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Teaching People to fish… and poverty?

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

Over the last decade I’ve studied poverty by immersing myself in third world systems around the world, to not only test my own coaching models which I have created over 2 decades-plus of professional coaching, but also to live the walk, not just talk the talk.

I will admit to you that my assumptions have shifted dramatically about why people are poor.

While the proverb is one that calls us to put in place educational programs and training to help people climb out of poverty, what I have discovered is that the disadvantaged need jobs which are mostly not available to people who don’t have education.

So, if education is missing, it’s really difficult to "teach people to fish."

In the process of affirming my own models of reality and exposing myself to desperate conditions in the process, I have realized some interesting notions about why poverty exists — contrary to a recent interview with Bill Gates and Mayor Bloomberg, that things are getting better and that fewer people are in poverty!

While people in poverty live a much different kind of poverty than people 100 years ago, the poverty has the same attributes… stress, hard living and loss of hope, early death, malnutrition, and most of all — loss of education possibilities.

It’s just not true that if you want an education you can get one.

First, the people who need the education the most are the young and they are unaware of the life without education as an adult.

This profound truth is key and why kids drop out of school early because the size of their worlds are too small for them to fully comprehend the future. In some ways, they are not programmed for the future. They are programmed for now, and that is another hard lesson learned; only to be paid during adulthood, raising their own kids… that have materialized along the way.

Poverty is a stern taskmaster and the payment is almost always financed for the future — if you catch my meaning.

Each Christmas and Easter for the past 5 years, I have conducted a rice drive to provide needy families we support with a sack of rice for the holiday; often because there is no work, and what is a holiday without food, or money?

This year, we are starting a new model of "perpetual rice" where we take your donation of at least $50 (the price of a 50k sack of rice in the Philippines right now) and invest that into infrastructure to provide the 5 keys to alleviating poverty for a few disadvantaged people.

We are completing our operations center and test facility as this drive comes to an end in April.

It will be our living/training center to prepare MyPALs to host their own guests in their "home" or unit we provide.

This business model is designed to scaffold the 5 keys to ending poverty: food, shelter, medicine, income, and education.

If all 5 are not present, poverty tightens its grip.

You can read more about our plan and join our drive to create this "perpetual rice program" and then visit us in the Philippines to support the goals of the program. The Philippines is a wonderful archipelago and what is the edge of the USA facing Southeast Asia. It’s full of American History as well as Pilipino culture, and 7007 islands provide some of the best recreation on the planet.

Help us get them ready to fish, please donate $50 or more and become part of our Perpetual Rice Program on Camotes Islands. 


To donate more than $50, please just enter multiples of $50 USD.

To learn more about the Starfish Project, sign up below for the recordings.



From one of our Inner Circle members:

I have an ambiguous relationship with this quote when I read the stories of over fishing by industrial fish factories e.g. off Ghana’s coast (http://kivafellows.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/gone-fishing/#more-25374). The quote implies that there is enough fish in the water to be caught.

So today, it’s also about maintaining the resources that give you the food. Education is about scaffolding. It’s part of a society’s culture (what and how to do things to live your life). It requires a personal framing that comes from the elders, the knowledgeable, the who says that take time and energy to pass on what they know – and also instill the purpose of the education. I just listened to a talk on the wireless about MOOCS (massive open online courses) and the observation that it mostly used by the already educated.

What I observe in the poor regions is the sheer numerical challenge to take on such a task in a society where 60% of the population are below 25 and whose elders are overwhelmed with securing their own lives in conditions that are not favorable to people (thinking of the Sahel in particular).

I agree with what you say about poverty, Mike. Yet, I find that your five key points are somehow circular, but maybe we mean the same thing: food, shelter, medicine, income and education depend on each other reciprocally . Income can take on the form of food and shelter or it is needed to buy food, shelter, medical care and education. These 5 keys stand for whole lot of things in a given context. I would be interested how they play out in your setting.

Recently I came across the concept of “ecovillages” which is about bringing people back to their villages’ responsibilities; keeping them from going to the cities by providing life sustaining conditions and perspectives (a project in Togo: http://www.thedancingforest.com/).

