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Reflections on Poverty – Blog Action Day 2008

Today is Blog Action Day – a day where thousands of bloggers around the world commit to write on the one topic in the hope of creating awareness around that issue. The topic this year is Poverty. For a lot of great resources on the topic of Poverty check out Learn About Poverty. I’ve included a few of their videos scattered through this post (they don’t relate directly to the stories I’m sharing but hopefully will add to our thinking on the topic today.

This post contains a few reflections on Poverty from my own experience (I’ve also posted a more photographic exploration of the topic of poverty here). It has little to do with blogging – please forgive the diversion – but it is an issue close to my heart and one that I’d like to reflect upon.

As I ponder the topic of Poverty my mind is drawn back to numerous times where I’ve been confronted by it.

Thailand 1990

As an 18 year old (half a lifetime ago now) I was fortunate to spend two weeks in Thailand. I was traveling with a small group of young adults from our church to visit a number of aid projects there. We spent the 14 days traveling around Bangkok, visiting Slums, Prisons, Rural Villages, Schools, Aids Hospices and more. We largely observed the work but at times were able to lend a hand where we could. This was the first time in my life that I’d seen poverty first hand – it was confronting, depressing, confusing and yet somehow inspiring.

Thailand 1992

I was so impacted by what I’d seen and experiences that I decided to return two years later to spend 6 weeks living in one of the Bangkok slums that we’d briefly visited on the first trip. This second trip changed my life as I lived in a small community house that at night housed 8 men with Aids and provided child care for 40-50 children during the days. The centre was built of discarded building materials and stood on stilts over raw sewage that was inhabited by snakes, rats and who knows what else.

While there I was confronted by things I’d never have imagined in my previous middle class existence. Children wandering the streets while their parents worked on rubbish dumps scrounging for food and things that they could sell, women forced into prostitution, drug addiction, watching a woman learn that she had Aids, taking a child to visit his drug addicted father in a Thai jail, seeing the impact of a flood on a place built over sewerage….

Yet while there I was also confronted by things I’d not expected to find including JOYFUL people who appreciated and focused more upon what they did have than what they didn’t, HUMOR (I’ve never seen people laugh as much as the night that community tricked me into eating Bulls testicles), GENEROSITY (I was fed like a king in that place and lavished with gifts before leaving), COMMUNITY (these people came together in ways that were inspiring and make the petty fights that we sometimes have as bloggers look embarrassing), HOPE, FAITH, LIFE and much more.

I returned home from that trip and changed the course of my life in many ways. I received much much more in those 6 weeks than I was able to give.

Philippines 2001

A few years later and ironically just before I got married (a day that I probably spent more money on myself than any other) I helped lead another team of young Australians on a short trip to the Philippines – this time to visit an organization called International Needs who operate out of Manilla but who work in rural areas also. We spent time on that trip again observing and working in a number of aid projects.

A number of images continue to haunt me from that trip.

One was spending a day at a city rubbish dump where thousands of families lived and worked on massive piles of rubbish. They built their little shanty homes on rubbish that periodically would collapse and swallow people. Children worked and played in the filth – it was one of the saddest things I’ve seen.

On another day we traveled for 5-6 hours in the back of a van to a small fishing village where a pastor had started a feeding program for the village’s many children. The children were malnourished – their hair had even begun to change color from the lack of nutrition.

The desperation I saw that day was quite heart breaking. We had brought bread to the village that day to give to the pastor to distribute through his program. Unfortunately someone in the back of the van let the bread be seen by one of the children outside – the word got out that we had food and the van quickly became surrounded by a desperate crowd of people hoping to get just a small share of the bread.

Once again – the memories from this trip are a mix of heart breaking ones an those that give me hope.

One such hopeful memory was seeing a project where money was loaned to families to start their own businesses. A family would by a ‘pedicab’ (a three wheel bike with seats on the back, like a rickshaw/bike taxi) with the loaned money and then over time would pay back the loan while also earning a living for their family. Once the loan was repaid the family would have an ongoing income source and the money would be loaned to another family with the process continuing. This micro-business is all about breaking the cycle of poverty. I actually did a 24 hour blogathon to raise money to be able to seed some of these loans back in 2004.

Today

Today as I ponder the topic of Poverty a lot of these memories continue to cycle through my mind (in fact they do so on almost a daily basis – even years later).

