Childhood should be a happy time spent with friends and playing with toys, but many children in the developing world spend most of their childhood struggling to survive without much hope for a secure and productive life. Even nearly 50 years after the international War on Poverty began, much of the public conversation and official response remains disconnected from the real lives of poor families.
For example, of the 57 million people worldwide who died in 2007, 10.5 million of them were children less than five years old. 98 percent of these children were from developing nations. Treatable illnesses, such as pneumonia, malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition become life threatening when combined with poverty, war, poor sanitation, inadequate health care and insufficient preventive measures. But poverty is not only associated with developing countries – and we must first begin to look closer to home.
In the UK there are at least 13 million people living in poverty, around 3.4 million are children. Children go without two or more items that are necessities, such as adequate clothing, toys, or three meals a day. People in poverty in the UK are living in a parallel financial universe often budgeting on a weekly cash basis with no bank account, and constantly juggling bills and debts.
Being poor isn’t just about a lack of money or possessions – the effects run much deeper. There are many studies to show that the education, health, life expectancy and employment prospects of the children of families with low incomes are much worse than they are for children born to wealthy parents. Poverty also means being powerless – having no say in the decisions that affect your life and even being robbed of the chance to take a range of subjects at school. And it can also mean being treated as a second-class citizen by the rest of society. This is the same for most poor people whether they live in a housing estate in within a city or a village in China. Poverty strips you of your dignity and affects your self-esteem and your confidence.
It is a well-known global fact that poverty is killing our future generations and restricting talented individuals across the globe from developing skills in their desired career path. And believe me, such a realisation of not being able to follow your dreams is crushing and could leave a permanent scar for life. You may think poverty is a problem for developing countries, but think again! Those delicious fruits you just bought for the kitchen table – were they bought through fair trade?
The chances are you can’t go out and help the poor and maybe you don’t want to donate to large corporate organisations, but you can buy fair trade goods, support individuals, buy the homeless person something to eat or drink, and get involved in poverty prevention and awareness campaigns. These are just some ideas.
Poverty is not born out of choice – it is due to the structures of our society and modern day world. The government in the UK give income support to those who need it, but it is only barely enough to survive on and not enough to improve one’s life. It is also a fact that people from poorer backgrounds are most likely to smoke and eat junk food, which leads to lack of exercise, which then leads to chronic disease. Junk food is not marketed to those well-educated people from wealthier backgrounds. And what about how the UK imports its oil, food and other services and products? A lot of it through modern day slave labour – and if you don’t know about these things, then you should question what you have been reading and doing up until now.
In the UK we can grasp some idea of what it means to be poor as the gap between the rich and poor is forever getting wider. However, in Japan, which is a wealthy country, such a wide gap doesn’t visually exist – thus there is a lack of understanding and knowledge as to the affects of what poverty can have on an individual, family, society and the nation. I asked the average Japanese citizen if they know of any Japan based organisations in the aid of poverty awareness and/or prevention. The answer? ‘NO!’ This is not to say that there isn’t any. This is not an awareness issue limited to only Japan. I only use Japan as an example, as I have lived there previously.
Unfair terms in international trade, debt repayment, the tying of aid disbursements and the privatisation of essential public services is causing chaos. Wealthy countries are free to strike individual treaties with their weaker trading partners and that is not mentioning that if developing countries increased their share of world exports by a further five per cent they would earn an extra ￡300 billion a year, three times more than they will be given in 2015 [as suggested by the G8 and the world’s leading countries in their attempts to Make Poverty History]).
And why is that the less wealthy are the most likely ones to donate money? Those in a position to help those who aren’t should do. And no – I’m not saying feel guilty – for you shouldn’t, since you are where you are today probably because of your environmental and social conditioning, as well as your decisions and choices – but while you eat your food and leave a half eaten plate, please bear a thought for those that do not have such a luxury. It’s time to change our thoughts towards those that live in poverty. What ever you do doesn’t have to be on a big scale, it can be very small. Even small actions and thoughts create ripples. But don’t be motionless and indifferent, do something.