How Manly Men Can Fight Poverty

by Brett on October 14, 2008 · 23 comments

in Money & Career

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 naïve 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.

How to Kick Poverty’s Ass

How can we as men help kick poverty’s ass? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Become a mentor. You don’t need to go halfway across the world to fight poverty. Opportunities exist right in your backyard. Become a mentor to a disadvantaged young person in your community. Young people are stuck in a cycle of poverty. Their parents are poor, and thus often don’t know how to motivate their kids to seek higher education and a better life for themselves. And the kids then follow their parents’ example, have their own kids, and raise them the same way. By becoming someone’s mentor, you can step in and break that cycle. You can provide the guidance and counsel that they may not get at home or from their friends. You can help them develop the skills that will enable them to become self-sufficient. Keep in mind that being a mentor is a long term commitment. Expect to be in it to win it for months or even years. The investment will be well worth it for the person and for you. Check out Big Brothers or your local community center. Or look for a way to volunteer in your area’s schools.

2. Offer a free class to impoverished people. It’s not the politically correct thing to say, but it is oftentimes the lifestyle of impoverished people that keeps them poor. In many cases, they lack basic life skills that we often take for granted. Things like showing up to appointments on time, basic grooming, and interpersonal skills might be lost on them. Most communities and states have agencies that teach people these skills. Many are hurting for teachers. Make a call and volunteer some time.

3. Donate a suit. The other day, I heard on the radio about an organization that collects gently used suits for impoverished men to wear at a job interview. I think that’s a damn good idea. Check out The Men’s Warehouse Suit Drive and see how you can donate your old suit to help a fellow man.

4. Join Americorps. Have you recently graduated from college and find yourself drifting, unsure of what you want to do next? Consider joining Americorps. Americorps is one of the best kept secrets in the country. Americorps is like a domestic Peace Corps in which men and women dedicate themselves to a year of full-time service (although there are some part-time opportunities as well). Americorps is an umbrella for thousands of different programs, from those that tutor elementary students to those that work with the elderly. After the very me-centered time of college, Americorps will give you a chance to completely dedicate yourself to improving the lives of other people.

5. Join an international relief organization. If you’re wanting to help battle poverty on an international level, join up with an international relief organization. You’ll have the chance to get on the ground and help people directly. You could be involved with classes that teach water purification, sanitation, and farming. Or you could instruct people on how to run a business. Stuff that will help individuals become self sufficient and on the road to beating poverty. Many churches have international relief programs. If you’re not a church person, check out Peace Corps or UNICEF.

6. Donate to a micro loan. Studies have shown that just giving countries money doesn’t do anything to alleviate poverty. The money gets lost through graft and the inefficiency of bureaucracies. Why not put the money directly in the hands of the people you’re trying to help so they can help themselves? Micro loans do just that. Your $50 or $100 loan can help some man in Africa start their own business. You’ll be giving the help a person needs to become self-sufficient.

Now it’s your turn. What manly actions can we take to help alleviate poverty? Drop a line in the comment box and add to the conversation. We look forward to reading your comments

And make sure to check out the Blog Action Day site to see what other blogs have to say about poverty.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lewis October 14, 2008 at 8:43 pm

This is perhaps one of the most important posts I have read on this site yet. It had some nice PT Bauer qualities to it.

2 Easton Ellsworth October 14, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Brett and Kate, this is wonderful. Thank you.

You have two number 4′s in your list – just doublecheck it. But the points are all great!

We hope manly men and everyone else get out and do something about poverty – not just today, but from now on.

3 Adrian October 14, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Buy fair trade products. The extra dollar they cost goes into building self-sustaining communitys in third world countries. Also, most are organic, which is good for the environment, and your health.

4 Guy October 15, 2008 at 4:17 am

Nice, but you do know that is for women’s suits only. I do know that the Men’s Warehouse does a similar service for men’s suits…

5 Granata October 15, 2008 at 5:24 am

Great post. Your TJ story is compelling and I enjoyed reading more about your trip. My wife and I do the micro loan thing with I really dig the concept of helping people start their own businesses. Yeah it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to give, but I hope the people programs like these help get the same kind of thrill when starting out that I do when I start a new project.

6 Brian Buck October 15, 2008 at 6:52 am

Great post. I wrote a similar piece for blog action day (but yours is more eloquant!). I think the mentorship is key to helping and teaching a class builds skill and hope. Thanks for all the great work on this site!

7 Peter H. October 15, 2008 at 1:29 pm

I looked at Dress for Success, and it is indeed only for women. I obviously have only men’s suits, and I think it’s a fantastic idea to donate them. Can someone there at AoM do some “finger work” and find us a place to donate our man-suits? Thanks.

8 Bo Pigpusher October 15, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Nice post.

Hey Brett: I don’t quite get you guys on this site. If you spent 2 years on a missionary trip that must mean you’re Mormons. But you throw around words like “ass” and “damn” with liberality, which isn’t very LDS of you. So what it is? Are you guys Mormons just trying to be cool or what?

9 Brett_B October 15, 2008 at 1:36 pm


I’m a mormon, and I wouldn’t think twice about calling you an ass. Just kidding.

But seriously, lighten up. Mormons are as diverse as human kind. We each exercise our faith in our own unique way, and I think the Service Brett & Kate are talking about here is far more important than a mild profanity here or there.

10 Will October 15, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Great article. When you get to know people who are disadvantaged, you realize they’re not so different from ourselves. This article provides some great ideas, and there are so many more ways to get involved. Volunteer a night at a shelter, and build a relationships with someone. Its not just the kids who need mentors, everyone needs someone in their life who cares and gives them a reason to improve. Look into legal support groups that help out the disadvantaged, the poor are often preyed upon. Donate to local food banks and Goodwill (remember shoes and belts too). Keep packs of crackers or something in your car to offer those who ask for money. Get your friends involved!

