Thursday, April 1, 2010

Looking into a Face of Poverty

With a big issue like poverty, it is perhaps tempting to focus on statistics and systems and keep the personal at a distance. But any genuine attempt to address the issue of poverty, be it a small response or a large-scale effort, must begin and end with people. In 1995 Jill Berrick captured the personal lives of several families of women and children on welfare in a small book entitled Faces of Poverty.

I found "Darlene's" story particularly compelling. Rather than just reiterate the sad details of how she was born into a poor family, got pregnant as a teen, and at 38 years of age seems destined to live out her life in abject poverty, I want focus on words and phrases that show what is going on inside of Darlene:
Darlene would tell me that she was not "good enough", or "smart enough", or "strong enough." She was not good with relationships; she was not good with her family; she was not good with her son; she was not good in school; and she was not good at work. (pg 94)
She [Darlene] does not understand who she is or where she is going, and she is always uncertain of the next step to take. (pg 97)
"I feel very, very distant from this group of people - the black middle class, especially. I feel that we're worlds apart. I don't feel accepted." (pg 100)
"You can get to thinking in a rut, thinking there's absolutely nothing that can be done, that black people are doomed and my child is doomed. But I don't want that fear in me." (pg 102)
"People who know I'm on aid will say, 'Welfare's the worst thing that could have happened to black people...' It's a very humiliating experience. And the shame is really inside. I don't tell people I'm on aid now. You feel like you're living down to people's expectations and you're a statistic." (pg 106)
"I have to work very hard not to feel that I am a slovenly person. That I'm just not contributing to society. I think it would be nice if people recognized that everybody here is contributing. That I couldn't be here and not contribute." (pg 107)
"It's like you are constantly filling out papers justifying who you are, what you're doing. It's not a picnic." (pg 108)
"There are some people who have no resources; whose families have even less knowledge about society than mine had...They needed a nurturing institution where they could get hugs five times an hour. Besides knowledge, they just needed mothering." (pg 108)
The challenge? See beyond the circumstances into the heart. It's this kind of caring and insight, combined with well designed responses and systems and programs, that can make a difference.

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