Palagi visiting Samoa for the first time can be quite shocked with the relative poverty they see. The flip-side of this is that Samoans can view Palagi as a source of income. I’m frequently told, “Oh, many Samoans just see a Palagi’s wallet”.
I can empathise with both views. I definitely know what it’s like to view a Palagi as a welcome source of income when I have very little cash in my own pocket! I can also identify with the shock factor for the Palagi seeing rural Samoa for the first time. Such a different lifestyle with low-cost housing, cooking on fire, limited job opportunities and subsistence lifestyles is definitely an eye-opener.
Contrary to some commentary, I believe that the real problem that exists in Samoa however is not actually a lack of wealth, nor a lack of opportunity, nor a lack of education, nor economic mis-management through greed, even though these things are all challenges here. The real problem is what I call a Poverty Mentality; a mindset that fools us into believing that, “We are poor!”
The solution to this negative thinking however is not just positive thinking, pretending that poverty doesn’t exist. Someone who is poor in mind, lacks vision and purpose, and perhaps cannot see any way out of their current situation cannot just wake up in the morning, self-determine that they will change and then immediately have a solution to their problems. Life is just not like that!
Something more is needed.
A natural response for outsiders dealing with poverty is to want to give – money, labour, time or advice. A smarter giver will attempt to “teach a man how to fish rather than just give him a fish”, but a biblical approach to dealing with poverty, while not denying the value of gifts, or a “hand-up” is fundamentally different.
It is the cry of God wrapped up into three simple things: Humble; Hear; Obey.
We should humble ourselves, listen to the Lord then act according to His leading. This is not positive thinking, nor asking for God’s blessing on our self-determination. As Einstein’s observed, you can’t use the same kind of thinking to resolve a problem that you got yourself into.
We need Him. His answers are best. Nothing we do has lasting value unless we are doing it in obedience to and in the power of our Creator. I’ve found though that when we hear His voice and follow His guidance, that we often live by different values. We end up challenging those around us, and challenging societal norms can be threatening to those who do not share the same vision or faith as you.
The ultimate objective of trying to break through the poverty trap though should not be to increase wealth or standard of living. This will come naturally as a by product of bringing God the glory. The amazing thing is that when we realise that there is a God who loves us, who understands and cares for us, and when we fit into His purposes for us, individually, then we find that we instinctively know what to do. We know where our solutions lie. We also find that we have divine intervention to resource our efforts.
I’ve observed this outworked many times when people stuck in a rut have an epiphany, then find themselves enriched with hope and confidence for the future. They subconsciously alter their mindset, and as long as the strength of their heart is equal to that of their renewed mind, they will move forward with their own individual “God-tailored” solutions.
Jesus said it many times – it all comes from and is for the Father.
Humble; Hear; Obey.
Simple, but maybe not easy.
Dennis A. Smith (www.dennis.co.nz) is a Samoa-based author, blogger and CEO of the SWAP Foundation, home of Samoa voluntourism.