Myth: $2 a day

Extreme Poverty is defined as anyone living on less than about $2 a day. We still have hundreds of millions of people in that situation which is horrific and no one should ever have to go through it.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I would try to calculate what I could with $2 per day to see if there is a way that I could survive. Surely you can make anything work, if you budget well enough, were frugal with spending, survival would be possible. Extreme poverty can’t be that difficult. Can it?

Not only is that a harsh way to look at it, but my thinking also had a fundamental flaw. One of the most difficult aspects of life for those living in extreme poverty is the unpredictable manner in which they earn an income. Whilst in Australia, most of us know what our next pay check is going to be, when it will arrive in our bank account and how we can access it. In places like India for example, many work in unregulated areas and do so irregularly. They may earn $20 on day ten which averages out to $2 a day. Meaning that they don’t literally receive $2 every single day. It’s not neat and tidy and it makes budgeting and increasing financial security impossible.

There are many organisations, including Opportunity International, who are fighting against this and creating a way for people to earn a regular income to increase their financial security, making life just that little bit easier.

Buzzwords – Transformation

When you work in an industry for a while there are usually a number of words or phrases that become the flavour of the month or year or decade. Almost cliché like.

In an office environment I would hear ‘going forward’ regularly, or ‘synergy’ or ‘touch base’, ‘circle back’, ‘think outside the square’, ‘reinvent the wheel’…I could go on. Don’t get me started on the acronyms. Oh yes, the acronyms, mostly the TLA’s (three letter acronyms, there is COB (Close of Business), ROI (Return on Investment) FTE (Full Time Employee), ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival – should that not be ETOA?) or my favourite BAU (Business As Usual).

One word that gets overused and under appreciated is transformation. It sounds great but doesn’t necessarily carry with it specific meaning, thus it has become a fancy word that people use when are talking about change. But it’s much more than that.

From an International Development perspective, we talk about transformation in the lives of those living in poverty and it is helpful to define what that actually is. It is more than just change or transition, it is taking something and creating into something completely different.

Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, the goal of development is to transform the lives of those living in poverty, which can bring sickness, hopelessness, and disempowerment, into lives that are highlighted by nutrition and health, a sense of hope and a future, and an empowerment to make decisions of their own behalf.

Transformation is a complete change into something new. Not just a better version of what was, but a brand new thing that didn’t exist before.

Now that’s a lofty goal, and one worth striving for.

Impact

Some things can be measured easily. When there are numerical values involved it is simple to compare. Like the size of your bank balance today compared to last week, you can tell the difference just by looking at it.

But measuring someone’s personal growth for example, when the indicators are not as tangible, and it requires some sort of gut feel, can be a little difficult.

It’s the same situation when we measure people’s journey out of poverty. Opportunity International provides small loans to mothers living in poverty and we measure the impact that has on the women and their family over time. The amount of money they earn is one indicator that can show they are leaving poverty behind, but there are so many other elements, like nutrition, sanitation, education, access to information and how hopeful they feel.

Some of this can be measured numerically, and some can’t. Not all elements improve at the same rate or at the same time, so how do you measure the impact?

Often it comes down to the individual. When they recognise they have the ability to make decisions on their own behalf, decisions that can change the lives of them and their families, this shows a level of empowerment which usually means they other elements are improving as well.

People are complex and cannot be measured by numerical values alone to discover what growth is happening.

How are you empowering those around you?

World’s Greatest Resource

What do you consider to be the worlds greatest resource. There is much debate about the value of certain items – would it be oil, gold, iron ore, lithium perhaps, what about water, air and sunshine? Ice cream? All seem to be pretty important, some more than others but which is the greatest resource available to us?

I don’t think it’s any of these. For me, it has to be people. We are told that there are now nearly 8 billion people on the planet. That is almost 8 billion resources, but more than that, individuals that carry with them such great value and incredible capacity. With 10% of the global population still living in extreme poverty then that is at least 10% that are not being able to reach their full, God given potential. When that happens, not only do the individuals miss out, but the rest of the world misses out on their creativity, ideas and ingenuity.

There is a question that haunts me.

“What if the cure to cancer was trapped in the mind of a child who hasn’t received an education yet?”

To me that talks about potential, of what is possible yet not accessible because not everyone is able to make their contribution. The sad thing is that there is so much that we can do to facilitate that and it starts with small actions. Little things that will go a long way to empowering those living in poverty.

We have some difficult issues as a world, but if we could get the most out of every person, I have no doubt we could overcome all of them.

