Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crossing the Poverty Line: A Poverty Simulation

Everyone who participated or volunteered in Just Harvest’s Crossing the Poverty Line: A Poverty Simulation helped to facilitate a successful and eye-opening event. My worldview has been sensitized and my preconceived notions surrounding my impoverished neighbors amended. Here is my story…

After being assigned my role at Just Harvest’s Poverty Simulation, I quickly learned that my mother abandoned me and my three younger sisters long ago. We haven’t seen her in years; my young siblings can hardly remember her face. With our father now incarcerated, we are left to fend for ourselves. At only twenty-one years old, I now need to budget my time between academic commitments at community college and responsibilities to family at home. We, the Perez family, are in crisis.

The only thing more troubling than our current situation, was the knowledge that all across our community there are similar instances of family fragmentation and deterioration. Our neighbors are no better off than us. Many are alone, homeless, and without assets. Still others have bills and expenses far exceeding available income. Barriers to our individual and mutual success abound.

Still we take to the streets of our community with optimism, our motivation to improve our various situations unabridged…

…then the simulation really began. It didn’t take long for my family to realize that we were entrapped within a system of oppression. Unable to remove ourselves from a cyclical progression of poverty and mistreatment, no one can manipulate the system in any truly positive way. After only the first simulated week, we have already given up any hope of keeping my three year old sister in the home. She was taken by child protective services and is now wrapped within an unending web of foster care. I wonder if I will ever see her again. We don’t have food on our table and our utilities are going unpaid. I haven’t returned to class at community college.

Hopelessness gripes every family in the community. Electricity is turned off by the utility company, and soon families are tossed into the cold with unsympathetic eviction notices. We try to access social services and community action agencies but cannot access them due to lack of transportation. When we do arrive, the lines are out the door. Theft becomes commonplace as neighbors turn against each other. The community is not a community at all; instead a trap – keeping us poor and discouraged.

Soon we are left with no home and little money. Resigned to defeat, we don’t make it. We are lost. Without a voice and with no means to improve our situation, we are doomed to a life of cyclical poverty. For the Perez family, the simulation becomes all too real.

Disadvantaged and impoverished individuals and families need a voice. All of us who participated in Just Harvest’s Crossing the Poverty Line: A Poverty Simulation realize this now more than ever. Without individuals and organizations advocating on the behalf of low-income people their plight is sure to go unnoticed and therefore unaddressed. And so it is all of our responsibilities. It is our responsibility to go out into the community and make a difference for our neighbors and community members, for our friends and family members, for everyone who should be equally represented in our society.

-Noah Whelan, AmeriCorps*VISTA

1 comment:

Ti said...

Wow! What a powerful exercise Noah. And your portrayal really brings it home. Thanks for doing this important work!
Latifa Jennifer Till