FOR decades, humanitarian efforts
across the globe have been focused on the question how to lift
people out of poverty. Thousands of initiatives, from large-scale
development projects and Millennium Goals to provision of local
latrines, have been funded by governments, churches, and
Many programmes have been effective.
There have been huge improvements in access to fresh water and
sanitation, for example. And, in Brazil, nearly 12 million people
were taken out of poverty between 1999 and 2009 - mostly through
government action in wealth redistribution, health care, and
education. Yet, on a global scale, poverty remains, and the gap
between rich and poor is ever widening.
Corruption, the arms trade, and the
power of local élites compound the problem, and climate change
places a further, almost intractable burden on the world's poor.
Inevitably, critics have hit out at organisations set up to address
poverty alleviation. Global financial institutions have been slated
for punitive bureaucracy and insensitivity to local conditions.
NGOs have come under attack for creating a dependency culture.
Alongside the frustrations of
persistent global inequities, however, quiet initiatives have been
sweeping through the poorest regions of the world, bringing new
confidence and change. Many NGOs have moved away from funding
large, complex projects towards providing more resources to help
communities to lift themselves out of poverty. Savings and credit
co-operatives have been established, often with remarkable
In a remote mountainous region of
Ethiopia, I visited women's collectives that were saving one birr a
week each (about five pence) to establish a mutual lending fund. It
was a very cost-effective project for the Tearfund partners who
facilitated it. Although uneducated, the women's confidence and
skills had multiplied, and, through years of co-operative venture,
poverty had been left behind.
In other programmes, whole communities
work together, and it was to see one of these that Tearfund sent me
recently to north-east Uganda. The "participatory evaluation
process" is disarmingly simple, even though it requires
considerable planning. It involves, first, the mobilisation of the
local churches to understand the many-layered needs of their
communities, and then working with neighbours for change. Together,
community members elect leaders, gather information, and make plans
for a better future. Then they work at it.
I was struck immediately by the huge
difference between communities just starting the process, and those
begun ten years ago. The evidence rose to greet us: clean water,
sanitation, healthy animal stocks, citrus trees, strong buildings,
and well-nourished children enjoying the benefits of education.
Turkeys, pigs, and goats fed
contentedly, and their manure was collected to fertilise the land.
Fish farms, bee-keeping, and crop-growing all provided revenue.
There was evidence, too, of distribution, as those with more
resources shared them with neighbours.
Global poverty needs global solutions.
But some of those solutions are very basic - and very Christian.
Echoes of St Paul's metaphor of "the body" were evident in the
mutual accountability I witnessed, which enabled people to move
from a dependency culture to one where they found strength
Love of neighbour was fundamental in
the way the Church dared to engage co-operatively with those of
other faiths and none. Arrogance and ignorance were being
challenged, and the stigma of disability and AIDS was being
overcome. It was sobering to find that Christian principles could
contribute so practically to the alleviation of poverty, and even
help to transform community life.
Dr Elaine Storkey is President of