I don’t much follow recipes. It’s how come my brownies always turn out extra chocolatey, my 12-muffin batch into 17 , and my spaghetti sauce hints at cinnamon.
I save a lot of recipes though. I recently took 14 photos of recipes from a single cooking magazine on a friend’s coffee table. As if I don’t have the internet. But I never follow those recipes to a tee. Measurement, so over-rated.
This is probably why I think a recipe for eliminating poverty is a melodramatic notion. So what you’re telling me is anybody anywhere can follow this recipe; So long as they measure the ingredients and mix them correctly, poverty… poof!? Okay, cools. Can I also catch a ride to work on your unicorn? Sweet as, mate.
So, poverty… a slightly more complex than baking a cake. Schooling taught me this. Work shows me this. Malawi confirms this.
Since Wednesday I’ve been visiting World Vision area development programmes (ADPs) around Lilongwe, Malawi. No matter the village or the ADP the scenery can be described as this: Slim red dirt roads, dried corn rows, sometimes sunflowers or tobacco fields. People travelling alone on bicycles. Children walking from I don’t know where, or where to. Clusters of brown brick houses with straw coverings for a rooftop, maybe the size of a single car garage but for a family of up to eight.
Inside these houses, of which I’ve sat in many: Windows are squared holes with straw and sometimes a bit of fabric covering them. Sometimes a front door. Forget furniture. Forget any kind of carpeting. Never an indoor toilet. Never lighting. Fabric is again used as a divider between, and only if, there is a room sectioned off for sleeping. Flies fly about everywhere but have no affect on those inside.
Then yesterday I met McLloyd and his family. They, too, invited me into their home. But it was like this: You walk a good 50 steps before hitting their front porch. FRONT PORCH. There are a few plants outside, for decoration, not for eating. The outside is made of cement, painted yellow. There are barred, glass windows. It’s roofed with sheet metal. I imagine McLloyd’s family keeps dry during the rainy season in this home. Inside the walls are painted different colours. It’s larger than any home I’ve been so nicely invited into, maybe a bit smaller than a schoolhouse. There are six or seven pieces of furniture — none blocking the two doors to other bedrooms — and a dresser-like stand holding a few dishes.
I sat on a bench/couch. McLloyd and his wife Esther Esther (pronounced Estheria in Chichewa) were in chairs across from me. Patricia and Henry (World Vision Malawi staff) giggled and sang songs with McLloyd’s children Benedicto (7-years-old, after the word “benediction”), and Martha (5-years-old, as in “Mary and Martha”).
McLloyd started to tell me about a loan he received from World Vision from which he grew maize. So much maize that he made enough money from selling his crop to open a small grocery, pay back his loan, take out another, and buy more seed. This doubled the size of his garden in one year. From this second crop yield he saved enough money to buy sheet metal and hire a builder. In six months time they built his family this new house. “There are a lot of things which we desire in life. But I believe a good life (for my family) starts with a good home. So I built this house. If anything happens to me (in the future), at least we have a good home.” Before this house, their home was made of mud with a grass roof.
What’s more…. McLloyd’s village selected him as a leader because of his example. He serves as the representative of his village on the ADP Committee that meets to discuss development issues in their area and how to address them. The Committee has also appointed McLloyd as secretary. He takes stock of all the seeds, fertiliser, and other resources that come into the World Vision ADP office, as well as minutes at their Committee meetings — a voluntary, but honourable position.
I’ve read hundreds of stories in my work with World Vision — either from communities funded by World Vision donors or of other NGOs and their work. I watch videos and attend forums about “eradicating poverty”. I post Facebook updates about it and tweet. But yesterday… yesterday I saw in McLloyd the breaking point in the mean cycle that perpetuates poverty generation to generation.
During the bumpy car ride back to the World Vision office I researched my thoughts, shuffling through my day’s experiences keen to pinpoint just what it was that made McLloyd unique. It was this: He made his own recipe for economic development — ingredients of his own resource, and a little borrowed from World Vision. Ingredients for breaking the cycle of poverty as I saw it yesterday: Lack no amount of motivation. Have a plan. Work hard. Invest wisely.
The past four days have taught me something invaluable about development be it personal, household, or community. It’s that no such recipe exists but there are factors that are important, and none that can have great impact on the cycle of poverty without the others. McLloyd was motivated. He had a whole plan. He works hard. And he invested wisely in a business venture he knew.
His plan this year: “I want to build a good wall around my home, and develop shoppes out front so others can start businesses and rent from me.”
And the “World Vision” part: All of this possible because his two children are sponsored by New Zealanders. Child sponsorship funds 85% of World Vision’s work in this community. From these funds (from child sponsors) McLloyd received his first loan of seeds.