The above photograph is an areal view of one of the townships in Cape Town South Africa. We use it this week as an introduction to the topic of self-reliance. Imagine, if you can, multiple areas expanded 10 - 100 times - this and the number of people who inhabit those areas and wake up each day wondering how they are going to find something to eat. The problems they face are huge. How do they/can they, compete with the more affluent, the better educated and the multitude with more skills, all who are competing in an area with a scarcity of jobs even for those who are equipped to compete? It is with this backdrop in mind that this week’s discussion is centered around money.
It has often been stated that it takes money to make money. However, the statement is only partially true and is also a relative statement. There have been those of my acquaintance that have come into large sums of money and lost it all due to a variety of reasons; poor investments, laziness, greed, squandering, etc. There have also been those who have taken a mite and built it into a fortune. So having money, in and of itself, is apparently not the determinate factor of making money.
So, you might ask, what is the key to making money? And why is money the topic of conversation at this particular time? Let me address the latter question first. Our assignment here in South Africa is to work with those who are not self-reliant – i.e., those who do not have the means to provide for their own needs for whatever reason and there are a variety of them. Since jobs are scarce here, it is difficult for many to compete for them due to the lack of education, skills, transportation, etc. I have mentioned before that many of these people are intelligent and have an incipient desire to succeed in taking care of themselves. Many of them have ideas & concepts of things they could and would do if they had the financial ability to do so. As an example, a lady we are working with wants to begin a pre-school in her poverty stricken area. She has the accreditation and the local authorities are ready to give her a license to have the school. Others are desirous to work for her or partner with her to operate the school. She has approximately 21 children committed to come to the school at a price that would make the venture profitable. So what is the missing element? Why doesn’t she move forward? The answer is she cannot get a license until she has a building. She can not get a building without money to pay the rent. She cannot borrow the money because she has no collateral. None of those that are desirous to be involved in the school have any money. They have righteous desires and determination but no money. So, in this scenario, desire and determination does not equal money.
Many others lack the education to get a job. This does not mean that they have not attended school but rather that, due to a number of reasons, poorly operated schools, lack of applying themselves, lack of parental guidance and help, peer pressure, etc., they have a low matric (our GPA). Those with low matric who are fortunate enough to get a job interview get passed over in favor of those with better grades. Those with the better grades dominantly come from the more affluent families that can afford to send their children to the better schools. Can those with poor grades get remedial education to enhance their matric? The answer is yes if they have the financial ability to pay for the teachers who offer this service. So, here the lack of money is again the obstacle to self-reliance.
In some infrequent cases, there are those that have the education, the desire and determination, and skills to get a job but cannot afford the cost of transportation to get to an interview. Even the ability to make application for the job escapes them due to the lack of internet service. The lack of money is again the apparent obstacle to success.
If money, for whatever reason, is the major obstacle to becoming self-reliant, what, if any, is the solution to rise above the obstacle? As stated above, the availability of money is not always the key to making money. Nor, as has been demonstrated in the above discussion, is determination and desire the key. However, if these two qualities, i.e., money and determination were joined together the obstacles to self-reliance would be virtually eliminated. In many cases the people we work with have at one time had the determination to rise above their state of poverty but have attempted to walk through the door of opportunity only to immediately run into a wall of obstructions so many times that they have become demoralized to the point that they are willing to accept their station in poverty.
In the classes we teach, our primary aim is to re-instill in the class members the belief that they can succeed, that there is a brighter light that can guide them out of their darkness. The first step they need is the determination, the deep, sincere driving desire to succeed. The confidence that they can become what they want to become. The Lord has said there is abundance and enough for all to have the necessities of life if we will attempt to acquire it in His own way. Do they believe that? We believe it and it is our job to help others believe it. As we search, ask questions, do more research on the many small leads that we are led to, the answers begin to develop as to how to destroy the obstacles that stand in the way of these people becoming self-reliant.
A for instance of one of the solutions that is beginning to take shape is that of micro-financing. The founding of microcredit is generally attributed to Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor from Bangladesh. In 1976, Yunus visited a local village seeking fundamental solutions to poverty. He met a woman named Sufyia who made and sold chairs to support her family. She relied on high-interest-rate loans from village moneylenders to buy the materials. Because of the severe terms of her loans, she had no way to improve her situation. Recognizing that Sufyia’s situation was not unique, Yunus lent 856 taka—about 27 U.S. dollars—to 42 microenterprise owners. Not only did the loan recipients pay back their loans promptly, but they were able to earn more income and grow their businesses. Of this first experience, Yunus remarked, “If I could make so many people so happy with such a tiny amount of money, why not do more of it?”
Do more of it he did, thus beginning the international revolution of microcredit. In 1983, Yunus founded Grameen Bank in order to offer microcredit on a wider scale. Today, Grameen Bank serves over 2 million borrowers in more than 80,000 villages. In 2006, the impressive global impact of microcredit earned Yunus and Grameen Bank the Nobel Peace Prize.
In many of the cases we work with, the difference between stagnancy in poverty and rising above it could literally amount to less than $100. But I emphasize, for clarity, that I don’t believe the availability of money is a cure-all, there has to be the combination of determination, the willingness to sacrifice for what you want, and money for success. Any one of the pieces of the formula will not, the majority of the time, be enough by themselves. However, this being said, the overall determinate will be self-determination and believing that the Lord is capable of doing what he has promised and will do it. We have to believe in ourselves, be what we want to be and not what others say or want us to be. We have to be willing to stand alone and face the adversities of life regardless of what the cost is.
As we continually search for ways to help these people rise from their level of poverty, we are confident that we will find success for those who are genuinely desirous to succeed in the Lord’s own way.