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Many of us remember the countless TV ads begging viewers to give them money so they could provide free aid to starving children in Africa. Heartbreaking images of undersized children with bloated bellies from parasites, bites on their skin, and flies crawling across their bodies prompted millions to donate. However, it also promoted this idea in our culture that free food and clothing can help those in extreme poverty find a way out of poverty.
Despite our good intentions, our donations of free items have furthered the crippling of local economies. The influx of free food undermines the value of local crops, ruining small farms, and stifling the development of new agriculture. Our secondhand clothing donations have demolished local cotton and textile industries. This is not to say that we should stop aiding them, but the issues of extreme poverty run deep. Not only are many people trapped in poverty at birth or an inability to recover after a large disaster, they are held captive by a system of laws and government that protect the rich and further entrench the poor in poverty while they fight to provide the basic needs for their families.
The question then is, what can you do to solve this issue? Poverty is so complicated it leaves one feeling helpless to effect any change. But it will only change when we stand together to make a difference. Most industrial nations recognize the best way to help people in their own country is to help them get back on their feet. We need to give to organizations that help individuals get the tools they need to provide basic needs for themselves.
Organizations such as Green Empowerment work to set up families and communities with green sustainable sources of water, improved cooking stoves, and energy. That may seem like a small step, but it is life-changing. Many women and children travel for hours each day just to bring home a day’s ration of dirty water. Without electricity, there is no light for those children lucky enough to afford school to study. Cooking inside over an open fire and drinking dirty water leads to health hazards and sicknesses that many cannot afford treatment for. Ensuring a local source of clean safe water to drink, electricity, and safe cooking stoves radically improves their health and quality of life. The hours saved on water and firewood collection allow for more free hours to generate income or study for their future, a future of better opportunities and job growth, a future stepping out of poverty, and a future where they have the power to stand for change in their own government.