POVERTY ALLEVIATION
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.Attitude can make the difference
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By MUHAMMAD BASHIR CHAUDHRY
Sep 13 - 19, 2004
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Low-income or inadequate livelihood leads to poverty and the number of poor or the low-income people is on the increase in the country. Miseries associated with poverty are aggravated due to factors such as low asset base, poor quality or insecure housing, poor roads, inadequate water, sewerage or other utility services, lack of legal protection of rights, little or no voice within political systems, etc. Poverty alleviation efforts in the past did not work well partly because these efforts were not multi-directional. Other reasons include: financial allocations were not adequate; rescue efforts were planned or executed without serious commitment; leakages of funds percolating down the line and the people, who happen to be vocal, not necessarily the poor or needy, were selected for rehabilitation. It is generally argued that better results might be achieved by enhancing allocation of resources coupled with extra care in implementation of the programmes. The chances of success of rehabilitation efforts would, however, increase if concurrently there is constructive change in the attitude of the poor who should resolve to crawl out of poverty. Presently, many of the poor seem to be caring more for their 'honour' in the eyes of their relatives and their tribe than the improvement in the lot of their family members by spending within their means at the marriages of their children or birth of a son or other similar important occasions. This point is further elaborated below.

Marriage is a social contract sanctified in every religion. Many rich people including businessmen show off their wealth and connections to power corridors at this occasion. For the rich, these expenses are more like an investment, from which they would earn dividends over a long time. They start preparations months ahead of the actual date fixed for the marriage. Money is freely spent on house furnishing, new cars, jewelry, clothes, furniture, feasts, booking of hotel accommodation for guests, printing of expensive invitation cards, dispatch of invitation cards sometimes with air-tickets etc by parents of the would-be bride and the bridegroom. Actual marriage ceremonies last many days. Costly gifts are exchanged. Hundreds of guests are entertained to sumptuous feasts at each lunch or dinner during these days. The poor see a glimpse of all this or hear about it from a friend and resolve to somehow go through all these steps at the marriage of their sons and daughters. They do not realize that the rich, in spite of all the feasts and other expenses on marriage, might not be spending on the marriage even one-tenth of their total wealth. The poor would gladly spend their savings; raise money by selling their milch animals or on top of that would mortgage property to borrow heavily to meet marriage expenses. Clothes, ornaments, feasts, movies of marriage ceremonies, travel, etc are the main expenses. Many people are said to be going through it all due to social pressure. By wasteful expenditure at the marriage of their children, the poor feel satisfied to have saved their 'honour'. However, in the process they also mortgage their 'honour' to the money-sharks and would repent it for a long time to come.

The low-income people, if they so resolve, could solemnize the marriages of their sons or daughters in a simple and frugal manner and save themselves from sale of assets or falling in the clutches of the money-lenders. On such occasions, close friends of the family often sincerely suggest to the parents to keep marriage expenses to the minimum. If the suggestions were accepted, the families would not have to sell milch animals or to borrow from the money lenders. Moreover, the money so saved could be given to the newly-married couple to buy a flat or a plot of land to build a house in future, or to start a small business yielding regular income. There are rare cases that such suggestions for a frugal marriage are actually received well and the marriages are solemnized accordingly. Such positive suggestions are most often rejected outright. The poor need to be educated to rethink the old concepts of 'honour'. They have to be frugal and pragmatic and should be caring more for the welfare and education of their family members and desist from wasteful expenses. The things can possibly improve and the poor can become more aware if the community notables, family elders, religious leaders and social workers keep on propounding the value of frugal marriages and avoidance of wasteful expenses on observing old customs.

