Monday, April 18, 2005
Does welfare work?
I found this article to be very interesting. It talks about the various Government anti-poverty initiatives and while they may be good at delivering aid to poor families, they have largely failed to change the beliefs and values that lead to poverty.
The analogy that Food for the Hungry (FH) uses to describe how beliefs or worldview leads to poverty is a tree. The roots of the tree are a person's beliefs or worldview. Values, the trunk in the tree analogy, flow from these roots. One values what one believes in and vice versa. The fruit of the tree are behaviors. Behaviors flow from values. For example, in many of the indigenous communities where we work here in Pucallpa the people are very animistic and believe that spirits cause illness. So the belief in question is that illnesses are caused by things outside of ones control (spirits, curses, even bird songs). So this belief leads to devaluing preventive health. This lack of value towards health leads to behavior like drinking dirty water, no latrines, etc... Changing the beliefs may not be the most PC thing to say you are trying to do, but it is what we at FH are all about.
The article above argues for more government funding for local Faith based organizations who work to change the beliefs/values that lead to behavior that cause poverty. It gives examples of programs that work directly and personally with people to change their behaviors. This view of poverty is in marked contrast with that held by many who believe the poverty is a resource issue. People are poor because they don't have access to resources or the resources are denied to them due to an unjust society. If you believe that, then maybe government welfare programs which simply give out money to the poor make sense. They are just getting what society has denied them. I don't really buy that personally. I certainly believe that there is plenty of injustice out there. But I have seen too many instances of people overcoming these obstacles to believe that society is so unjust that the injustice is a root cause of poverty.
But the point of the article above is that this impersonal treating of the symptoms by throwing money at the poor doesn't address the root causes of poverty. I tend to agree with the conclusions of the article. Reducing poverty is a very difficult, personal, time intensive process. The people in the river communities where we work have access to FREE water purification tablets provided by the government right there in the community, but the majority don't use them. Why? They like the taste of the river water better.