Poverty: Quite Simply, It Could Be You

Baltimore, MD. Poverty as defined by the Center for Disease Control is, “when a person or group of people lack human needs because they cannot afford them. Human needs include clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing, and shelter.” Poverty has always been an idea in my head as those people you see on the streets, in shelters, or on lines at a soup kitchen. They are the people who had no home, and no money to their name.

10250389986_8dda997b40_bStores across the U.S. accept EBT cards (“food stamps”). Photo: Paul Sableman.

I am a junior at the University of Maryland, and I am studying Behavioral and Community Health. For many years now, it has been my passion and dream to work to focus my career on health in the world. The problem was I grew up in a family with means. Being privileged may have made me a bit naïve when it came to poverty and who falls within the spectrum of poverty and why. That naivety has been something difficult to shatter. That naivety is something I would like to try and shatter for all of you.

This semester at school I decided to take a course named “Poverty in America: Health and Well Being”. This course gave rise to the idea that being poor does not mean you are lazy, an alcoholic, a drug addict, or mentally unwell. Being poor could mean you are neither of those things. You could have been born in the wrong place, at the wrong time, have a disease, get hurt at work, make an early mistake in life or are what most would consider plain old unlucky in life.

Most poor people actually are extremely hard working, sometimes working three jobs to try and support their families, keep food on the table, and a roof over their head. This course challenged me to look at poverty in a more abstract way, and now I challenge all of you to do the same.

One of my favorite aspects of this course was when I was challenged to see if I could survive being poor. I was given a “quiz” of certain things I would need to know if I was living in poverty. Such as, do I know which churches and community centers give out food, and which days they do so? Do I know which pharmacies give away their medicines when they are expired? To wrap my mind around the fact that this is a reality for some was daunting to say the least.

The fact is people lose jobs, and end up strapped for money every day in the U.S. They then have to learn how to live a new life, one where finding a new job may not happen right away. Poverty is a concept that does not seem real until it is right in front of you, and you have no option but to stare it down and learn how one survives without being able to afford life’s basic essentials.

One other aspect of my course that truly resonated with me, and I would like to leave off with today, is myths about poverty. Poverty does not just exist in minority communities. Poor people are not unintelligent. Poverty is not just about money, and poverty is not just an urban problem. These myths are some of the reasons others do not want to help the poor, because they think all poor people have created these problems themselves and it is their duty to get themselves out of it.

Through this class I had the opportunity to visit a soup kitchen and meet the head chef. With him I learned to identify those coming into his dining room as not just poor people, but people in need of help.   If we are to look at poverty as an issue for all of us in society, then we can begin to look for mechanisms to solve the problem.

Those in poverty are those in need, not necessarily in need of money and not necessarily looking for handout. These are people who are in need of our help. Maybe a lawyer, or help finding a job, or just a hot meal on a day where they couldn’t afford groceries on their meager salary. Most people in poverty want to be better, and just need a helping hand.

Think of poverty as something that could happen at any moment, to any person, because it can. It can sneak up on you when you least expect it, and it is important people are there to help you if it does.

Tags: , , ,

Mia Lazarus
I am a Senior at the University of Maryland. I am a Behavioral and Community Health major. I plan on attending grad school to get an MPH with a focus in global health in the near future. I am currently a senior intern and global advisor with the J. Luce Foundation.

Comments are closed.