Tackling Poverty through Trust

It was a man named Wanjala, wh in recent weeks, has drawn my attention to the severity of the situation in East Africa. The images from his Facebook page shame all of us.

His mission in Kenya is supporting 100 orphans and there’s no way my small donations can possibly meet ongoing needs. Before we do anything about sustainable development, there is an emergency food situation to deal with.

In recent days, the subject of trust has arisen in the Emergent by Design dialogue and though I might offer several illustrations of trust, a clear example was difficult to find. Then it struck me.

Friends of Beslan was a response to an emergency. There was already a fundraising initiative going on, but there was a greater need it seemed, to reach out in in friendship and compassion that anonymous charity would not yield.

For those 100 or so who got involved, it was indeed a leap of faith. Tatyana, a woman unknown from Moscow went immediately to see what she could do to help. This soon linked up with volunteers on the ground who were able to translate letters. They had the addresses of families affected and with the help of a simple database, it was possible to ensure as far as possible that none were excluded.

A trickle of donations were able to fund small comforts – toiletries and clothing for families whose children had been rushed to Moscow hospitals. It would later provide funding for outings and entertainment for the victims.

Trust then grew through the feedback of photos. letters and drawings from the children. Some were able to encourage school children to engage with their Beslan peers. Eventually it was tp become a formal charity based in Canada.

Perhaps we could make it work again, in Kenya?

In Russia our work on the Tomsk Regional Initiative had leveraged a microfinance bank based on the peer group lending model pioneered by Muhammad Yunus.   An approach based on the moral collateral of  trust.

Our subsequent work in Ukraine began with a leap of faith, when inviting a man fasting for economic rights, who I’d met once overseas, to  abandon his fast and come to England where he tried to leverage support for a project to tackle poverty. He was considered untrustworthy by UK immigration who refused to let him stay more than 3 months.

Together we went on to place our trust in many others and in spite of it often being betrayed he persevered, in speaking out about the treatment of disabled children in Ukraine. An issue which recently gained mainstream attention from a BBC documentary.

Our trust would be betrayed repeatedly and we’d be howled down by those who distrusted the motives of a business “trying to act like a charity”.A smear campaign persists nearly a year after Terry Hallman’s death, by those who didn’t want him to be heard

it was a trust which even our own governments betrayed, turning down requests for support and finally hijacking the work we’d invested years in.

And yet, perhaps there was a greater purpose served. With the public awareness the BBC has now brought to bear, there’s finally the opportunity for permanent change – the vision of all children with family homes which was the last thing a man afflicted by the need for change spoke of, both to me and Natalka who wrote of a friend to all of us.

Leo Tolstoy,  had written long before the information age that:

“Good consists not in the giving of money, it consists in the loving intercourse of men. This alone is needed. Whatever may be the outcome of this, any thing will be better than the present state of things. Then let the final act of our enumerators and directors be to distribute a hundred twenty-kopek pieces to those who have no food; and this will be not a little, not so much because the hungry will have food, because the directors and enumerators will conduct themselves in a humane manner towards a hundred poor people. How are we to compute the possible results which will accrue to the balance of public morality from the fact that, instead of the sentiments of irritation, anger, and envy which we arouse by reckoning the hungry, we shall awaken in a hundred instances a sentiment of good, which will be communicated to a second and a third, and an endless wave which will thus be set in motion and flow between men? And this is a great deal.”

(Tolstoy, Leo; Hapgood, Isabel Florence (2011-03-24). What to Do? Kindle Edition.)

Even longer ago, In the Tao te Ching, it is said that he who does not trust cannot be trusted. This little story illustrates the point.

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