Poverty – My Experience

When I first arrived in Eldoret, a medium size city in Western Kenya, I experienced culture shock.  It was overwhelming to see the rampant poverty while making my way through the town.  We had just flown into Nairobi the night before and we were making a pitstop in Eldoret on our way to a smaller rural town where we would be living for the next month. We were being transported in an old land cruiser type vehicle that had been converted into an ambulance. Thousands of people flooded the streets, but for them, this was normal.  As we were driving through the city, we could only move at idle speed, as there were people everywhere. Vehicles are a luxury there, and most people walk to get around town.

Our transport vehicle - the "Ambulance"

Our transport vehicle – the “Ambulance”

Then, I had one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.  Sitting in the back seat with the window down, a man who appeared to be the same age as me approached the window of our moving vehicle.  He was walking barefoot through the city and wore clothes that had many holes. He was covered in dirt, missing teeth, and was truly in need.  

He said, “Can you help your brother out? I have epilepsy and cannot afford medication to stop the seizures. Please help me…”  

I sat there in shock.  Not because he was asking for help, but instead because his plea resonated with me on such a personal level.  When I was a young teenager, I had seizures as well. Although I never had epilepsy, I still required medication to prevent the seizures.  I dealt with this for about a year, then received surgical treatment to remedy the problem.  Even though this man and I had practically nothing else in common, I knew the struggle, discomfort and fear he was facing due to his seizures.  During this encounter, he was walking beside the car all the way to the end of the road when we turned onto another street.  I was just sitting there listening to him, and trying to process what he was saying, while my thoughts were just frozen.  I had no idea what to say, think, feel, or do.  I had been warned of this exact situation and told not to just give away money to people begging in the streets.  I truly wanted to help this man, but didn’t know how. I struggled through this experience with feelings of guilt, confusion, and frustration as we continued driving through the city to pick up groceries and supplies for the hospital. 

This would be the first of many experiences I had witnessing poverty in Kenya.  Over 1 Billion people around the world live in poverty.  Many of those are living on less than $1 a day.  Many people are aware of global poverty, and there are numerous initiatives to end poverty that are put on by people with good intentions.  If you look at the statistics, poverty has decreased from over 50% of the world’s population to under 25% within the last 50 years.  What has been the cause of that great reduction in poverty? Is it wealthy developed countries giving money, clothing, and food to poor countries? Or is it something else? Why have some countries prospered while others are left behind? Are we misdiagnosing the root problem? Is it possible we are hurting those people we intend to help?

After reading, watching, and hearing about poverty in detail, I need a place to write down all the important things I’ve learned. Over the next few posts, I’ll share thoughts and ideas I’ve gathered from researching the topic of poverty.  Its so easy to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, and in many cases its even easier to feel good about helping people in poverty, only to not realize you are perpetuating the problem and not really helping at all.  This is a subject I deeply care about, and I’m constantly seeking the truth amongst all the noise.

Here are some of the points I will touch on in future posts:

  • Relief vs Restoration vs Development
  • Foreign “Aid”
  • Western “god complex”
  • Microfinance
  • Rule of Law
  • Trade
  • Economic Freedom
  • Hope in Jesus
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