My constant reminder to myself is to not just let these experiences be ‘memories’ have or ‘stories’ that I tell – but to let them be motivation to live a life that makes a difference.

I’m not in the business of sharing how V (my wife) and I ‘give’ to projects like some that I’ve mentioned above but one way that I think many of us making money online can make a difference is by being generous with our earnings. Just this week V and I have been able to find a way to reconnect again with the feeding program in the Fishing Village that I mentioned above and we’re looking at ways that we can use some of what we’ve been given to share into that community. I don’t share this to big note myself – I could give a lot more than I do and am feeling somewhat challenged to do so today – but wanted to mention it in the hope that others might be challenged to examine how they might make a difference also.

Blogging is built on principles of sharing, generosity, creativity and community – my hope is that we continue to explore how it might be used as a medium to not only benefit ourselves (something it does) but those less fortunate than ourselves.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Matt says:

    Great stories Darren! When we live in countries such as the USA or Australia I think it is easy to take for granted how well off we have it. We all are literally some of the richest people in the world, and that is if we are making minimum wage. So many live their lives with so little, it’s very humbling to travel around and see that first hand.

    Again, thank you for sharing these stories.
    Matt

  2. Lance says:

    Hey Darren, thanks for the reflections. You’ve inspired me to register my blog with blogactionday.org and tackle this difficult topic.

  3. I think that has been nice to read everyone’s different perspectives on poverty this morning. It is always nice when some of the top bloggers take time away from writing information about their niche and instead write about something as terrible as poverty. Thanks for this Darren.

  4. Matthew Lang says:

    Good to see Blog Action Day kick off with a great post. The internet community is a great place to highlight this issue and hopefully instigate some change in people and organisations in order to help those less fortunate than us.

  5. I had never heard of Blog Action Day before. What a brilliant idea: Bloggers using there powers for the forces of good!

    I usually think of poverty on a local scales, as I see it everyday in my community, and give on an annual basis to the United Way, but rarely do I open my mind enough to think on a global scale

  6. Great post Darren, a great way to get ready for Blog Action Day to go live in the US in about 13 hours. Posts like these are always inspiring and motivating to people to people to think about how they can make a difference in someones life.

  7. Geoff Pound says:

    Darren

    A terrific post which illustrates the wider dimensions of work and blogging.

    Often posts and articles we write and read are devoted to how to survive or make our millions through blogging but you, in this article, have given examples of some of the important social dimensions to blogging.

    I have been volunteering as a teacher and coordinating others to do the same (the blog is ‘Theologians Without Borders’). One Kiwi teacher went to a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border to teach. He is a blogger and he has been highlighting and encouraging Karen refugees to establish blogs on which they post their reflections and beautiful photos. This gives them something meaningful to do. It connects them with the world and it helps them to feel that they are not forgotten by others.

    Darren, thanks again for highlighting in your post today the needs of the poor and displaced. It puts our lives into perspective.

    I think you may have sparked a brand new series on The Social Dimensions of Blogging.

    Geoff

  8. It is still morning on the 14th in the US so your post is a day ahead of Blog Action Day for us! Reading your post puts a different perspective on poverty. Seeing that level of poverty first hand has to be life changing! When you see it on TV you just don’t feel it. I am writing about the level of poverty I have experienced which doesn’t really compare. Someone else usually does have it worse don’t they?

  9. Joanna Young says:

    Darren, thanks for sharing these personal perspectives and powerful take away messages. I believe blogging can be a force for good too. Thanks for leading the way in helping us to get there.

    Joanna

  10. AhTim says:

    Good awareness post. Poverty is one of the important topic in UN. But I think this issue won’t be resolve as long as greedy human rules the world.

    Try your best to help.

    –blog for dream–

  11. mark_hayward says:

    Nice post, Darren! Don’t forget, if you’re looking for some bloggers who are putting the ACTION into Blog Action Day, check out http://trainforhumanity.org.

  12. Ali R Khan says:

    Its really amazing that you shared your experiences on poverty and Yes, World should help the people who are suffering with poverty and the main cause of poverty in many countries is there own corrupt leadership.

    Another thought coming in my mind is WHAT EXACTLY IS POVERTY?? a person who is making less then what a person making on average in US or a person who is deprived of basic necessities???

