on poverties..

“…the material, economistic perspective on poverty is only one way of framing the subject… there are many forms of poverty, economic poverty being only one of these. And the question arises as to how much other poverty we create when our goal is narrowly defined as the alleviation of economic poverty. When all values are subsumed to the economic, as they increasingly are, particularly within a conventional development paradigm, how much do we lose with respect to social values, to artistic values, to cultural and language diversity, to bio-diversity? We must surely recognize by now that the world we are creating with our fixation on the economic is becoming immeasurably poorer with respect to everything which lives outside of the economic

(Kaplan, A. (1998). Crossroads: A Development Reading. Extract from the Community Development Resource Association’s Annual Report 1997/1998. Cape Town: CDRA. pp. 11-12).

I am a trustee at a place of safety which myself and a group of friends started 3 years ago. The House takes in abandoned, abused, neglected, orphaned and vulnerable children. Currently we have two children in the House who have been living on the street for several months. The courts decided that it was in their best interests to be in a place of safety.

I live in Stellenbosch. There is a park opposite where I go to church and a group of people frequent it. They are dirty, some have dreadlocks, they wear old torn clothes (not enough). Sometimes, they come and beg outside the church – invariably they reek of alcohol. They often sit on cartons in the middle of the field until late at night, talking. Sometimes they have a little fire going in a tin. As far as I am aware they sleep out there. Except when it’s raining; then they bring their blankets and plastic bags and lie under the eaves of the building. There is a little girl who lives with them – about 7 years old. I have been grappling with whether to approach social services with an eye to getting her removed and placed in a warm, safe home. But I have hesitated because of exactly that which Kaplan writes. I have always, unconsciously, preferenced economic wellbeing. But removing this young girl would take away her family, would divorce her from a sense of community which clearly exists around that fireplace, would isolate her, would perhaps even annihilate the good values which maybe that group is inculcating in her. Who am I to say? See, this girl is clothed, and runs around happy, and looks well-fed – she is not emaciated and does not look sick. The group talk to her and laugh with her and look out for her. But she does not live with a roof over her head. And my developmental paradigm says this is wrong.

My developmental paradigm says she must be sheltered and in an economically stable environment – not merely a loving one where material goods take the back seat, although community is valued. In my paradigm, the ‘best interests of the child’ are often economically defined (although not solely for sure). I would risk losing all those other values, in fact introducing various other poverties into her life for the sake of alleviating this one poverty (and a relative one, at that).
Of course, I infer that the environment she is in is safe and loving and community-based and provides her with warmth and sustenance. For the sake of illustrating my point. She may in fact be hungry always, be sick, be cold, be abused – physically, sexually, emotionally. The affect of alcohol on that group and on her may be huge. And this is the dilemma. But my point is that in the past I would have run in with guns blazing. I would have recognized a situation of injustice – ill-defined though it is – and done everything in my power to right it. My point is that now right is not so clear. And I think that increasingly an awareness of the trade-off between economic poverty and other poverties will play a part in how I approach individuals and situations.


10 thoughts on “on poverties..

  1. Wow, Val, really good stuff this. What you said about how you have always previously and unconsciously preferenced economic wellbeing is SO true in so many of us. I think we undervalue the worth of richness of life in areas other than economic – although funnily – this is exactly opposite to what we profess as Christians! I think when it hits us in the face, like this 7 year old girl, we somehow tend to jump to economic poverty as her worse ailment. Anyways, just thoughts. Thanks for a great post.

    1. sho, kimmi, hadn’t even really thought that this is what we profess as Christians – another of those core things we hold to and yet somehow they don’t translate into our behaviour and transforming our minds.

  2. Such an interesting thought val. I am put in mind of a child who lived in such a family in my community years ago. The family was extremely loving towards him. The community supported the family in taking care of him- making sure that he had school uniform and had enough to eat. Anyway, eventually he matriculated and finished a degree at tech and is now working. Which is a pretty good outcome. He probably wouldn’t have done the same if he had been placed in safety. I think the key points here are the family love ( absolutely NO child abuse at all, even by the most rigorous standards) and the community support. Interesting.

    1. shot hannah. and great story – thank you for sharing, lady. I guess something linked to this in my mind is the meaning of “community” – something which I think we have largely lost. so maybe a thought/blog on that sometime in the future…

  3. The main factors to consider as 1. Is she being looked after – i.e. not being abused in any way 2. Is her education being seen to. 3. When she reached womanhood (13-14yrs old) will she be safe amongst a group of alcohol fueled men? 4. Like you say, would taking her away from her current environment remove her from her sense of community and upbringing.

    Difficult questions indeed. Maybe you should develop a stronger interaction with the group – giving them some work to do around the shelter, interacting with them, providing them with food and giving the child a means of getting an education while keeping her in that group. If alcohol is involved, it will invite bad things. It is best to integrate the group into what you are trying to do, along with the child. This way you keep her with the group, and encourage them as well.

    I hope it all works out.

    1. thanks mark for the input. definitely the main concern is those questions I raised in the post (i.e. is she being looked after or abused) so points 1 and 3 very much noted. In one sense I am also struggling with the “education as value” rhetoric, which is very similar to the economic one and indeed intricately tied to it. Ya, could be opening a can of worms and it does sound somewhat “heretical” even to me, but I am thinking about the value we place on education, again, sometimes at the expence of other values. These are difficult questions, as you say, but thanks for the great advice at the end.

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