Poverty - A Personal Rant

Poverty - Part of Blog Action Day

Whilst the Bono's of the world rant and rave about poverty -a subject they know little if anything about- the poor just keep on getting poorer. It's very easy when one lives in comfort to feel moved and send a fiver to whichever charity happens to spring to mind, but to actually get up and do something practical about addressing poverty, its underlying causes and its symptoms takes real commitment and dedication. You don't see many Bono type figures living and working amongst the poor! It's all too easy to sit in an ivory tower and pontificate.

Each time I go into Chris Nissen Park I meet people who have nothing except a few basic items. Peter, one of my friends there has no regular income as he can no longer work due to poor health. Unfortunately for him he was born over 60 years ago on a farm. Back then the births of people like him were rarely recorded and so today he's struggling to obtain an identity document. Without an ID he can't access basic services and is excluded from applying for the welfare grant which is R750 a month (£50). He tries no to ask me for food when I visit, but invariably I give him something as I know no-one else will. This is real in your face poverty in a country with no real safety net and yet there are people even worse off than him. Peter feels he's lucky as he does at least have a permanent roof over his head. By WHO standards that probably puts him in the top 20% of wealthy people on the planet.

As Christians working out in the field we generally receive two criticisms from the less informed.
Firstly we're often accused of doing little more than prosletyising. Basically, the accusation and criticism is that we're only doing what we do to draw people into our church. Patently a nonsense argument put up by those who choose not to see the reality of life on the front-lines of poverty. The second criticism is that we're merely 'scratching the surface' and being no more effective than a drop in the ocean. Funny thing is, oceans are made up of drops. Think of it this way, when one has an itch, what do you do? Scratch. Simple isn't it. Addressing the issues around poverty and working alongside the poor is just the same and a good scratch can be very rewarding!

Folk like Peter really don't care whether you come with a religion or something else, all he wants to know is that you're genuine and prepared to walk with him in his daily struggle. I try my best to be there and support him and others who we know and have grown to love. The trick is to be real to them and yourself. It's not easy and the answers aren't readily to hand but it's a walk well worth taking!

I'll let W.F. Deedes have the last word:

"..perhaps my unease with Geldof, Tinkerbell and Jimmny Cricket and all the other public figures who step out of private jets to read their anti-poverty statements is based on the creeping suspicion that they don't have the faintest idea what they're talking about.

Yes, they've been to Africa, and they've seen poverty, stepped in it, and scraped it off their Nikes. But have they understood it? How can they, when the European Union defines poverty as living on 60% of the average income of one's country? What kind of coked-up hyper-bourgeois Eurotrash thinks that earning [Rand]16 000 a month -60% of the average income of Liechtenstein- has anything in common with being poverty-stricken? Do Swiss who earn R10 200 a month loll hopelessly in tent camps, rationing their Riesling and Camembert, as they ponder the hell of living below Switzerland's EU-defined poverty line? These people really need to get out more."[1]

[1] Eaton, T. 2005. Mail & Guardian 17.06.05 p19


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