    And what do you think Darren How a Blogger can fight against Poverty and can do something to reduce the poverty???

    Regards
    ALi R Khan

  13. Sebastian says:

    Wow… Darren… I have to say, it is not too often that I am moved almost to tears by something I read on a blog, but your account of the Thailand visit brought back memories for me. Back in 1989, I was serving in my country’s armed forces (Colombia). And one of my units responsibilities was to provide protection to a group of Red Cross volunteers while they visited a colony that had been built on a landfill by people that had been forced to leave their land (drug cartels & guerrillas do that there so that they can use the land to plant coca). We went to the landfill and set up tents for the Red Cross personnel and for ourselves… and spent about 10 days there doing vaccinations, dental work and so forth… I tell you man… I have never felt so much warmth in my life… these were people living in sheds made of tin and cardboard… trying to scrape a living off of the landfill itself… and yet, they were warm, joyous, cordial, generous and most importantly happy. I’m sure they would have been happier under different circumstances, but these people took what life threw at them and made the best of it. Truly a life changing experience.

  14. AffProsCatie says:

    Really great Blog. I actually spent the better part of my years growing up in poverty in the US. I know a lot of people don’t think that it exists here, but it does. My Mother worked very hard, many hours, to get my family to where it is today. I didn’t even learn the internet existed till I was 13! So it’s great what you are doing, spreading awareness and sharing the truth. A lot of people turn a blind eye to whats right in front of them because they have no idea what to do with themselves when confronted with such things. Its a good thing you are doing. Keep doing it, you have inspired me.

  15. i think too often people forget to be thankful for even the “little” things in their lives – i know i’m guilty. thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences on a massive platform – while there is much sadness to the situations you describe, your reflections are inspiring.

  16. I have been writing about poverty and over population via my blogs in the Philippines-my country of birth. The above article has inspired me to continue blogging in this subject.

  17. willbill says:

    wow. Darren, you actually have been to Philippines. and i just have learned that your a youth pastor before. wow. your reflection about poverty is touching. if ever you will come back here, i hope you’ll let us know. Continue to be a blessing.

  18. Darren, thank you for participating in Blog Action Day 2008. On behalf of the whole team, THANK YOU!!!

    And may your readers all decide to be more generous, more giving pro bloggers from now on.

  19. Shanel Yang says:

    Great post, Darren! I’m glad to be a part of Blog Action Day, too, and looking forward to reading everyone’s posts tomorrow here in the Western hemisphere! : )

  20. Thanks for letting me know about Blog Action Day. After reading your post, I’ve registered, written my post and will join all of you tomorrow on the blogosphere for positive change.

  21. Wow that was a very good posts. It does give you something to think about. Its almost as like you want to do something about it..but it is sooo overwhelming. There was a time I was faced with poverty as well when I was a kid. I never went without, but there was time when we lived in a house full of rats and roaches.

    But ask yourself this….without poverty, there can be no people who are rich! It is quite sad because the world is made up of a contrast law; what goes up must come down, day and night, moon and sun, rich and poor, evil and good. Poverty will always be an issue in a world..but is up to us to help others while we are on this earth and get off of our high horses for once. Good posts! :)

  22. Hope says:

    Your post brought tears to my eyes and encouragement to my heart.

    There are many times I have thought about ‘giving up’ my online volunteer projects (I don’t have any commercial ones) when I come up against yet another technical problem.

    Then I focus on the ‘poverty’ of those I am seeking to help, albeit perhaps not always financial – they still suffer loss.

    I wonder what also would come of us taking a look around our own neighbourhoods and seeing how we could meet a ‘lack’ of something right where we are.

    Starting with our own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then the ends of the earth?

  23. Jim Gaudet says:

    Hmm, it’s only October 14th here… Where are you? Who.is says your site is hosted in the US…

  24. Angel Cuala says:

    Hi Darren,

    I did not realized you once paid a short visit to my country – Philippines. I am a Filipino, I can honestly say that Philippines is “a rich country with poor people”. Let me explain my side as briefly as I can.

    I am among those you “saw” back in 2001, although my dark past due to severe poverty happened during the early 80s. As I mentioned on my About me page, I started to earn a living at the age of 10 on the streets, literally.

    Looking back, I now understand that my country is rich, as in very rich. We have many wonderful beaches, spacious fields, talented and intelligent people with a great sense of hospitality.

    But why is that most of my countrymen are leaving the country to work everywhere in the world? It is because we lack education. No, not the academics but the learning about business and finance, the ability to maximize our natural resources instead of dying to taste imported food and so much more.

    As for the theme of Blog Action day 2008 – Poverty, I truly believe that bloggers can really help a lot by inspiring others and sharing a piece of each of us to let the world know that money is NOT the best solution to poverty.

    It is the education that these parents should learn that having a child is more than just a big responsibility, it is the skills of these poor children that should be cultivated, it is the peace of mind of every religious sectors (Muslims, Christian, and others) that will build a society that shows respect in spite of the difference in belief.

    Money will always be around, but history will only repeat itself unless we know what we need to know, and we do what we must really do.

    Thanks for helping my country in your little but sincerest way, Darren.

    Hopefully, time will come that I can do my part.

  25. kouji haiku says:

    indeed. over here in the philippines where i live, the poverty can be terrible. people are able to find ways to laugh and enjoy life nonetheless, but it truly is something that needs to be alleviated, because no one should have to suffer through the despair that it sometimes brings.

    as a means of helping, in a fairly non-intrusive way, i’m quite fond of freerice, kiva, and goodsearch, as ways people can help alleviate poverty online.

    it’s great that you’re participating in this year’s blog action day as well.

  26. Paul says:

    Great story and amazing blog. Good to see your work and hear the stories that have impacted you over the years. Thanks for putting videos out there.

  27. Marty Weil says:

    I’m participating. I’ve written a poverty-themed post on ephemera

  28. Geoff Pound says:

    For those interested I have written on one of my blogs today about the United Arab Emirates Fighting Poverty.

    Is that an oxymoron?

    Check it out and see.

    Link:
    http://experiencingtheemirates.blogspot.com/2008/10/uae-fighting-poverty.html

    Geoff Pound

  29. Brian says:

    Thanks for the insight! As I go through all of the Blog Action posts it’s interesting to see the common threads and the new insights. There is much to say (and even more to do!) about poverty.

    Lance, I’m going to be checking your blog for a post now!

    Livingonadsense, It’s inspiring to hear that you’re addressing poverty in your local community. For me, it’s often easier to click “Donate” on a website for global poverty than to sit down and share a meal with a local homeless man or ask why my community isn’t doing more. Sometimes face-to-face interactions are more difficult than the anonymous internet, and asking your friends to do more harder than asking strangers. Here’s to doing both!

  30. CoolProducts says:

    In third grade, I went to live for a period of time in a city called Cuernavaca, Mexico, about an hour or two south of Mexico City. This city is paradise; that is, if you could get passed the fact that there was only extreme wealth and extreme poverty with very little in between. One of the most vivid memories of my time down there was when I was eating at the McDonalds in town (yes they even have McDonalds down there) and we went to eat outside to enjoy the beautiful weather that the city is known for. Surrounding the outside patio was a 10ft rod-iron fence. The purpose of this fence was to keep out the begging children. However, this did not stop them from reaching their hands through and begging for food. How can one eat their meal after witnessing this? I’ll never forget this for as long as I live.

  31. Julia says:

    Hi Darren, and thanks a lot for this post. Interestingly, it highlighted the topic I addressed on my blog, about poverty in art. You say that those people who were physically leading a barely bearable life were nonetheless hopeful and humorous. During my research into representation of poverty in art I noted that this is precisely this side of the poor people existence that made its way into art, rather than hardships they experienced. And while there may be no problem with this, given that art is a refined practice, art was also a way of representing the society, and in this, the poor were mostly given a duff hand before the photography arrived on the scene.

    http://loscuadernosdejulia.blogspot.com/2008/10/blog-action-day-2008-poverty-and-art.html

  32. This such a great cause. I totally support it. In fact, you inspired me to write my own blog post about it! Thanks!

  33. Alex says:

    Great post Darren, Thank you for sharing, I myself wrote about it here: http://www.guruofsales.com/general/427/fight-poverty-its-blog-action-day-today and got a huge respond from readers and other bloggers. Would you please honor us and share your thoughts by leaving a comment on our post? I am trying to come up with something new tomorrow and I will include and encourage readers to visit your blog back so we can all unite to fight poverty.

