House-Proud Poverty – LivingMini®

It is estimated that 318 million people live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. In 1998, the World Bank classified 61 countries as low–income (poor).

But by 2001, the number of “extremely poor” nations had decreased to only 39 countries. This is a great improvement, with countries such as India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan moving out of extreme poverty to “middle-income” status.

But while East Asia and South Asia are making steady gains, the poverty rate in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing – both in terms of absolute numbers (due to higher birth rates) and a higher percentage of people living in extreme poverty.

Four of these extremely poor African countries — Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Malawi – have over 90% of their population living on under $2 a day. I was in Tanzania 5 years go, Malawi 2 weeks ago, and am heading to Rwanda next month. Here’s what I’m seeing on the ground:

Personal Poverty

Traveling overland in Africa, looking out the windows of buses, poverty is in evidence everywhere. But on closer inspection, I’ve noticed subtle dividing lines even within extreme levels of poverty. For instance:

Shoes: Whether or not a person is wearing shoes is a dividing line. Someone without even a plastic pair of shoes or flip flops, indicates a greater degree of poverty.

Pants: In many African countries, it’s not uncommon to see young children, especially those under the age of 5, not wearing pants. But when older children, and especially adults, have no clothes, it is a tragic indicator. I saw unclothed adults for the first time in Ethiopia.

Huff & Puff Houses

Houses likewise tell a story. Like the 3 Little Pigs fable, houses in Africa are built of straw, sticks, or bricks. In Namibia, we passed by entire villages made of straw huts. And the countryside in Zambia is dotted with stick houses.

The use of roofing materials is also indicative of a family’s relative wealth. Palm leaves for roofs are seen throughout Mozambique (in part because of the semi-tropical climate here). Tin roofs are a step above, and tile roofs are a luxury item.

Windows are also a great indication – whether there is a wooden shutter, a plastic covering, or in rare cases, glass.

House-Proud Poverty

What I found most amazing as I stared out the bus window is the care taken with many of these homes. Despite having a palm roof, the court yards of the houses are swept clean of debris. Or there are flowering trees and plants surrounding the doorway. Or a touch of paint added to a window sill.

To me, these types of home improvements indicate a pride of ownership that’s uplifting to see. We all must deal with the circumstances we’ve been dealt, and yet to see this type of care taken, even in areas suffering from extreme poverty, is remarkable.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 and is filed under Hearth.

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