With unfortunate regularity, graphic images of the world’s problems manage to flash across our TV screens just as we sit down to eat. And recently so much has presented that is terrible, nasty, bloody and vindictive that it is easier to turn off the TV and our own consciousness. Maybe ignorance is bliss but we don’t have the luxury of staying uninformed.
Poverty and the realisation that other countries and peoples enjoy a much safer and more comfortable life have to foster resentment, whatever other influences may be at work to provoke vengeful attacks. Anti-Poverty Week, which begins on Monday, October 17, is about spreading awareness to remind Australians that poverty in the 21st century still exists, hurts and has consequences. This includes poverty at home.
To quote MICAH Challenge, a group of churches campaigning against poverty, “Around the world 850 million people do not get enough to eat each day. One billion people do not have safe water to drink. Every year 11 million children die before their 5th birthday, most from preventable diseases.” Developed countries need to do more.
One exciting program, which gives everyone an opportunity to contribute, has been initiated by the Grameen Foundation USA. The program provides tools for poor people to lift themselves out of poverty through their own efforts with the help of micro-finance, also known as micro-banking. Tiny loans and financial services help micro-entrepreneurs to invest their own labour.
For instance poor people, mostly women, are helped to start businesses and so far over one million families in 22 countries have been helped. Loans can be as little as $US20 at minimal interest rates and there is up to one year’s grace to pay the loan back.
The Grameen Foundation reports, for example, that: “The Chiapas Project of Grameen Foundation USA is a grassroots initiative of volunteers in Dallas, Texas, formed to connect enterprising women across borders. Through this initiative, the volunteer group has pledged to raise $790,000 to fund the expansion of GFUSA’s microfinance partner Alternativa Solidaria (AlSol) in Chiapas, Mexico.
“Typically, AlSol’s loans average $160 and are used for a variety of income-generating purposes including agriculture, shop keeping, animal husbandry, and various other cottage industries. Repayment rates are high (averaging over 95 per cent) as a result of the peer support system.
“We provide funding, technology, technical assistance, training and information services to a network of 52 local microfinance institutions (MFIs) in 22 countries. These partners then give very small loans and other financial services and support to the world’s poorest people to start very small businesses to pull themselves out of poverty. Thus far, this network has impacted an estimated 5.5 million lives in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. More than 90 per cent of the network’s clients are women because they have proven to be the most effective in fighting poverty.”
The Cambodia World Family program has been modelled on the successful Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. This program specifically targets women. “Unfortunately,” says the CWF, “when men are provided with extra money it almost invariably is spent on cigarettes and alcohol. But when a woman's income increases, the extra money is directed towards family needs.
“Micro-credit begins with teaching women something about home financial management, and is predicated upon their beginning a savings account at a "village bank" that we set up. Credit loans of $20 to $50 dollars are provided at 3 per cent interest (up to one year to pay back). Literacy is a prerequisite to this program as participants must be able to develop and write a "business plan" that details just how the loan will be utilised. Together with literacy, this an essential step in terms of helping people break out of the cycle of poverty.”
In Australia, events are being organised to mark Anti-Poverty Week in Queensland, NSW, ACT, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, with the idea of making people more aware. The national Anti-Poverty Week’s introduction reminds us that life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is 20 years less than for other Australians - similar to Bangladesh, but Australia is ten times richer.
It also points out that about a quarter of a million Australian jobseekers have not had substantial work for a year or more and many have had little or no work for two years. In addition, more than 10 per cent of the workforce is unemployed or wants more work when the number of jobseekers greatly exceeds the number of job vacancies. About half a million families have no members in paid work and each night, about 100 homeless families cannot find places in refuges.