Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category

Black, White and Shades of Grey

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shades of greyDuring the festive season, there are countless posts about giving, generosity, the “Top 10 _____” (insert whatever is appropriate).   But we thought we’d take a slightly more somber look at development issues generally, but using a specific example closer to our (Australian) home – that of the plight of Indigenous Australians – in particular, the acute housing shortage that is found in remote parts of the country.

We are not going to delve into this particular issue ourselves, but would refer you here, where you will find an excellent, multi-media summary that highlights the acute housing crisis in the Tennant Creek area of the Northern Territory.  As this excellent article points out, the myriad of issues facing Indigenous Australians is unlikely to be solved by addressing the housing crisis.   It is the tip of the iceberg, but certainly SHELTER features pretty high on Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy.

What we did want to share was our experiences in dealing with development type issues.  Part of the training we did (with Australian Volunteers International) before we set off to Ghana, was to help us understand that things are rarely black and white.  Indeed, at first glance, many issues appear to have a simple solution.   As we found on the ground, this is rarely the case.   If things were as black and white as this, then the multitude of development issues (poverty, lack of education, lack of sanitary conditions, racism, lack of water, discrimination, disability, and the list goes on….) would have been solved long ago.   Greater minds than ours have looked at these issues, and have tried to find solutions for decades.  Instead, what our experience as volunteers has taught us, is that there are many shades of grey.  Things are rarely as they originally appear, and the day to day experience of people needs to be understood thoroughly before aid can make a qualitative (and quantitative) difference in people’s lives.

We are always mildly bemused when well intentioned (or perhaps ill informed?) people quickly jump to a conclusion that will look something like this:   “What the _____(insert disadvantaged group here) need to do is _____”.    or this:   “The problem with _____ is simply that they should be doing ______”.     You get the picture.

In our experience, the bigger the problem, the more complex it is to solve.  The dependency of a number of factors, coupled with things like generational trauma, systemic discrimination, and poverty more generally serve to put people behind the eight ball.   It is difficult to ever get in front if you are constantly scrambling to just keep afloat.

There are no easy answers, but we can all do our part.   May 2014 be filled with abundance and blessings to you.  Thank you for continuing to read our blog, and we look forward to bringing you more material into the new year.   We are going to be heading off to India, where we will be seeing some “development ideas in action”, that we look forward to being inspired by.   Stay tuned!


When did “Charity” get such a bad name?

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One of the things that we often talk about – and shake our heads about – is the discussion of how much foreign aid should be given to those less fortunate than ourselves.   Currently in Australia,  our overall aid budget will fall to 0.33 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), while our defense budget will rise to 2 per cent.   Hmmm….  that seems a bit unfairly skewed in our view.   For a more comprehensive discussion about our current aid vs. military spending, click here.

Millions of people around the world struggle to make ends meet;  yet rich countries like Australia continue to reduce the amount of money going to foreign aid.

Millions of people around the world struggle to make ends meet; yet rich countries like Australia continue to reduce the amount of money going to foreign aid.

The bottom half of the world’s people survive on barely 1 per cent of the world’s wealth; the top 10 per cent hold 86 per cent of all assets.  And somehow, we are supposed to reconcile that sobering statistic with a reduction in foreign aid?   Wow.   Makes no sense, does it?!  But these kind of thoughts are sadly, alive and well out there.   Even in social media, we occasionally see such narrow minded, mean spirited thinking in posts that people we know (in fact, coming from people that we may even be related to!).   Sad, but true.   How best to combat such thinking?

Well, as with most things, there are no easy answers.   But one thing we have observed during our time on this planet, is that sitting with, sharing, and experiencing life with someone less fortunate than ourselves, is an eye opening experience.   And doing this in a country that isn’t as wealthy as our own, is even more eye opening.  We live such a privileged, day to day existence, that it is sometimes hard to fathom how tough it is in the rest of the world.   So travel is a great way to expand our world view, our compassion, and our belief system.

And for Mar(k), one of the ways we try to help is to simply post little things like this blog, simply to get a few more people thinking about what they do, why they think the way they do, and maybe one little thing that THEY could do to make the world a more equitable place for all.   Would love to hear what you are doing!

Thanks for staying with us.

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Written by Mar(k)

November 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm