Musings Social Justice

Making Poverty History

How We Can Make Poverty History
Nnaemeka Ugochukwu

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“.

All image credits: Unsplash.com

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About the author

Nnaemeka Ugochukwu

Nnaemeka Ugochukwu

Nnaemeka Ugochukwu is a Nigeria-based lawyer, writer and business innovation specialist. He is passionate about startups, fashion, equality and information sharing. He believes it is everyone's duty to make conscious decisions to create a better world. You can connect with him on Twitter @IamtheEmeka

6 Comments

  • You are a phony. Education may be important but it won’t end poverty. The structure of the education system actually helps it continue, by creating winners and losers. The super rich could end poverty tomorrow, and they are that stinking filthy rich they wouldn’t even notice the difference. But they won’t. They control every government, dictate every policy, and take a share of every economic transaction on the planet, while contributing nothing but waste. You are on their side, that is why you tell people to keep on struggling with the useless tools they have been given, which won’t change anything.

    • Hi Dan, I can appreciate your viewpoints but let’s refrain from attacking the author. Phrases like ‘you are a phony’ are unhelpful. Each person has their own contribution to make since we do not exist in the same ‘realities’. I have my own ideas of course, but these are born from a life of education, of privilege, of not going without or having to fight for my survival. Now, I too have many concerns about wealth distribution, capitalism and the education system that perpetuates the master/slave and winner/loser scenario. But let’s focus on solutions. How do you propose to change this as it is a monumental task that requires a complete restructuring of the world and a huge leap in human consciousness and evolution. And more specifically, when we put ourselves in these people’s shoes, what do you think can be done to improve their lives if you feel education is not a way forward?

    • I went to comment on Nnaemeka’s awesome article, and couldn’t help but see your comment here too, Dan. I personally find it hard to listen to people who begin talking to someone with ‘you are a phony’, as even if they have insightful things to say, they are tainted from the view point of attacking – which will not get anyone anywhere. Whilst I agree on points made by with both yourself and Nnaemeka, I’m currently a sponge in this topic, and thank you both for insight into something I know I must learn more about. In the future, I would hope you might rephrase how you approach a comment to an obviously well thought out and open article, so that people are more likely to listen and understand your view point too. Love your statement on finding solutions below Jen- this is what it’s about, not criticising those we might disagree with!

      • Thanks Kate 🙂 Yes I’m a solutions-oriented person that prefers to discuss and debate ideas and ideology. I understand that we humans have ego and emotion and it can be hard to leave these out of conversations, but I find it’s best policy to stick to the topic at hand and rationally debate rather than attack individuals. We get closer to solving our problems by doing it this way 🙂

  • Hi Dan,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. It shows you are interested in ending poverty. I believe it also shows you have received the “useless tool” called education. That is probably why you can talk about the “structure of the education system”; because you have been through one.
    You’re right, the “filthy rich” can end poverty tomorrow; but the won’t. If they had or would, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

    Education creates winners and losers. But until your “filthy rich” end poverty, we shall make do with education, or else, we all just might be losers.

    That said, I look forward to discussing (or even) working further with you to end poverty.

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