PIDA or a Way to Let the Poor Help Themselves

Well, I always say that it is good to give, but sometimes it is better to stop giving. If you don’t give in the right way it is much more possible that you’ll create even more problems than to help. So sometimes it is better to help without giving. In September I’ve attended the Youth Future Project Conference and there was a really inspiring workshop about how we can best help the poor out of poverty. In this post I’ll try to retell you not only the pieces of wisdom we’ve learned, but also the way in which the PIDA founder explained these to us.

The founder was a really old man from Sri Lanka, the PIDA home country from which villages this great initiative started years ago. Later we understood that he is more than 90 years old. He is a man full of dignity, wisdom and passion. First he wanted to know why we attend this seminar, where we come from and what is our background. And he does not wanted to hear only some fast answers in 30 seconds, but a good explanation. It took in average 5 minutes and we were 8, so 40 minutes were gone from our “only” 3 hours to learn how to save the world. But I liked a lot this start, because this is the real way how a workshop starts. We definitely need to know each other and to know what we want and expect and why.

Well, at the same time I was one of the two moderators of the workshop, so I had to be careful about the time. After these 40 minutes he started to talk about himself. And it took another 50 minutes, so we had only 90 minutes more and we hadn’t even started yet. All of the participants were already inpatient, me too and even more. I was inpatient as well and I noticed the reactions of the audience … yes, we turned for 50 minutes in audience and it turned to be a lecture after starting as a real workshop. This was quite annoying, because the enthusiasm of the participants was already gone. At the same time I couldn’t stop him, because he was staying there with such a dignity and confidence that he knows what he was doing. And he told me several times that I had to relax and that I didn’t have to worry about the moderation. And which was even more important – what he told us about himself sounded for me to be really important for our workshop, yet I couldn’t understand why. And as it often happens, exactly at this moment, he came to the culmination and I understood everything. Actually this was the point when I do not really need any workshop any more. He thought us everything which we had to know about the poor and how to help them or better said – how to let them help themselves.

So, here is his story. Once upon a time in Sri Lanka there was a son of a rich family from the city and a daughter of a poor family from the land. They fell in love and got married. Their son (the founder of PIDA, who tells us this story) used to live and go to school in the city. But every summer he was sent from his parents to stay for some month in the village of his mother and help his grandparents. It was a typical and normal story. It was quite similar with me, when I was a child. I used to live in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, but I was every summer in the small village of my grandparents. Well, my father was not rich and my mother was not poor and both come from the city, but my grandparents come from some small villages. So this story started to sound to me somehow familiar. Before it changed drastically.

As he finished school, his parents decided to send him … back at the village for some years, in order for him to learn the culture and traditions of the people in Sri Lanka and to become a deep understanding of their problems. And to see what does it mean to be poor and to live in a village. At the first glance a strange decision – after school I went to study at one of the best universities in Germany. Sounds somehow better! But his parents wanted to prepare him for really important duties. And this was the right solution! He obtained a knowledge he couldn’t have received even from the best university. It was the practical knowledge which only the real life can teach you. The experience that only the real misery of the people can show you. And the inspiration and enthusiasm to change this situation! As a young boy or a teenager you can feel and see the real problems of the people, but you can’t get this deep understanding as when you were already grown-up and finished school.

After the stay in the village, he has only one single goal – to help this great hospitable people, who lived for generations in misery and who seemed to have no idea how to change this. He decided to study in USA. It was the time after the Second World War. He stayed for some years in USA and found the right people who can give him the best advice how to help the poor in Sri Lanka. These were some experienced Profs, who told him, that he had nothing to do it USA. If he wants to find real solutions to all the problems, he needed to go to … Germany. He was more than surprised. We were more than surprised at the workshop as well. In order to solve the problems of the poor people in Sri Lanka and to help them out of the poverty, he had to go to Germany? It is a western country which has nothing to do with Sri Lanka and its poor people. Why? Exactly at this moment, after 90 minutes of some seemingly useless talks in the workshop, I’ve get it. I’ve get the point. I’ve understand what he wants to tell us. I’ll never forget this great moment in my life. Yes, it is a great moment. Thanks to him, I’ve finally understood what the best possible solution for the poor in the world is and how to help them. This was one of the happiest moments in my life. Actually I had this solution somewhere in myself, somehow intuitively, but this is not enough. Now I really get the point with my mind as well. Evrika!

So, why Germany? When I speak about Germany I meet not modern Germany and not the communistic East Germany, but West Germany. Let’s explain the situation at this time. It was just after the Second World War. Germany was completely destroyed by the air attacks. There were not enough living places and the people had to live together with strangers. At the same time there were some 6-7 million displaced people from the German state territories before the war. They needed a place to life as well, so they were distributed in the local families. In some Germany states there was one such person in every family. So again strangers at home. A permanent unavoidable couch surfing, no matter if you want it or no. But there was one very important result of it. You have to live with strangers in the same house and you both have nothing, so you need to help each other. You need to live together. This conditions form a strong community between people and in the society as well. So, remember this – building of a community.

On the other side, can you imagine what does it mean to live in a destroyed country and to have nothing? You have to build everything almost from scratch. How? Well, you have to work very hard and to stick together. To stick to the community. If you want to have again enough money for living and your own house without strangers in it, you have to work hard, very hard. So remember this point as well – to work hard.

But no matter how hard you work, you’ll need years in order to buy your own house. Many years. Some decades. So how does this German guys managed to do this so fast, in an about ten years after the war? Well, many of them founded together the so called “Pfennig Vereine”. These are groups of people how raise together money. There is a joint bank account and everyone puts every week some amount of money in it. As much as he/she can afford. When they gathered enough money, the first one bought a house. After that the second one and so on. The people that already had a house kept putting money in the joint account. As a result you have a bigger amount of money and you can invest them and obtain a bigger return. That’s how they came out of the poverty after the Second World War. So, remember this third and last point – the people came together, used the community in order to collect money together and to invest them together and in a way that suits them all best.

So exactly the same PIDA does in Sri Lanka. The organisation sends a facilitator in the village how helps the people to make a community. People with land in the villages know how to work hard, but they often don’t know how to work efficient. Again the facilitator helps them with this issue. People start to work not only efficient, but to work together as well and help each other. The next step is to start to collect some money on a regular basis. In the best case in one year the facilitator is no more needed and the people already have saved some amount of money. Now, when they go to a bank and show that they’ve already build a strong community and saved so money, the bank will give them a credit as well, if needed. Thus they slowly start to be not so poor. This model helped millions in south-east Asia without giving a single cent to the people there.

As a conclusion I would like to say that instead of looking for a complex solutions it is always much better to look around at something we already know or something which is near us. It may give us a clue how to resolve all your problems and how to help others. As the wise PIDA founder said – go in the villages in your own country, meet the people and you’ll find solutions for all the problems in the society. And let all the politicians do the same! The finish prime minister used to do this for many years and the results can be seen from the development of his country. So, go out of your home, meet people, work hard, work together with the people, build strong communities and make the world a better place.