Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty in my (and your) backyard

Today is Blog Action Day 2008 and this year’s topic is poverty. Blog Action Day tries to raise awareness about a specific issue by having thousands of bloggers blog about a single chosen topic on the same day. This is my rant.

The average person who reads this blog doesn't really know about or has been touched by poverty personally. Have you ever had to make the choice between food or heat? Have you ever had to go without medicine because you couldn't afford it? Yes, I'm talking about 2008 here and North America.

We all whine about not being able to afford the latest technology toy, new car or designer clothes, but we have a roof over our heads, food to eat, heat to warm us and are fairly safe from physical harm in our day to day lives. We can buy goods and services that want, we don't need to work at hard manual labour unless we choose to; we don't need to collect water from a well 3 miles away from our residence or stand in line for basic food rations.

Often poverty is thought of as the problem in underdeveloped countries, but you don't need to go far to see poverty in your town or your neighbourhood. We just often choose to ignore it and are touched by the expensive marketing ads to support doe eyed children in other countries, when the same problem is under our noses, but we either are not aware of it, or choose to ignore it.

Poverty takes many forms, from physically not having enough to eat, inadequate housing, poor working conditions, minimum wages below the poverty line, etc etc. I was once in the position of being classed as 'poor'. I was young with two small children, recently divorced and had just applied for social assistance as I had no other source of income at the time. It is a stressful position to be in and one which many people find themselves and many struggle to get out of. I was lucky to get out of it quickly through hard work and effort. Of course that doesn't mean that those in that position don't work to get out of it. I was just lucky I think. Sometimes the system that acts as your safety net also serves to drag you down and prevent you from moving ahead. I've seen first hand the action and inaction of poverty and how it binds people's hands and wears them into apathy through work with women's shelters.

The issue of poverty is HUGE and far reaching. It impacts all of us whether we are the working poor, comfortable or well off. Poverty impacts both mental and physical health. The concept of 'child poverty' doesn't sit well with me. Children aren't poor. They don't have the ability to earn income or change their status in life. Their parents are poor. Government needs to look at the economic and environmental factors that create low income families, and address those issues instead of labelling it as 'child poverty'.

A lot of research and information is held in the Poverty In Canada website. Interesting that in the federal election which ended yesterday, the addressing of poverty in Canada was not a strong point in any of the candidate's platforms, though some answers were provided to questions asked.

Make Poverty History lobbies government constantly with the anti-poverty message in Canada.
Visit the Make Poverty History blog to read what others are doing and saying.

So how can you make an impact? Get involved. Do something! Volunteer and donate at a food bank, lobby government to increase living wages, or lower taxes for low income people. Find a need in your community and help fill it. A school breakfast program, school supplies, coats for winter, the list goes on and on. Yes these are drop in the bucket ideas but if they can make one family happier, more comfortable and more able to cope, then it is worth it.

Everyone knows that all artists are the original poor, starving in cold garrets, creating work that never sells, don't we? Its a myth that also has some truth to it too. However artists are also the most caring and generous of souls who willing give time money and product where possible to causes that help communities. Why not donate a piece of art to a local cause that helps assist low income families? You do a good deed, you help raise funds for a local organization to do their work and you also will receive some publicity for your art out of it.

Stand up and take action against poverty and inequality!


Katherine Tyrrell said...

Nice post Jeanette. I completely forgot as I hadn't put it on my caladar! Mea culpa.

That's a very good point about Child Poverty - maybe it should be Children in Poverty?

My contribution is to have some my of my income on a permanent divert to a charity which helps families living in poverty - it probably should be more........

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeanette,
I am very familiar with the effects of poverty and hunger on young children. I went to bed hungry towards the end of the month (my mother received pay only once a month); I grew up in that environment and frankly, not a day goes by that I am not grateful for the life I live today. My way out of poverty was joining the military. In the US, it's a great way of becoming independent, learning a skill, and building a solid life for yourself. Some people hated it-I thrived.

I am not by any stretch of the imagination wealthy or even middle-class/comfortable. But I am fortunate enough to make a decent living and I live within my means.

I believe those who are blessed with food/home/decent livelihood are obligated to help those who are not. Whether it's by volunteering, donating goods/services/money to charities or simply being kind and helpful to those in need. I think it's what makes us human.

In the United States, especially amongst the government there is a drive called the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). I donate to mostly local charities who provide food or shelter to homeless families and help them get back on their feet. This year I donated to a legal aid service that helps immigrants (legal and illegal) as well as some programs that help children in the situation I grew up in. It's a way of paying back.

I hope that everyone who reads your post today will donate to a cause or better yet, donate their time to help a worthy cause and to reach out to help our fellow man and especially the children.


PS I think I will blog about this once I am home and if it's ok I will link this (post and comment).

Jo Castillo said...

Thanks for the reminder, Jeanette. I think we should all help in some way. Setting an example is help, too. I hope my children carry on our example of helping others. Thank you.