This is an excerpt from my essay Poverty: The Effects and a Moral Obligation to Help Others. You can find the downloadable PDF with complete citations in this post.
The first time I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, I was seventeen years old. I went in with very few expectations and came out a completely changed person. I was deeply moved by the terrible conditions I witnessed, the people who lived there, and the truth about poverty that I learned. I became very emotional from the time our van left to take us on our five hour journey back to the airport. Two trips and three years later, I continue to feel this way. The ignorant reality that I had once lived in no longer existed. I was unsure of many things, but of one thing I was positive: I have to make a difference.
In my mind, becoming aware of the terrible things that poverty was doing to people in quiet corners of the world, especially ones that I had quickly grown to love so much, came with the responsibility to do something about it. The first task on my agenda was to spread the responsibility to others by spreading the awareness of what was happening to others. It is hard to hold people accountable for what they do not know. I knew that being one high school student, I was not going to end world hunger on my own or eradicate every trace of poverty, but I knew that if I could change the lives of just a few people, it would be a start on the right track. There is no single solution to poverty, as it is a multifaceted issue. Developing multiple solutions to this large issue is the best plan of action. To effectively solve issues related to poverty, one must first decide which issue he or she wants to attack and whether he plans to do so via an established organization or create a new organization.
My personal experience as a missionary in the Dominican Republic has taught me that the donation of time is nearly as important as the donation of money when it comes to mitigating or eradicating the effects of poverty. Of course, monetary and other material donations are essential to the operation of many of the solutions that will be presented, but the donation of one’s time is necessary to educate others and organize the efforts towards change. Sometimes, nurturing, emotional support, guidance, and leadership are needed more than any material objects.
Two scenarios that I have experienced in mission work that represent both scenarios are these: the missionaries from the group divide their time between an orphanage and a daycare (for lack of better names of these institutes). The orphanage has roughly 30 infants who live in the facility and about five employees per shift who are responsible for these children. The preschool has over 100 young children in attendance and about a dozen excellent staff members and local student volunteers. Infants in the orphanage, who do not have a mother and father to go home to, need volunteers to donate their time to nurture them and show them love. The preschool, on the other hand, has many people who provide their time, but are typically in need of school supplies or money to cover operating costs. When establishing an organization such as these ones, it is important to assess which resource, time or material donations, will be more important to the operations to ensure that it will be able to stay afloat and make a difference. If working with an established organization, it is important to consider which resource one is able to contribute: time or money.
After identifying the issue to solve, whether it be related to hunger, lack of education, unclean water, or any other issue previously presented, it is important to evaluate and create a plan of action to carry out the goal. Although donating to people in the community will be a very important first step, it is difficult to make a long-term difference with donations alone. At some point, the people of the community must be taught how to provide for themselves. Setting up a system that includes some form of education or training is essential. For example, if hunger is the targeted issue, the most effective plan of action may be teaching the members of the community about different sectors of agriculture, such as farming and husbandry, and only providing them with start up materials, rather than importing food on a monthly basis.
In this sort of model, it is vital to stress the importance to the people of their learning to help themselves rather than relying on outside sources to get by. Creating some sort of local business or institution would have the similar effect. Creating sister schools and scholarships that require students to give back by donating their time to the lower school is an effective way to push towards prosperity. This not only promotes education, but promotes a strong work ethic, as students must work for their scholarship rather than just be given it at no cost. My personal experience with secondary school aged students in the Dominican Republic has taught me that teenagers are more likely to stay on a path towards a successful future, more likely to take their education seriously, and were less likely to engage in risky behavior when required to do volunteer hours in order to maintain their scholarships and to continue receiving the benefits of being involved with mission based organization. Mandating the recipients to earn their benefits by remaining involved in the positive system helps to keep the system growing and operating.
Water, food, and shelter are some of the most basic resources that humans need to survive. Although the Earth Charter says that humans are morally obligated to ensure that their less fortunate counterparts have access to these resources, there are no solutions listed to carry out these duties. There are many organizations that specialize in these areas but it is not enough, as these issues still exist in this world today.
Since water makes up such a large percentage of the human body, approximately 75 percent, and diseases and ailments related to a lack of clean water cause many unnecessary deaths, it is important that people have access to clean drinking water. According to UNICEF, 15 percent of people are drinking water from unimproved, or unclean, water sources. Nearly 7% of that unimproved water is surface water, meaning people are fetching this water straight from puddles, lakes, or ponds. Due to pollution and wastewater, drinking from natural bodies of water has become more dangerous to the health of those drinking it, making it very important to ensure clean water sources.
The solution to the issue of unclean water is spreading awareness with the goal of gaining greater financial support, as all solutions will require the implementation of water purifying or filtering technology. There currently are many models of water purifying tools that can be used both on household and industrial levels, but many areas where these tools have not reached due to a lack of funding. It is also important to promote the concept of water conservation in all parts of the world by educating people on the amount water that is wasted by tasks that we perform in our day to day lives and steps we can take to reduce the amount of water wasted.
As previously mentioned, a solution to ensure food security involves teaching members of a community to raise their own crops and animals for food. A possible plan of action would involve an organization or individual purchasing a large plot of land and providing the materials for different families to farm different foods on their own small plots of that land. If the different families in the community grew different plants and raised different animals, they could distribute the different foods among themselves to ensure that each person was receiving adequate nutrients. Excess food could be sold to or traded with people outside of the community so that goods could become more readily available, allowing the people to potentially live more comfortably and build up wealth.
As for shelter, I have observed that rather than having missionaries or similar groups build houses and structures for people in need, it is best to collect donations and to hire local workers to do these jobs. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity are excellent in theory, but it seems that hiring locals creates job and adds money to the local economy. Contributing to a more solid economy and putting money in the pockets of the people in need via a reasonable and fair transaction is simply another stepping stone to mitigating the effects of poverty.
Poverty is a multifaceted issue that is difficult to place into the constraints of a single definition or standard measurement, but is important to attempt to evaluate and identify as it is something that negatively affects the lives of many people worldwide. It is the duty of those with expendable resources to contribute to the relief of poverty related issues and to work towards eradicating poverty as a whole. As previously mentioned, awareness of these issues comes with the responsibility to take action in contributing to solutions. With the information presented, it is now the duty of each reader to contribute to a brighter future and a better tomorrow for the to whatever extent his or her resources allow.