Rights for all, except…

Written by Kelsie De Haan, Political Intern, Opportunity International Australia

Language is one of the most powerful tools that we can employ. Words have the power to build people up or to tear them down. They can be liberating, oppressive or bring about much needed change. That is why the discourse surrounding refugees and asylum seekers here in Australia is such a powerful one. This conversation upholds systems which abuse human rights and oppresses a vulnerable group of people and it needs to be recognised as such.

“Illegal immigrants”, “queue jumpers”, “boat people” and “potential terrorists” are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe asylum seekers and refugees. These terms have become interchangeable without anyone stopping to think about what they actually mean. They are used to portray this group of people as an enemy, an inconvenience and a threat. They are loaded with negative connotations, which can be used to manipulate the Australian public to hold particular prejudices. If we think of asylum seekers and refugees as law-breakers it dehumanises them and can shut off any compassion we would otherwise feel. It also allows those in power to deny the responsibility they have to uphold the rights of those seeking asylum in Australia. Instead, asylum seekers and refugees are positioned as a threat to Australian sovereignty and framed as a political issue not a humanitarian one.

The most blatant lie we are fed is that seeking asylum is illegal – it isn’t. Rather it is a basic human right outlined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The international community has time after time condemned Australian asylum seeker policy, deeming it an abuse of this basic human right, specifically the practices of indefinite mandatory detention, children in detention and the separation of families in detention. In fact, in 2012 Australia was found guilty of 143 violations of international law regarding their treatment of refugees. Further, Australia’s current approach costs $400,000 per-refugee, per-year and costs for running the offshore detention program between 2013 and 2016 cost $9.6 billion. We spend horrendous amounts on an oppressive and unjust system that violates human rights rather than using these funds wisely to ensure the protection of this vulnerable group.

But, rather than empathising and caring for refugees and asylum seekers who have had to flee their homes, we call them illegal and imprison them indefinitely. We treat them as criminals rather than victims and instead of protecting them, we physically and mentally abuse them.

How did we let it come to this? We underestimated the power of words. Dehumanising and threatening language is used to place these people outside of our scope of justice.  Asylum seekers and refugees have been placed outside of our moral boundaries, meaning we have been influenced to believe that fairness and justice don’t apply to them. We have been taught not to care.

With over 22.5 million refugees in the world, fleeing from war, persecution and violence, we need to expand our scope of justice again to include them. We need to care. Every day, 28,300 people are forced to flee their homes, running from war and persecution into systems of oppression and injustice. The refugee and asylum seeker threat is not to our national sovereignty, but the threat is to their wellbeing. Change is needed to ensure the safety and protection of these people; we need to ensure our government policy upholds the rights of this vulnerable group.

 

 

 

 

I Know My Rights

Written by Kelsie De Haan, Opportunity International Australia Political Intern

Everyone should have access to the most basic of rights. That much we can all agree upon and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights backs me up on that on. It outlines what people are entitled to simply by being born human. It also outlines the responsibility the state has to uphold the rights of their citizens and provides a guideline to moral and ethical behaviour.

In 2005, a report was released outlining the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) which demonstrates how rights and responsibility play out at a global level. One of the key components of this is the state’s right to sovereignty which is forfeited if they do not uphold their responsibilities to their citizens. For example, to protect them from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It doesn’t stop there. Those who uphold the first responsibility are then given the added responsibility to help other states uphold it. Again, if they fail to prevent these atrocities or even perpetuate them, the international community assumes the responsibility to protect through intervention.

The right to sovereignty carries enormous responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of the citizens and we rightly expect this from our leaders. We readily criticise leaders who perpetrate human rights abuses and citizens pressure their own governments to take up the responsibility to intervene. For states to have the right to self-determination and self-government, first they must demonstrate their fulfilment of responsibility to promoting peace, protecting citizens and caring for the environment.

Somehow, things seem a little different at an individual level. The concept of responsibility tied to rights is often overlooked. We tend to be so quick to declare our rights and then dismiss our responsibilities. We expect the right to welfare as a citizen but we don’t like the responsibility of paying taxes – some even avoid paying tax and therefore impede on another’s right to receive adequate welfare. We love that we have the right to free speech, but are quick to shoot down other opinions that are different from ours – even attempting to silence through intimidation and violence. We revel in the right we have to live in freedom and safety but bemoan a speeding fine we receive when we put the safety of others at risk.

When we claim our individual rights without considering our responsibilities to those around us, it becomes very dangerous. It can lead to a place where the responsibility to respect another’s rights and protect their freedoms is overshadowed by the idea of ‘my rights over your rights’. Or in other words, ‘me first, you are not as important’. When this rhetoric is used, conflicting rights become the norm and solutions become less clear. It’s complicated. We see this daily in Australia where an individual’s right to seek asylum is in direct conflict with a state’s right to sovereign borders, or the right to free speech versus the right to live free of fear and hate speech, and even the pro-choice versus pro-life debate as it reflects the conflicting rights of a mother and her unborn child.

