Drowning in Poverty
Her dark, rough face hardened by the suffering, shows no feelings; her eyes are not begging, but her hands are extended to receive coins; she does not talk to anyone: she only speaks quechua. Wara walks around the streets of different cities every year in school vacation, wearing her axo, a long black dress with big flowers in the hem, her small white wool hat and her braided hair.
Being indigenous is different than being a peasant (campesino) in Bolivia. Indigenous means poorer, with darker skin and with special dresses. She comes from one of ten indigenous communities in Potosí, Bolivia, South America, a high plateau, cold place. Men send groups of women to ‘work’ in this infamous situation while they wait for the money in the communities. This has become women’s business.
Mendicity constitutes a crude phenomenon that affects states following social and economical models that do not guarantee life quality for all people. There are beggars everywhere, including Cuba and China, countries with a socialist model which in theory eliminates mendicity. Ideologies have not managed to change this reality.
In this context, mendicity is only a symptom that shows how human development indexes are not well, as millions of beggars walk around the streets, showing off humanity’s misery.
Why do women accept this task? Social scientists have unraveled the reasons- Their findings include patriarchal schemes, occidental influence, racism and discrimination, while for the remedies, they recommend the usual: more government intervention through productive projects for men and women to increase their income. The present government has no results: after four years in office, beggar numbers augment.
My research found that natives living in their original communities have a different approach to life. When a child falls down and cries, for example, they will spank her, as she is not found to be brave enough to hold the tears. This is a good example of the survival strategy working. This is the reason why government and NGO interventions don’t really work in the long run. Their survival strategy makes them frail as they fight between themselves for resources, they don’t cooperate to improve the ecosystem's capacity to hold them, and more importantly, they are not supportive of their young siblings.
According to my theory of the Ecology of Societies, there are two different types of survival strategies: k and r. Some characteristics of the k strategy include low reproductive rate, low migration and long generational time (please refer to http://www.worldpulse.com/node/12866 for a complete description). Women in Potosí are immersed into an r strategy of survival, which includes a high reproductive rate (each family has four kids or more, which is highest rate in the country), high migration (one out two citizens have migrated), and short generational time (girls have their first baby in their early teens), and the most important trait for women: intra specific competition, which means the fight for resources takes place within their society, leading to endless disputes for any resource.
The Ecology of Societies is indeed a way of looking at poverty and wealth from the ecological point of view, where markets are part of the ecosystem, sustained by the species that live in it, money then, is one more resource that serves to sustain the species of the ecosystem, in complete interrelation. All resources are equally important.
Interestingly enough, Wara’s community fulfills all the requirements of the r strategy! What does this mean? Species that live within the k strategy, lead more stable lives, while the ones in r strategy tend to rely mainly in environmental conditions to survive. Let’s see some examples: rhinoceros live in a k strategy, while the dandelions live an r strategy. Both have survived for centuries, but a man could not step on the first and kill it, while it is possible that anyone could easily kill the dandelion.
k strategy species also tend to remain in one place, an ecosystem that provides for them, and tend to maintain their number in relation to the capacity of the ecosystem to sustain them. r strategy species tend to decrease their number, as they do not relate their lives to the capacity the ecosystem has to maintain them.
In this sense, Wara comes from a community that does not provide support for them part and parcel. Their ecosystem is not capable of holding them. The interaction between Wara’s community and the world will not take place in advantage unless there is a change in their survival strategy, leading to make the ecosystem’s capacity to hold the people, a sustainable one. What would it take to make it sustainable? First, a change in the interaction within the community is a must: intra specific competition must stop, this means people must not fight for resources, they must cooperate to get them.
The fear of change must be carefully addressed. A team of specialists must come to the rescue, including an ecologist, a psychologist, a business administrator and a banker. The main work needs to be in the communities’ hands, but they need to understand their reality first.
A change in the survival strategy means that women, just like men, the market, the professionals, the labor, the forest, or the land, will be measured with the same measuring rod. All are equally important, and they are interrelated through specific terms and conditions that are mathematically recognizable.
Poverty gets bigger as the ecosystem capacity to hold women lessens. We need to make this relation work in pro of women. That is the change we need: ecosystems that CAN support the number of women in their sites. This means resources must be carefully assessed in order to nurture the population therein.
This is a new kind of equality. “We are one with nature”, stops being a phrase, and starts being part of a plan to make the changes necessary to create a better holding capacity of the ecosystem itself. Women will benefit most from this approach, as they are the poorest in all societies.
Acknowledging and studying the ecological relationship of the community with the environment, the resources and the money needed to improve their lives are the body of the intervention. Equality is not a word, but a praxis. Both the specialists and the community and its leaders must get out of the box to work together.