Have you ever heard someone say, “That person deserves to be poor for all the bad decisions he made.”?
Or have you ever thought to yourself when you see a person in need, “He could have been better off if he made a better decision in life.”?
It is likely that many, if not all, of us have encountered either one of the experience above.
Sadly, these claims that poor people are to be blamed for the bad decisions they made aren’t necessarily true.
Claims on whether people are poor as a consequent of their bad decisions or bad decisions are made because the person is poor have been debated over the years. While the former may be true for a small group of people who may have made bad financial decisions causing their loss of wealth, a study published in 2013 shows that poverty dampens a person’s ability to make decisions in key areas of our lives.
These may sound all too boring and theoretical, so let me just give examples of what it means in real life, right here, in poor communities in Malaysia. These are testimonies, stories and observations from poor communities, from different parts of Malaysia.
“I want to spend time with my family outside over the weekends. I have no choice but to take my 3 children and wife on my motorcycle as I could not afford public transport.”
“I am a single mother who had to earn a living to feed my 4 children. I had to let my 14 year old to take care of her 3 younger siblings while I am at work. However, an accident took place and I lost my youngest child.”
“I love to go to school but being the eldest in the family, I have to help my parents sell food in the market so that we have enough for my other younger siblings.”
“Even though I am struggling to pay my bills, I still have Astro because that is the only source of entertainment for my aging parents and children who spend most of their time at home.”
“I know I need to rest to recover fully from my injured knee but if I do not work, I won’t have any money to buy food for my family. Because of that, I ended up needing a surgery, which I can’t afford to pay for.”
“I take my children to the nearby mall every month after getting my salary and we would spend to shop, eat, and play arcade games. This is the only time I get to spend with my family as I work two jobs and am seldom at home.”
“I am a senior citizen living with my bed-ridden husband. I do not work and have no source of income except for a small amount of aid in which is used on phone calls just to contact various people to ask for help. I can spend up to RM 200 a month but I have no other choice as RM 200 is not able to sustain both me and my husband.”
“I have 8 children and I cannot afford to pay for their education. I sent 3 of them to a children’s home hoping that they can have better access to quality education. My wife and I miss them a lot but we had no other choice.”
“I would eat instant noodles every day even though I know it is not a healthy option because I cannot afford any other food.”
“My 3 children are hungry and have not eaten all day. I couldn’t bear seeing their faces and so I shoplifted some food for them in the store. I ended up being caught.”
These are real life examples of how poverty can sometimes rob people of better options in life. Many times, poor people do not make bad decisions because they want to, but honestly, sometimes, it is the only option available in order for them to sustain themselves and their families as they do not have the luxury of different options available to them. In most cases, they are also not able to see and understand longer-term solutions as they are most concerned about surviving the here and now.
So, what can you do the next time you come across someone poor making a bad decision?
Learning to see life from their perspective, having to survive day to day is a good start.
Here are some startling statistics on the state of households in Malaysia.
The good news is that we are in a position to help. Part of the work we do at Generasi Gemilang is helping families from low-income communities see the different options accessible for them so that they can make better decisions for their future.
Together with with partner Prudential Assurance Malaysia Berhad (PAMB), we provide free financial protection to working families so that they can have peace of mind and be more resilient in tough times.
Through our financial literacy programs we equip adults with fundamental financial skills and values so that they can provide better for their families. We run education and values-based programs to help children catch up in class, stay in school and out of negative influence.
But in order to drive lasting impact, we need to scale up, and that's why we need your help. We need your help as a volunteer to mentor students lacking attention in school. We need help to fund learning, exposure & enrichment opportunities that empower families to realise their full potential. By our selves we can only do so much but together we can help more families build a better future, so that 'bad decisions' are not the only option they are left with.