  34. BlapherMJ says:

    That was a very moving post – thank you. I only found out this morning that yesterday was Blog Action Day, so I will be posting tonight, albeit late. I hope millions will take part this weekend in Stand Against Poverty (http://www.standagainstpoverty.org). We all must work together!

  35. Doug C. says:

    Poverty is with us every day so we should help every day, not just on one day.

    I have been homeless myself a couple times and I know firsthand the fear and hopelessness of this terrible situation. The reality of poverty is something that effects us all and with our current economy suffering from a mounting recession and our own government sending billions of dollars overseas instead of using that money to help people in their own backyard today it is more vital then ever that everyone do their part to help.

    Hopefully, this day will inspire you to seek out ways you can help – in your own neighborhoods, food shelters, food banks, churches, and community centers – because fighting the war against poverty is not in Iraq or Africa or Afghanistan but everywhere.

  36. johnMark says:

    Darren,

    I appreciate being turned on to Blog Action Day. It was a pleasure to participate.

    Thanks,

    Mark

  37. Hello there… I love your blog. My name is Michelle Crowther and I have a program called Hair of the Blog on ABC Radio, where I feature various blogs on my site, and then have a chat on the radio with the person behind the blog. I am wondering whether you might like to come on the program for a phone interview.
    My blog is: http://blogs.abc.net.au/nt/darwin_sunday_blog/index.html
    Please email me at [email protected] with your phone number if you’d like a chat.
    Cheers,
    Michelle

  38. Mita says:

    Hi Darren

    I was born and raised in one of the poorest metropolis in the world namely Calcutta, India. So I was very socially aware as a Kid. I never could understand this huge disparity in living conditions of the poorest versus the richest…wanted to understand why we have always enough for war not much for peace. One of the big chunk of the puzzle called capitalism has to do with the nature of capital itself and how it has so far been treated in economics, politics, media and academia. I am an advocated for monetary literacy, open transparent sustainable debt-free monetary system designed by the people for the people (not public vs private entities) from a new understanding of currency.

    Please share my educational blog on – Deep Conscious Capitalism. Search here http://www.kartoo.com

    Peace

  39. Lauren says:

    I agree with your thoughts Darren and thank you for shedding some light on the topic.
    most people complain that poverty is a “bad thing” and that it is “inevitable” and even thought we help, it “still does not make a dent in reality” and none really do anything about it themselves. But here is a thought, we start with ourselves. Ever seen the ever-inspiring and moving film “The pursuit of Happiness” – and basically it shows how people in impoverished situations could use Christopher Gardner as inspiration to fight and try everything possible to make your dreams come true…
    the measure of a man is not when he stands in a life of luxury and comfort but when he is faced with fear and uncertainty…. it is up to you to shape your life, despite your background and context. Make the most of every situation and never give up!

    see my post along similar lines:
    http://jcvarsity.blogspot.com/2008/10/poverty.html

  40. Dear Darren,

    Thank you so much for taking time out to participate in Blog Action Day! It’s wonderful to see the most-recognized bloggers come out in support of the cause.

    I remember vividly my first-hand experiences with poverty overseas and your posts brought it all back to me. Your experiences are an inspiration.

  41. cheritycall says:

    Hello, Do something for help those hungry people from Africa or India,
    I added this blog about that subject:
    at http://tinyurl.com/5pul7l

  42. Amanda says:

    I believe all that is being said about poverty, it really is a melancholy situation because no one should live in poverty.

  43. Payday Loan says:

    If we want to end poverty we must agree to a massive redistribution of wealth and opportunity. This entails giving up some of the extras we are accustomed to. Extra corn for our cars, spinners on our rims, iced out everything, McMansions etc. Half of the world is employed in making disposible products for the other half. Lets employ them to make useful products for themselves without first asking, “whats in it for me?”

  44. spencer black says:

    Just wanted to say I’m really proud of everything you’re doing.
    Here is the video I did for the young lions competition in hopes of encouraging people to add their names and help Oxfam by joining the movement to encourage world leaders to vote for change at the summit in Copenhagen in December.
    Hope you enjoy!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ0nlJ9Ythc