Making Poverty History

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Making Poverty History

Abuja, Nigeria: Poverty is a familiar term. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of Nigerians are poor. So, when my editor asked my views on wealth distribution, poverty and how to end it; I thought of these statistics, the research that has been done and solutions that have been put forward by organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

This article is not a product of any of those research or studies. This article is about my own thoughts and views. I have not conducted any experiments to validate them. They are simply what I have seen and experienced. 

I have always thought of poverty in the abstract. I have lived on the fringes of it, skirted its worst advances and yet have always been in my bubble. I would think about it and I would tell myself that money was the solution to poverty. That if I worked hard, if everyone worked hard the way I planned to, then we could end poverty. This was what I had as an answer when Jennifer Nini asked for my views on how we could end poverty. A lot has changed in the last few weeks.

I spent the last few weeks with my family in my hometown. I had traveled to the village for Christmas. I extended my stay well into the new year to enable me to work on some projects and volunteer at a school for children in my village.

Can We Make Poverty History?

The village is…well, a village; it’s rural. There is a single tarred road. Electricity had been off for about six months. This meant that the few places that one could see electric lights depended entirely on generators.

But it was also beautiful. It was like I was thrust into the beauty of nature. I would take strolls and look at bushes and flowers like I had never seen them before (and in so doing, making my cousins laugh). The air was fresh and clean. And the silence! Oh, The Silence.

Sadly, my cousins, Uncles and Aunties did not see this beauty. Or feel this nostalgia. They were occupied with a more pressing need; Survival. When there is possibility that your family may go to bed hungry, sunset becomes the enemy.

The World Bank defines poverty as living below $1 a day.

That is a technical definition. In reality, here, the definition is slightly different. Most of these people live on well more than a dollar a day (maybe $3-5). They feed their families. They are not exactly starving to death. But they are still poor nonetheless.

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Let's Make Poverty History

So, as I spoke with the people, ate with them, laughed with them, I realized that there was a fundamental difference. My pockets were as empty as theirs (probably more), but I had something they didn’t; hope and choice. Even though I was there with them, I was not of them. I was there because I wanted to be; I had a choice, I could leave whenever I wanted.

So, where does my choice and hope come from? My Education. On the surface, this might not appear so. I might applaud myself that I have an optimistic view on life, or that I am just more hard working. But the truth is that I am optimistic because I know different. I have read of other people who have better lives, I have met them. These were opportunities offered by my education.

You see, I am educated. I have a law degree. I know there are a number of things that could happen to change my fortune. I might get hired by Google, my startup could receive a huge investment or my menswear brand could get more sales. But for these people, short of money falling through the roof, not much can happen.

In these states of existence, no amount of hard work can change your fortunes. No amount of entrepreneurship can change your future. An entrepreneur essentially embarks on a venture with the hope that he or she can change certain factors and thence make life better. When you do not have this basic hope, the thought of entrepreneurship does not even come up. What is needed is a complete overhaul of your outlook on life. This is something only education can achieve.

By now, everyone knows the importance of education. But perhaps, not everyone understands the effect it can have on poverty. I have seen it firsthand. It shows in the fact that the educated villagers, the local teachers and civil servants somehow tend to live a life better than those of others. Their children are more likely to receive education to university level; less likely to die from easily treatable diseases like measles or have cases of teenage pregnancy.

Education gives hope. It’s the shortcut that ends vicious cycles. If poverty is the lock; education must be the proverbial key.

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Making Poverty History Starts With Education

Education here does not strictly refer to formal education received in the classrooms. It also includes skills and crafts acquired by any form of training. It includes exposure. If a child from the poorest place on earth is sent to live in New York, he or she does not require a formal education to know that life will be better there. The child does not need a formal education to grow the desire to make his or her own life better.

Various solutions have been brought forward to bring an end to poverty. One of the most recent is the Universal Basic Income (UBI). Like so many other solutions, it is being championed by people who have themselves never been poor. True, these people and solutions may be provided by experts, but it is another example of giving fish, rather than teaching how to fish. It will not work for the same reason systems like communism don’t work; no one wants to make money and have it given to poorer people.

With the time I have spent with school children over the last few weeks, I believe education is the key to ending poverty. I have watched their eyes brighten at the thought that they could find their place in the world, and felt their joy at the prospect of a better life.

As the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon puts it:

“Education promotes equality and lifts people out of poverty. It teaches children how to become good citizens. Education is not just for a privileged few, it is for everyone. It is a fundamental right.”

It is not realistic to ask that we share money to every child or family on earth. But I believe it is realistic to ask that we give them an education. Give them an education and watch them find their way out of poverty.

Liked this post? You might like this one too: “On Giving Money to the Poor“.

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