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

Sit with Me

A few years ago, a student at our local high school committed suicide.   It hit the community hard because that doesn’t happen around “here” very often.

The school put together an informational meeting about depression and suicide for parents who wanted to know more.   I went to that meeting and the one thing that I took from the meeting that has stayed with me is this statement…….

“Seriously depressed people don’t want to die, they just want the pain in their heart to stop.”

I’ve been reading a lot of different people’s reactions to the suicide of Robin Williams.   There seem to be two schools of thought:

  • The people who don’t truly understand how debilitating depression can be and how it can hurt so very badly.   Depression is more than just feeling sad, just like having cancer is more than having a sore throat.
  • Those who have been there – either themselves or with those who they know and love.   They’ve lost friends or family to that sort of debilitating pain or they’ve come close to it themselves.   Read Ann Voskamp’s writing on it at   They know how dangerous it can be.   They know to take it seriously.   They know that platitudes – things that people already  know  – don’t work to solve the problems.    And from anecdotal evidence, there appear to be a lot more people who have been impacted by it than there are who think otherwise.

What to do?  

Talk – talk to someone, anyone – and keep talking.   Because as long as you are talking about the pain and acknowledging it, you are pushing back against the forces of depression.

Listen – we as a Western culture pride ourselves as a culture that has all of our “ducks in a row.”    We don’t.   We’re as messed up as anyone else is – if not more.    We need to do a lot better at listening to those who are hurting.   And I’m not talking about putting down our phones and listening face to face.   Some of the best moments I’ve had either sitting with someone  else in pain or having someone support and encourage me has been by means of the internet – because they aren’t right here, right now.   But they are right here, right now through the web.

Sit with me.   Don’t try to minimize someone’s pain, don’t try to solve it by a mere suggestion or a comment.   I can’t tell you how often I see someone post something frustrating, depressing, sad, etc. on Facebook and there instantly appear many comments that quote Bible verses to try to help them “cheer up.”

It’s not going to help!   Just because someone quotes Romans 8:28 to someone who just lost their marriage, they aren’t going to suddenly be happy.   They know those verses already.

It’s the simple, “I’m sorry” comments that mean the most.   It’s a simple way to acknowledge their pain, acknowledge that they are hurting and you can’t solve it but you are feeling the pain with them.

Be like Job’s friends before they turned on him.   In Job’s sorrow, they sat with him for a very long time and didn’t say anything.    They were just there.    And then they opened their mouths and ruined everything.

Try it – be open about your pain and your struggles.   When someone else opens up to you, sit with them in the pain.   Don’t try to make it “all better” when you can’t.

And then be prepared to be amazed at what God can do through the quiet support that comes from sitting with someone in their pain.

It works – I’ve been on both sides of the “sitting.”


Diapers and Artificial Turf–They Made it!

One of the last big projects, actually the last one that I finished up before my time at GLA was eliminated was loading the container worth of diapers and artificial turf that was donated to GLA.    The turf came from Northview High School and Grand Rapids Christian High School.    The diapers were donated by people literally all over the world – from Okotoks Alberta to New York to Grand Haven Michigan and points in between.

Yesterday the container came out of customs and made the trip up the mountain to Ft. Jacques.    Enjoy these pictures and thank you so much for helping this project be a success!