Last month I had the privilege of working in Kibera, one of the informal settlements or slums if you prefer in Kenya. I was working there as part of my Social Responsibility to the society with my workplace; but I also do enjoy these opportunities to give hand and boost people’s lives out there. Through working with the community in Kibera, I started thinking about the multiple re-percussions of poverty and why many people still don’t understand what it means to be poor. Below I will try and delve into the issue of poverty and why it is important that the world pays attention to the poor of the world and as much as possible elevate their status.
Poverty is defined as “…the state of having little or no money, goods or means of support…” Most people however understand poverty as having no access to money. This is because mostly those who are poor beg for money, or sometimes food as the two are their most immediate need. However if we take a closer look at the definition, poverty also means having no means of support. This part of the definition is what drives Non-Profit organizations to seek to improve the livelihoods of the poor by giving them skills that will help them be self employed and thus have a means of support. However, I digress….
Children who are born into poverty often have a bleak future. If they make it past 5 years old, they may never get enough education to help them grow out of the poverty cycle. Some try so hard to get out but still find themselves unable to survive in any other environment. They get discouraged easily, see a world that is against them and more often than not cannot see any support around them.
As such many children, teenagers and youth in the slum areas remain within the poverty cycle, despite several chances to make it out. An example is of a group of young men and women whom I met with. They have been given an opportunity to write a monthly paper, which is published and distributed to the community. To me, this is a chance of a lifetime, I can imagine the ability to say in a forum that I have written and my work has been published. In addition, I think of this as an opportunity to get additional work in the journalism industry for the youth. The organization that sponsors them also gives them opportunities to interact with high-level people and I see this as a stepping-stone for each one of the youth.
The opportunities are only in my eyes- the budding writers are barely committed to the writing club, they do not see its importance, they think of it as a hobby that they could do without on a busy day and some of them do not even show up to meetings. The group struggle to focus on the task of writing one article a month and sadly they seem the least concerned that their articles need more work. I felt sad for them but then I thought about their situation again….
I am educated and I have a job. I do not face hunger, violence and a dark future everyday. I am not hungry therefore my stomach does not dictate what I do on a daily basis. I have time to look into the future because my present is resolved. This is when I started reflecting on poverty and what it does to people. I know that there are structures around me that have been put in place to ensure my survival, poor people have very few structures to support them – save for the walls they build around their hearts to protect them from being hurt by life. It pained me that I had judged this group so quickly, it made me think again.
When the Ebola crisis started inevitably, the rich seemed to survive the disease. Mainly because they mostly live in sparsely populated areas and can make it to a health clinic very quickly when they felt sick. In addition, people who drive cars or are shuttled around in taxis have minimal contact with the rest of the population therefore their way of life by default helps them avoid infection.
The poor have not choice, they share houses, showers and toilets with neighbors. They, use public transport, they interact with scores of people daily, their everyday lives have pre-disposed them towards infection with the Ebola virus. This is the sadness of poverty. If you are born poor and stay that way, you are pre-disposed to failure, crime, teenage or early pregnancy, alcoholism, drugs and death. The poor have to struggle twice as much as the privileged to become successful and society barely recognizes that.
But why should you and I care? I worked hard to get myself through school and I am proud of it. Most of the time I forget that if I did not have a supportive family and environment I probably would not have made it. Many middle class people who have had to struggle to get to where they are tend to think the same; if one works hard enough they will get to the top. But, what if a person is working hard, making sacrifices and they never make it? What then? This is what happens to the poor.
They do not necessarily have the structures in place that the rest of society has. In addition but most importantly, the poor are the responsibility of those who have. It is therefore in our interest to elevate them to a better life so that they can sustain their own livelihoods – why do I say this? When crises happen it is the middle class and the rich who give out alms and donations to the poor. In addition, the rich and middle class still have the responsibility of supporting less fortunate relatives with food, shelter, clothing and education. It is therefore imperative that we break the cycle with the next generation and ensure that those who are born in poverty at least have means of sustaining their lives in adulthood and the chance of giving their own children a better life.
I call on all of us to think about the little opportunities we can give to those around us to help them get out of the cycle or poverty; friendship, networking opportunities, education opportunities, in-kind donations e.t.c. Commitment and understanding will be needed in plenty. Don’t let minor incidences make you lose focus on the final goal. As we wind up the year, I hope that many of us will look into putting a smile on someone face.