Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Poverty in Guatemala vs. wealth in the United States: a study in marked contrast
by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 19, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
“Think about some of the advantages of being poor,” writes Jerry Monks. “The poor in the Spokane Mission in Guatemala don’t have to buy diet drinks or pay dues to health clubs to take off extra pounds. Their security costs are nil; they have no worry about being robbed, for there is nothing to steal. And they get no solicitations either by phone or by mail!” (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)
Americans who contribute to a charity know how quickly their mailboxes are overflowing with solicitations from others. An innocent donation to a needy cause in Africa one week might very likely be followed by a score of pleas for help a few weeks later.
Many requests come from organizations we didn’t even know existed. They seek money for everything from a homeless shelter in the Bronx to a boys ranch in Montana.
The solicitations can be so overwhelming, and persistent, that they almost seem like an organized conspiracy. Might there be a sinister agenda to usurp money from those who have it to transfer it to those who don’t?
Probably not. It is most likely a consequence of the structure of our economic system. In our free enterprise economy, many social needs have to be met by private organizations. This frequently translates into phone and mail campaigns.
At first thought, those phone and mail solicitations are a pain. But they do accomplish something. In fact, if they were totally successful in transferring wealth from the rich to the poor, might the rich be better off?
Think about some of the advantages of being poor. The poor in the Spokane Mission in Guatemala don’t have to buy diet drinks or pay dues to health clubs to take off extra pounds. Their security costs are nil; they have no worry about being robbed, for there is nothing to steal. They never have car trouble or appliance repair problems. There are no homeowners insurance payments to make, no phone, or VISA bills to pay. They are not plagued with income taxes or internet charges. And they get no solicitations either by phone or by mail!
Viewed from this (limited) perspective, one might conclude that being poor isn’t so bad after all. But human nature tells us that man has a natural inclination to upgrade his position in life.
The psychologist, Maslow, has suggested that humans have a hierarchy of needs that ranges from a minimal level of existence to a fuller psychological state of self-actualization. The first, and most critical stage (1) is the self-preservation need for air, water, and food.
Next comes (2) safety concerns of security and protection, followed by the love and friendship stemming from (3) belonging. The higher stages are the approval, dignity, and esteem that constitute (4) respect, and finally the use of talents, and capacities that represents (5) self-actualization.
Many of the concerns that tend to occupy us here in the U.S., such as home, car, and entertainment, relate to our own material well being. A preoccupation with those concerns could distract us from a more comprehensive understanding of the real needs of the poor.
Fortunately, the support from parishes in the Diocese of Spokane has enabled it to remain focused upon its multifaceted task in Guatemala. Some of the Spokane-supported programs address basic needs such as family assistance and health and clinic programs.
Other activities, such as youth programs move up Maslow’s hierarchy scale to foster friendship and belonging. Beyond that, women’s programs, conducted under Family-to-Family (FAF) sponsorship, address some of the higher level needs of self-esteem of native women. Educational programs, such as the Nahuala School and FAF training programs extend support well into Maslow’s self-actualization category.
While the pleas for support of the poor may be an annoyance to us at times, a deeper understanding of needs of the poor can be very beneficial. We tend to get wrapped up in concerns related to our material goods. But material goods do not constitute a solution for anyone. They are a distraction to the rich, and only a partial solution to the problem of the poor.
The programs of the Diocese of Spokane in Guatemala take the priorities of human nature into account, and are designed to help the hierarchy of needs of the poor.
(Jerry Monks works with the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)