As announced here starts the new segment “The Epilogues” where I try to chase down some of those white rabbit thoughts pacing through my mind. It takes great effort to focus on one topic at a time since they all seem to be connected somehow. But I really do my best to keep it clear and readable.

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A question I ask myself over and over again during my travels was: How do people become poor? How do groups of people, cultures that have sometimes existed for hundreds of generations are suddenly poor? What were they before the industrial revolution, before they didn’t have the money to buy food, before there was money? Were they poor? Desolate? Is it just a question of definition? You don’t have cars and computers so you are poor. If you look at the definitions on the internet about poverty it seems to be exactly that. But those definitions are mainly based on industrial economic models. But being poor according to a definition doesn’t mean you actually experience it that way. The German comedian Dieter Nuhr once joked that according to the definition of poverty in Germany he was poor as a student. He just never realized that because he was constantly on vacation. Illustrating the point that something as multilayered and subjective as poverty can’t be measured by just one or two parameters like for example the “1$ per day” mark line. Somebody with very little income can still be happy and healthy and fulfilled. But then again: This is a first world problem and so many people of below that “1$ per day” line defined by that single parameter are flogging up it slums, starving under unhealthy conditions, roaming the world uprooted from their origins in search for a better life. So is that definition right after all? I still don’t think so.

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The key to my understanding of poverty I found in an article, which link was posted on social media [1]. It describes the eviction and resettlement of indigenous people in Ethiopia in the name of economical development. Lands that have been used by tribes and families for generations are occupied and turned into farm land. The farm land is suddenly owned by a small group of elites. At best a small number local people get a job at those farms. But mostly they flog to the cities where they live in slums barely scrapping by. This reminded me of an article on the world banks list of the investor friendly countries. Where Malaysia and several African countries are high ranking. For the local population this investor friendly climate translates to the lack of means providing for their basic food needs as they lose access to previously public land[2].

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Those articles redefined poverty for me as the “a lack of means to provide for your living”. Or at least as the root of poverty. Assuming this definition bears interesting implications. It is a multilayered definition for a multilayered problem. As the definition of what “living” is will differ from culture to culture, from tribe to tribe. But it also makes a search for solutions much more viable. For example: Instead of asking why somebody can’t pay for food, you start asking where did his food used to come from and why is that source not available anymore. You’ll get to the root of the problem instead of treating the symptoms. The reasons can be diverse. Natural changes, depleted resources, but unfortunately it seems in the majority of cases that exactly that privatized, large scale centralized, economic development that is so often sold as the solution to poverty is the actual cause. It paternalizes people and takes away their independence. They might not always have the high living standards one could see looking to other communities, countries. But it is in their hands, their responsibility. Through a centralized industrialization controlling elites are created and the rest is forced to participate in a pyramid scam.

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Defining poverty by monetary means and looking for money based solutions is trying to solve the problem with the way of thinking that created it. Having money would only empower you if you were able to participate in determining the value of it. And if you are actually able to convert it into real value. Like food, tools, medication. Money is a Meta resource. Worth nothing if there is no possibility to exchange it for something that sustains or enriches your life.

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So as an engineer poverty can be best understood as the inability to provide for yourself. Somebody may have a different living standard, a different definition of happiness, less material possessions or access but he doesn’t necessarily has to be poor.

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Creating poverty creates dependency? For which purpose? Best guess in a nutshell: control and greed. People who can take care of themselves and are fulfilled in that way are very much less likely to confirm to imposed rules. As the article on Ethiopia explains. The government was happy to finally pin down some of the herder tribes and make them pay taxes as they previously were just moving away whenever government officials showed up.

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Pictures themed “making a living”

In order of appearance:

Cow herd – South Sudan

Indian Household – India

Banana Vendor – Tanzania

Nursery – India

Bio Briquette Production – Tanzania

Local crafted and dyed fabric – South Sudan

Soap making – South Sudan

Soap making – India

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[1] http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2951671/us_uk_world_bank_among_aid_donors_complicit_in_ethiopias_war_on_indigenous_tribes.html

[2] reference pending – article seems to have vanished

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