This post was originally published on HuffPost Canada
By: Maryam Rehman | Toronto, Canada
Looking through the window of our car as we drove through the streets of Lahore, my heart sank in despair. I saw adults and even children running from one car to the next, some offering to clean the windshield, others, selling flowers, small toys, etc. Some simply begged. I noticed this from a very young age.
What I'd felt then all came back when I returned to Pakistan this March. I realized that had become common sight in South Asia, despite donations given. According to statistics from the Atlas of Giving, charitable giving in the U.S. hit a record high of $456.73 billion in 2014. Therefore I'm led to believe that this is not a result of people not providing enough donations, nor a lack of the vital services and big, positive impacts that NGOs and non-profits provide around the world. So, what's the issue?
The problem is that the way we help the poor is, in a sense, wrong. If you sponsor a family, you're ensuring that they survive, but you do not secure a brighter future for them. We need to focus on skills that will help them in the long run, not just sponsoring their survival. Because, essentially, that's not helping them move forward or back-- it's tying them down to the same position.
This September, the United Nations launched a series of Sustainable Development Goals that would represent Global Goals for the next 15 years. They're designed to achieve three remarkable feats: to end extreme poverty; fight inequality and injustice; and fix climate change. Among 17, the first is "end poverty in all its forms everywhere." The following article suggests three small, yet effective and sustainable, solutions to secure a bright future for the indigent.
1. Eligibility for a job.
Donations should be used to either seed business startups or foster an education leading to a diploma that will allow the individual to be eligible for a job. Jobs that pay them well. What they earn should be enough to allow room for other priorities like an education. The poor are forced to live in the present, and they're barely able to put forth enough to supplement their basic needs. They can't think about putting money aside for their child's higher education. Education is vital to opening doors for a child's future. Where the previous generation isn't educated, it doesn't push the current forward in their circumstances, and so the next is forced to stay the same. It becomes a never-ending cycle of poverty. Donations used in this way would be a secure investment for a future that's going to terminate the family's state of poverty
2. Don't underestimate.
The kind of help we give is affected when we underestimate the potential of the recipients based on what we've heard. This is a big issue in South Asian countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, where class plays a vital role. In Pakistan, that's over 50 per cent of the population whose untapped potential is yet to be discovered. They're known for so much below what they have to offer.
Therefore, they will never go further than serving the upper class, and the heights they achieve wouldn't pay true to the talent that they actually have. For example, when beggars in the streets are given any help, that keeps them from working towards their survival needs. That's not telling them that they can invest that money in an education that will take away from them having to beg. Instead, it will give them more of an incentive to do it again. But if you enroll the child in a school or give the adult a job opportunity, then that's what would make the difference. Underestimating and judging the poor is a barrier that prevents poverty from coming to an end.
3. Work in the field.
Nothing beats personal experience. Without actually going and seeing for yourself what the facilities look like and the reality of how the poor live, the sincerity of your impact will be limited to information you may have received. I'm sure you will mean it, but nothing will beat the desire to help that you will receive from experiencing the seriousness of the issues first-hand. By seeing them for yourself. It also gives you an opportunity to choose how you will help and do it yourself, apart from having an organization do the work. You will not only feel an irreplaceable feeling of joy from helping by yourself, but you will also develop knowledge that no other source of information could have given you.
Something that sums up what I learned during my trip quite nicely is a quote by Alan Turing: "Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine." That quote gives a new light to the untapped potential that we have not only in Pakistan, but the world.
I saw this potential in the fingers of the carpet-making girls, who wove carpets in a manner that I could never imagine being capable of. It was like magic. They're paid much less than what they deserve and most live on less than a dollar a day. And there are so many other facilities of the same sort full of children doing the same work. I saw the carpet-making, brick-building and pottery as an art form for which they need to be paid for properly.
In the conversations I had with school girls and street children, I saw the faces of youth who weren't given a voice or opportunity, and yet still had strong character traits and the potential to outshine the rest. They were easily eligible to be accepted by prestigious universities all around the world.
Their willingness to work extremely hard for their achievements sets them apart from the privileged. They've seen and faced so many hardships -- and I believe that people of that sort could change the world in ways we can't imagine. They just have to be given the chance, and we have to make the right sort of change.