I Thought I Understood Poverty

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  On the day we inaugurated the village, we marched in a parade from the entrance of the village to the center of the village where the celebration was

Growing up, I believed my family was poor. My parents struggled to pay the bills. We were often in danger of having power or water turned off, so Disney vacations and name brand clothes were out. My siblings and I were taught very early on the value of a dollar and the importance of hard work, but we were also taught that, through hard work, we could accomplish anything. Mom and Dad were amazing parents, always putting the needs of their family before their own needs and wants.

My mother made sure her daughters were college educated and able to support themselves. I majored in social work and psychology. Following graduation, I got a job as a home visitor in a program supporting new moms with the intent to prevent child abuse and neglect. The vast majority of the families I worked with were living in poverty, something I thought I understood—until I learned my first big lesson on the job: there is a difference between situational poverty and generational poverty.

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  I'm on the left with my daughter (Ally), my sister (Paula), and Food for the Poor's Director of Projects in Haiti (Kate).
 
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  Our picnic location on the day we inaugurated the Village of Joy. It was beautiful!

I grew up in situational poverty, but the families I worked with were living in generational poverty. They didn’t know anything other than poverty. They had been using food stamps, government subsidized housing, Medicaid, as well as other financial help for generations. While we qualified for government assistance, my parents always refused aid because they were able-bodied people. When the recession ended, my parents both returned to the workforce and started climbing out of the financial pit they had fallen into.

After nearly 20 years working in the field of social work, I was pretty sure I understood poverty, both generational and situational. Once again I was schooled. In June, I traveled to Haiti with my sister, Paula, and my 15 year old daughter, Ally, to attend the inauguration of The Village of Joy. The project, which is run by Food for the Poor, will help 40 families escape extreme poverty. While in Haiti, we had the opportunity to meet the 23 families that had received new homes so far. I came to two conclusions as a result of this experience. First, poverty in the United States looks like wealth when compared to poverty in a third world country. Second, I had never experienced sheer gratitude until I witnessed this community. I’ll explain my first conclusion in this post and my second conclusion in a separate post.

The poverty-stricken families that I worked with in the US generally owned cell phones and frequently had cable TV, too. When their children needed medical attention, they took them to the doctor. In Haiti, a doctor visit costs approximately $25, but it might as well be $25,000. We met a family whose baby has a large growth on his neck. In the US, it would be a small procedure to surgically remove a growth like that before it got too big. Untreated it can be very dangerous, but this family has no way to get the needed treatment.

Haiti doesn’t have programs like Medicaid. This village is lacking a clean water source. When it rains, new home owners can collect clean water from their roofs into cisterns. This is a big deal for them. There is no electricity, except for what can be stored using a small solar generator provided to each recipient family. The generator provides enough power to light a few light bulbs in their small homes. Phones and TVs are luxuries that most Haitians don’t have. The families we spoke to didn’t want video games, vacations, or name brand clothes; they wanted a way to feed their children, clean drinking water, housing that would keep the elements and critters out, and medical attention when needed.

Through the generous support of donors, we will help get these families what they need, and we will do it in a way that helps change their mindsets so they can step beyond their poverty. Our intention is to give families a hand-up, not a handout. If you want to make a big difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor, please click to donate. Even small sums of money can go a long way in a place like Haiti.

Tricia Lankford

Help 40 Families Escape Extreme Poverty

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  • published this page in Read Updates 2016-08-09 09:32:40 -0400

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