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People-to-People Help for the Poor

July 1, 1987

Michael Novak, the well-known American advocate of a free economy and the limited state, has made an interesting suggestion for helping the poor in Latin America. In the January issue of Crisis, Novak reports on a number of small-scale self-help projects initiated among the poor in Sao Paulo, Brazil. For example, a group of women, with the help of Padre Antonio Luiz, a local priest, have installed an oven and are baking high quality bread which they sell directly to their customers. Padre Luiz is looking for ways to train young men to become tradesmen, to build a pharmacy, a health clinic and a place for maternity care. However, for the required tools, materials and instruction, seed money is needed. Novak suggests that Christian churches and Jewish synagogues link themselves directly to poor congregations in Latin America to provide money, encouragement, and perhaps volunteer help. He believes that direct people-to-people contact in this way might accomplish great deal in alleviating poverty. "The needs of the poor are sometimes very modest. A little can do a lot." Novak writes:

Many liberals are good about wanting to help the poor. Many conservatives, who think government-to-government aid is a waste, are good in stressing personal contact and personal responsibility. Why not put these two humane impulses together? Better than country-to-country aid, congregation-to-congregation aid might actually give real people real help in their daily necessities. (Crisis, January 1987) 

On a small scale this kind of people-to-people aid is already occurring, but much more can and should be done. Novak suggests asking your local church for the address of a community or parish in need of help, or, failing that, writing to him for a contact (c/o the Brownson Institute, Box 1006, Notre Dame, IN 46556). How about it?