I was watching another TED talk this week and heard Mia Birdsong talking about the “big mistake” in trying to eradicate poverty. She acknowledged that in the last 50 years poverty rates have just gotten worse. We’ve thrown lots of money and “innovative” interventions at the problem, but we’ve missed the most powerful and practical resource: the people themselves! She also wanted to quickly dismiss the long-held view that hard work will automatically lead to success. She mentioned a number of people with whom she has been involved who were very hard workers. They were creative, innovative, optimistic and committed, but they lacked access to the fuel for their initiative: dignity and resources.
The thing that really struck me was this: “We have spent our money and programs trying to ‘fix’ people. We have assumed that something is wrong with them and that they are not capable or interested in a better life for themselves and their families. We need to stop trying to fix them and instead fuel their initiative. Instead of rewarding their dysfunctions: dropping out of school, having children out of wedlock, making it possible to have more income on welfare than with a job…the list goes on…. We need to move toward rewarding their initiative and building the dignity that comes with self-reliance.”
Okay – I know that sounds lofty and short of specifics, but it’s exactly what is driving the work at My Safe Harbor. We have a new book that will be out next month – it will make its debut at our October 22 Annual Dinner. We are highlighting nine of our Strong Family Institute graduates who are telling their own stories. It’s a compelling and inspiring book and I thought I’d share these quotes:
“My relationship with my children has made a huge improvement. None of these good things would have happened without My Safe Harbor. Not because they did it for me, but because they helped me believe I could do it and gave me the tools, the strength and the support to make it happen.” – Angela
“For the first time I asked, ‘who am I and what do I want.” I learned to take care of myself and to believe that I could be in charge in my home. My kids haven’t been too thrilled, because the changes are affecting them. New rules, new limits, new expectations…new me!” – Maria
“I found a place where I am valued and encouraged – and held accountable. At MSH they expect things of me because they love me and know I can do better.” – Rocio
“I now believe that I am worthy, that I am capable and, more importantly, that I am not alone. My Safe Harbor is now MY safe harbor.” – Lupe
Nothing fuels dignity like believing you’re capable and being surrounded by people who believe that, too—AND who are willing to reward your hard work with real opportunities, real connections, real resources and real accountability. Maybe our new motto should be “MSH: a place to find high octane fuel!”