 

 

The poor are not only spendthrift in happiness but in many cases at the time of death of a member of a family, particularly that of the father or the mother. Food is served to the relatives, neighbours or others who are present after burial. Food is also served on the third day after death, and sometimes on the 9th day and then on the 40th day. Mostly all this is financed through borrowings as the savings were exhausted in meeting medical expenses during illness preceding the death of a dear one. According to them, such is the custom in their tribe and it is a question of their 'honour' so they must offer food to the people visiting for offering condolence. Death is a sad occasion for all and we should console the family that has been afflicted. However, expenses on lavish food at such occasions could be reduced. This should help the low-income family to continue with life without incurring further debt. These poor families might also realize that they should avoid excessive expenses if they wish to come out of poverty.

The low-income people are very particular to attend the marriage of a relative, even if it is in a town or village far away from their place of residence. The whole family would normally buy new clothes and travel by rail or by bus to attend the marriage. The actual marriage ceremonies and the travel time might be spread over four-five days, after which they return home. In the process they might have to forego the income for the period they were absent from their job. Such expenses are real set back to the family finances but the poor do not mind it. A little care in such situations can save the family from borrowing or using own money which otherwise was meant for paying of the school fees of their children or to buy medicine for the sick. The poor are also very particular to travel for the purposes of offering condolence on the death of a relative, even if residing at a far away place. Offering condolence is a religious duty. However, one should also be mindful of financial needs of the family. If a letter or a telephone call can serve the purpose one should avoid special journeys for the purpose.

The poor are generally fond of smoking, chewing pan and taking tea or eating on the road-side and attending cultural fairs organized near the tombs of the religious saints. Some of them fall prey to cheap drugs to which they get addicted in time. This affects adversely their health and their earning capacity. They fall sick more often and seldom visit a proper doctor for treatment. Many of the poor are short-tempered and would not mind starting a fight on a real or perceived slight to their 'honour'. Someone might get injured leading to serious fights to which other male members of the family are also sucked in. At that time, they do not care for the consequences. Sometimes, the fight could be a case for the police or for litigation in the courts. In such cases, the poor suffer badly. Their finances are ruined and mostly they end up with heavy debt. The low-income people should remain cool, show tolerance and avoid confrontation and fights. The notables of the locality might come forward for arranging reconciliation among the parties involved in the fight and thus same them from further miseries.

The institution that can help reduce poverty include the rich people, community organizations, local or foreign NGOs, charity foundations and trusts, city district governments, federal and provincial governments, institutions of the friendly foreign governments and local offices of international agencies. More financial resources need to be allocated by all for the purpose. The rescue effort has to be coordinated by the government so that the major factors contributing to poverty are also tackled. In addition to the income generating opportunities, the government might enhance financing of multi-directional projects such as education, health, social/civic services, etc for bringing improvement in the lives of the poor. Instead of doling out money to the low-income people, they might be provided opportunities to earn money with dignity, to own small businesses or to buy on installment plots of land for eventually building their own house. Education of their children, health facilities to the family and support in buying food have better potential benefits. Through social integration activities, awareness might be created among the poor for avoiding wasteful expenses on old customs and availing lawful opportunities for earning of livelihood. Poverty reduction efforts might be pursued on consistent basis. Work done at the community or local authority level can be more effective. Also, the people handling the work at this level can be more accountable for the finances used and the outcome.

Many of the rich and middle income groups keep on helping the poor. For better effectiveness, they should distinguish the real needy people from the professional beggars. They should help in ways and means that enable the low income people to increase their earnings by honest hard work. The rich can particularly support the poor by keeping their own marriages simple and using the money so saved for solemnizing the marriage of the poor couples. The rich families proceeding on Umrah every year are in a position to contribute by deciding to proceed on Umrah every second year. They can also help establish schools and health facilities meant particularly for the low income people. Through these facilities, the low income people can also be educated to be frugal on important occasions and to spend less on old customs. They might be told that the lot of the low-income people could only be improved if they also strive to save on wasteful expenses and to use the money for education of their children. Good education is a priority for every child. The children coming from low-income parents can crawl out of poverty if the parents resolve to help them in acquiring quality education. Once the children are exposed to education/knowledge they would be in a better position to spot and grab the opportunities for advancement in life.