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 naÃ¯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.
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.