I’ve been to my share of third world countries and It’s often overwhelming. Talented artisans selling their
beautiful handcrafts begging you to look at their artwork. Women and young children with their hands extended hoping for a handout. I sometimes (admittedly reluctantly) give handouts but I usually reserve those for the aged. My reluctancy comes from an intrinsic sense that a handout is not a solution: It’s a bandaid. I’m not sure if I would go as far to say it feeds the problem, but it’s surely not the best solution.
“Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.” — Eli Khamarov
I recently had the privilege of spending 10 days in Africa with a garden building team including my Aunt Val. She is the sponsor mom of a beautiful little girl named Lillian. At the end of our third day of building gardens, we had the chance to visit Lillian’s family: Her single mother and three younger siblings.
We travelled along a rocky clay road. Rudimentary mud huts were peppered along the road as dozens of children waved their hands smiling and shouting ‘Mazungoo!’ which means ‘White Person’ in Kinyarwanda, the native language. We stopped at a corner home just inside the village of Kagyeo A, the orange Rwandan dust wafting in clouds as we stopped the vehicle. We exited the bus and made our way to the hut as a growing gathering of locals looked on with interest.
Val entered into the small hut first and was greeted by a young small woman who pulled her into a long hug that seemed to last for the whole visit. They couldn’t stop hugging. Val passed over some gifts for the family that she brought from Canada: shoes, personal items, sanitary items, garden tools, and Rwandan staple foods: corn flour, and rice.
I had the privilege of standing by as a spectator while these two seemingly different women had a good mother to mother conversation. What I realized at that moment is that this lovely single women had no space to think creatively. She was in constant survival mode. When would her next meal be? How could she form any kind of long term sustainable plan in her present situation. What will the future look like for her children?
She wasn’t lazy, not by any stretch. She was a passionate mother with the same worries and concerns that all of us have for our own kids. She was a person who just had no space to think outside of her own survival.
What would this lovely young woman be capable of doing if she didn’t have to worry about basic survival. Could she think about educating herself? Could she start a business? Could she design the next line of fashion, or discover cures for a disease?
It’s been said that 80% of humanity lives off less than $10 a day. Most of us in North America don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, or if we will have a hot shower today. Many of us are so very quick to complain if our pizza is not ready when we expect, or if the barista didn’t quite make our coffee just perfect. I can admit that often the most difficult decision I need to make in a day is deciding what bottle of wine to buy for tonight’s dinner.
I have space. I try and take time for myself. I vacation. I dream. I invest. Yes, I work hard. I make difficult decisions. I have pains and struggles. But I am privileged to live in Canada, and I don’t take it for granted. I know my family will eat tomorrow; I never have to be concerned about that.
In this lovely woman’s case, what would it look like for her to have the basics covered? Basic health and food, access to reliable water. I’m not talking handouts here because they seldom work. What if it were bigger, and there was a collective bartering for basic supplies from a food bank? Maybe one woman could sew or make clothing where the other could watch children for a day while the other mom goes off to work at the market?
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
My observation is obviously not world changing, nor does it solve immediate problems. I just feel that there is enough wealth, ingenuity, and philanthropy out there that we could solve this on a basic level. Imagine the creativity if 80% of humanity had time to think creatively instead of just surviving day by day?
What is world-changing is what my Aunt has done. My aunt is just a normal middle class person. She chose to sponsor Lilian through Africa New Life. Sponsoring guarantees that Lilian will be educated. She will have basic health care. She will have school supplies and healthy lunches (with greens) every day. That is world changing. That’s true love and compassion put into action. This will change Lilian’s life and generation forever.