October 2011

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By Dr. Ronald Marshall

The phenomenon of poverty alleviation is global. Poverty is a social problem that has attracted a lot of descriptions, not all accurate. The literature demonstrates that the phenomenon defies a single acceptable definition. Some believe that poverty is due, in the main, to lack of access to basic resources such as water, a reliable job, a good education, and the like. Others believe it relates to more direct financial matters, such as the inability to purchase foodstuffs, or to commute, or to send their children to school. The question of poverty in this regard, is one that needs to be seriously examined because one has to be careful of the messages that could be sent to the poor namely, the creation of a dependency. On the other hand, we may want persons to get out of poverty by providing the opportunities, or materialistic support for them to do so. In this regard, the framework within which this could best be accomplished is through community support. From a social and sociological perspective, community support translates to community empowerment. In this way a community of needs will experience a distillation of values which would be transmitted from one individual to the next as they work together to eradicate the common goal called poverty. At the same time, one has to appreciate that a common objective is facilitated through the cohesiveness of the community which is the repository of a common set of values even if those values in the first instance, need to be transformed. Because a community not only live the experience of poverty and poverty alleviation strategies, the long term goals have within them the ability to influence successive adherents and family members since it determines what works and what does not. Put another way, poverty alleviation would be structured, articulated, and practised within a system of norms and values, consistent within the needs, and certainly the outlook, of the community.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved without some degree of sustainability and this means that the structure within which poverty alleviation is framed ought to have the ability to expand and provide the kind of output and expectations that could be used as a template for similar communities faced with the challenges of poverty, and poverty alleviation, the permanency of which amounts to poverty eradication.

Sometimes one has to look below the surface to determine the indicators of poverty: How many people are losing jobs, how many children are dropping out of school, and for what reasons, how many people are on welfare, and if it is growing. How many people are attempting to live above their means, which will have long-term consequences.

Dr. Ronald Marshall is a senior lecturer in the Sociology Unit of the Department of Behavioural Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, The UWI, which hosted an International Conference on Poverty Alleviation, from October 20-21 at the Learning Resource Centre Auditorium, UWI. For further information on the Conference on Poverty, please contact Dr. Marshall or Ms. Fareena Alladin at (868) 662-2002 ext. 83506 or at ronald.marshall@sta.uwi.edu or fareena.alladin@sta.uwi.edu.