Taking Poverty by the Reins

by Anthony Russo

HU team member Paige Patterson shares her experience in seeing extreme poverty for the first time and how it affected her views on what is needed to help people lift themselves out of desperate situations.

In order for people to be able to rise out of poverty, they need to feel empowered and have the opportunity to build their own lives through a self-sustaining income. A solution cannot be found in simply handing over cash donations and goods. People need to know that they are in control of their own lives and that the power to beat poverty is in their own hands.

Back when I was in high school, I went on an exposure trip to the Dominican Republic, to the small town of Ingenio Consuelo. Our guides took us on walks around the town and we were able to speak with some of the locals and ask them questions about their lives in Consuelo. They told us that their town had been built around a sugar cane factory, which had since been closed down leaving all the people in the town with no jobs. The majority of them were now suffering in poverty, selling what they could to earn a meager income.

One of my peers asked a group of locals what they believed would help reduce poverty in their town. Their answer was a sweat shop. It shocked me. All my life I had known sweatshops to create terrible -- and in many cases horrific -- working conditions. Not to mention the pathetic wages that are paid to the workers who are often forced to work well over 40 hours per week. From everything I had heard, sweatshops were certainly not the way to lift a community out of poverty, yet the locals I spoke with wished to have one in their community. How could something like that be the solution to anybody’s problems? It was hard to grasp the concept that people could be so desperate for income that a sweatshop was the best they could hope for.

As heart wrenching as that fact is, it also teaches a valuable lesson. What people want and what they need in situations of poverty is the chance to work. They aren’t looking for people from other countries to send them money or items that are not always useful to them, they want to be able to work. A sweatshop is not the solution because even though the locals believed it could help reduce their poverty, no person should ever be forced to work in the types of conditions that sweatshops create. An opportunity to work in a safe supportive environment where benefits and fair compensation is provided is what people need to climb their way out of poverty.            

That is the goal of Humanity Unified for women living in situations of desperation. Our current partnership with Aspire Rwanda will help support education, economic development and food security programs for the women who go through Aspire’s 12-month training program, so that after graduation they can earn a sustainable income to support themselves and their families.

Affirmation goes a long way and giving women the confidence to believe that they are capable of ending their own poverty is a key part of what Humanity Unified strives to achieve. With proper support and guidance real change begins to happen. You can help by supporting our mission.

Anthony Russo
Anthony Russo


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