As I mentioned in a previous blog, I am always amazed at the poverty and lack of basic services not that far south of where I live very comfortably in my tract home. I can turn a faucet and clean water gushes out, flip a switch and have electric lighting, and push a lever and flush my toilet. I back out of my driveway in my car and traverse paved and landscaped roads that are regulated by functional traffic signals. I anticipate encountering a similar situation in Tanzania as the one we recently experienced in Mexico when we work in some of the villages at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The video "Miniature Earth," which can be viewed on YouTube, states that the majority of the world's population lacks basic sanitation and struggles to live on $2 U.S. or less a day. Because I have a refrigerator to put my food in, a closet for my clothes, a bed and a roof over my head, I am among the wealthiest in the world.
But poverty isn't solely a lack of material goods according to interviews of 60,000 poor worldwide who were asked the question "what is poverty?" by the authors of "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor." The poor defined poverty as powerlessness, isolation and invisibility. One said he is considered the same as unwanted garbage.
We have all seen the devastation of Haiti after the earthquake which plunged an already impoverished country into an even more desperate situation. Sometimes just thinking about the overwhelming need in the world can be staggering.
When I go to Mexico on Memorial Day weekend to build a house, it's easy to look around at the neighborhood of deeply rutted, dusty roads, the homes built out of discarded garage doors and tar paper, the dangling wires ferrying stolen electricity and wonder - will one house even make a difference?
But I have to start somewhere. I reminded of the story about the starfish stranded on a beach. I can't save all of them, but I can return one at a time to the ocean. I can also be grateful each day for the many privileges I have.