One of America’s many nicknames is “The Land of Opportunity,” and as the world’s wealthiest country, many don’t quickly realize the prevalence of poverty in the US. According to the UN: “no social phenomenon is as comprehensive in its assault on human rights as poverty.” Poverty is a problem that is hidden in plain sight: it conceals itself between the folds of every community, and manifests itself in numerous ways. Food, for example, is no laughing matter. Without a full stomach, how can one better their lifestyle? pay attention in class? fend for their family? fight for equal rights? cry? mourn? be human?
While some may be able to escape the crippling effects of poverty, many aren’t able to push themselves out of their situation and are ripped away from living a “full” human experience. For someone to have to succumb to begging and living on the streets is unspeakable. Their daily experience chips away at their human dignity of not being able to provide for themselves, and it is our job to help them realize their full worth and potential.
To combat poverty, we must first stop hiding this problem. We must bravely face this problem instead of ignoring it or running away from it. Instead of continuing to pass hungry kids to new teachers every year, teachers should note students who are hungry, who need clothes, who need economic help. Schools must be even playing fields: first for basic needs, like food, water, shelter, etc. and then for higher needs like education, etc. This is not a problem that will just go away, but we must strive together and not be ashamed to help or receive help. Both sides, givers and receivers, need to act and act together – thus creating solidarity and creating a sphere of inclusion that sends the message that no matter one’s economic or social status, we are all humans in this world together.
The “war on poverty” has been going on for decades, and it has been a constant struggle to help our population who so often don’t have the voice to be heard. I think that any successful plan must be a simple one that gives these people a voice, and it must arm them with the necessary tools to fight their way back to a better life. Many companies, organizations, and government agencies have honed in on this problem already and are passionately working towards change – the problem is that many don’t have the funds or awareness to have their projects be completely carried through. The issue isn’t that there aren’t enough programs that are helping people—it’s that they don’t have the backing they need. By using social media and awareness campaigns, we can efficiently draw support from all groups of people and connect with them all at once. Brandon Stanton, from the famous blog Humans of New York, proves that by just sharing photos and stories, lives can be changed. Avid readers of the blog last year raised money to send underserved kids, who had their stories and picture shared on the blog, on a visit to Harvard. Though this was done on a big scale, I believe something similar can happen with local organizations, like the Farmers Against Hunger or the Community Soup Kitchen of Morristown, both of which are non-profit organizations that serve local needs. Most of all, we must remember that the most vital isn’t necessarily that companies have the funds they need, which is indeed vital to this whole operation, but that people learn their stories and realize how unique and worth-saving each individual is.
A victory in the fight against poverty is still on the horizons, but the first step is to realize what the problem we’re facing looks like and how we as a population can help each other.
Written by Michael Wang, a WYA Intern in New York City.