Why should we invest funds in helping the poor in developing countries when we have our own impoverished people living in the United States that need our help?
It is misleading to use the word, “Poverty” when referring to low income people living in the United States. The social safety nets in the U.S. such as the public school system, public health, food vouchers, etc are not available in the developing world. 40% of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 per day (adjusted for purchasing power differentials). They do not have access to health providers, free food, prescription drugs, publicly provided clean water and the economic health to keep their children in school. Often they do not have access to suitable shelter. Children living at these income levels are not able to stay in school, often after the 3rd grade. In the U.S., by comparison, they are required by law to be in school.
It is incumbent upon us in the developed world to assist our fellow human beings in a meaningful and permanent manner. If we are to prevent the spread of disease, terrorism and the related effects of extreme poverty, then we must help! There are also economic effects. By helping people in the developing world we also provide for the development of the future markets for our goods and services.
If fewer babies were born in developing countries, then there would be more resources available to the poor. Population control is the best way to eliminate poverty!
The birthrate among the poor is higher than in developed countries. The reason, however, is not only because of ignorance or lack of will power! The poor have more children because they want larger families. Larger families form the basis of more earnings to the household. These families tend to stay together even as adults or young married couples with all household members working for the common benefit of the family.
It is also true that birth rates decrease as the education level of the mothers’ increases. Part of this effect is probably due to higher earnings associated with more highly educated women.
Families in impoverished communities tend to be less stable than families in the developed world. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that fathers will leave the family to search for work; often leaving the area. Another reason is that women marry at very young ages and have children at younger ages. Alcoholism and “glue” sniffing are also common behaviors that disrupt families. Families are less stable , as well, due to the lack of hope in the very poor. Parents do not view their families as a long term proposition. There are no social safety nets to assist endangered families.
The term, POVERTY, as applied to the developing world is commonly considered to be a lack of financial resources. But it is much more. It is important to understand that POVERTY is also defined to include powerlessness, helplessness and vulnerability. It means vendors cheat you because you cannot add. It means vulnerability to the elements and to petty criminals. Poverty means that you do not feel that you are entitled to an opinion. Poverty means that you do not have the opportunities to improve your life or the lives of your children. Programs that are designed to help the poor must also address these issues of helplessness and vulnerability. This is why education is the only effective anti-poverty model; it is the best way to address these issues of helplessness and vulnerability.
There are , essentially, two ways of giving help to impoverished communities. One way that is commonly done is to give, “THINGS”. Examples of “THINGS” would be surgeries, food, housing, water and sanitation. These gifts help people and cannot be faulted for that reason. The gift of “THINGS”, however ,does not address the core issue which is to eliminate the causative effect, POVERTY. The gift of “THINGS” is , generally, non sustainable. These gifts need to be re-given, repeatedly. Nor do they require much participation by the beneficiaries. These kinds of gifts create dependency.
EDUCATION, on the other hand, is a gift that requires a great deal of active participation on the part of the beneficiary. It actually changes the individual through his/her own efforts. Once received, it cannot be taken from the individual. Education, once received, is usually associated with additional education throughout the individuals lifetime. Many studies have shown that educated parents will ensure that their children and grandchildren are also educated. Thus, education becomes trans-generational. An additional characteristic of education relates to the power of educated men and women to fundamentally change the societies in which they live. They no longer accept the role of victims. They have become EMPOWERED!
UNESCO statistics for the year 2007 indicate that 48% of boys and 55% of girls who began 1st grade will begin the 5th grade. The UNESCO statistics for the year 2008 indicate that 13% of boys and 9% of girls will repeat primary school. They further show that only 45% of secondary school aged kids are actually enrolled in secondary school. (source: WORLD DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS 2010 published by the World Bank). Recently, the newspaper in Managua published an article stating that only 30% of secondary school students successfully graduate and that of those only 14% actually attend the university.
In Nicaragua the National University system provides free tuition to students who can pass the entrance exam. The problem is that the public primary and secondary school systems do not prepare students sufficiently to pass the entrance exam. Kids whose families can afford to send them to private secondary schools are, however, adequately prepared to pass the entrance exams. GOCARE has determined that the most effective use of its resources is to provide a four month preparation course to bring public secondary school students up to the instructional level that will enable them to pass the National University entrance exams. We currently (2012) have 98 students from two impoverished communities in our preparation course. Those who pass the entrance exam will be supported by GOCARE as necessary which normally means providing funds for transportation and school supplies.
People living in poverty do not have health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, disaster insurance or unemployment insurance. Instead, they use extended families as a replacement. If, for example, you are unemployed, your uncle might help you by providing modest funds for food. He would do so, of course, with the expectation that you would reciprocate in some fashion. This use of extended families often accounts for observed behaviors such as using one’s food money to buy the uncle a birthday present.
Initially, we make inquiries to locate other organizations that might be working with the community. These could be non-governmental or governmental. We then leverage our contacts with these organizations to meet either the community leadership, if it exists, or a group of local inhabitants interested in improving their lives through education. We meet with these local residents and tell them about GOCARE and our programs. If they are interested we then ask for a second meeting with them and their friends. Our next step is to take a door to door census of the community focusing on educational and income basics and inquiring as to the educational needs of the community. Based on this census, we then design an initial educational program. This program is then presented at a community meeting and people are asked to sign up for the elements of the initial program that they are interested in. Our students quickly become our best salesmen. Once a year, we hold a “fair” in the community where our students show off what they have learned. Interested visitors are then asked to fill out an application for the next term’s classes.
GOCARE focuses on developing relationships with non-governmental and governmental organizations. Our two primary partnerships in Nicaragua are with the Rotary Clubs and with the Nicaragua Ministry of Education (MINED). In addition, we have relationships with other organizations with such diverse interests as building homes, health care and food programs. We utilize these relationships to provide assistance to people living in the communities in which we work. In return, these other organizations often call on GOCARE to assist in developing educational opportunities in communities where they are working. For example, one organization recently asked us if they could send several students to our leadership training camp next year (ALJ program)
There are a variety of opportunities but what those might be depends on the program elements we are working on during the time you visit. If, for example, we are constructing a building during your visit then one could assist in making blocks, laying blocks and painting. If you were present during our annual ALJ program, you would be assisting in preparing for the ALJ weekend.
The need that is predictably ongoing is for English language instruction. As our older students complete the grammar phase of their language instruction, they need to practice speaking with native English speakers. There are certain techniques that we would utilize to structure such assistance. However, this is a visitor program that is very important for the students and also provides cultural insights and relationships with wonderful and highly motivated older teens.
It is important to understand that education is a means to the end. It is not an end in itself. When most of us completed our college education and went to our first post graduate employer it was necessary for that employer to train us further before we were “useful”. What our education did was to provide the foundation on which others as well as we would build. Education is the process of learning how to learn more. Not only does this refer to the mechanics of learning, i.e. taking notes, studying for exams, taking exams, etc but it also refers to building a foundation of knowledge that would provide the context for future learning. Information has meaning that is given to it by the context of other information. For example, a speeding car could be on a street with a school or on the Bonneville Salt Flats. The context is what provides the meaning. Education is the process of not only acquiring useful information, it is the process of building a foundation of context to give meaning to the information one acquires.
As Nicaragua grows there will also be a growing need for educated men and women. Employment will be generated from the ground up based on the demand of educated men and women and the additional economic demand that they will have. In addition, the supply of educated people in an economy draws employers such as what happened in Costa Rica.
Most importantly, however, education provides the tools by which society changes. The future of Nicaragua and its people is not dependent on organizations providing “things”. It is dependent on the social and economic changes that will accrue to and be caused by an educated populace.