Understanding the poverty lesson…

I have been away from my blog for a while. Not that I lack inspiration but time did not really allow me to be active on social media.

For my return, I posted this thought on LinkedIn and I was told that I should post it here even though it is not related to perfumes. It’s about sharing a very personal experience of poverty in Africa and the lessons I learnt from it. I’ll be back with more perfumery posts!

At present in my relax time, I am watching the series ‘House of cards‘ which highlights many of the things that are wrong in most charity and community projects. In this series with the main characters played by 2 excellent actors (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright), the power-hungry wife of a power hungry US congressman is at the helm of a multimillion dollars NGO for Africa called CWI (Clear Water Initiative)… Her associate on the other side is a true humanitarian soul with principles and who has serious issues in accepting funds from Semcorp, a petroleum consortium. Unlike her boss, she has experience of field working in Africa and does have a true understanding of poverty. Or does she?

Indeed, this leads me to reflect on the fact that in order to understand poverty and hunger, one needs to have experienced it for real. Not that I would advocate deliberately becoming poor or hungry but as a person who nearly lost my life in Africa at the end of the 1990’s for trying to help the poor, I believe that I am in a position of understanding what poor people go through everyday. My ordeal only lasted for a short time but the humanitarian crusade introduced me to poverty and hunger…Yes I was on a mere banana a day and one egg every 2 days for 6 months! Of course, some would say that you live the life you choose. I had initially arrived in Africa to do business: I was not sent by any international NGO or humanitarian association. I took upon myself to act independently with my own views of what the word ‘helping’ meant. And one of my principles was that the biggest part of the donation money or donation gifts had to go to the people who needed it and be used as a starting block for a better life. I had not counted the political and self-serving interests in my equation and I ended up being isolated even by my own compatriots for not playing THEIR game!

But I have learnt valuable lessons from this life journey; lessons whose teachings can be applied to everyday’s life in fact. Poverty simply means loosing your dignity because you have to beg to feed yourself. You have to beg and be dependent upon someone to sustain yourself. There cannot be ego in poverty! It’s even worse when you have to beg to politicians who feel sorry for you having tried to make a difference. Your ego definitely takes a beating in poverty!

I felt so lucky and so blessed that in the harshest moments of adversity, some humble and ego-free souls (the poorest people) were sharing their meager meals with me – without judging nor preaching, a quality that brings out even more of their ‘humaneness’. Many positive things come out of what feels like the end of the world at the time. The first lesson I learnt is living life with humility and tolerance. How often does one stop to reflect on these 2 virtues? We should not be in a world where humans are defined by POOR or RICH but simply as HUMAN BEINGS.

Lesson number 2 is that no matter how bad things are, the Universe always sends you what you need. We just need to realise that we have many resources within that we never tap into. And when you are at the bottom, there is only one way: up!

Another lesson is that you cannot be a philanthropist if you are not taking care of yourself first. And I mean personally as well as financially… When things get better, never forget that you can contribute to make the world a better place even if it is a drop in the ocean. People who have lots of money do not part from it easily but 1000 people who give $10 represents a lot in the grand scheme of poverty. Poverty cannot wait for the odd philanthropist to come to its rescue.

I also learnt to say ‘No’, a very difficult thing to do in our society of prohibition and overregulation. Saying No to negativity, to people who take and do not give, to opportunists is a very empowering feeling.

However the valuable lesson which I think could really make the difference is retrieving common sense because with more of it, the world would really change for the better.

Right now, we start witnessing a shift in attitude and thought processes even from the richer people when it comes to understanding the poverty lesson. And this can only be a positive step towards the better world we all want.



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