This is an article that appeared in the Belize Times of this week written by
Valention Shal. I share his views.
Poverty I think is relative and difficult to define. The definitions you get
depend on the criteria being used and by the person administering it. Is
there such a thing as standard measurement of poverty?
Poverty it seems is measured by Belizeans to mean the lack of material
possessions and wealth. The lack of cash income can also be used as an
indicator of poverty. Many persons who believe otherwise however dispute
Going along with the conventional measurements of poverty, Toledo is the
poorest district of Belize. Using the same measurements, the Mayas are the
poorest group of people in Belize. While thinking this poverty thing
through, I came up with some ideas that makes me feel a little uneasy and in
disagreement with those assertions.
I have never seen poverty the way I saw it in Belize City when I attended
school there about two years ago. I saw people eking out a life off the
drains of the street. I saw people living in shacks made of pieces of metal
and cardboard boxes. I saw people living on the edge of canals and would now
and again retrieve things from it for their use. I saw people who are
walking the street homeless and most of the time their minds blown away by
drugs. I saw desperation in the existence of many people. I saw things I
never saw back home; back home in my so-called poor district. I also saw
affluence that was not visible back home.
Back with my poor people, forest materials are utilized for what I consider
decent and comfortable homes. People procured their food in more decent
ways, the traditional way, by hunting in the forest for game. Back home
there are no homeless people. There is no one walking the streets having
lost his or her mind, only sometimes temporarily by alcohol consumption.
Back home people live near beautiful clean rivers, not polluted canals. Back
home people are poor but dignified and our elders die in dignity. Yes the
most affluent of our communities don't come anywhere near King's Park but
our hard work is what sustains us. Yet, with all the wonderful things about
how and where we live, we are still considered poor.
We have been told over and over that we are poor. To me it is like a
self-fulfilling prophecy. This thing about us living in abject poverty has
been hammered into our minds by almost every outsider that it has become
both an adjective and a synonym for us. In calculating the GDP, economists
don't (can't?) calculate subsistence agriculture because there is no cash
income involved. Therefore, our per capita income is very small. The
deficiency of our popular method of livelihood is not in what it brings to
the family but it cannot easily be translated into the mainstream cash
economy. Whether or not the farmer earns an income, he has a secure source
of food. Compare that to the manual labourer in Belize City. Unless he earns
an income, he won't eat. Even with the income earned, minimum wage being so
minimum, sometimes a job doesn't guarantee as much as food, when so many
other expenses need to be figured in.
Am I poor simply because I don't have possessions that are seen as status
symbols? I don't have a phone at home. I don't have refrigerator. I don't
even have a bicycle. I don't have a television, which means I don't have
cable. I don't have these things that some people would do anything to have.
Just because I lack these things would you say that I am poor? I am sure
some will argue that it is not because I can't have them but maybe I just
don't want them. But what if that were not true. Would you still consider me
I think that our approach to poverty alleviation needs to be revisited. If
we want people to have more cash income so that it looks good on the GDP per
capita income then we will be dramatically be changing the lifestyle of an
entire society. This is not possible all at one time if it is possible at
all. We can also through our poverty alleviation mission improve what
already exists. This we can do by strengthening what people already have
without drastic changes. This is more pragmatic.
After telling us that we are poor over and over for all these years we are
really being affected in a negative way psychologically. You cause us not to
accept ourselves, the good we have and our capacities. We are pressured to
reinvent ourselves so that the indicators indicate that we are no longer
As for Belize City, the commercial capital of Belize, I look at you and the
heinous crimes committed against you and your families. I look at you locked
up in your homes like prisoners. I look at you losing your children in the
streets and say, poor people.
I am happy, I am at peace and I am free in Toledo. This unfortunately does
not show up in the statistics. Poor me.