Guy Hewitt: Remember The Poor

Speak up and judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy. Proverbs 31:9

The recent news report that poverty in Haiti was driving people to eat mud is one of the most disturbing accounts on the impact of the growing gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in this world. With first hand experience of street children in India and AIDS orphans in Southern Africa, I am acutely aware of the devastation that poverty causes.

But we don’t have to venture far to encounter victims of poverty. The 1996/97 Poverty Survey in Barbados indicated that 7,000 households or 35,000 Barbadians were living below the poverty line.

In the absence of more recent data, we are left to wonder how many more Barbadians have entered the ranks of the poor and vulnerable. Even though there have been considerable gains locally in the physical and economic infrastructure, our social infrastructure is in acute need of attention.

The appointment of Undene Whittaker as the adviser to Government on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to be applauded. She, like her predecessor, is a powerful advocate for the disadvantaged. But more importantly her appointment symbolises our Government’s continued commitment to the poor and disadvantaged of our nation. But this is by no means enough.

In 2000, global leaders, including the then Prime Minister of Barbados, gathered at the United Nations to commit themselves to the Millennium Declaration, a statement of intent to reduce poverty by 2015 through eight ambitious goals and targets to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women.

However, the report card in 2008 at the halfway mark is not inspiring. Today, the gap between the worlds’ rich and poor is now wider. Global injustices such as poverty, AIDS, malnutrition, conflict and illiteracy remain rife. Extreme poverty kills more that 30,000 people each day as a result of disease, lack of medicine and unsafe drinking water.

Nelson Mandela, at the Make Poverty History campaign in London in 2005, condemned poverty and inequality as “terrible scourges of our times” which “rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.”

Notwithstanding the biblical teaching, the poor need not always be with us. There is an appreciation that today’s poverty is not a Divine imposition but largely a man-made phenomenon and as such can be eradicated.

The Gospel and our ethical principles place service to the poor and vulnerable at the centre of our Christian life and witness. As exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are all called to love our neighbour.

Recently, I encountered a situation of a young student at one of our older secondary schools who goes to school hungry almost every day. Worse yet, this was not an isolated case. As a prospering nation, our collective response to those in need is grossly inadequate.

If we are to eradicate poverty in Barbados, each of us has a role to play. However, dealing with poverty is not an easy work nor is it often comfortable. We are often left feeling hopeless or powerless. We despair when confronted by a seemingly insurmountable task, made more difficult by a largely indifferent humanity. But we will surely fail if we lose hope.

Jeffrey Sachs, a renowned economist and UN adviser, in his book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time provides reason to be optimistic. He lays out an attainable plan for ending extreme poverty in 20 years. If we work together, our collective effort will eradicate poverty.

To eradicate poverty a total-person approach (TPA), as emphasised by Jesus of Nazareth, is required. Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry while teaching them how to find meaning and fulfilment through faith. A TPA is an integrated response to people’s physical, psychological, and spiritual needs.

Increasingly, poverty eradication programmes are concentrating on this approach, holding to the time-honoured philosophy that if you give someone a fish you can feed them for a day but if you also teach them how to fish you can feed them for a lifetime.

Any success in eradicating poverty in Barbados will require the commitment and action all major stakeholders in our society to the plight of the poor.

Our Government will be needed to design and implement the appropriate public policies. Our private sector, unions and other economic actors will be needed to help generate the necessary resources. Our churches, faith-based and other community organisations, will be needed to encourage faith, hope and charity. But ultimately, all of us will be needed to get involved in some way.

Remembering that the most significant advances in human history have been the consequence of the small steps taken by ordinary people, each of us needs to take that vital step an become our brothers and sisters keeper.

May God continue to guide us.

