Nobody Wants to Be a Beggar for Life: “Poverty Inc.” and Human Dignity

The recent documentary, Poverty Inc., investigates the less-than-positive reality of the modern poverty relief industry. The movie tells the story of the industry’s rise through various interviews with actual members of communities who have received aid. These interviews shed light on the lesser known truths about this process. In the end, the documentary concludes that the modern form of poverty aid ends up having adverse impacts, hurting those it was meant to help. There were several reasons discussed for how the poverty industry has become harmful, but one in particular involves the presupposition of poverty workers.

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is the troubling image that those working in poverty relief have towards those in poverty. The term that the films uses, and provides examples to illustrate, for this image is paternalism. Paternalism means that the modern poverty industry is built on a presupposition that those in poverty are helpless, like children, and those with money need to take care of them, as if the wealthy were their parents. In other words, those with money must constantly provide for the basic needs of those in poverty, without considering the ability of those in poverty to support themselves. This may truly come from a good-hearted and sincere desire to help those in need (which is absolutely laudable), but it does not take into account the reality of human dignity

In regards to this dignity, the movie revolves around the need for a new view of the poor. While no solution is ever clearly given in this movie to poverty, human dignity is a key aspect that the movie leans towards. One of the most important quotes of the movie is when an African representative\ is discussing an annual supply of shoes give to African children, and he questions whether the American’s ever want these kids to stop needing them to give shoes. He argues that his people don’t want this to be the statues quote, they want more. In the end, he summarizes the concerns of his people in one phrase: “nobody wants to be a beggar for life.”

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This quote should cause the audience to sit back and really consider their interaction with those in poverty. Despite the easy solution of poverty alleviation that requires simply giving people what they need, they forget deeper needs of humanity such as dignity, relationship, and the desire to impact the world. The audience is left with these question when wondering if they are helping or hurting: “do I respect the dignity of a human being who desires to work, create, and support themselves” or “do I simply seek the easy methods of paternalism?” While this question may not supply the answer of how to honor human dignity in poverty alleviation, discussing this presupposition is the first step to truly aiding the poor.


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