I think you have this element in your rice project as well.

I think it is also important not just to create service economies that depend on the affluent to come and spend their money (and leave their plastic garbage) but to have an own economic base that is rooted in the first sector. So many paradises have been taken over by tourism where beauty is commoditized. I feel queasy in those settings (be they in Africa, Asia or elsewhere) with all the people hanging around you, trying to sell stuff (all the nice handicraft!) you don’t want, because they depend on it. I wonder whether that is a base?

These are the thoughts that went through my mind when I read your piece.

I’ll definitely will come to the Philippines to see this promising venture unravel and to enjoy the sights.

Yes, great comments!!

Here’s my take, a person must supply, IMHO, because there is no scaffolding…

There is no savings, no government support, and that which is, is corrupt because of the scaffolding… even the elders are corrupt in that their elder-ship depends directly on their elder-status!

We have in large, a scale problem that will break all systems… limits to growth, as we know it — technology will keep this a moving target.

Life in poverty is lived as a LONG emergency!

I have tried to provide various parts of those five and the scaffold breaks quickly because of the conditions — at least here.

A family member’s illness takes out the buffers and the scaffolding crumbles under the demand of new tensions.

Even the shelter can not be owned as everyday people mortgage their meager shelter to save… or bury a loved one.

So the shelter must be provided, food must be provided, medicine must be provided, and guided education, primarily for the NEXT generation is usually the case as the adults are less malleable!

The children learn fast and well but only to the extent of the worldview of the allowed. Kids DON’T go on field trips, to dances, get extra tickets to attend activities and most can’t eat well enough to study; most have to drop out to "look for" money for the family.

These large family units are destined for poverty, it’s a matter of "luck and time".

The bigger they get, the more generations alive, the risk for poverty goes up exponentially.

This is one thing about poverty that is counter intuitive in the world today… the families don’t plan big families here but two people making love without protection generate big families.

The Philippines is growing faster than any Asian country… and the number of children having children is rapidly increasing due to the conditions.

As to tourism, it’s the natural thing… Hong Kong itself (not a model, just a data-point), has 10 million visitors a year, Philippines has 3.5 million.

The Philippines has the potential for high density tourism, at 100 million visitors a year.  So while the plastic is overflowing and it’s not necessarily a good thing to serve that many people; where are 5 billion (the greater Pacific rim) going to go for fun when 3 billion of them enter middle class!

If you think I’m kidding, just hide and watch!!

So for me… life becomes urgent.  We have 50 families and an extended group of 500 who need rice, shelter, medicine, money, and education everyday…

There are millions we can’t touch… check the want ads!

Mother Theresa’s are wanted/needed!!

Here’s my idea (probably) not a good one…

I have lived a wonderful life… I owe….

I can’t do much but carve out a few and study and scaffold them, attempting to look through the mothers to their children and help the moms bail out water…

If you saw them, you would have a new appreciation for their heart…

They have no where to turn. It’s impossible to educate them out of poverty because those 5 pieces are missing… and they have done without for so long… I’ve seen them buy new shoes, phones, clothes and pawn them a week later…

There are different rules engrained into this living… and we don’t/can’t understand it…

On a side note, I can’t tell you how many times I have not seen them connect A with B…

Trust me, if you can’t connect A to B, you are stuck running the same algorithms over and over. You don’t learn… you tolerate, you endure, you trust in GOD to hear your prayers… and that my friends is your life until you die…

Along the way, you sing a lot (badly) and dance a little, drink a little and make love a little… and maybe, just maybe, that’s not so bad…

Thanks, Mike! This a very sober and very touching take of the world we are in.

A person must supply
If you saw them, you would have new appreciation for their heart…
They have nowhere to turn
I have lived a wonderful life… I owe….

These four lines jumped at me.

We help where we can and do our best – we serve life.


To donate more than $50, please just enter multiples of $50 USD.

To learn more about the Starfish Project, sign up below for the recordings.



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