Guy Hewitt

Guy Hewitt is a minister of religion and social development specialist. He can be contacted on <guyhewitt@gmail.com>

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8 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Ethics, Human Rights, Religion

8 responses to “Guy Hewitt: Remember The Poor

  1. Fatpork

    Mr. Hewitt your article strikes at the core of what humanity is supposed to be but as you are well aware the effects of neoliberalism and capitalism drives us to greed, selfish ambition, discord and dissension. I am often amazed at the construction of larger edifices for worship by Christians but a lack of construction of feeding halls, shelters and such like for non-members of churches outside of the efforts of the Salvation Army. The lack of ‘sou sou’ or Grameen Bank-like interventions by the church (I know the church is not to engage in profit making). But offering me faith, hope and love on an empty stomach will not go very far if I don’t identify with it.

    What are the appropriate public policies of which you speak to be developed and implemented by government? What resources need to be developed by the private sector inter alios? It would have been interesting if you had provided more details on these potential initiatives in the article so that it doesn’t reach the reader as just a compassionate appetiser and no meaty main course.

  2. Devil

    “Words as empty as the wind are best left unsaid”-
    Homer, ancient Greek poet.

  3. Keith Headley

    How do you define poverty?

    In Aspen, Colorado, some of the poorest people there can only afford a million dollar home. You say these people are not poor – but poverty is relative.

    I long for the impossible – the day when a child watching TV sees a family with one car and a two bedroom house and says “Mom! Dad! they’re so poor! Can’t we help them?!”

    And the father says; “I suppose one or two million can’t hurt. They seem to be in bad shape.”

    And mother says; “That car has to be at least ten years old! Such abject poverty!”

    Ridiculous? Not in some parts of Dubai. Why not around the world? Why can’t even the poorest of the poor be comfortable . .

    Just a dream . . .

  4. When a very small percentage of people own the vast majority of wealth, there is little hope.

  5. Tony Hall

    To BFP readers I want to inform that Dr. Ikel Tafari passed away in Trinidad and Tobago tonight. I wish to extend condolences to his family and may his soul rest in peace.

  6. Marlon Anatol

    I agree with Mr. Hewitt and I applaud his vigilance of the situation and his urge to sensitize the rest of the population about the issues of poverty and disenfranchisement. It is somethig that is not unique to BIM, but must be look at in the Barbados context, as it is affecting bajans (in some ways) more than the rest of us in the wider Caribbean. Keep up the vigil! And continue to be guided by GOD!

  7. John

    Look out also for the old people who have no champions and who are being robbed of their land and possessions by those who can … simply because they can.

    Take the time to listen to their side of the story and if it is in your power to supply them with information which can help them put their minds at rest, move heaven and earth to find it for them.

    Become champions or confirm other champions.

    The old who have become targets because of their perceived wealth, weakness and lack of assistance need our help desperately.

    I recently watched two such old persons present themselves at different times one day at a Government agency to represent themselves because they were fearful of being robbed of their land.

    One of them had trouble both walking and talking but had clearly come to represent himself.

    At first, it was upsetting to watch these two persons have to fight their battle on their own and know it was none of my business.

    In both instances I watched the person responsible for handling their requests do so with dignity and compassion and then go out of their way to help them.

    The two old people were not easy to deal with yet that person held their nerve and did right by them.

    In my eyes, that person was a champion twice, and in one day.

    After the incidents, a few quiet words of appreciation when the opportunity arose I believe were appreciated.

    It would have been easy just to keep my big mouth shut and mind my business which I would normally have done but something made me make the effort and it was worth it.

    I learnt something from watching events.

    Those two instances brought it home to me that there are old persons who are still capable of being independent who are fearful of what is being pulled on them out there in the real world.

    We need to become a society where it is second nature to look out for the old and “useless” and where those who set out to rip them off know they will get called to account.

    Our old people need to be shown daily that they live in a just society where they do not need to be fearful of any harm which younger stronger persons will do to them.

    They have done their bit in their time and deserve to live out their lives in peace.

    Soon, we too will be old.

    It isn’t only the poor who need help.

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