Review of Chapter 11, “Why Doesn’t Poverty Just Go Away?”
by Henry Zonio
After hearing the passion Dr. Stafford has for putting children first and the experiences growing up which contributed to that passion, Stafford asks the question too many of us in our comfortable homes and offices sitting in our comfortable chairs with our full stomachs want to ask but are too embarrassed to: “Why Doesn’t Poverty Just Go Away?”
Stafford addresses the six issues he sees as the major contributors to poverty and why solving the problem of poverty isn’t simply an issue of throwing money at it. He uses the metaphor of a wagon wheel where the center or hub of the wheel is the darkness of poverty and the outer rim is where your needs are being met. (Stafford makes issue here that he isn’t talking about affluence. This outer rim is where people are surviving.) Then he points to six spokes in the wheel which represent those things which, if intact, keep people out of the dark center of poverty:
It takes money to provide needed food, housing, medicine, education, etc. to keep people out of poverty. It also takes people being able to provide an income for themselves and their families.
There are many children all over the world who die of diseases that most of us would take care of with a simple trip to the family doctor and a prescription that is readily available at one of the many local pharmacies. Stafford shares that in the tiny country island of Haiti, so many children die before the age of five years old that most families don’t give their child a name until that child passes that age.
A lack of education keeps people from being able to take advantage of opportunities to advance themselves beyond trying to survive. Lack of education also can be dangerous. Stafford tells the story of how mothers inadvertently contribute to their children dying from dehydration because they believe that diarrhea is caused by too much water in the system and withhold water from their children. Providing education goes a long way in helping people out of poverty.
Stafford states that most of the Western world downplays this spoke in the poverty wheel. They think that caring for the environment has nothing to do with poverty. Stafford holds that issues like deforestation and polluting of water supplies disrupts local economies pushing people into a spiral that perpetuates poverty.
Social or Sociopolitical
Unless there are social constructs to help keep people out of poverty, then all the money and aid in the world will never get to the people who really need it. Corrupt governments need to be held accountable for how they care for their people.
This, Stafford states (and I think most of us would agree), is the most crucial spoke in the poverty wheel. Unless people see themselves as valuable and able to make a contribution in the world and see others as valuable then they will never strive to make the necessary changes needed to get out of poverty or help others out of poverty.
“We do not have the option of ignoring poverty. We are called to be Christ’s hands, Christ’s feet, and Christ’s voice. Even a simple cup of cold water given in his name, he said, is like a gift given directly to him. Who would skip that opportunity?”
While all of the spokes need to be addressed at the same time, Stafford spends the bulk of the chapter stressing that addressing the spiritual aspect of poverty cannot be glossed over or seen as peripheral. He has seen the Enemy perpetuate a sense of fatalism amongst those in poverty all over the world. Until people see themselves as valuable in the eyes of an loving Creator and able to grow beyond their circumstances, they will remain in poverty and will not be able to use money, health, education, better environment or better government to get beyond it.
This was a great chapter outlining the complexity of solving the poverty problem. It also reinforces that poverty is a problem that is solvable one person and one community at a time. After reading this chapter you have a better sense and appreciation for those who live in poverty and the challenge they have to overcome it.
As a sidenote… I officially hate this book. By “hate” I mean that this chapter made me cry. If you know me, you aren’t surprised. Stafford ends this chapter with a story about the difference one person can make in the life of someone in poverty. He tells the story of an older English schoolteacher who sponsored a boy in Kenya. From his letters to her, she could tell that he needed encouragement. His first letter to her was about how unattractive he felt himself to be. She answered by stating that she had his picture on her desk and thought he was handsome. He was younger than eight. She kept sending him encouraging notes about his academic ability and his physical abilities. When he found out he was good at running, she wrote encouraging him to be the best runner God created him to be. By 1988, this boy had grown and been selected to be a part of the Kenyan Olympic team. He won silver in his event that year. On his way home, he had a layover in London and made a point to visit the now retired schoolteacher. In spite of the objections of the schoolteacher, he gave his medal to her. Now, Stafford states that not all children will grow to win an Olympic medal but when all the spokes of the poverty wheel are addressed by caring people, children can grow up to beat the cycle of poverty and make a difference in their world.
Um, I have to go now… I seem to have gotten something in my eyes…