The Politics of Poverty–Throwing Money is Not Enough

There is a rather large non-governmental organization in the United Kingdom called “OxFam.”   I’m not sure why it has that name, but it does.

They publish a blog with a series of articles on it that wrestle with some very big and very deep issues relating to poverty, to the governmental impact on poverty and how to hopefully do it better.    While I read it consistently, some of it is way too obtuse and hypothetical for me to see its relevance.

This one is not.   They wrote a post yesterday that you can read here if you want to  read the entire thing.   Let me attempt to hit some high points or low points for you:

  • The article is talking specifically about situations in Tanzania and Uganda where the government is displacing poor and poverty stricken people to clear room for industrial development and other things.   Sound like a good thing, right?   The governments are basically saying, “We need where you live so that we can build an oil refinery and make money.   Here’s $_________ go move.”   What’s wrong with that?
  • The article lays out a convincing case that it is not a situation where there is anything wrong with that.   No, instead it is a situation where that is not ENOUGH.    If you give someone who is struggling with poverty some money and tell them to move, they might have a little more money but if they move and then something happens, they have nothing to fall back on and that essentially puts them in a worse position than they were.

So if that’s not enough, what is enough?   Their point is that if someone (a government etc.) is going to relocate people because they need that land, they need to do three things:

1. Compensate them for their troubles – anyone who has ever moved knows how disruptive it can be.   It’s disruptive when you plan on it, it’s even more so when it is forced on you.

2. Help them – help them make the move to their new place.   Don’t just say, “move, here’s money.”   Instead, help them get through all of the logistics and the struggles of actually getting there.

3. Provide or help them obtain a place to move to.   Don’t let them get stuck strictly in a refugee camp, but help them get reestablished with either a place of their own or a place they can rent.

In the article that OxFam wrote, they are focusing on one particular situation.   A situation where a government or corporation needs to relocate people so that business can develop and expand.

Let me give you a couple of examples of where and how else it could happen:

  • Houston
  • The island of Barbuda
  • The Florida Keys
  • Puerto Rico
  • Mexico

What do all of those have in common?   In the last month, they have all been hit by natural disasters of epic proportions.  

There are millions of people who don’t know what to do, who don’t know how to do what needs to be done, who don’t have any way to help themselves.   They lost everything in that natural disaster.   If the governmental agencies or non-profits that are helping only do step 1, they aren’t really helping.

So, when you want to “do something” to help, make sure that the organization you are working with or want to support has all of those steps in mind.   They might not do all of them, but they see them and understand them and work with others who can help with those parts.

Helping is more complex than it appears, but it can be done and done well, if it’s done carefully.

Tom V

Views of a College Student

Saturday, I had the opportunity to talk with a young woman who is a student at a local college.   She is studying PR and Marketing and self described herself as “a black girl.”

We got to talking and I asked her if she was from around here.   Her answer kicked off a very interesting discussion.    A couple of things that she said:

  • She is not from West Michigan and as soon as she graduates, she will not set foot in West Michigan again.   “I’m gone and I’m not coming back.”
  • When I asked her why, was there a problem with her college?   She said that her college is a great place for a person who is a minority.   I believe the terms she used describing her school were – “understanding, kind, open, and acceptance of everyone no matter what they look like.”
  • Outside of her school, she said that West Michigan is very unfriendly, very stereotypically close minded, very unwilling to blend with others who aren’t like them.   She said that she is a waitress and is the only black person on staff and she is amazed at not only the things her white co-workers say but also how they seem to have no concept of how their words hurt someone who isn’t part of the white power group.
  • We had a discussion about church and how there are very few churches in West Michigan (a very small percentage) where a single (not necessarily not married, but just 1 person) person of color  would walk into the church 10 minutes before their Sunday morning service would start.   What would the reaction be?   How would that reaction differ if I, as a white person, went to an all black church (btw – I would consider it a privilege to be invited to an all black church).
  • We talked about Madison Square Church – where my family and I attend and how we, as a church, are constantly wrestling with how to worship and lead and work as a joint group of mixed and diverse communities and how it is very hard but it can be done.
  • We talked about how do we change this?   How do we get rid of the racism that is causing so many problems in our world?    She laid out a very convincing case that the way to defeat racism is from the inside.   We need to work one on one, one person reaching out to another person and reaching past the difficulties, reaching to understand their viewpoint and reaching to help them understand your viewpoint and to acknowledge that your viewpoint might be very harmful to others and might be based on years and decades and centuries of ill will and unfair activity.
  • It’s two days later and I’m still processing what we talked about.   I’m amazed at this young woman’s perceptivity and intelligence and also her willingness to discuss difficult things with the antithesis of what she is – a middle aged white guy (me).   It was a big step on her part.