How do we justify privileging one person’s rights over another? It sounds awful when it gets stated like that, but we do it every day. I’m sure we would like to think that the ‘good guy’ always wins, but unfortunately it is more often the person with the most power who has their rights recognised and prioritised. When the responsibility to consider the needs of others is removed from the equation, conflicting rights are resolved through oppression of the disadvantaged by those in power. History shows us that oppression of a minority and the suppression of their rights appears to be the default setting, changing only when someone in a position of power draws attention to the injustice and allows an oppressed voice to be heard.

If being powerful is the prerequisite to exercising rights, this leaves women and children in a very vulnerable position. Fortunately, there are organisations like Opportunity International Australia and others whose sole purpose is to uphold their rights and empower them to a life free from injustice and poverty.  Yet for many other minorities, oppression and silencing of rights is a reality they face every day as a result of our reluctance to accept responsibility – responsibility to care for others, to make sacrifices for those in need, to listen to others and to simply be a responsible global citizen.

So, know your rights. Ensure that you have access to them. Make a stand for them. But don’t stop there. Know the responsibilities that you have because of your rights. Ensure others have access to their rights (no matter who they are or if you agree with all of their opinions), and make a stand for them. Use your rights to uphold those of others, not to oppress them.

Numbers Are Important.

I love a good story. If I can lose myself in and engage with someone’s journey, that speaks powerfully to me. But, in saying that, often we can underestimate the numbers behind each individual story.

For example, our recent history of the fight against poverty.

In 1970, we are told that there were 60,000 children under the age of 5, around the world, who died every single day, due to basic illness, malnutrition and other easily curable diseases. 60,000. It is unimaginable and heartbreaking; how could such a reality exist? I’m so grateful that at the time, people were motivated to act, and join those who were already taking action.

Fast forward 20 years to 1990, the figure was closer to 33,000 a day.

Another 20 years on, in 2010, it was down to 22,000.

Today that number is around 16,000 per day. Still unimaginable and heartbreaking, but it is a phenomenal improvement. Especially when you take into consideration the population explosion.

Globally, the population was at 3.6 billion people in 1970, which grew to 5.3 billion in 1990 and then 7.3 billion in 2015. The growth over the last 45 years has skyrocketed but the number of children under the age of 5 who are dying every single day has plummeted.

In other terms, it looks like this, 10% of the global population currently live in extreme poverty. 45 years ago it was over 60%, 12 years ago, it was 21% of the global population in extreme poverty. Generosity is winning.

We are making a difference. We are getting somewhere. I didn’t wake up this morning and discover poverty, as a world we have been fighting it for decades, centuries. We still have a way to go but we are in a much better place than we were – we just need to keep going.

As we get closer to the end of financial year, there has never been a better time to fight the injustice of poverty than right now. Opportunity International Australia provides mothers in India, Indonesia and the Philippines with small loans to build  businesses, put food on the table, send their kids to school, and work their way out of poverty. Be part of a hand up. A gift as small as $70 can be life-changing.

Tension

How do we function as people after seeing some of the things this world has to offer? Many have seen such devastation and experienced trauma beyond what can be articulated. For some it is a daily experience, for others it is an occasional glimpse which jolts the brain for a while.

In relation to poverty, we all know it exists but when we are not confronted with it regularly it is so far removed from our daily life that it has little to no impact on our thought process. If you have ever travelled to a developing country and been exposed to those living in extreme poverty, or spent time with the homeless in Australia, then no doubt you will be struck by the contradiction that we live in each day. I recently spent some time in the Philippines and I was confronted by the gut-wrenching conditions that people find themselves in. I walked through a few slums and something within me disconnected. For me to continue to function in that moment, surrounded by one of the things that I hate most, I held my breath and kept walking, lest I stop and become so overwhelmed by the devastation that I emotionally journey to a place that I can’t make it back from. That was my coping mechanism; I’m not proud of it but that’s what happened.

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In retrospect one of the hardest things to comprehend was this…

Poverty begets poverty. It sounds strange but it’s true. One of the main causes of poverty is…wait for it, poverty. If you are poor and don’t have enough food to eat today, it is most likely that tomorrow you will be poor and won’t have enough food to eat. Poverty is perpetually keeping people from working their way out of poverty.

