Freedom From Poverty

A story of inspiration, By Gabrielle H.

The Moringa tree is found in diverse and harsh landscapes. Where there is torrential rain, lengthy drought, poor soil quality or scorching sun, the Moringa tree unfurls its’ bright clusters of leaves, stretches out its’ roots and thrives. Not enough to survive and grow in environments inhospitable to most, the Moringa enriches its’ surroundings. Often called a ‘miracle tree’, or a ‘tree of life’, the Moringa is used as a water purification system, a nutritious food source, a high-quality timber and a buttress against erosion. The Moringa tree takes so little, and gives generously. 

Much like the giving Moringa, in a rural landscape in Cambodia, Grandma Yay laid roots in challenging terrain, nurtures her children, and enriches her community. She has taken the harshness of her circumstances, filtered them through her resolve, her interminable spirit and her  joy, and created opportunity for the people that she cares for. Takes little, and gives generously.

While COVID19 has exacerbated the global poverty crisis, human resilience and the determination of care-givers shine bright in dark times. Following ‘Yay Day’ on February 5th, we are continuing to reflect about what it means to have or pursue freedom from poverty. As we reflect, we are drawing on the perpetual strength and power of Grandma Yay, and the journey that she has taken to secure freedom for her three children. We are honoured to know her, and to share parts of her extraordinary journey here. 

One of the truly unifying struggles throughout human history has been the fight to be free. Everybody wants to be safe and able to move, to make choices and to have peace. All of the significant movements in human history have been in pursuit of freedom. Individuals and communities have borne and continue to bear tremendous sacrifice and hardship in this search, for themselves and the generations to follow them. The concept of the ‘movement’ is meaningful; as freedom is an act of untethering, it is an act in motion and growth. 

Freedom requires opportunity, so there is little possible without first freedom from the confinement of poverty. Poverty is relative, prejudiced and entirely solvable. 

Currently, the recognised international ‘poverty line’ is an income of US$1.90 per day, and an estimated 737 million people live on less than this. However, this simplistic understanding does not account for any intervening factors, such as social conditions, local living costs, impact of trade and supply chains, conflict, and debt burdens. So, the population living beneath the poverty line is far higher. Fundamentally, poverty represents conditions in which you are unable to afford the basic elements of life, such as housing, food, medical care and education.

Poverty is not experienced equally throughout global, regional or local populations- it is concentrated by gender and geography. The regions most impacted by poverty are the regions which have experienced overwhelming colonisation, conflict and resource exploitation. The demographic most likely to live in poverty anywhere in the world are women and their children, by a conservative estimate of 20%.

At this challenging intersection, Grandma Yay prevails. Grandma Yay lives in a rural community in Cambodia. Cambodia is a country of tenacity and resolve, overcoming multiple episodes of colonisation, resource exploitation and devastating conflict. So it is unsurprising that Cambodia, in its’ resilience, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Consistent with global patterns of poverty, 80% of Cambodian people live in regional communities just like Grandma Yay, which experience poverty at significantly higher rates than urbanised areas. This is directly associated with diminished access to education and civic infrastructure outside of metropolitan areas.

In this context, Grandma Yay took in three children as her own, to care for, protect, and secure their best possible future. These children, as kind and joyous as Grandma Yay herself, are now fifteen, eight and three years old. A fierce woman, Grandma Yay has for many years worked twelve hour shifts chopping Cassava to be dried and then ground and made into flour. This capacity for hard work ensured the survival of her children. Several years ago, Grandma Yay travelled 90 kilometres from her home and community into Siem Reap, to access urgent medical assistance for one of her children. They slept rough, but safe in Grandma Yay’s strong protectiveness. Grandma Yay was giving all of her food to her children, and eating nothing herself, such is her care. It was here that we came to know Grandma Yay, and have gratefully been learning from her since. 

The Cambodian people deserve our deep respect and investment in their ongoing recovery and pursuit of freedom from poverty. Through the late 1990s and into recent years, Cambodia achieved remarkable development success in a short period. This work was enhanced by the ‘Rectangular Strategy- Phase III’, which targeted development efforts towards pro-peace and pro-regional opportunity building, increased NGO engagement, and strengthened institutional capacity. However, the threshold between vulnerability and poverty for Cambodian households is incredibly fragile- a reduction of US$0.30 per day would see previous levels of poverty double. The impact of COVID-19 on a community reliant on tourism and highly regionalised cannot be underestimated. 

A five dollar donation to this family means that the US$0.30 threshold can be held at bay. Five dollars helps to keep the children in school, rather than needing to leave their education to pursue employment. It keeps this family together and safe, as accessing employment often means children move far from home. Vitally, it means that Grandma Yay can nurture herself, while she continues to nurture her children. Th world depends fierce, loving women more than ever before- we need to give Grandma Yay the care that she deserves. 

Under the shadow of COVID19 and economic contraction, Grandma Yay continues to shine and lead her children towards their best futures. Like a miracle tree, Grandma Yay is a buttress for the children to whom she is devoted, and in turn they are devoted to her. Grandma Yay has spent the past fifteen years pursuing freedom from poverty for her children, intuitively addressing the evidence-based social determinants. Grandma Yay kept them fed through her hard work, she has ensured that they go to school and gain literacy, and she has kept them homed together. This gives these children the absolute best opportunity for a future framed by choice and freedom. This opportunity is the result of Grandma Yay’s years of sacrifice and precarity, pouring every available resource into their care. Under the contraction of COVID19 and Grandma Yay’s advancing age, it is incumbent on us to think about what it means to step up, as Grandma Yay has. We must think about how we contribute, what we do in order to enrich the landscape, and how we encourage freedom.