When people learn that my work supports woman’s livelihood development in rural India, they often dismiss it. Why? In the wake of UK-wide budget cuts, righteous anger has been stage-managed by the mass media. Public critique has been focussed away from the costs of failed global financial institutions and a decade-long war of questionable legality in Afghanistan, and fed towards the Department for International Development’s spending.
Within the wider nationalist castigation of aid, there is particular opposition to India being a beneficiary. It has an economic growth rate of 6%, a space programme, its own international development aid programme, and a growing club of billionaires. This is part of a simplistic reduction of worldwide poverty trends to headlines.
For ‘worldwide poverty trends’ please read children with abscesses the size of tennis balls for want of less than a tenner to visit the dentist, three families sharing a hut smaller than your living room, and one meal a day rather than three – the same meal of rice and gravy, every day.
Research by respected scholar Andy Sumner has proved that the majority of the world’s poor live in middle-income countries like India, China and Nigeria: “Only about a quarter of the world’s poor – about 370 million people or so – live in the remaining 39 low-income countries…a dramatic change from just two decades ago when 93% of poor people lived in low-income countries.”
I have lived for extended periods amongst the trends I describe above, not visiting from a hotel but from a hut in the village, collecting my water (when the pump worked) in a bucket. For me it is the most unlikely things that pierce a conscience hardened by backpacking and volunteering at orphanages throughout the developing world – I could happily play with barefoot kids, but when I realised they had no dolls I cried bitterly.
When I meet people who recite headlines, I am spurred like Victor Mallet of the Financial Times to share the need for a concentration in efforts as the overwhelming scale of the challenge for everyone to have a life with dignity grows – that the population overall is set to expand by the equivalent of the entirety of Europe’s in the next 50 years. This combined with global warming amounts to quite literally grave consequences.
Have you ever volunteered at home or abroad? This December 5th is International Volunteer’s Day and we’d like to hear your stories!