This article is the last in a series of three that looks at the embodiment of socio-economic and mental poverty in seven European countries following a study tour of the Solidarity Movement to Europe.
In Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Hungary we encounter poverty in different forms. Through each of these countries’ beauty, there is also brokenness. Next we visit Austria and South Tyrol before returning home.
On this tour we pretty much run around – from meeting to brainstorming, from train to bus, from the most beautiful to the next most beautiful sights. After a lovely train ride we stop in Vienna, Austria.
After our visit to one of the biggest political parties in Vienna, we will take a look at the city where Mozart lived and died, the city where children have been learning to dance since childhood. In this dancing city, we have just too little time to fully take it all in, but when we do stop, it’s in absolute breathless wonder.
We walk through balconies that shout sad news to leaders whose offices overlook the courtyard of the Rathaus (city hall/municipal buildings), through people hugging trees or meditating in the park to busy streets full of tourists, and to outside a church where a man with his dog on his knees asks for money.
Austria is known for being a rich country, but a significant part of its population suffers materially and socially.
According to Austria’s Poverty Watch Report 2020, being poor does not always mean sleeping in a cardboard box at the train station and spending your evenings and days in the park. Being poor means not being able to participate in everyday social life. In the statistics, poverty is defined as social exclusion from significant areas of life as a result of a low income.
Poverty especially affects immigrants, unemployed people, single parents and the working poor. In 2022, 223,000 people in Austria (2.6% of the residential population) experienced poverty and social exclusion. They experience “severe material deprivation”, and in addition to a low income, they also face exclusion from key areas of life, for example education and housing.
Women are more often than men affected by poverty. One in four people experiencing poverty are children. Their parents are immigrants, unemployed, single parents, or have jobs that do not earn them enough to live on. One in three poor people are unable to escape the cycle of poverty and social exclusion. People who clearly live in poverty have been in that situation for more than a year.
Our last destination, and also one of the best, is South Tyrol. Since I started working at the Solidarity Movement for seven years, I’ve been hearing about South Tyrol, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s all about.
Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy
Sebastiaan Biehl refers to South Tyrol as a blessed piece of earth. It is the northern province of Italy and is nowadays a popular tourist destination. South Tyrol is obviously a blessed piece of land, but it was and still is a political bone of contention and one of the most famous examples of how minorities are accommodated after a long struggle for self-determination. For the Afrikaner as a minority group, it is therefore fascinating to study the South Tyrolean autonomy model and experience it in practice.
Here at our last stop between the Alps we find neat streets, apples, pastel colored buildings and streets full of people living in harmony. Here we find the success of an autonomous model and naturally want to experience everything and take it back home.
We visit the parliament and my first question to them is what the unemployment rate looks like. Secondly, I want to know what is the biggest social challenge they are experiencing here where it seems and feels like everything is just prosperous all the time.
They answer me that the unemployment rate is 0% and that they are actually looking for people to fill positions. Their biggest social challenge is the fact that young people are leaving South Tyrol and looking for work elsewhere rather than occupying positions in the public service.
Statistics do show an unemployment rate of 2.9%, which is still extremely low. In Italy the unemployment rate is 10% and in Europe 6.8%. There are 306 volunteer firefighters and 2,212 volunteer organizations.
Among the 16,000 km of hiking trails, we find one that leads to the most beautiful castle. From the castle’s walls, the landscape looks like a postcard. Here you look for castles between mountains like you look for kudus between trees in South Africa.
For me, the way people live out their faith in Hungary was really beautiful, but here it is different. Here Jesus is in every street. The South Tyroleans hang crosses everywhere, and around every corner where I see them, I get another opportunity to stand at Jesus’ feet and thank Him that I feel so safe here.
Unlike in Zurich, I see many more children in the towns; i see a future
One morning I sit in the Alps and think about the more than 200,000 steps I have walked in the last two weeks during this tour, and I testify aloud to myself that every step was worth it because it led me here where I can see and experience God’s omnipotence and greatness. Welaf is the people and country that serve the Lord. One can see it in these people.
Three languages, but one country and one God
One could write about South Tyrol for days, but now I close my laptop first. We must return to South Africa, because we must fight and build so that one day our children’s children can also experience a bit of heaven on earth like the children of South Tyrol.
Poverty rates are an essential indicator of a country’s socio-economic well-being and the living conditions of its population. It provides valuable insights into the extent of economic inequality and the effectiveness of measures to alleviate poverty.
Understanding global poverty rates allows us to identify regions and countries that require urgent attention and targeted intervention to uplift vulnerable populations.
It is crucial to note that poverty is a multidimensional issue that goes beyond income levels. This includes inadequate access to education, healthcare, clean water, sanitation and decent housing.
Poverty also affects certain demographic groups such as women, children, ethnic minorities and individuals with disabilities more severely and exacerbates social inequalities.
I wondered about the poverty rate in all the countries we visited:
- 13th in the world is South Africa with a poverty rate of 55.5%;
- 90th is Italy with a poverty rate of 20.1%;
- 110th is Switzerland with a poverty rate of 16%;
- 116th is Germany with a poverty rate of 14.7%;
- 121st is France with a poverty rate of 13.6%;
- 122nd is the Netherlands with a poverty rate of 13.6%;
- 123rd is Austria with a poverty rate of 13.3%;
- 131st is Hungary with a poverty rate of 12.3%.
This tour completely changed my life and my way of thinking. I used to just live in my own little box. Now I realize what I can learn and apply if I just pay attention and see how others already work and live.
I also realize that every country has its own challenges, joys, sorrows, past and anecdotes. South Africa, I remain the most dear to you and you remain the most beautiful to me. For you I will keep fighting and building.
He carries around the beauty of silence in the Cape’s hole bag. In the Karoo’s solitude, heaven hides on dry land. In North West’s simplicity you feel the house of love. In the Free State’s twilight, my heart is at home unconquered.