“In celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about poverty and disability.
Often when we think about poverty, our default is to define it as a lack of material resources. But the truth is, poverty is complex.
Sometimes, the more intangible aspects of poverty (such as a lack of power over decision-making and exclusion from community) can be more debilitating than the lack of material resources and money itself. Though, these things are all usually connected.
We often see this truth when meeting people who live with disability in the areas in which we work. Living with disability in these communities can make people highly vulnerable to poverty. And while this may be due to a lack of access to resources (such as the inability to work) often it is caused or exacerbated by prejudice, misunderstanding, and exclusion from community activities and the wider life of the community. And when this experience is coupled with a lack of power to make decisions about one’s own life (such as when children with disability are unable to have a good education because schools can’t or won’t accept and accommodate them) then it reinforces the feeling of exclusion and poverty.
This is why we work with our Christian partners to ensure that all members of community are able to participate in and benefit from the projects you generously support. This requires building trust in community and taking time to understand who the most vulnerable and marginalised people groups are and – importantly – what it is that makes them vulnerable.
Identifying the barriers to inclusion and removing them is the first step to addressing the poverty caused by exclusion and lack of power. We know that the lasting and effective development of any community depends on inclusion and opportunities for every one of its members, making sure that no-one is left behind. Because valuing the importance of diverse knowledge and contribution actually makes the community stronger and ensures its strength for the future.”
“As a mum and former high school teacher, it excites me to see young people coming up with their own solutions for tackling the causes of poverty and vulnerability in their communities.
One story that stands out in my memory belongs to a child club in Nepal. With the encouragement of their community club leader, these wonderful young people began working effectively together as a group. Now some of the community’s youngest members are actively tackling many of its hardest issues – like the issue of child marriage.
To me, these children are not just recipients of the project, they are active participants who are part of the solution in the present… as well as for the future.
I was particularly inspired by the courage of one young girl, who was about 15 years old. She told me that after she had learned about her rights in her Child Club, she returned home to ask her dad and brother to stop using “shame words” towards her, simply for being a girl. It was an ongoing process and ongoing conversation. But, over time, her dad, brother, and uncles have realised that this sort of treatment is not right, and no longer ridicule her for being a girl.
This same young lady also encouraged her neighbours to send their children with disability to school and was invited to speak in UN meetings which were held in Nepal!”
“When I was in my early 20s, I travelled to Bangladesh on an exposure trip and was confronted by a world that was far different to my comfortable, safe, clean, Australian suburban life.
Here I saw people living in rural communities who were regularly confronted with challenges of poverty due to failed crops, low literacy rates, and a lack of health care services. At that time, it was a rather overwhelming; a scene which definitely left a lasting impression on my life.
Another lasting impact as a result of this trip was seeing, first-hand, how community development projects could assist people in learning the skills and methods they needed to lift themselves out of poverty. I saw that activities such as women’s sewing groups, savings and loans groups, and farming initiatives were all used to empower mums and dads to earn a livelihood and improve their children’s circumstances (as well as their own).
Fast forward about 15 years and I now work for Baptist World Aid. The spark which first ignited in Bangladesh, all those years ago, is now a roaring blaze which fuels my passion for this vocation. Through my role, I get to support local partner organisations who work in local communities, very similar to the one I visited in Bangladesh. And I get to work with local partners as they seek to provide knowledge, skills, networks, and resources to families living in poverty… so they can find sustainable ways of alleviating their experience of poverty.
Today, as I have the privilege of witnessing (again, first-hand) the look of dignity and pride on someone’s face as they share their story of change – of what has developed in their life, the life of their family, and the life of their community thanks to your generous support – I find myself exceptionally grateful. We are a small part of something truly remarkable.
When a mum, dad, grandparent, or child is able to step out of poverty and regain their dignity, they begin to see themselves and others in a new light. And as they end the controlling, hopeless, spiraling cycle they were trapped in before, it’s like they find a new lease on life.
New life, new hope, and – ultimately – transformation.”