Notes on Poverty

It’s interesting, poverty.

And I can say that because my past experience of poverty has largely been limited to seeing it on television commercials and the occasional documentary.

But this week I’m in rural Indonesia, visiting projects run by the child sponsorship organisation Compassion.

Here, poverty is more than just a theoretical problem to be solved.

Here, poverty is the daily reality for many people.

I sponsor a child here and have volunteered for Compassion in Australia for around 18 months, so this trip is an opportunity for me to visit my own sponsor child and observe how the projects run first-hand.

The experience is certainly everything I have prepared myself for: challenging, exciting, adventurous, heart-wrenching and beautiful — all at once.

But there is one emotion I wasn’t expecting, that my preparation didn’t cover.

The overwhelming feeling of hope.

At the project I visited yesterday, the leaders smile, the kids smile, the singers smile, the cooks smile. Everyone I spoke to appears full of joy and shows heartfelt gratitude for what they have. Almost all of them also has a story of hardship, yet the hardship hasn’t got them down.

So how can they live in such poverty and yet appear to experience such joy?

Even asking the question itself makes me aware of my own Western cultural lens. I can only observe this place as a visitor here for a short time, and I can’t know what it is truly like to live this life.

Yet there is still this: that what I observe is hope. Recurring and resolute.

Not “hope” in the wispy-washy sense we use when we say we “hope” it doesn’t rain today, or we “hope” Geelong wins the footy on the weekend.

The hope I see here in Indonesia is a wild, raging, powerful hope, more akin to trust or faith. It’s born in this place where every day is uncertain and yet life continues to find a way forward.

Is this something we can learn from? These people don’t have many possessions but are rich in emotional assets like family, friends, love.

It’s a challenge, and an opportunity. I will continue to give money and advocate for these people, to meet their physical needs. And I’m going to bring home with me some of what they offer: the hope, the love, the joy.

The opportunity to be part of the change is real. And everyone becomes richer.

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