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Monday, September 28, 2009

Examining the soul-wrenching choices faced by the poor

We have all heard or seen statistics that illuminate the devastating impact of poverty worldwide.

For example, in the one-minute or so it takes you to read this post, nearly 20 children worldwide will have died as a direct result of the abject poverty that has dominion over every aspect of their existence.

While poverty statistics are good for illuminating the scale of poverty in our world, they are woefully inadequate when it comes to illuminating the personal nature of abject poverty.

To gain a better understanding of the poverty that plagues the estimated 1.8 billion people on our planet who live on less than $1 per day, we need to examine the soul-wrenching choices faced by the poor as they struggle to survive, hour by hour, day by day.

It is mealtime in a rural village in Cambodia and a family gathers on the floor of their thatched home for the day’s meal - a single bowl of rice accompanied by a bitter concoction of mashed roots and leaves scavenged from the forest floor. The meal has little or no nutritional value, but it does fill empty bellies and quell the hunger pangs, at least for a few hours. The parents, despite their exhaustion and hunger, take only a few spoonfuls of food, having decided that the welfare of their children is more important than their own. This week, they will make this choice more often than not.

Night descends on a slum in Ethiopia and a widowed mother prepares to step out into the dingy alley to sell her body in the hopes of earning a few dollars to buy food for her three children. She has tried every possible means of earning money, but to no avail. Impoverished and marginalized, poverty has sealed her fate as she trades her well being for that of her children.

The sun has barely risen in shantytowns throughout the developing world and orphaned children, some as young as 7 years-old, have already been scouring through the garbage of the more fortunate for 2 hours, looking for scraps of food that will constitute the day’s meal, and discarded items they can sell to earn a few pennies. Abuse, violence, and hustling to survive will punctuate their 18-hour day. Sleep is the only freedom from the nightmare that is their waking life and even it is difficult to come by when your bed is a piece of dirty cardboard on the ground.

Our days are full of choices as well. Few, if any, will resemble the soul-wrenching choices faced by the poor in their moment-by-moment existence.

There is one choice we can make, however, that would alleviate the suffering faced by the poor… the choice to give.

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