Definitions of ‘poverty’ vary but generally they describe poverty as being a state or condition in which a person, people group or community live, whereby they lack the financial resources or otherwise to enjoy a minimum standard of life.
There is no denying the role that environment and disaster can sometimes play in causing poverty and its discontents. However, more than a dozen years of experience in the development sector leads me to believe that many people continue to live or remain in poverty due to the ‘poverty of their mind’, rather than as a result of their ongoing circumstances or environment.
I am convinced that the ‘poverty of the mind’ is one of the greatest obstacles to people being empowered to overcome the poverty cycle. By way of example, I was recently consulting to a large development project in a dry lands area of East Africa. The leaders of the community pointed out to me that one of their most urgent needs was a fence around the local clinic so that the camels would not stir up the dust. I asked them why they didn’t just build one, as it was clear that the community had the resources and the available manpower to do this (and many other tasks). Their response was that the project should build the fence because it had more money and resources than they did. I then proceeded to relay the below true story to these leaders in an attempt to challenge their thinking.
Every wet season for 50 years a particular village in Asia would flood, people would become sick, and some would die. For 50 years the government, NGO’s, missionaries and other people promised to help, but in the end no one ever did. A Church Planter from this community attended a Metamorphic program where he learnt about developing a kingdom (enlarged and proactive) worldview:
- Problems in the community are an opportunity for his church to become an important driver of change in the community
- Problems are an opportunity to rally the community
- Many, if not most, problems in his community could be solved or improved using existing resources, assets and skills
- Just because you don’t have everything you need doesn’t mean you don’t have enough to make a start
- Important development skills and concepts centered around trust, ownership, responsibility, listening etc.
With a new mindset, the Church Planter promptly returned to his village with a plan. He met with community leaders to discuss a solution to the problem. Together, they went around the village speaking to everyone about how they could contribute to a solution. They explained that their families wouldn’t get sick every year, they would save money on medications, they could work more because the village wasn’t flooded etc. The hardware stores provided materials and tools at cost, the farmers and tradesman donated their time and skills, and the church provided food and water for the workers. In just 3 months, working together and using only assets and resources from within their own community, they were able to build drainage for the entire village. Today, and for the first time in 50 years, flooding and sickness is no longer an issue for this village.
The reality of this true story is that the resources and ability always existed for this community to solve the problem, but they had to change their level of thinking before they could change their level of living. This story also highlights several lessons that will be the topics of my next four blogs, ‘Development is About People’, ‘If You Change Thinking You Change Lives’, ‘The Value of Leader Led Development’ and finally, ‘The Benefits of Church Driven Development’.