Saturday, September 01, 2018

What's wrong with helping the poor?

“Let no attempt with small gifts of charity
to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice.” 

Pope Pius XI

The poor, or rather the impoverished, are around us. How to respond? What I saw yesterday leads me to ask, in the context of Honduras, “What in the world can be wrong about helping the poor?”

Here are my simplistic first thoughts:
  • When they are manipulated by aid to vote for a particular party or candidate.

  • When they are aided only if they are members of one’s in group or political party.
  • When they are not treated as people with specific needs and capabilities, but are treated as numbers to be helped.
  • When the aid is given only to those of one religion or as a way to attract converts.
  • When government aid is not considered as a governmental response to poverty or other needs but is presented in such a way that it seems like a gift from the government or a political party.
  • When the aid is made to appear as a gift from a political leader.
  • When the aid is given without looking at ways that the person can develop his or her own personal resources and qualities.
  • When aid doesn’t respond to real needs, but is meant to show the largesse of a government or political party.

  • When basic human needs aren't met and injustice is not remedied.

This morning I saw scores of people packed in the back of pick-up trucks. I had no idea where they were going. I gave a ride to a young man on my way to the afternoon confirmations. I asked him why I was seeing so many people in groups walking with plastic bags. He told me that they were receiving a government “Bolsa Solidaria” - a solidarity bag.

We stopped and asked a woman if I could take a few pictures of her bag.

What did I see manteca (lard), spaghetti, maseca (commercially prepared corn flour to make tortillas), oats, sugar, white rice, and cheap coffee. This is for an area that produces corn and where there are a lot of people with coffee, even just a small plot. This doesn’t make sense to me.

I asked the young man about how much the bag was worth. He calculated about 115 lempiras. I would add about 25 lempiras more. That’s 140 lempiras – that’s a little less than six dollars. But, unless they walked – and there were a lot of people walking, they would probably have spent money on the ride in the pick-up or paid for a bus ride – between 15 and twenty lempiras each way. You do the math.

There was, however, a picture on the bag that makes sense: a photo of the president of Honduras. This seems to say that the “solidarity bag” is his personal gift to the people.

But the cost of living is going up, the country is being militarized, corruption and impunity flourish, and public hospitals and house centers often lack supplies. It the “bolsa solidaria” a way to cover injustice with the veneer of “charity”?

In my mind, this is not solidarity. This looks like manipulation of aid to seek political support. I don’t think this really helps the poor.

Real charity and real justice are what the impoverished people of Honduras need. Honduras is a rich country – but with the second highest poverty rate in the hemisphere. The poor suffer hile injustice flourishes.

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