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youth as scapegoats

I remember as a young adult thinking that the adults who held power seemed to blame young people for more than they deserved.  It was a time when the adoption of radical economic policies and rapidly increasing youth unemployment coincided.  I can’t say that all the economic change wasn’t inevitable, but it seemed to be that the poor and weak and young among us bore the greater burden of the change.  As time has gone on, the gap between the haves and have-nots has widened – I don’t think there is any argument about that.  I wonder to what degree this gap is partly responsible for the growing number of young people who only seem to live for today.

A very good article, by Umair Haque in the Harvard Business Review blog, on the recent riots in England and a link to global economics (see http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2011/08/the_great_splintering.html#.TknP69PIeui.facebook) makes a very convincing case.
Here are a few choice quotes:
“If you accept the possibility that there are many kinds of violence — not merely physical, but emotional, economic, financial, and social, to name just a few, then perhaps the social contract being offered by today’s polities goes something like this: “Some kinds of violence are more punishable than others. Blow up the financial system? Here’s a state-subsidized bonus. Steal a video game? You’re toast.”

and, “There are many kinds of looting. There’s looting your local superstore — and then there’s, as Nobel Laureates Akerlof and Romer discussed in a paper now famous among geeks, there’s looting a bank, a financial system, a corporation…or an entire economy. (Their paper might be crudely summed up in the pithy line: “The best way to rob a bank is to own one.”)”

and, “As one [looter] told the Guardian, “Why are you going to miss the opportunity to get free stuff that’s worth loads of money?” Indeed: why, given a poisonous compact tattooed into the deeper calculus of everyday culture, not? Hence, as many have pointed out, the mob hasn’t exactly been looting bookshops, but the stuff of faux-luxe, mass-designer plenitude: plasma TVs, fast fashion, video games. The vision they seemed to be pursuing, as if their long-denied birthright, is less one of sign-waving activism, fighting against deep-seated social injustice, and more one of raiding a consumerist Disneyland to which they’ve long been glumly denied a ticket.”

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of economics, but I wonder if the recent targeting of young unemployed people in the NZ Government’s latest social policy announcements is more of what Haque identifies.

In this current economic season, with a combination of lack of jobs and high youth unemployment, it seems that our young people are being blamed and scape-goated.  The stringent measures announced this week, to force young people to study or get work, assume that there is work to get and study courses available with a job at the end to help pay off the high course costs.  Yet, in the last few weeks we have also been told that it is going to be harder for young people to get into university to undertake courses that might lead to such jobs.

I wonder what being in the middle of these ‘at odds forces’ will be like for many of our young people.  I agree with the Prime Minister that it is better to have our young people educated and prepared for the day when there are jobs to walk into, but I wonder just how many of these jobs will be available for them.

What is the point of undertaking a course and accumulating significant student debt if jobs don’t materialise?  Will it mean that even more of our young people head overseas to chase the kind of wages that will be needed to service the debt they have been forced to accumulate?

I don’t think that there are easy answers here, but so far, it looks like only one group among us has been targeted to bear the burden of this, and that is the often scape-goated group – our young people.

Some might ask, so what do we do about it?  Here’s one mad idea – the Government puts the money where its mouth is – it totally funds the courses that it believes will better prepare our young people for jobs, and it bonds these young people to serve two to three years in NZ as a way of contributing to their course costs.  And if the jobs haven’t materialised by the time the young people are trained, then it releases them from the bond, and if necessary, gives them a decent benefit without asking them to prove their worth, for after-all, the young people have tried to do the right thing.

voucher experience from a few people who delivered them

Various people have emailed in their experiences of going door to door and what a privilege it was:

“I found it very emotional – we saw pain and stress in people’s eyes and they were so grateful for the thoughtfulness of others – they all said it was very hard, but that they knew people cared.  We received hugs, and in one case, kisses.  It brought a tear to my eye and I felt honoured to be able to be part of this exercise.  Although I was out of my own comfort zone and initially nervous, with the very first visit it changed everything and I didn’t want to stop – the people in the East need us to help them and so much more help is still needed over there.”

“I hadn’t been over that side of town at all since the earthquakes. I found the
abandoned houses rather depressing and was saddened at the silt covering some people’s floors, as well as their gardens. The crazy angles of some floors and some walls was also amazing. However, the people we met were so incredibly grateful for our visit and so appreciative of not being forgotten. It was very humbling. Driving back to our smooth streets made me reflect on what it must be like coming home on those rough streets day after day to those broken houses.  I’m so glad we were able to spread a little joy!”

“A middle-aged woman carrying her little dog answered the door – she couldn’t believe what we were offering her – and she and the dog gave me a hug!”

“We met a man about our age fixing a new door handle on the door of a house in the red zone.”