It was a step in the right direction for both of us.   She is going to give my information to the head of a group at her college that combats racism and hopefully we can connect them with Madison Square and make a bigger difference.

A chance meeting?

Nope, not a chance.

God knew that both of us needed to discuss a hard subject openly with someone on the other side of the color spectrum.

Pray that more of those type of conversations can happen.   Our community and our churches and our nation need it.


“No More. We stand for equality and freedom and justice for all.”

My friend, Susie Dixon, wrote this on her Facebook page today and it is being reprinted below with permission.   I will have a few more comments below…….

“For all my friends who are outraged at all the “kneeling” and “standing in unity” during the national anthem at football games, I would like to share my heart with you.

The protest is not against our military or disrespecting all the lives lost protecting our country. This flag represents so much more. It represents America. History. People. Freedom. And it also represents a country that still has racism embedded within our histories past and present documents…which have shadowed and demoralized how people of color are still treated today. These protests are speaking to all institutions who have bought into the lies of supremacy and inequality. They are speaking to all people to open their eyes to the discrepancies within our culture, within our own homes and communities, and with one voice say, “No more. We stand for equality and freedom and justice for all.””

Read it again – especially the last few sentences……

This protest is not against the military or disrespecting lives lost defending it.   If you have studied the Revolutionary War, you’ll know that our country was founded on protests.

“These protests are speaking to all institutions who have bought into the lies of supremacy and inequality.”   All, not just.

“They are speaking to all people to open their eyes.”

“No more.  We stand for equality and freedom and justice for all.”

Not just the white people.

Thank you Susie.


Hurricane Maria

I’m sure there are people all over the social media “arena” who are thinking of Sound of Music songs about “a problem like Maria.’   I’m not going to do that.   Smile

All joking aside, Hurricane Maria is a big thing.   It’s the real deal.   It’s a real problem.   It hit Puerto Rico with 155 mile per hour winds. 

What do we do with a problem like Maria?

What do we do when Maria walks the same or a similar path that Irma did?

How do we help?   How do we avoid thinking,  “Another hurricane…..”  (change the channel).

This illustrates the struggle that not only relief organizations but also people on the ground in the path of the storm face.  How do they stay relevant to those who don’t face the issues that the hurricane survivors do?

How do those who have been ravaged by one hurricane and have another one on the way, how do they make it?  If they have resources to use to help survive, that increases the chances they will make it.    But what about the single mom with two kids living in a relatively shaky old 2 family apartment building?   The building was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma and the landlord hasn’t gotten the help to fix the place up yet.   It is questionable whether the house is safe but all of emergency shelters within walking distance are full.   She lost a lot of her possessions in the first storm and what Irma didn’t take, well, it looks like Maria is going to take a good bit more.  How does she get over it?  Will she ever get over it?   Or will any hope of a better life be blown and washed away with the wind and the waves?

It all depends on us.   Our we willing to be content to let the problem be “over there?”  Or are we willing to say,  “Our neighbors are “over there” so we should help?

Assuming that you are not willing to turn your back on those harmed by some major natural events lately, here’s some suggestions on how to figure out best how to help:

  • Work with or support organizations who have a history of working “there” or maybe one island over.   Don’t donate money to an organization that works in Ohio because they are going to send down supplies.   Odds are pretty good that they don’t know what is really needed.
  • Work with experienced people and experienced organizations.  People who know people and people who know how things work there are most likely the ones who will make a bigger difference.

