What’s the Deal with Weda?

I remember one day spotting Mas Weda as I was on the way to an ATM machine. He stood from his wooden bench to greet me, being careful not to knock over the stacks of coins he had accumulated that day. Weda was a parkir, a man who works out of a parking lot, collecting tips from drivers he helps back out into passing traffic. They get about a dime for every car and a nickel for every motorcycle, whether the drivers requested their services or not. I had seen that young man often in that parking lot, just big enough for a few cars and motorcycles, sitting on his bench until it was time to get up and blow his whistle.

We chatted briefly and I re-extended my offer for him to come to of our free graphic design classes later that afternoon. He squinted at the flyer I put in his hand, looking unsure.

“Come on, Weda, you can get some great new job skills, and it doesn’t cost anything.”

He fiddled with the whistle hanging around his neck. “Malu masuk kampus,” he finally admitted, which means, “I’m ashamed to enter a campus.”

“Jangan malu,” I told Weda, “don’t be ashamed.” I assured him that he could come to campus and the security guards would not stop him. I told him exactly where the computer lab we rented out was located. Wouldn’t you like to get some more job skills so that you could get a better job in the future, I asked.

He shifted around in his flip flops and looked up at me, smiling widely. “In’shallah,” he said. It literally means “As God wills,” but he knew and I knew it really meant ain’t no way he was going to come. It’s just a polite way in Indonesian of saying no thanks.

I finally made my way to the ATM, feeling regret and slight frustration. Weda could have had a much better job than counting coins the rest of his life. We were throwing a guy who could never get a formal education a lifeline here, and he wouldn’t even take it. Is it that he was too lazy to swim to the lifeline, or that he believed he could never learn to swim?

Two weeks later I saw Weda again. I offered the same invitation, and to my surprise he showed up at our graphics design class later that day. He entered the computer lab barefoot and wide-eyed, clutching tightly on to the flyer as if it were some sort of golden ticket for a high class party. I tried to joke around with him to put him at ease, and showed him to an open computer station. He admitted he hadn’t really used one that much before, and I whispered to one of trainers to give him special attention. The class was already in its fourth week so I knew he was going to have to learn fast—sink or swim.

I wish I could tell you that Weda graduated from our graphic design class, got a job in our small business and turned his life around. I wish I could report that he and his family have finally escaped the cruel clutches of poverty. But Weda only came to class twice, and the last time I saw him he was on that same corner, counting a small stack of coins. He’s always very nice to me, and gives me a free pass when I park my motorcycle in his parking lot. I think he really appreciated the chance, but for some reason he didn’t take it.

What’s the deal here? I realize in Weda’s case there are probably specific factors to his situation, but overall, why do poor people sometimes seem to seal their own doom? Why do people, for instance, who just received a wad of cash in the form of a micro-finance loan or a one-time government handout, often blow it on something immediate and not invest it into something that could help them in the long run? A concept that helped me wrestle with this came from a class I took on poverty. In one book we read, Walking with the Poor, the author Brian Myers talked about the “marred identity of the poor.” He explained that poverty robs people of their identity as people with inherent worth. From the outside we might judge the poor as just lazy, and although that might be true at times, there are factors that have marred their identity long before we ever meet them.

I believe it’s easier for people to escape poverty now than at any other time in human history because of the opportunities afforded by globalization. On any spot in the world which has access to the internet you could become a “social entrepreneur” and start an outsourcing business that could lift hundreds of people out of poverty. Yet we are still dealing with “marred” people, and their broken self-identity tells them they will never make it out of the hold. Their self esteem is as barren as their wallets.

As we innnovate to offer solutions to the poor, we have to keep in mind that their minds is the first place to start.

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One Response to “What’s the Deal with Weda?”

  1. tommy Says:
    September 27th, 2012 at 4:50 am


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