3 easy ways to help people in extreme poverty

There are many different ways of helping people in extreme poverty. Philosopher Peter Singer explains how you can do it.

PETER SINGER: There are many different ways of helping people in extreme poverty. There are reliable organizations. You can find them online. They've been independently audited and assessed. They will use your money very well, very cost effectively and they will save lives.

One way of doing that is to provide cataract surgery for people who have cataracts. Here in the United States, many people develop cataracts as they get older. I think I'm probably going to have to have my own cataracts removed before very long. But that's not an issue for me. It's covered by health insurance. And if people are really poor in the United States, they don't have health insurance then Medicaid or Medicare will do it for them. But in many poor countries they can't afford it. So if they develop cataracts, even though it's quite simple to remove them, they will slowly lose their vision and be blind for the rest of their life. There are organizations like the Fred Hollows Foundation and Seva, which will use your donation to do cataract operations in poor countries. And they often have trained people, local doctors, to do them, like Dr. Ruit who has performed hundreds of thousands of operations. So, that's one example of how you can help.

Another example is repairing a condition called obstetric fistula. So, as the name implies this is something that happens during childbirth, usually for girls who have children before their bodies are really mature or perhaps they're malnourished and so in any case they're not very strong. And on top of that they don't have any medical care during childbirth because they're living in some village in a rural area where they have no medical attention. So occasionally then something will go wrong with the birth. The baby will get obstructed in the birth process and is unable to get out, to be born. So it's wriggling and kicking for such a long time that the baby wears a hole in the uterus and through to, sometimes, the bladder, sometimes the bowel, sometimes both. Then assuming then the baby does eventually get born and the woman survives, she is incontinent either of urine or feces or maybe both. Now in these conditions in rural areas with poor hygiene, there's no way that she can keep clean, so her husband is quite likely to get rid of her, basically, or throw her out and she may go back to her family. But the family also can't really cope with somebody who smells bad and can't keep clean, so they may build her a little hut out somewhere away from the family home. Essentially, she's then going to be an outcast for the rest of her life and as I say often these are quite young women. But this fistula, this hole, can be repaired. It can be repaired relatively cheaply for maybe $750. So you can donate to the Fistula Foundation. They can use the money to perform the surgery. Essentially you're giving let's say an 18-year-old girl her life back, which otherwise would be ruined and she can then go back to having a normal life. That's another thing that's clearly I think a very good thing to do.

One more example which maybe in a way goes more to the roots of poverty. There's an organization called Village Enterprise which helps people in villages to develop small businesses, small enterprises themselves. And it's been shown that what you need to succeed in this is a combination of things. You need to give them some asset that they don't have. Maybe it's some cash so that they can buy a little motor scooter or something and do something with that. Or maybe it's chickens so that they can produce eggs and sell the eggs or a market stall. Then you need to give them some training in how to run the kind of business that they've got the asset to run. And you also need to get together with other people in the village – it's usually women – to form a sort of support group. A support group where they talk to each other about their problems, but also if they're making money they pool their savings, and if somebody needs a bit of help then they can get a loan from that to bridge them over a difficult time. So, Village Enterprise does all of those things and it's been shown through very careful control trials that this does help the people to get out of poverty and boost the village as well because there's more commerce going on in that village. So it's a successful way to help people who otherwise don't have opportunities to work their way out of poverty to do exactly that.

  • Widely described as one of the most influential living philosophers, Peter Singer provides concrete and straightforward ways of combatting poverty.
  • You can have a major impact by donating to organizations like the Seva Foundation or Fred Hollows Foundation, which perform cataract surgery; the Fistula Foundation, which corrects potentially ruinous complications that occur while giving birth; and Village Enterprise, which fosters and funds enterprise in small villages.
  • A free download of the 10th anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty is available here.

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