I will have some more thoughts as life moves on, but please pray for the people in Hurricane Maria’s path and pray that it moves out to sea and causes minimal land damage.

Thanks for reading,


The Trauma Impacts of Hurricanes

The Trauma Impacts of Hurricanes – 15 years ago, I would never have thought about something like that. The trauma impact of Hurricanes?


I used to think that trauma was something that happened in an automobile accident or something like that. “The crash took place at ______ mph and the driver passed away due to blunt force trauma to the head.” That kind of trauma.

But there is another trauma. Actually there are two but really many more types of trauma. For now, we’ll leave it at two:
– Single event trauma – something happened and for some reason the foundations of that person’s life changed for ever. The sudden death of a loved one. A major car accident. The entire destruction of a person’s home, town, school and place of being and worshipping. Those are some of the type of single even trauma’s that can cause long term impact. Oh and having to evacuate in the middle of the night and spending 30 hours in the car, yeah that’s pretty traumatic too.
– Long term trauma – the trauma that comes from a life altering experience. If someone is in a car accident and loses a leg, that is a long term trauma. If someone loses everything they own in a natural disaster and it takes a life time to rebuild, that’s trauma.
If someone is put in a situation where their entire life and their entire world as they knew it has been changed, that would be trauma.
If someone is put in a situation where their family structure has changed and it is not something they have control of, that is trauma.
If 95% of the buildings in your country were destroyed by Hurricane Irma and now there are more hurricanes that MIGHT be heading in your direction, how do you prepare when you lost everything? How do you survive anther hurricane if there is no place to shelter? That is trauma.

So what does that mean? For Florida? For Houston? For Barbuda? For……..

One of the things that makes trauma so hard to care for and help recover from is that it often can show up in different ways with different people.

But, to handle the trauma well, the schools need to be educated, the churches need to be educated, the families need to be educated. And that doesn’t even sound the call for educating the medical professionals.

What are some signs of trauma to watch for? These are by no means an exclusive list but more of an unofficial starting point……
– if small issues become big issues without a known reason. For instance, someone who never had a problem with thunderstorms now spends the entire storm under their bed in tears.
– the three main responses to issues when they come up are known as the three “F”s – Fight, Flight or Freeze.
– Fight – pretty self explanatory – if you don’t feel comfortable, if you feel scared, lash out and attack the issue.
– Flight – run away from the cause of the stress. “I’m never going to ____ again, because the last time I was there, Johnnny tried to throw a baseball at my head.
– Freeze – paralyzed with fear. Not able to move and to remove themselves from the problem because they are too paralyzed with fear.

I’m concerned that with this recent batch of really bad weather and with more appearing to be on its way soon, we are going to see a significant increase in the amount of trauma people are dealing with and a significant strain on the mental health system (if there is one) as people try to (hopefully) get help.

So what can you and I do?
1. Pray for the victims and first responders of these recent and ongoing hurricanes.
2. Support your local mental health agency.
3. If you have someone who has been through something and seems to “overreact” to minor things, empathize with them, acknowledge their feelings and reassure them that either you are there for them or that the situation isn’t as bad as they might think (i.e. “I just checked the radar and the thunderstorm is just a thunderstorm, not a hurricane and it should be over in 20 minutes.
4. Don’t try to tell them that their feeling isn’t real. Their feeling is real. But if they will listen to you, tell them that what they are scared/worried/traumatized about is not going to be an issue. “Mary, I can understand why thunder would bother you after your house was flooded but this rain is supposed to be done in 20 minutes and we will not get enough to be more than a flower watering storm.

Trauma, it’s not just for soldiers any more. Please pray for the trauma victims all over the world – whether from war, from terror, from weather, from political unrest, from familial problems, from a variety of political unrest and struggles.

And Harvey, Irma and now Maria aren’t making it any better.