“On October 15th bloggers everywhere will publish posts that discuss poverty in some way. By all posting on the same day we aim to change the conversation that day, to raise awareness, start a global discussion and add momentum to an important cause.” http://blogactionday.org/
Last year I participated in the first Blog Action Day, when the theme was the environment. What’s interesting to me about this year’s theme, poverty, is that it was chosen before the USA’s financial meltdown (followed by markets and economies all over the world). Here in the States, we don’t see much of the kind of poverty experienced in other places around the world; most of us here are relatively (compared to a lot of the rest of the world) affluent. Some of us, while others around the world and here at home are dirt-poor, are filthy rich. And now some, after the US of A’s financial crisis, have gotten richer, and some of us may come to experience poverty as we’ve never seen it or known it before. We live in interesting times.
When confronted with a problem as seemingly huge and possibly distant from ourselves as poverty, where do we start? Participating in the discussion taking place on blogs all over the world today is one action you can take. Clicking on the Blog Action Day link above will take you to hundreds of blogs where others will be sharing their experiences with being poor, or working to end poverty, or giving suggestions for what you can do to help, or be helped.
If you do make this journey around the Web, you’ll also see many easy ways to donate money to various causes and organizations. My problem with this, besides the fact that a lot of your donation will go to supporting the organization (yes, I know they do alot of good work and so on) instead of directly to helping a poor person is that it is so easy, and thereby impersonal, quickly over and quickly forgotten. To work on a problem this large, we need a more personal, more lasting experience and involvement.
For many of us, the only way we can experience real poverty is on a voluntary basis. There can be many reasons why someone would choose to do this, as many reasons as there are people, probably. I recently followed the month-long journey of one young couple who, for their own reasons, chose to eat only as much as one dollar a day could buy. You can read about it here, if you choose to. Or you could chose to do something similar yourself.
How does doing something like this help poor people? By increasing empathy, awareness and understanding- of what it feels like to be hungry, or to not be able to buy whatever we want, whenever we want. By putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes- or going barefoot, if you can’t afford to buy shoes. Doing something like this is a little more personal and potentially lasting, but how can one move this experience into the realm of long-term commitment and involvement?
Here are my suggestions and a challenge (I am making the assumption here that you are someone who is looking for ways to help, not someone who needs help). First, the challenge. How far from where you live to you have to go to find poverty? I mean real poverty, not poverty of the kind that laments not being able buy that new SUV. Can you walk to it? Ride your bike? Or do yo have to get in your car and drive till you find what looks to you like real poverty? That’s the challenge: find out for yourself how far you have to go from where you live to find real poverty.
When you have found the place that looks to you like it and it’s people are living in real poverty, get out of your car, and just begin by walking the streets, if there are any. See if there are any businesses, and what’s available in the grocery store, and what kind of resources the community may have. Have a bite to eat somewhere, if there’s a place to do so. Talk to the people you meet. Try to see life as they see it, smell it, taste it. Spend as much time here as you can. Try to imagine living here.
Then go back home. If the distance, physically and mentally, doesn’t seem that far, then maybe there’s not much you can do. But if it seems like you just came back from a Third World country, and you want to work towards shortening that distance, commit yourself to it. Sacrifice for it. How? Here in the USA we consume far more resources than most of the rest of the world, and we waste more. I believe that committing ourselves to reducing consumption of all kinds (food, energy, products) and not wasting what we do have (particularly food) helps not only the poor (the less resources we use, the more there are for others) but the environment, and ourselves.
So, ready to turn a desire to help into a lifelong commitment? Find a notebook or an old binder with some sheets of paper in it and get something to write with (no, don’t go buy a notebook or binder; we’re reducing consumption, remember? Use what you already have). At the top of one page write “How can I reduce my consumption?” At the top of the next page write “What am I wasting and what can I do to stop?” On still another page write “Community resources”.
Now, take a walk around your house.
See that pile of magazines and catalogs by your easy chair? On your reducing consumption page write “cancel all magazines and catalogs” and on your community resources page write “find out where to donate or recycle old magazines and catalogs”.
See the food going bad in the fridge and the pantry? On your what am I wasting page write “food” and jot down ideas for how to stop this waste. And no, eating out for every meal does not qualify as stopping food waste nor does it help eliminate poverty. Restaurants waste large amounts of food and use large amounts of energy, and the food is generally less healthful and more expensive than what you could make at home. Better ideas for controlling waste would be to only buy within a set food budget, freezing leftovers, and composting scraps if you can.
See all those clothes in your closet that you don’t wear or can’t fit into anymore? Find a place that makes them available for free to the poor (many churches do this). See those old cell phones, gadgets, whatevers? Use the phonebook, walk your neighborhood (or the impoverished one you found), or use the Internet to find places to donate these unwanted items to that make them available to the poor, or homeless shelters, or community centers. Continue throughout your house until you have finished each room, then the garage if you have one (do I really need 3 cars?), then your yard (if you have one, and if you do have one, plant a garden and give the extra produce to a food bank).
Now, why are you writing all these things down? Because now you are going to make them goals by putting dates on each item and using the binder/notebook to keep track of each commitment and to remind yourself of them. So, by “cancel all magazines and catalogs”, you’ll put a “due by” date (“I will have called or sent cancellation notices to each magazine and catalog by Nov 15th, 2008”). Schedule a day to do your community resource search, and write down all the things you learn in your notebook. Keep this notebook in a prominent place on your desk, near your easy chair, wherever so that you can refer to it frequently. Zen Habits says that a person needs to do something every day for a month to make it become yours for life- so commit yourself to doing something in your notebook every day for a month. By changing your life, you change and touch the lives of others as well, and reduce that distance between yourself and that Third World country across the street and around the world.