I wrote this in my other blog yesterday for Blog Action Day but forgot to put it here. There are great conversations happening all over the web and I encourage people to participate.

We tend to look at poverty as an issue too big for an individual to make an impact and too muddy to come up with an effective solution. As a result we remove ourselves from the issue and inadvertently start to “other” the people struggling—talking about them as if they exist in an entirely different world.

But what do we do when poverty hits home? When it’s not a matter of reading about a sad story but facing one?

Up until a few weeks ago my mother and my three sisters lived in a homeless shelter. They were there for six months. My sisters' frustrations extended beyond not having a home to call their own. They also had to abide by rules that were set by the shelter that were similar to lockdown: no visitors, a strict curfew, and no staying out over night without prior notice. Many of the cherished aspects of adolescence were denied to them.

I had these same issues growing up in the projects and when I left for college I thought that it was all behind me. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Aside from the fact that my family continues to struggle, our existence is stigmatized. We don’t solicit “oh no’s” and tear filled eyes when our stories are told. Apparently, you have to be in Africa for that. So I went to Africa—South Africa to be exact. And while the poverty I witnessed is much more severe, I saw similarities among young people there and the young people I work with in the States. They want to go to school; they want to make friends, and they want their families to be safe.

However, I also saw how diverse poverty in and of itself is: urban poverty is different from rural poverty; older poor people have different desires than younger poor people; and the dominant culture clashes with subcultures to shape how people respond to their poverty.

Thus, poverty isn’t just about “those people over there” and it extends beyond the lack of income. We all have a relationship to poverty whether through personal experience or through our viewpoint that extends beyond donating time or a check. In other words, in order to address poverty we need to examine its impact on everyone—not just those who live in it. We need to examine our relationship to poverty.

1. Get personal: There are faces behind the numbers and stories behind the faces. And those faces aren’t just in far away countries; many are in our neighborhoods or even our own families. Get to know people who have less than you—seek commonalities and accept differences.

2. Become an advocate: Why does poverty often solicit pity instead of outrage and when outrage does arise it’s directed at the impoverished? When there are a few people struggling it is a “trouble.” When there are billions of people struggling it is a structural issue that needs to be addressed as such. Volunteering and monetary donations are only the beginning. We need to address this together.

3. Study resilience: While I believe that advocacy—in terms of social change and personal investment in change—is key, our examination of the issue needs to involve more than asking why people are poor. How do some people make it out of poverty? How do people manage to have little and still have enriching lives? The answers to these questions need to be in every solution we think of.

4. Understand how we are connected: For some reason people like to think that there are infinite resources to go around. Nope. I am a “have” because someone else is a “have-not.” And even then, many of us who "have" are precariously on the edge. Addressing poverty means coming face to face with how we may be complicit in the oppression of others.

5. Share the knowledge and encourage others: No need to explore complex issues in solitude. Get a blog, take some photos, take out the video camera and share. Not just with those who are fortunate to have social media access but also with the very people you are trying to help. Visit organizations that work directly with those who are struggling. If we keep the conversation going and include as many people as possible, we may find a solution sooner than we think.


I'm proud to participate in Blog Action Day: an annual call for bloggers to post about a pressing social issue on the same day.


Tiffany J. said...

Hey Allison. I can completely sympathize with your family because I went through the same thing with my mother and brother. We went into the shelter because it was the only safe place my mom could go to get out of a bad relationship. We actually was in 3 shelters, back to back before ending up in the projects. Those times definitely taught me a lot and whenever I reflect on them I think about how I turned that negative experience into positive energy. Great post!