Saturday, October 18, 2008

How Manly Men Can Fight Poverty

The Art of Manliness posted this on Blog Action Day, which was dedicated to fighting poverty -- I think it is a good post and deserves a little more attention.

Personally, although I grew up reasonably "poor" by American standards, I had no idea what poverty looked like until I traveled to Mexico City in 1986 for the World Cup. Until then, I had never seen people living in cardboard boxes or "shacks" made from aluminum siding nailed to trees. I was devastated.

There is so much we each can do, and even though I missed Blog Action Day, every day can be a day devoted to fighting poverty. The more the economy collapses, the more those of us still working will need to help others.

It's our moral obligation as men, as human beings.

How Manly Men Can Fight Poverty

shack How Manly Men Can Fight Poverty

Editor’s Note: Today is Blog Action Day and AoM is taking part. Blog Action Day is an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, in posting about the same issue on the same day. The goal is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion about that issue. This year’s issue is poverty.

The first time I was really confronted with poverty on a consistent basis was when I lived in Tijuana, Mexico for two years as a missionary for my church. For a white kid (well, a tan white kid) who grew up in an affluent American town, the experience was an eye opener. For the first time, I saw all the ugly effects of poverty first hand: drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, child neglect, sickness, and crime.

While I was in Tijuana, I saw several church groups from California cross the border with the goal of alleviating poverty. They’d come with bags of used clothes, toys, and handouts of free food. Heck, they’d even build people new homes for free! While their intentions were noble, their efforts did little to help the people. In a day or two the food was gone and in a week or two the free toys were lying untouched on the dirt street. But the people still didn’t have enough money to buy clean water or food for their families. And those people who got new homes? As soon as the church groups left, some of these new homeowners dismantled their houses and sold the materials for money. Others, who kept their homes, failed to take care of them properly and they quickly deteriorated. Within a matter of months, those brand new houses were indistinguishable from the other run down shacks.

But during my time in TJ, I met several families who were able to beat the poverty cycle. As I look back at these people, they all had two things in common that helped them get out of poverty: self-determination and responsible help from others. I never saw one without the other.

One family stands out to me. The husband was basically a bum. He drank his days away and worked odd jobs that paid a pittance. He couldn’t provide for his family and they often went hungry. This bum happened to attend the same church as a man who owned several taxies that ran in Tijuana. The taxi owner knew the bum husband and the problems he had. The taxi owner took the guy under his wing and worked with him on getting his life in order. With a bit of tough love, this guy turned his life around completely. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of setbacks, but he had the determination to make a better life for his family The taxi owner soon offered the newly transformed man a job as a taxi driver in Tijuana. For the first time in this man’s life he had steady work that allowed him to provide comfortably for his family. He was able to escape poverty.

Grit and determination will only get you so far when you’re battling poverty. I saw men in Tijuana who worked their asses off at two jobs, but their situation never improved. It wasn’t until someone stepped in and provided better resources and opportunities that these men’s situations got better.

Likewise, all the help in the world won’t do any good unless the person has the desire to accept the help and do something constructive with it. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. So just providing handouts won’t cut it, like the misguided church groups did above. At some point the impoverished person must make the decision to get out of poverty. And they might need some help to see that they even have a choice. Some people have been so beaten down by poverty that they don’t have confidence or self determination to rise up from it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not na├»ve enough to think that self determination and help from others will beat poverty every time. Some places in the world have such corrupt governments and extreme environments that Herculean efforts and all of Warren Buffet’s money can’t possibly eradicate all of the poverty there. But individuals don’t have much influence over those factors. I think it’s much more constructive to focus on things we can have a direct and immediate influence on.

And a final thing I learned while I was in Mexico is that it isn’t the big Herculean efforts that beats poverty. Big government programs, huge benefit concerts, or even Blog Action Days don’t do much to help people get out of poverty. It’s done one person at a time.

Go read the rest of the post for some ideas on how to "kick poverty's ass."

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