Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What would Americans have to experience to identify with the world's poverty?

This past week, I read something that really challenged me! It took me on a journey of what Americans would have to experience to identify with the world's poverty. Before you read this, I'm not suggesting that everyone get rid of everything they own. What I do hope happens is that we get a shocking perspective of the plight of the poor in the world and that many of us weigh the responsibility of how we can develop lives of generosity that can help change the world. 

There are plenty of resources available to change the world. As I write, tonight is Halloween. Did you know that in 2015 total spending on Halloween was $6.9 billion, and the average American would spend $74 on decorations, candy, costumes and more? Hmm. Again, I'm not trying to ruin your fun, but let's take a look at something intriguing. 

To help us imagine what poverty means, a prominent economist itemized the “luxuries” we would have to abandon if we were to adopt the lifestyle of our 1.2 billion neighbors who live in desperate poverty. These stats are a little old, but you will get the idea.

We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television set, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his “wardrobe” his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards . . . The box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar, and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be hastily rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions, and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next, we take away the house. The family can move to the toolshed . . .
Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books—not that they are missed since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown, we will allow one radio . . .”

“Now government services must go. No more postman, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms . . . There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided that the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely . . .

Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of $5.00. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94, which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.”

It is difficult to obtain precise statistics, but the World Bank estimates that 1.2 billion people live in that kind of grinding poverty—trying to survive on one dollar or less a day. In addition to these 1.2 billion who live in almost absolute poverty, another 1.6 billion are very poor, living on two dollars or less a day. That means just a little less than half of the world’s people (2.8 billion) try to survive on two dollars a day or less.

Hunger and starvation stalk our world. Famine and disease are alive and well on planet Earth. Thirty thousand children die every day of hunger and preventable diseases. Thirteen million people die every year from infectious and parasitic diseases we know how to prevent.

As I write this, I'll be on my way this Thursday to Haiti to take part in a Cholera reduction study using Sawyer water filters. It will be my first time in Haiti. What will I see? What will I feel? What will I learn? Please join me on that journey as I share it with you. And if you dare, please join me on the journey towards a generosity that will change the world.

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