I hate the power money has. Specifically, I hate the power that the absence of money has. Poverty. Poverty looks different in different places, but its effects are debilitating regardless of geographic location.
In America I saw very real poverty. I worked in a community for a summer that is classified as “section 8” housing. This refers to section 8 of a federally funded program that provides housing assistance to lower income families, among other things. I saw so much beauty blossom from that community, but I also saw heartache. I saw families who had one bed for eight people. Children who only had money to buy food from the 99 cent store, which usually consisted of potato chips and other crap food. I saw children who were forced to mature far too fast because their parents had to work all night and day, so they had to fend for themselves. Of course, these children have some great resources that children in other parts of the world don’t have. They have an awesome community center to spend their time at, and they have help from the government. The government cares for them- in some way.
This care is not nearly all encompassing. It helps them survive, but who is going to help them thrive? Many people blame the people for the situation that they are in, when sometimes people have no control of their situations (of course there are some who do). Some people on the outside (many who probably haven’t experienced very real poverty) may look at the situation, and either want nothing to do with it or say they pity them with their words. What do words do, though? Words can be powerful, but they aren’t action. People often care about the children, saying they shouldn’t be subjected to what their parents have brought them in to. We forget that their parents were once children too, and probably faced the same hardships. Poverty is a cycle, and it is hard to break. People break out of this cycle, but it is rare, because there is SO MUCH working against them.
My first experience with a third world level of poverty was when I went to Mexico. I saw children who were literally born and raised in landfills and then they had children, who will one day have children. The cycle persists. We danced with them and made them balloons, and then we left. We left those children, those people, to live under tarps and scrounge for a living, covered in soot their entire life. There is no justice in that. I am tired of leaving. I am tired of seeing something and feeling sad, and doing nothing about it.
Now and days I see poverty all around me. People who are so poor that they send their young child and brand new baby on the streets to dust off cars- rain or shine. So poor they work 6 days a week, endless hours, sewing together clothes in horrible conditions. Clothes you and I buy, supporting their desolate working conditions. So poor they have to sell their body to eat, so poor that they will turn to anything that will make them money. I am confronted with many of those things daily. I am surrounded by so much poverty that in some ways I have gotten used to it. The people here don’t have the same help and access to facilities and assistance that people in other parts of the world do. I guess that is why they call it a third world country. How can so many of us live in the first world and forget that there are so many people just like us who are two worlds behind? Poverty isn’t just not having a nice house, or access to nice things. Poverty is evil, because its side effects destroy lives, they destroy societies. I wrote a little poem that encompasses some of my thoughts.
They call Cambodia the Kingdom of Wonder
From the word wonder and what I see at times it feels wonder has been torn asunder
Around every corner I see poverty
Here poverty becomes violence
Here poverty becomes lost innocence
Mistrust and corruption on the highest to the lowest levels
The side effects of poverty rear their heads like horrid little devils
Do you need medicine, do you want to go to school?
Unless you have money those dreams are void and null
Do you need money?
Just sell your life to a loan shark, honey
They say there isn’t rest for the wicked
Here the wicked sleep fine, feeling not one bit afflicted
Being poor isn’t just about not having money. It is what happens as a side affect when there is a lack of money that is the disturbing part. I don’t want to contribute all of Cambodia’s issues to poverty, because there are other issues at play (every country has its issues). However, poverty is interconnected in each of them. I also cannot claim to be an expert of poverty, or have all the answers. I don’t need first hand experience though to see that we need to do more. We can no longer look out at the barren streets, feeling sad. That emotion needs to formulate into action. We can’t just throw money at people that live in societies that are sometimes working against them. We need to empower them, and address the root causes. If that means taking two steps back into a different world, in order to bring them into a better* world, then we should all be willing to walk a million steps for our brothers and sisters. Whether that is in America, Cambodia, Mexico, and beyond.
*By better I don’t mean just advanced road systems/technology, etc. What I really mean is a place where freedom and justice have a chance at existing.
I hope this can encourage and remind you to let your life and your actions change the lives around you. We all have so much potential, and sometimes it takes one person (you) bringing that potential out of many more people!