It’s not just physical symptoms either. Poverty removes any sense of self-worth, any idea of what could be possible if the situation changed, any hope and dreams of what life could be like. It is the cruellest of task masters which only allows you to focus on survival for today, takes you hostage and keeps you captive in your current reality. How can you hope if your experience has never given you anything to hope for? How can you dream if you have never been taught to?

This is what life looks like for 767 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Can you imagine what could happen if all of these people were empowered to reach their full potential. We have all witnessed the force of one or two people who are thriving and creating an amazing life for themselves and others around them. Imagine that multiplied by 767 million.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would all recognise that any success that we have achieved in life has only come about because someone invested in us and allowed us to believe that we could. Be it a parent, relative, teacher, peer, etc. For many it would most likely be more than one person, in fact a number of people at different times. Not to mention the head start of receiving nutrition, education and an opportunity for recreation. All of this adds up to a great head start, which is what we can offer to those living in poverty.

Poverty begets poverty, unless a hand up is given.

You Can Never Be Too Poor…

Times are tough. This is always going to be true for someone, somewhere in the world. Even if the global markets were growing at record rates, things would be hard for some sections of the community. If my one term of Economics at University taught me anything, it’s that growth in one area usually means that other areas of the economy may be struggling. It’s a delicate balance but when things are tough we can hope that another part of the market will expand.

When times are financially tight, we adjust our budgets and often the money that we have allocated for giving is repurposed. If the Federal Government is any example, then you can hardly blame people for doing this (Australia now gives less in Foreign Aid than in any time through the 60 years that Australia has been supplying aid). Let us also not forget that, ranked according to Gross Domestic Product per capita, Australia is the 15th wealthiest nation in the world. Not bad for 24 million people floating on an isolated island in the Southern Hemisphere. Even if we weren’t in the top 20 wealthy nations, we can always find room to give.

Don’t get me wrong, there is wisdom in handling our money well but being generous is a core part of being financially wise. There is a World Giving Index which measures the generosity of each country based on an average score of the amount of people who have helped a stranger, donated money and volunteered some time in the last month. For the third year running, the most generous country in the world is Myanmar. I know, I was surprised too. Sure, the US, Australia and New Zealand make out the rest of the top 4 but Sri Lanka is number 5. Also, the most generous country when it comes to helping a stranger is Iraq. Think about that for a while. If you could nominate of a country that might possibly have an excuse for not trusting a stranger enough to help them out, surely Iraq would be at the top of that list. But no, 81% of Iraqis had helped a stranger in the last 30 days. You don’t need to have all the money in the world to be generous.

Giving is a part of life. Generosity is a life philosophy. What I have learnt from those living in some of the poorest parts of the world is that you can never be too poor to be generous. The amount of money you earn does not shape how generous you are, your mindset does.

You can start being generous now.

 

Generosity Gym

The idea of a fresh start is appealing. A clean slate from which we can start again to create the life that that we want.

In theory that is what the new year brings to us every December 31. As part of that process of renewal, I am sure that ‘join a gym’ is on the list of many people thinking about what a healthy lifestyle looks like for them. I have known many people who joined a gym, signed up to fitness classes or purchased a bike/treadmill/weights with the greatest of intentions. For some it has worked, but for the majority it has been less than successful and they are left questioning their wisdom and financial outlay. Perhaps you have been there yourself and that is something you remember as you think about what can be different in 2017.

Now it can be easy to use these experiences to justify not trying for any change in 2017, saving yourself money and time, but let me encourage you to still join the gym. It’s a new kind, which doesn’t require you to learn how to use fancy equipment, stand next to super fit and healthy people or feel any guilt whatsoever. I call it the Generosity Gym (patent pending…may need a catchier name) – a place where you train yourself through giving. There is such a thing as a ‘giving muscle’ and just the same as any other muscle, if don’t use it, you lose it. The benefits are numerous, including feeling good about yourself and your place in the world and making the world a better place for others. Working out your giving muscle actually makes life better.

Instead of paying out large sums of money for a membership to a corporation that you will most likely have to cancel anyway, you can pay that money to an organisation that is changing the lives of mothers living in poverty, by empowering them through a small loan. What better way to start the new year than by using what you have to reach out beyond yourself for the benefit of others.

It doesn’t take much either, $70 can provide 1 loan for a mother living in poverty in India, Indonesia or the Philippines. This will enable her to start a business, put food on the table and send her children to school. The average price of gym memberships in Australia is $65 a month, so you could potentially provide a loan every month and with a repayment rate of 98% the impact is ongoing.

If you are still keen to join the gym and are convinced that you can see it through, you’ll be happy to know that you can look after your body and give generously at the same time.

Happy New Year!