By Jason Hahn.
Mr Hahn was one of the inaugural students in the Shepherd Poverty Program in 1998-1999. After he graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1999 he served in the Peace Corps in Niger for two and a half years before becoming a Foreign Service Officer. Jason completed an MBA from the University of Washington in 2008. He currently works for Grameen Foundation, an international development NGO, in Seattle.
“Poor people don’t need our pity, or our second guessing about the choices they make. They need us to work together to eliminate the structures that make people poor and make it so difficult to get out of poverty,” writes Hahn, pictured here when he was in the Peace Corps in Niger.
The poor are just like me – I’ve just been dealt a much better hand. This is the lesson I took from my study of poverty at Washington and Lee and it is one that has been confirmed for me repeatedly over the past 16+ years.
I saw this in the summer I spent volunteering between my junior and senior years at the Georgia Justice Project in Atlanta. That summer I had the privilege to help amazing lawyers defend the rights of the poorest among us. And in doing so worked with a young mom accused of a crime she didn’t commit by a man who almost certainly was the criminal. She was in a really tough place – now as a parent of two small children I have a much better sense of what she must have faced. At the time I just thought of her as a client we had to defend. And defend her we did – in the end she was back with her family. Just like me she was a parent who wanted to do what was best for her kids. [Editor’s Note: As Jason’s teacher and supervisor at the time, I learned and still remember 16 years later that he, a twenty-year-old at the time, received a heartwarming note from this mother thanking him for his help that summer. It was obvious, even before he was a parent, that Jason identified with persons who were purportedly different from him, but he knew were just like him. Harlan Beckley]
I learned again that the poor are just like me as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. There I lived in a rural community with Nigeriens – some of the poorest people in the world – who wanted exactly what all of us want – a better life for our children, relaxing at the end of the day with people we love, meaningful work, and spending time with their families. They worked harder in the punishing desert sun than anyone I have very known. They weren’t poor because of lack of effort – they were poor because of where they were born. My work today at the Grameen Foundation, an international non-profit founded on the premise of supporting Muhammad Yunus’s desire to send poverty to a museum, allows me to continue to help fight against poverty in developing countries. We work to provide poor people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, with the tools they need to move out of poverty. Aligning with the desires they have, just like each and every one of us, to create a better world for themselves and their families.
The lessons I have learned in life and from my foundational coursework in the Shepherd Poverty Program have shaped the way I viewed the world. As a white man born to upper middle class parents in the late 70s who went to an elite liberal arts college I’ve been dealt a hand that keeps me out of poverty to this day. Sure I’ve worked hard – but that has much less to do with what I’ve done than the advantage I had when I started.
Poor people don’t need our pity, or our second guessing about the choices they make. They need us to work together to eliminate the structures that make people poor and make it so difficult to get out of poverty. I owe the Shepherd Poverty Program for teaching me that.