I was away with a team from our church for close to 3 weeks in Bolivia. It was second time there.
It is a place that both haunts and inspires. Ranked by the UN as the poorest country in South America, on the ground it feels like one of the most industrious, ambitious, progressive countries in the world. Bolivia’s energy is palpable. Its people are hard-working, focussed, and more than a little pushy. Though Bolivians often run late, they also always seem in a hurry.
Over the past 30 years, I have had several first-hand encounters with poverty in the developing world – in East Africa, South East Asia, northern India, parts of Central and South America. The more I’ve seen it, the longer I’ve pondered it, the less I understand it. Rarely does poverty seem a result of laziness or lack of intelligence. Indeed, some of the most innovative, insightful, industrious, resourceful people I’ve met are among the global poor. I think, as one instance, of a mother I met in Kanpur, India, who supports her entire family – husband included – by working 14 hour days baking and selling pastries. She fetches about $10 a day, much of which goes back into her business.
Not only is my lifestyle outrageously lavish next to hers, but my work ethic shockingly lethargic.
I don’t pretend to have more than the weakest grasp on the issues surrounding global poverty. All I can say is that, from the little exposure I’ve had, the problem rarely lies in the motivations or initiatives of the poor themselves, at least not at first. A lifetime of grinding away to scratch together pennies would eventually erode even the hardiest resolve. But the majority of impoverished people I’ve seen, I’ve met, I’ve spoken with have more endurance in their little finger than I have in my whole body.
I don’t know how to solve the problem of global poverty. All I know, standing next to my new friends in Bolivia, is that they possess riches I lack, and they have much to teach me.