SDG 1 | Life Below Poverty Line | part 2

I gained an understanding of my grandparents’ past and the values they packed into their tales and stories by volunteering in West Africa for a year living under the poverty line.

My team by the end of the term 15/16. the nigerian MCP Jude, the togoleese MCVP BD Ferdinand, myself as Marketing from Hungary, MCVP OGX Joseph from Tanzania, my Canadian/Indian roomate Sohini the MCVP ICX and TM and Finance only local, Ralph who was the elected MCP 16/17.

We had a team of 6 different nationalities (MC of AIESEC in Benin) to run the NGO’s operation in the Benin Republic. Its revenue was unstable and completely unpredictable.

The service industry in the 3rd world doesn’t sell the same way as I was used to in Hungary. Locals would rather spend the little money they have on products – food –  than give it to an organisation offering travel to another country, let alone invest it in leadership development.

I had major moments of existential anxiety such as:

  • On arrival when I was told the truth about the financial situation of the entity – it had next to no cash, and not enough money to feed and house the six of us the following month.
  • Three months in I was appointed as a finance proxy with only $10 cash for the following three weeks and left alone to manage the finances of a national level operation with three other non-local teammates and to somehow feed ourselves from it. The kitchen was empty. Two months behind in rent payments, we were about to be kicked out. Moreover, we had no income prospects, either.
  • Four months in when I got malaria, I was afraid to spend that little my team had left on doctors and medication, so I spent five days—unable to walk or eat—in my bed with a high fever, chills and terrible pain.

Referring back to Maslow’s pyramid; in particular, my food, health, shelter, and security, all of them were endangered. In the face of these challenges shaking my core, I had no choice but to show resilience and move forward.

We kept working despite all the difficulties. Here we are representing AIESEC at a national event in the capital.

My dilemma, to some extent, reminded me of the hardships of my grandparents who grew up in the Great Depression, the Second World War, and under an oppressive regime.

My focus changed. My personality changed. I was no longer kind and patient. I was frustrated and arrogant because my basic needs weren’t being met for the first time in my life.

It came in handy to be raised by my grandparents, after all, as they—unbeknown to them—prepared me for survival mode. I instantly knew how to manage life and a family (my team of 3) without losing my mind.

One evening, we went to a street food seller lady. I ask her for our regular: 1 cent/person food ration for the day to avoid starving to death. She prepared our tiny servings while we got seated on wood panels.

This is a portion of a food when we had better opportunites to eat. The one I mentioned in this article was without any vegtebles, meat or fish.

While I waited, I noticed that there were some handmade mattresses for sale (24/7) next to our table under the dark, star-filled sky. I knew they were struggling as those piles were only getting bigger, but the woman selling them was always so kind to us. She never forgot to smile and greet us when we arrived almost every night.

After half term, we got used to the missing meals and challenges and kept self-actualizing and delivering results in our beloved volunteer orgnization.

As I had abandoned my real self, I neglected to notice the details. My eyes were no longer observant. I only focused on my business: my food, my sleep, and my clean water.

That night, I noticed two infants lying on the top of a smaller pile of mattresses, while their mother carefully tucked them in under some rugs. When they fell asleep, she started to hand wash their school uniforms in a tiny bucket of water.

They lived on the street.

I never knew what poverty was about until I witnessed a 3rd world homeless mum making sure her children could get opportunities in life by sending them to school by any means.

I had to go that far to understand the values of my grandparents finally. To see why they refused to be wasteful by not taking a shower daily, not going on holidays, or keeping the fancy china behind closed doors.

I was even made to travel to an other city once a month, as our people needed us and we wanted to serve them as well as we can, no matter the circumstances.

At last, I knew why they dedicated their lives to ensure my parents had a better lifestyle; and by doing so, they provided one for me too.

Created by Kriszti@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Illustrated by Oguz@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Proofed by Greg@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Edited by Lee@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Posted by Onur@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Supported by http://bit.ly/whatareyoustillwaitingfor
The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of AAI.

Calls to Action:

  1. Read more → sustainabledevelopment.un.org
  2. Discuss the following topic with your sympathisers: How can we create awareness in the information tsunami of modern life for those in poverty? What should be changed in poverty-awareness communication to engage and enlighten those living comfortably to learn about how poverty affects lives?
  3. Find a project and reach out to the host entity to support them with advice or funds to deliver it, especially west African entities as there is an urgent need to provide SDG-related changes there.
  4. Sponsor and motivate someone in your world to take a global volunteer project with AIESEC → aiesec.org/global-volunteer. I suggest the one in the Benin Republic → aiesec.org/opportunity/870351.
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