Poverty vs people in poverty

Some time ago I was in Chandigarh, India. I had a few days of meetings, just before Diwali: the feast of lights. It’s a bit like our Christmas, except of course it’s different.
I also got to spend time with a fellow Ywammer, which was good.

ChandigarhThe business meetings went very well and I got to spend time with my contact there both on the job and outside; people of that area are hospitable. People of Nordic countries would likely say, off the scale. When spending time together, there is always time for things that are not planned or anticipated; it’s what makes movies, stories and life interesting: how do we meet this, embrace it, solve challenges.

One of the unsolved challenges I left Chandigarh with was the question of what to do when faced with poverty. Or actually, not the concept of poverty, but with people that live in poverty.

“They are precious in his sight…”
Google this text of this song if you don’t recognize it. One of the ideas in this song is that all people are equally valuable to, and equally loved by God. Which shows the way for us: go and do likewise.
In Chandigarh, the contrasts between poor and rich are greater than in Europe. Regardless of the reasons for being poor or not: people are individual beings, all precious.
Being white in Chandigarh means you are likely rich, approachable and only in town for a short while. For someone living in poverty, a perfectly logical course of action is to try invoke sympathy and ask for money while you have that window of opportunity.

I had no rupees on me during my stay. A credit card was all I needed for business. But this forces your hands: only companies take your card. Business, I found out, is not the only thing I was there for. We find purpose in many things besides business, and it’s good to realize this often.

With nothing to give myself, I witnessed my local business contact giving to some, and not to others. I remember the 10 year old girl trying to sell us a few small things late at night. She did not manage to make the transaction and I watched her walk out of sight.
My business contact and I talked about her, about poverty, and he said he preferred to donate to organizations that work systematically with bringing people out of poverty through education. An acceptable solution, I thought. I was not able to give to people that came and asked, but was able to help others in the same situation. And so when I talked to my fellow Ywammer, I gave him money to support what he and his family are doing.
But it was something I carried home.

The conclusion I’ve currently arrived at – and the solution for my conscience to be at peace – is to get rupees to give away.
It will not systematically help those in poverty. It will likely perpetuate poverty. But it will ease the difficult situation in which the person I meet currently lives. Perhaps their stomach will be full, the beating of their back men will be less..

When someone asks you a direct question for help is very valuable and has little to do with the system. It doesn’t get any more personal than that.
So I’ll try to do both: fight the system and help the individual.