Equipping the Poor – An Interview with Colleen CostiganFebruary 28, 2017 by Diana Coombs
You have joined us in the journey to equip the poor to live sustainable lives that honor God. Today, we want to unpack what working with the poor looks like in Kenya by talking with Colleen Costigan. Colleen has been with Empowering Lives for the past four years at the Kipkaren Children’s Home and she also works with people living in extreme poverty in a nearby slum community.
How would you define “the poor” in Kenya? Are “the poor” different in Kenya than in the US?
I think it’s important to differentiate between physical poverty and spiritual poverty. Physical poverty is when a person does not have enough resources to get basic needs met like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. Spiritual poverty looks more like hopelessness and despair and is often a lack of awareness of how much a person needs God. I’ve met many people in Kenya who at some point in their lives have had to rely on God for food, water or shelter or to provide for school fees or money for an overwhelming hospital bill. There is an element of faith and trust in God that is built into the culture in order to survive. And I think this helps cultivate a reliance on God.
How have you seen physical resources not being enough to lift a person out of poverty?
I have been involved in a situation where I’ve tried everything to offer a person a way out of poverty. I’ve tried empowerment through education, empowerment through a farm project, a Christian 12-step rehabilitation program, and continuously sharing the gospel message. That person (and family) remains chained to addiction and trapped in poverty. The only thing left to do is pray and wait and pray some more and wait some more and trust that God has a plan.
Is there a way to combat poverty that you have found to be most effective?
I don’t think there is an easy or “best” solution to combat poverty. I think you have to try different combinations of things and be willing to fail. It’s important to try to be open minded and flexible. I do think education is an incredibly powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty, and education needs to be coupled with the word of God and prayer. The hope through education is that people are empowered to know their worth, value, and purpose for being on earth.
What are your hopes for equipping the poor with ELI this year?
I am very passionate about the counseling program for the Children’s Homes. Over the last two years it has been a tool to educate and equip the caregivers at the Children’s Homes to learn about the most loving ways to care for the hearts of orphans and vulnerable children. The counseling program has also served as a tool to educate the children and staff on issues related to child safety and protection and minimize risk of any potential harm.
We are so grateful to Colleen for sharing with us about the work God is doing through her and through ELI in East Africa right now.