Are Rural Ethiopians Poor?
Depends on your perspective, right? Or your priorities. The other day we posted a picture on our blog of a young man working his grain field with an ox and wooden tiller. Is it accurate to say he is poor strictly based on the stone-age farming techniques being employed? Does it matter how we describe people who live like this? Whenever we discuss economic status with our Ethiopian friends, they are quick to remind us that every community has members who are ‘Moderate Poor’, ‘Very Poor’, and the ‘Destitute Poor’. They demonstrate this by pointing to the different types of dwellings someone from each class typically lives in. From an American viewpoint, we are thinking, “Come on, are you serious. All these folks are beyond dirt poor, and they need our help. Isn’t that obvious? I mean, they walk miles just to get stagnate water, right?”
But poverty and wealth are not the sum of one’s material possessions. And there is a certain irony in labeling ‘poor’ that which characterized most of the world until a few hundred years ago. In fact, my grandmother mentioned that while growing up on a farm in the first half of the last century, her father used an ox and tiller just like the one in the picture above. When we say we want to help the rural Ethiopians poor, we must take care to define what we mean.