Friday, August 26, 2011

Too Small to Ignore – Chapter 11

more thoughts from Jennifer….


Chapter 11 begins discussing the complexity of poverty and how poverty is not simply a shortage of money. Wess discusses efforts made to supply for the physical needs of those in poverty. But many of these efforts don’t net long-term effects. He writes, “The world’s greatest economic minds have studied, researched, analyzed, and written thick books on the subject. Still, the world’s rich seem to get richer, while the poor get poorer. Is this truly an unsolvable puzzle?”

On the plane ride down to Peru, I sat beside a woman who carried a Coach purse, had manicured nails, fine clothes and jewelry, and a demeanor of wealth about her. I was surprised to find out that she was born and raised in Lima and she was surprised that I was traveling to Lima because, in her words, “There is nothing much about Lima to visit”. She definitely did not fit the picture I had of a Peruvian. I think I mistakenly believed that when a country is listed as a “developing country”, that there are no wealthy people to be found, except for nasty, corrupt government officials who are exploiting those around them. Now, this may be true in many cases, but since this lady seemed kind enough, I will give her the benefit of the doubt. It is similar to the person who commutes through the “rough part of town” from their posh suburb in America. Except the rough neighborhoods are just the majority and the posh suburbs are more the minority. Once we arrived in Peru, it was startling to see a sparkling, brightly lit BMW dealership only blocks away from squatter villages without proper utilities or sanitation.

But as Wess explains, conquering poverty isn’t about spreading the wealth, but changing our mindsets – those of the rich and the poor. Wess points out that when a child lives in poverty, they learn that what they think or feel doesn’t really matter and that they can’t change their circumstances, so they might as well not even try. On the flip side, children who are raised in excess can develop a selfish, individualistic view that they matter more than others and that they have more right to live in wealth than another. Neither view is beneficial and these mindsets are at the root of why poverty continues to exist.

This is summarized best on page 177…

“So why is a third of our world battling obesity and spending huge sums to burn off calories, while the other two-thirds yearn to get more of them?”

It is hard to summarize concisely the wagon wheel diagram that is used on page 176. It takes the entirety of the chapter to adequately describe each spoke. So I will just highlight each “spoke” and the importance of each.

Wess states on page 178…

“As you will see in our journey around the wheel, the spokes are interdependent. Every one must be strong. A deficiency in any one of them will quickly make the others crack under the strain.”

So, even though they are listed separately, they cannot be truly separated if the model is to be effective.

Spoke 1 – Economics

This is the most apparent aspect of poverty – the lack of money. If you are familiar with Compassion, you have probably heard that poverty is not just a lack of money, but a lack of options or opportunities and that the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, but “enough”. Lack of money equates to lack of options.

Spoke 2 – Health

Health does not just refer to medical treatment when necessary, but health maintenance. To maintain health, proper food, nutrition, and sanitation are a must. And while Americans debate the value and necessity of immunizations for dozens of illnesses, children in other countries are dying from diarrhea from the water they drink.

Spoke 3 – Learning

“Poverty is greatly aggravated by the absence of information and acquired skills.” - page 178

In our culture, information about anything is just a click away. We not only have access to the information, but the ability to assess and analyze information, based on our academic histories. Children who are in poverty are often not encouraged to increase their knowledge. In some cultures, it can even be frowned upon.

Spoke 4 – Environment

It is heart wrenching to think about the wonderful regions of God’s beautiful creation that have been ravaged in the name of progress and industry. On top of this, natural disasters strike the poor the hardest. America has recently had its share of natural disasters, but even if our rescue and recovery system is not perfect, at least there is one in place. In developing countries, there is often no government organization designed to assist those torn by floods, earthquakes and the like. When the environment is destroyed or disrupted it changes the entire course of people’s lives. It can also leave people feeling destitute.

Spoke 5 – Social or Sociopolitical

Poverty is, among other things, a function of being powerless in the halls of government and the social structures that administer our lives. I am not making excuses here or looking for scapegoats. I am simply acknowledging that if you are fairly sure your vote won’t count and that whatever taxes you pay will only end up financing a war or maybe increasing the governor’s personal fortune, it is very easy to get discouraged and become fatalistic.” Pg. 179

Many adults in developing countries who are now active in their country’s politics and community lives were once sponsored children. When these children gain an education and develop a relationship with God, they are the ones who are the agents of change in their environments. They have greater authority and impact than any outsider.

Spoke 6 – Spiritual

Just as the next subtitle of the chapter says “It’s ALL Spiritual”. There is much spiritual oppression around the world. Many myths are believed that put people in true physical danger. As Wess points out, families starve, yet they will sacrifice animals to gods who they are told need appeasing. But when these same people learn that God loves them, “All the dollars and euros and pesos and shillings and rupees in the world will not equal the peace that comes from knowing a God who loves you. He’s not out to get you or destroy you. He is, in fact, on your side. He’s more powerful than the evil spirits around you.”

The rest of the chapter discusses the oppression that the poor feel and how poverty creates a downward spiral. The harsh conditions make them feel that there is nothing more to do than to just give up. Wess states this well on page 185,

“It may seem easy from our perspective to give a pep talk. But if any of us were stripped of our heritage, our can-do spirit, our education, our money, our health, and the justice we take for granted, we, too, would rapidly come to the conclusion that, ‘I don’t know what I need to know. I can’t do what I need to do. I don’t have what I need to have. And it’s all beyond me. It’s not my fault!’ That is the heart and soul of poverty.” – pages 185-186

But in the same way that poverty and Satan’s lies destroy a person, opportunity and God’s love can transform them. When a child realizes that what they think and feel does matter and that they can make an impact on others, they start to actually do it!

A quote on page 188 by Henry Ford says, “The only thing you can give a man without hurting him is an opportunity.”

This is the essence of what Compassion attempts to do. Instead of attacking the symptoms of poverty, it attacks the root of poverty – the lies and the cycles of generational apathy it creates and the downward spiral is turned into an outward ripple.

“One changed child eventually changes a family. A changed family will influence change in its church. Enough changed churches will transform the community. Changed communities change regions. Changed regions will in time change an entire nation.” Pg. 191-192.

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