The price of poverty

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Anyone who has ever dealt with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. – James A. Baldwin

Everything is standing still while simultaneously rushing by. The wind is strong and the waves are thick, black and riddled with garbage. I have been here before and the feeling is always the same – it can only be described as a punch in the heart. This time, I don’t notice the smell although some of my new friends are swallowing it down as quick gusts of wind carry it by. 

A little hand takes mine and walks me down the familiar path.  The community has flooded from the surf emerging over the walls of the rocks on the shore. Children are swimming in the sewage-filled water spilling over their porches, and families are bailing out the homes being invaded by black water.  

Our journey to spend a day with a few of the kindest souls I have ever met has begun. We arrive in front a small blue shack and are welcomed by smiling faces. Kids are running in circles in front of the house and hurry in as soon as they see us. They are hesitant but generous with smiles and laughter. This family has graciously welcomed us in to their home to experience a few moments of life through their eyes.  We have brought a few weeks’ worth of food for them to express our thanks and help to cook them meal. It is a modest few grocery bags full of supplies for the mother, two boys and grandmother living here. 

I have experienced a day-in-the-life before with LiveDifferent, but at that point it was a work day organized at one of the local garbage dumps. This day is different – not worse, not better, just different. Each time I’ve asked myself the question that Cole, the LiveDifferent leader in the Dominican and Haiti, posed to us on my first WestJet trip (I have returned this year as a team lead) – who would you be in this life? When fetching a five-gallon pail of water takes an hour out of your day in the sweltering heat, or washing laundry by hand consumes four hours of your morning. It’s easy to lose perspective in our first world and complain when you can fit all but two dishes in your dish washer.  

The mother is generous with her time and patience as we fumble around the kitchen nervous to meet our new friends and share a few stories about each other’s lives. As we prepare some food, they begin to tell us their story.

The father, who struggled with diabetes, passed away seven months ago from a heart attack. There are two beautiful sons and a daughter in the family, one son is just 13 but had to leave his studies to work as a motorcycle mechanic so he could make just 250 pesos a week, the equivalent of $6.25 Canadian. The youngest boy struggles with diabetes like his father, and is often very sick as a result of having no food to eat. I struggle with the next part of their story as there is no easy way to relay it and it should not be something that any person has to experience. The youngest of the family, a beautiful and bright little girl named Estafni, was sent to live in a nearby orphanage as they could not afford food to feed the whole family. 

This beautiful woman and mother of three was forced to choose a child that would be the most likely to survive on her own and give her up to be raised by strangers. This family has no money to buy food and yet they have paid the price of a child – giving up raising her only daughter and her boys growing up without a sister.  

Everyone has a story. While some may not be of love and loss, everyone here is paying a heavy price to live in poverty. From the simple tasks taking ten times longer to execute, spending long hot days and nights with an empty stomach, or losing your sight to a preventable disease –these are costs that no person should have to pay. Yet, this beautiful family is able to find some semblance of a silver lining as the mother smiles at us with tears in her eyes and says, “but at least Estefani is big now – she is eating, reading and writing.” I knew before the translator said it out loud that this would break my heart ten times over, as she fought back tears and looked at us to repeat the words in English. 

So how do we find the balance? There is enough food and wealth to take care of the world four times over, but what are we as a first world wasting it on? I can’t answer that for you, all I can ask is who would you be? And what are you willing to do to change it?

For Clayvis, Henry (the man of the house now), Kevin and Estefani – my heart is with you always.

Laurel Myers, Program Delivery Advisor

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: November 13th, 2013