The road is bumpy and unpaved. There is still mud on the ground from the rain that drenched the ground only an hour earlier. The air is clear but there is still a musty odor that leads me to believe that there is more than just mud on the ground. We drive a little bit further and reach our destination. To most people, this place is disregarded as a nuisance, but to a select few, this place is a haven where beggars no longer need to beg, and one can generate enough income and resources to live a life that gives them meaning and hope.
At first glance, the typical firengie (Amharic word for foreigner) might only notice the extreme poverty that exists at the dump in the Korah community of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The picture of kids digging through mountains of garbage and men and women jumping out of the way of garbage trucks can be quite a shock for someone from another country to see such extreme poverty, especially if poverty like this does not exist or is more concealed. Because of this, it’s only natural that the poverty seen here is the first thing people notice. However, once one spends some extended time here, a certain beauty seems to be brought to light. It is true that poverty may be the driving force that brings people to this place, but once here, it is evident that there is hope here. The hope that extreme poverty can be transformed into life worth living through the micro-economy that has developed over time. This “economy” can provide both primary needs (food and shelter), as well as secondary needs (a means to increase wealth).
In regards to providing for primary needs, the Korah dump is a place were people can find resources in order to put what little money they have to use in other places that can move them to a better life. Although the sight of seeing people scrape for food might be hard to watch, and it shows the depth of the poverty but more than the scrape of food there are some opportunities that are there in the midst of it. In addition, there are a plethora of resources to be found that a family can use to sustain their lives. Common items that can be found include paper and wood to fuel fires for cooking and warmth, furniture and cooking utensils, and other treasures that others have cast away or labeled useless.
In addition to these primary needs being met, some have even found ways to generate an income. There are two ways the people here have been able to create a way to improve their living conditions. One is searching for things to sell on the street and the other way is through recycling glass or plastics (though there are only few who do recycling). Some of these people have essentially built a business from nothing and to see that sort of resourcefulness, when most would loose hope, is inspiring.
Watching this happen first hand and talking about it in such an academic way may seem insensitive, but it also raises some good questions like, “How did the need to eat and cook turn into the need to have new luxuries to cook with?” or, “How can I really give them something that can be life changing?” It is becoming obvious to me that no money I have to offer them will be able to sustain them so the answer is deeper then just handing them a spare 5, 10, or 100 dollar bill.
After pondering about this for some time, two things come to mind: an increase of hope and sense of purpose, and a refining and development of their process. As a believer in Jesus Christ, there is a comfort that I feel in believing that I have a purpose in my current situation, whatever that may be. In a sense it’s not about what I do on a daily basis, it’s about how I do it on a daily basis. Whether I live in a one meter by two meter shack or a mansion, there are opportunities to serve others and give people hope. In the Bible, Isaiah the profit was going through a period of his life where he was feeling a sense of hopelessness and depression. Instead of handing him something that would distract him from his emptiness, God gave him a job to do. He gave him a purpose and a sense of self worth. Attaching the hope for something better and more fulfilling is essential. Through Christ we all have a purpose that is greater than anything we could imagine. Sharing this and allowing them to experience their own walk is a greater empowerment than anything I could physically offer them. Now that this hope has taken root, it is possible to refine their process.
Giving them money or resources without first giving them faith or something to work for can have a negative effect. Of course there are situations in which you possibly need to give them money, but in most cases it should be in the way how to fish the fish than always giving them the fish!