The challenges faced by the working poor in the developed world are finally drawing media attention. Despite being in employment, and perhaps even working several jobs, an alarming number of people struggle to break out of the cycle of poverty.
In the developing world, those challenges are even more stark. What follows is less than cheerful, but there is sunshine at the end of this tunnel, so please keep reading.
Imagine you are a girl from a poor African family. Although you are bright, your parents can only educate one child – and for traditional reasons, that will be the son. Although you would like to gain skills you must work to earn money for food and rent, or help your mother with domestic and agricultural tasks.
Because you are a girl, you are married off early, perhaps to pay your father’s debts. You soon become pregnant because there are no options to plan your family. You lack the money to buy a school uniform, so few of your offspring will get an education. Like you, they will spend their lives in competition with others to find a job – yet, that work is likely to be badly paid, unreliable and possibly exploitative or dangerous. Several of your children will have life-threatening illnesses and may die before they reach their teens. You will be exhausted by caring for them – and your in-laws – doing all the domestic work, and whatever unskilled jobs you can find.
But as The Beatles promised, here comes the sun. Our Aspire project in Rwanda offers the poorest women a chance to learn marketable skills, while our specially trained staff – themselves graduates of the Aspire project — teach their toddlers. That means daughters aren’t being kept home from school to care for younger siblings, a double bonus. On average Aspire quadruples the women’s income after a year of training. Our ‘graduates’ join women’s cooperatives and begin to save their earnings, a few pennies a week. With their earnings, the majority choose to educate their children and buy health insurance. As they save more, they invest in their own small businesses or farm inputs. This is not a guaranteed way to break the cycle of poverty, but Aspire offers a chance for women to fulfil their potential, if they are prepared to work hard. It offers hope.
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Photo credit: ©Crystaline Randazzo Photography, LLC. All Rights Reserved.