A well-known Thai proverb is “Where there is effort, there is success.” It sounds good and most would agree with it. However sometimes I change it a bit.
Where there is effort, sometimes you get nowhere.
I sometimes make this cynical statement to people who resist our offers for help. While we have to fight dependency when helping the poor, we also do run across those who feel either too proud or too undeserving to receive any help at all. This includes women so ashamed to receive charity that they would rather sell their bodies.
Folks in poverty culture know bottomless pits all too well. And while Thailand has a growing economy and opportunity, there are common prerequisites that close doors to many, such as lack of a high-school diploma, or a prison record. Another infuriating one is age bias: many corporate employers won’t consider an applicant over age 35.
The minimum wage, at $10/day, makes it very difficult for parents to save money. Insert one unplanned expense, and people have to borrow. Pawn shops of course run a thriving business, but for those with nothing to hock, their only option is an “informal” loan, usually at 20% per month. That’s right, 240% per year.
Then there is the interdependency of Thai culture. You’re in it together with your family. In poverty culture, that often means pulling each other down. Just when one starts getting it together, a family crisis happens. It could be health, but could also stem from drugs or gambling.
Where there is effort, there is strength for more effort.
Strength feels good. It reinforces itself. When we feel strong and healthy, we tend to succeed in healthy habits. Many coming from both trauma and poverty simply feel weak. We see women with regular health problems, whether from a history of anxiety, substances or poor diet. Often all of the above. Another problem is panic, where chronic poverty and repeated trauma have mis-wired the brain to overreact to difficulty.
“Jo”, with a long background of trauma and addictions, is working being healthy enough to make it to The Well every day for a month. We know her physical health issues are real, not malingering, but they still require her pushing through them. She’s coming along, and has only missed half a day to illness so far in December. We also began helping Jo become aware of her panic response, which I explain to her is like drowning. She has to learn to float calmly rather than thrashing about.
I often explain Romans 5:1-5 to people coming out of hardship like this: “We are safe now. Therefore we can grow strong, and strength feels good.” “You’re safe,” I have often reminded Jo when she would mention that old urge to run for the exit. Today Jo told of her growing exercise habits, all in spite of still having some pain. She proudly showed me her decent looking bicep.
Where there is effort, there is help.
We don’t say, “God helps those who help themselves.” While this non-biblical quote may have a ring of truth to it, it is a distortion of how God works with people. But it contains a key principle for we who help people out of deep need.
“We love you and will do anything for you,” I tell new women at The Well. “You have a lot to overcome, both in yourself and your situation, and we will walk with you each step. But we can’t walk for you. We can only walk with you.”
Emotional and addiction recovery is comparable to recovery from a serious physical injury that requires therapy. It’s going hurt, and a good therapist is a cheerleader. “Come on! One more step! That’s it!” And indeed, when we see steps, we get excited. And so do they.