11 Brett McKay October 15, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Hey everyone- It’s been brought to my attention that Dress for Success is only for ladies. I guess my research was shoddy. I read somewhere that they do men’s suits as well.

Anyways, Men’s Warehouse is running a suit drive during the month of October. Bring your gently used suits at any location. Here’s a link for more info:

12 Tim October 15, 2008 at 2:11 pm

I’m glad to see Art of Manliness addressing the issue of poverty. So often men see helping others as sissy, but what could be more manly than helping others develop a sense of pride for themselves by being freed from the chains of poverty. I encourage all men to take a stand and find how you can help your neighbors and those around the world.

13 Snead October 15, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Great job. Thanks for posting.

14 Sherry October 15, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I really appreciate the practicality of this post. A lot of people want to help, but want to make sure it’s real help & not merely throwing money at the problem. World Vision is an organization that helps people become self-sufficient. It’s also easy to get your children involved in the excitement of truly helping people in need with the WV Gift Catalog.

15 justin October 15, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Now social concerns has added to the quality of this blog.

I volunteer for Gawad Kalinga, which basically ascribes to the same philosophy to help poor in the Philippines. We build communities (not just physical villages) but we don’t build it FOR those in need, we build it WITH them. There’s an essential difference between shelling out tons of material help to all the poor in the world and actually being with them, sharing your lives, giving love and care to people who are essentially ignored.

And the crazy thing is that the philosophy of “giving care” is what’s transforming a “third world” nation into something top notch.

When I was in the Philippines for 6 months volunteering I got to do some “manly” things I reckon, from learning how to answer nature’s call without clean water and toilet paper, how to mix cement with a shovel, how to refuse drinks at a beach party in 7am with “toughies,” endure mortifying living conditions, and such. But I did it because I loved the people I tried to help, and the trite irony of it all is that working with “the poor” actually lets them enrich our lives.

16 Noebie October 16, 2008 at 6:41 am

really great post – i like the practical suggestions!

17 Santa October 16, 2008 at 8:07 am

This is so very true. It reminds me of the old proverb that says, “give a man a fish and you’ll have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

18 Feli Galker October 17, 2008 at 1:54 am

“Join an international relief organization” – In Israel LIONS clubs are not (as in many other countries) for extra wealthy people. Through them it is possible to contribute and help the poor in many ways. Yet, while reporting the activities to the International Lions Clubs organization ( there is no “war against poverty” item to check. Yes there is a “homeless” item. But there are many who sleep under a roof yet are in desperate need of help, comodities, etc
If any of you readers is involved with this organization, this is a fact to improve.

19 Zulu October 23, 2008 at 4:21 pm

A great way to help in this matter is to join and participate in philanthropic organizations.
A manliness organization that has stood the test of time is the Freemasons; they have come to the relief of many throughout the centuries.
Many of our founding fathers, including George Washington, were masons who felt that is every man’s duty to improve the world we live in through brotherly love, relief & truth.
Most of your Granddads were masons as well as their fathers and so on.
I am a mason and have come to the aid of many through the efforts of my lodge including job training, food, shelter, medical aid, child and senior care and a host of other charitable acts.
Becoming a mason is no big mystery or cult as the media would have you believe; all you have to do is Google search ‘Masonic lodge’ in your town and give them a call.
For those of you worried about Masonry as a religion, it is not.
Masons do believe in freedom of religion and that every man has the right to choose how he will worship in his own way.
My lodge consists of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and a wide variety of men who have come together in peace for one common purpose; to aid and assist those in distress.
Check out the Masons; you’ll be surprised how much they have done to help others.

A list of some great men who were/are Masons…you’ll be in good company!
Jean Henri Dunant – Founder of the Red Cross
Sir Alexander Fleming -Inventor of Penicillin
Dr. Charles Mayo & Dr. William Mayo – Founders of the Mayo Clinic
James Smithson – Founder of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
George Washington
Theodore Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Benjamin Franklin
John Hancock
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin
Henry Ford
Nelson Mandela
David ‘Davy’ Crockett
Neil Armstrong
Lewis and Clark
Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong
William “Count” Basie
Nat “King” Cole
Burl Ives
Francis Scott Key
Glenn Miller
Mel Blanc
Cecil B. DeMille
John “The Duke” Wayne
Bob Hope
Ty Cobb
Sugar Ray Robinson
Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain)
William Shakespeare
Booker T. Washington

20 Steve Grossman October 23, 2008 at 5:33 pm

You forgot one. Use your abilities to create wealth and/or jobs.

21 ogxxxku November 15, 2008 at 3:42 am

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22 Michael A. January 7, 2010 at 8:31 pm

This is one of the better entries I have read on your blog, which I find outstanding, overall.

One very practical, but commitment intensive way to break the poverty cycle is to adopt a child from foster care. While international adoption has become very popular, most communities have orphans and foster kids who, as they get older, have little hope of experiencing what most of us take for granted: They have no family. Most children who are in the foster system permanently will not be adopted at all if they have not been by the age of eight. This is particularly true of boys. What happens to these young men? Predictably, most will end up incarcerated, dead, or repeating the cycle with kids of their own winding up in the system.

My wife and I adopted a sibling group from foster care, and while our experience since has been exhausting and frustrating at times, the rewards of watching kids who spent their early years on the street grow into outstanding human beings (and members of a family) more than compensate for any frustration.

23 Nick S. January 11, 2010 at 9:05 am

If you are interested in microloans to third world countries you should check out:

During my last semester of classes one of my professors assigned us the website to create an ad campaign for and subsequently raise money for Kiva. It’s quick to sign up and get started. It really struck a chord with me and I can easily reccommend it.

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