The youth gathered donations from church members and friends and family to support self-help organizations like Heifer. The theme of the CROP Walk was "We Walk Because They Walk." Thinking about children walking miles just to get clean water and then carrying gallons of it back home made our two mile trek around the lagoon seem like a vacation. However, it felt good to know that we were participating in making some family's life better - for the long run.
But there is more...
As much as I believe in this type of fundraising, I firmly believe that if we are to seriously make a dent in poverty and allow all people to live a quality life (define quality!), we in the developed countries must take a smaller wedge of the overall earth pie. Jim Merkel describes it well in his book, Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth:
"Imagine you are at a potluck buffet and see that you are the first in line. How do you know how much to take? Imagine that this potluck spread includes not just food and water, but also the material needs for shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. It all looks and smells so good and you are hungry. What will you heap on your plate? How much is enough to leave for your neighbors behind you in the line?"
These are thought-provoking questions. The unnerving reality is that we are taking too much and our quality of life isn't all that much better. In fact, some would say there are people who we would consider "poor" (i.e., they don't own a TV or a computer) who have a much better quality of life. This makes me want to point out that there are different types of poverty. Basic needs poverty is unnecessary. The earth buffet has enough for everybody (at least for now). Spiritual, emotional, and social poverty are the negative side-effects of our over-consuming society and is more difficult to tackle.
So what can we do to address basic needs poverty and take less of the pie?
- Eat what we need. No more, no less.
- Try to eat local food when possible. (And no, Bob the Banana Grower is not going to suffer any more than he already does, because Dole and Kroger is already taking most of the money...)
- Live in a home that is the appropriate size for our family.
- Buy quality products that will last and recycle products that we no longer need so they can become somebody else's treasure.
- Donate excess income to organizations like Heifer to provide a life-time of earnings for other families.
- Buy products that are fairly traded. (Click here to learn more...)
- Get involved! There are so many ways to help. Pick an organization and go for it!
And guess what?
When we walk the walk...
Our lives and the lives of others will be richer.