Sunday, November 28, 2010

The End of Poverty. Period.

One of the many things I love about being a teacher is that I am constantly re-evaluating what I know, how I do things, and sometimes, who I am. I also love the privileged opportunity we have as teachers to the precious relationship with young people. But the thing that I love the most is that I learn as I teach. Students have a lot to teach me, just as I have a lot to teach them. The way I see it, teaching is the much sought after fountain of youth.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher in my senior year of high school. Each year at my school the 6th grade students went for a week to Camp Wooten, a quintessential school camp, dotted with cabins full of bunk beds, nestled deep in the Blue Mountain range of Washington State. The counselors were always 12th grade students, chosen by the high school teachers. The year I was a senior, I badly wanted to go, mainly because all of my friends--all stellar athletes and good students, obvious choices for role models--were chosen to be counselors. I was so desperate to go that I offered to go even as extra help in the kitchen. I don't know who, but someone decided that I would go, and not only that, that I would get a cabin full of chirpy 6th grade girls. I was thrilled. And it was this event that set me on my career path as a teacher. By the end of the week, it was obvious to me that I found joy in working with young kids. Leading them, guiding them, talking with them, I dug it all. Soon thereafter, I enrolled in education courses in college, setting the wheels in motion.

17 years later, and I still love that relationship. While my 9th graders are squirrelly and drive me nuts, my seniors suffering from senioritis, I still enjoy being around them and listening to what they have to say, helping them to navigate this complicated world as they unknowingly help me navigate mine.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post, poverty. Our goal in grade 12 for the month of December is to define poverty, understand why it exists, identify why some people can't get out of it, help students to know ways that global poverty can finally come to an end and what they can do to make a difference.

The UN has set a goal that by the year 2015 extreme poverty will be eradicated from the world. Currently, there are 1 billion people sharing our world who suffer from extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is defined as not having access to the basics like food, clean water, shelter, basic clothing articles, let alone health care and education. At present, the world is producing enough food for each person to have 2, 224 calories a day, each day. But because people do not have a access or means, the food is not being distributed evenly. In Sach's book, I read about a mom in Malawi, who has a family of six, and when asked by a visitor what she will make for her family to eat, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a bug infested handful of millet which she will take and mix with water to make a porridge to feed all of them. Roughly, a handful of millet is about 450 calories, divide that by 6, and that is how many calories a day she and her family will be eating.

So when I set out this past weekend to plan for my lessons this week, I was hurrying since that evening Koray and I were attending the Teacher's Day party, a lavish event thrown by the school each year to honor teachers. I had been eating carefully all week so that I could wiggle into my shiny new purple off-the-shoulder party dress. And then I read about the mother in Malawi, and it stopped me in my tracks.

In a season where we are thankful for all that we have and eat our way through November and December, consuming thousands and thousands of calories, followed by a strict regime to shed the holiday weight, I suddenly felt very, very aware of how very lucky we are. I am a grateful person, I am grateful for all that I have, and I think about it often, even when it isn't the season to be grateful. But this information made me see my fortunate life in a different light.

I felt moved to do something. But what? What could I do to stop a global problem? Stop shopping at the Gap? Stop overeating? Donate money? Eat leftovers? Stop worrying about the pudge in my waistline? What?

At the very dinner celebrating what we do as teachers, sitting amongst whirls of waiters carrying bright white plates full of artistically stacked food, sparkly glasses brimming with fresh water and wine, another teacher and I were asking ourselves this very question. Racking our brains, we concluded that what we could do to make the most difference was to teach young people. Helping them to understand the multi-faceted nature of poverty and giving them solutions was our only hope. It is a hope that at least one of them will be moved as we were and go out there and make a difference. And this makes me feel hopeless because I wish I could do more. But if everybody did what they could do within their power, maybe the problem would come to an end. In fact, I am sure it would make a difference.

What I have learned is that over-shopping, and overspending, and all of the cheap clothing and items I love to buy actually do contribute to the problem of poverty. I have learned that charity isn't enough, that micro-loans are better since it gives people the empowerment to better themselves. I have learned that we are close to the UN's goal of eradicating poverty and that there is hope, but we all must do our part.

There are many ways to give back out there, but two of my favorites are Oxfam and These are organizations where you can buy capital in the form of goats, cows, or seeds, or give a micro-loan to an entrepenear. Through I loaned some ladies in Nicaragua the rest of the money they needed to buy some chickens for their butcher shop. The cool thing about is that you can loan as little as 25 dollars and once it is re-paid, continue loaning to another person. 25 bucks. Nothing. Click here to watch the dynamic lady who started this amazing program.

There are also many resources you can look into about poverty. "The Story of Stuff" shows us how consumerism is directly linked to the exploitation of poor countries, which directly contributes to poverty. The United Nations web site on the Millennium Development Goals shows a road map for how they plan to eradicate poverty. For a film, check out The End of Poverty? (with punctuation) by Philippe Diaz and for reading, The End of Poverty (no punctuation) by Jeffrey Sachs, of which Bono wrote the forward.

So, after all of this, am I taking a vow of poverty, giving up the lifestyle that I lead? No, I am not that good. But what I will do is be more aware of my impact on the earth and try to change what I can, and try to teach youngsters, including my own, that we do not live alone and are responsible for each other.

I also hope this this post will inspire you to give back this holiday season and help those less fortunate.

If you do, drop me a line, I would love to hear about it.

1 comment:

  1. it's funny that in both my senior year of high school and college i took classes on poverty (poverty unit in koc, and poverty/inequality/distributive justice as my senior seminar here in middlebury). sachs' work is certainly great -i read passages from it and will finish reading it over the break - and we also did a lot more technical/policy-specific stuff for both global poverty and poverty in the united states/the political economy of poverty.

    what's really sad is that we surely have the resources to lift the poorest out of poverty and increase their life quality, but we can never get enough attention on the topic (kiva gift cards being one of oprah's favorite things this year is just not enough) sure, live 8 in 2005 was cool, with pink floyd reuniting and coldplay/bono doing a lot of good things, but over the past 4-5 years we haven't seen anything substantial.

    as opposed to that, climate change and global warming looks like it's consuming most of the media's news coverage, as well as many summits. currently, there's a summit in cancun, and just like copenhagen last year it doesn't look like something useful will come out of it. it is also a fact that today the world has limited resources - the richest governments surely cannot justify solving both climate change and poverty to their constituents, as they can devote ~3-4% of their gdp's for international aid at most (particularly today, when they're suffering through unemployment and recessions.) we also don't know for sure that climate change will have very dramatic affects that justify all these summits and - bjorn lomborg, an environmental scientist whom i read for my political economy class, defends that we should move our resources away from climate change to fighting with more imminent issues - such as malaria and child poverty. i would definitely assign a couple of articles by him if i were you - i think it's a great perspective.
    ( is him on the colbert report, and is an article by him in my favorite blog)