Presbyterian Church Press Release on Vouchers

PCANZ PRESS RELEASE 6am 15-8-11

 Presbyterian churches surprise people affected by Christchurch earthquake with $70,000 of grocery vouchers

On Sunday 14 August 2011 Presbyterian church-goers gave more than $70,000 – 365 $200 New World Supermarket vouchers – to homes in part of the red zone on the east side of Christchurch.

“The vouchers were given out to homes with no strings attached”, says the Rev Martin Stewart. “The homes are all in an area perceived as not needing help, so they hadn’t received much.”

After their regular Sunday church service, 130 people from St Stephen’s Presbyterian in Bryndwr, St Giles in Papanui and St Mark’s in Avonhead, went door-to-door to share the vouchers with people whose resources have been stretched more thinly than their own.

Martin says that “going over to that side of the city was sobering. There were many sad stories of struggle and wondering what is next. Without exception those who handed out the vouchers were touched by the welcomes they received”.

The Rev Martin Stewart, the driving force behind the project and minister of St Stephen’s and moderator of the Presbyterian Church’s Presbytery of Christchurch, says,  “$70,000 was raised, some donated by people from here but most from far off places like Scotland… and Auckland! Foodstuffs offered a discount enabling us to purchase even more vouchers”.

The idea for the vouchers came in April, Martin says, when Highgate Presbyterian Church in Dunedin, (Martin was formerly the minister there) gave him and his wife Anne money to distribute in Christchurch “as we saw fit.  The next day we gave the first $1000 of that money to a young family we did not know, and that we had heard life was tough for, in the damaged Avon loop area.  I wrote about it on my blog and then someone from Wellington
sent $15,000 – it soon ballooned to $70,000.  It has been like witnessing the miracle of the loaves and the fishes right before our eyes”.

Martin says in many ways 365 vouchers to 365 homes is barely touching the need out east in Christchurch city.  “It really is like we have only got a little bit of play-lunch to share and there are 5000 people hungry.  But we sense that we are not alone in this enterprise.  We believe that Jesus’ ‘kingdom
of God’ is in this and we simply don’t know what kind of ripple of hope the vouchers will generate in the lives of the people we share them with. We are sure something good will come of it and that in a multitude of ways people who receive vouchers will pay it forward in some way.”

a comment posted from one of the voucher recipients

I received the following comment this evening – it makes it all worth while!

“I am one of the red zone recipients of a grocery voucher and I would just like to say thanks again. You lovely people have really made my day. I was absolutely stunned by the generosity of those that have been involved in this. Whilst the voucher itself is very welcome and will most certainly come in handy it is the thoughtfulness and caring involved that has touched me deeply.  We are fortunate to still be able to remain in our home whilst decisions are made, we have no idea where we will go from here at this stage but know it will ‘all come out in the wash’ so to speak.  In the end we will be where we are meant to be. To be remembered today in this way is very humbling.  A huge thanks to all.

Take care, Linda

practicing the art of generosity

In this weekend of delivering $200 supermarket vouchers out in the east of the city Anne and I have been remembering times when we have been the recipients of the generosity of others.
One time, in Dunedin, when Anne was studying and we had very little extra cash, we had planned a post-Christmas camping trip with the kids and were really struggling to make it all work financially.
We had managed to book for and pay the fees for accommodation, and had squirreled away petrol vouchers to make the trip, but with Christmas and all (the challenge of living in a part of the world where Christmas and holidays all come at once!), we couldn’t see how we would manage to get enough food.  we had a bit but not enough.
One day, just before we were due to head off, a hand-delivered envelope was found in our letterbox – a supermarket voucher for $200!  It was an absolute lifeline for us. It enabled us a worry-free holiday. It could not have come at a better time.
It was also a mystery gift – we still don’t know who gave it to us.  The interesting thing was that we were sure that we had not conveyed to anyone that we were struggling.  We are people of faith and we like to believe that there was a ‘hand’ in all that took place.  Daily in our lives we see the hand of God’s generosity – gifts that are given in uncalculated and unconditional ways.  We figure that whoever gave the $200 to us operated on the same principle we do – namely, much has been given, you do likewise.
On many occasions since then we have tried to pay it forward, not because we have to, but because we want to.  We believe that it is a way of helping the world go around a little easier.
We spend $200 on things very regularly – that is a part of basic living – we do it all the time and quickly forget what we spent it on.  But when we give $200 or some other amount of money away to help someone’s life go more smoothly for a time we also are recipients – not so much recipients of their thanks, because we usually give money away under the radar.  The mystery is far more pleasurable than doing it in the open and we feel more comfortable that our motivations are more pure in that the recipients are free of feeling obligated to make some sort of ‘payback’ to us.  We figure that people are more likely to pay forward than pay back if we keep ourselves in the background.
It has been neat to be part of a super $200 thing this week.