Why are poor people poor?

Why are poor people poor? What efforts have they done to get out of their poverty is what I ask them when I meet them!

This question, a trifle misguided and patronizing by a well-wisher on Facebook, prompted the following!

Friend! That’s a pretty tough question and if I may say rather patronizing and perhaps even cruel.

I’m not sure if you’ve experienced real and abject poverty.

Neither have I.

But I’ve been bankrupt twice. Had occasions when I couldn’t even buy a loaf of bread or even my $1.79 Tim Hortons Medium black. Or pay rent on time. Or put gas in the Car. Or pay bills on time.

But never the debilitating phenomenon of abject poverty.

The kind where there is no hope, no support, no money, just an endless cycle of hunger and a desperate battle to simply exist and get through the day. No friends or family to help. No skills and experience. No education.

Just a life of total exploitation and misery.  And unbelievable financial debt. A life that eventually results in crime, drugs and male and female prostitution. And in some cases. Suicide!

So, while your question may have value in some situations, in most cases the terrible destructive and corrosive effects of poverty destroy everything.

Mind, body, soul.

So, we must be cautious when we ask such a question from the poverty stricken!

I can only talk from my limited experience of running a self-funded micro finance poverty alleviation project over a two-year period, several years ago.

The vast majority are poor because of an unfair, inequitable highly exploitative system as exists in countries like Pakistan and India. Results of terrible governance, corruption, centuries old embedded caste, class, religious, cultural and ethnic biases and prejudices.

My battle against Nawaz Sharif is not political but more social because of their exploitation, corruption and accumulation of wealth with the very few.

They deprive people not just of their rights to healthcare, education, employment, security etc. But even their last bastion of survival. Hope!

The most marginalized, I discovered, usually belonged to either a minority segment or leftovers from the Hindu Caste system.

It’s important to first get them out of the utter despair and hopelessness that completely envelopes their entire day to day existence by giving them some financial space.

It is only then, that the journey to leverage their existing marketable skills or build new ones, begins.

Through tools, assets, training, a lot of tolerance and a lot of patience and a very thick skin.

Even more crucial is to support and sustain this journey.

It’s a tough journey.

Not a one day lecture or patronizing advice, emanating from our own life paradigms, complete irrelevant and Greek to them.

But only through sustained effort over months, till their income generating engine starts.

A word of caution. Avoid getting enmeshed in value based judgements of character, ethics and morality when one works with the most at risk segments.

Values are the privilege that comes with a full stomach and a ray of hope.

As Imam Ali said, the biggest enemy of human character is poverty.

So, hold judgement.

Trust this helps.

Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
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Syed Haider Raza Mehdi

Advisor & Senior Analyst at CommandEleven
Haider Mehdi is the current Convener of The Strategy Study Group, founded by the late Col. S.G.Mehdi M.C, former Group Commander of Pakistan Army's Special Services Group (SSG). Haider, is a former Pakistan Army officer, corporate leader, management consultant, business trainer and serial entrepreneur. Currently based in North America, with deep interest in South Asian, Middle Eastern and Regional geopolitics.
Syed Haider Raza Mehdi
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