Archive for the 'poverty' Category


helping or hurting?

helping or hurtingDoes America really help or hurt refugees?

After recently watching a documentary on the Lost boys of Sudan, I couldn’t help but question if America is really helping them?  There seems to be a miscommunication between what the boys expect and what is being offered.  Most of the boys are encouraged by their peers and elders to get education in order to bring it back to the rest of their country.  However, that is not what they are given.

Instead, they are set up for a few months in order to find a job.  Because of their need to learn the language and lack of marketable skills, their eligibility for jobs which pay more than just the rent is difficult to secure.  They find themselves stranded in the area they are assigned due to no mobility both figuratively and literally.  In the end, they end up more alone here than when they were back home in the refugee camp.

One of the primary comments the boys had about life in America was that one has to make it alone.  There is not sense of community which they used to have, despite losing their parents.  How unnerving is it that a parentless child feels more alone in America, the land of opportunity, than in a war torn land.  What does that say about our country?   What opportunities are we giving them?  Ones that help them barely “make it” in our world and culture or those that they can take home and make the life of their people better?

Who are we really helping?  Do we just want to make ourselves feel better about a situation which we do not control?  Are we taking the time to really listen to what they need?  Are we helping or hurting them?



armchair activism

Ever encounter fiction that reflected real life but the real life seemed less fathomable than the fiction?

Today I began a huge endeavor of bringing to life a scene from one of the most compelling pieces of fiction in theatre:  the play by Lynn Nottage called Ruined.  This play depicts the story of men and women struggling for survival in the Congo.  The author hones in on the women of the play and how they are stripped of their identity just like the land being stripped around them.

Though this is a piece of fiction, the stories of these women echo true in todays’ society.  The war and atrocities associated with the plight of these characters is happening, now.  And that is the goal of the author, to not only bring awareness by giving these women a voice, but to move us to action.  I can only hope that I can direct this scene in such a way which will also inspire those who see it to reach out and make a difference.

armchair activistIt’s so easy to become an armchair activist.  We can sit from on high and look down on all the problems that need addressing in the world.  But when it comes to rising and taking part in the efforts to change or bring relief to those in need, we feel weak and helpless, sitting back in our comfortable, safe and distant seats away from the stage.

Sometimes we just don’t fully understand the complete conflict.  Other times we don’t want to know.  But if we don’t know then how do we discover how to help?  How do we truly find the root of the issue?  And how do we address the immediate consequences of the problems?  It’s easy to throw money at a cause, but where does that money go?  And would your investment be better spent if instead of giving money you give time or training or awareness or education or other donations?

The world is a big place but we are not alone in it.  I find it difficult to listen to the news because of all the pain and difficulty.  But I realize more and more that I have a part to play.  And sharing the message of Ruined with others is one way of getting off the couch.

Here are some links about the war in the Congo:



Bridging the gap – are there two worlds?

How many worlds are in the world?  With so many people in the world traveling in different directions and spheres, are we all living in the same one?  Or does our own realities separate us?

Today as I was pumping gas a man with a black garbage bag came up but two feet from me and proceeded to sift through the garbage for recyclables.  We never made eye contact, but were both keenly aware of each other’s presence.  I stole several glances and observed that he couldn’t have been much older than myself.  He didn’t seem in any kind of rush as he methodically and thoroughly inspected every article in the bin.  Meanwhile, time couldn’t go fast enough for me.  I felt so uncomfortable silently standing there tightly holding my wallet while a strange man could have easily reached out and taken it.  My mind filled with scenarios and yet despite our proximity to one another, I felt like we were living in two different worlds.

So how do we bridge the gap?  I could not begin to relate to this man’s daily way of life.  There was a mixture of fear, sadness and shame in his situation.  Fear because his proximity to me made me feel uneasy; sadness that the conditions of our society lends that people should have to rummage through trash; and shame that I could not reach out to him as a fellow human being.  I do not want to see him through a lens of pity –  of compassion yes, but not pity.  But to truly have compassion, I feel I must also have understanding.  So how do I gain understanding if I know nothing of his life?  I am not yet acquainted enough with the world that leads people to this way of living.

Perhaps I am not asking the right questions.  Perhaps I need to start with changing my point of view.  When you don’t know where to begin, how does one transform a symptom of society’s ills?  How do we make a difference in each other’s lives now when the gap between us seems so vast?  How do we invite one another into our reality, share our vision and live in one world?



time for equality

time for equality“Time, is on our side, yes it is.”  You know the song.  But is time really on our side?  Many times it seems that time is working against us, like a permanent nemesis.  What if we could end the war and make peace with time?

Today I chatted with a few fellow students/artists about how I feel about the lack of time I have to really do what I want – being pulled in so many different directions.  There’s not time to be inspired or work on your craft.  Later I was reminded of those who don’t have time to think about anything other than survival.  All of their time, energy and resources go toward obtaining basic needs.  That’s not meant to diminish my or anyone else’s frustrations, but it does bring up another few points.

Many of us go through various “seasons of life.”  Times which we may choose to give up the pursuit of certain things in order to invest in something else more important to us during that specific time.   During these times it is important to maintain a healthy perspective on time.  We can view time as something that will always be there for us, giving freedom to embrace each moment until we are ready to journey into that next season of life.  On the other hand, we can perceive time as slipping through our fingers as we eagerly gaze into the future, anxious to exit our current season of life and jump ship into a boat headed on a different course.  Either way, time continues to march forward: dragging or politely accompanying us into the future.

The truth is that time is not a sure thing?  So why is there not more chaos in the world?  How are we spending our unknown amount of time on this planet?  Do we really have a choice in how we use our time?  Are we really in control?  What would it be like if we didn’t have to expend so much of it on survival – just earning a paycheck?  Perhaps we would be able to contribute to the human race in unimaginable ways?  Or for some, the pursuit of money might be the most worthy use of time?  Time will always need to be dedicated to maintaining a healthy, clean and safe environment in which to live, but does it have to look like what we have now?

When we think of equality we don’t always consider time.  Time is precious, right?  So it becomes a valuable commodity.  We give up time to get time.  We sacrifice years waiting for “time” – retirement.  Ironically, time is money.  But what about those who can’t even afford a decent night’s rest because of the demands of survival – perhaps working two or three jobs just to get by?  Who and how are we spending time in order to make time available to everyone?  When will it be the right time for equality?


Subtle Oppression

upstairs downstairsI have a confession to make: I am obsessed with the series Upstairs Downstairs – the original, not the newer version.  It is fascinating to watch the writers explore the dynamics of class.  The show accurately portrays the lower class servants’ belief that they are not equal to the upper class.  This is an interesting study of oppression.  No one wants to talk about class, especially in America, but it definitely exists. 

Just this past summer when my husband and I moved into our new apartment, I experienced a sense of class oppression.  Never before had we lived in a place that was so modern, well-kept and beautiful.  I told many of my friends that I felt out of my league and that I didn’t deserve such extravagance and luxury (this is a two bedroom, second floor condominium).  Something told me that I was not equal to others who live in such accommodations.

Oppression is subtle in its approach and drops in without detection.  It begins as people compare themselves with one another and says either, “You don’t deserve that/that’s too good for you” or “You deserve much more than them/You’re too good for that.”  For me, it illusively made a suggestion and I readily agreed with it before I even understood why I felt “lesser than.”  Self-worth is inevitably part of the equation, but I believe in this instance, class took the lead role.  Oppression strikes in various forms, but the outcome is always inequality.

Unfortunately I have experienced the other side of oppression – feeling “better than.”  When one doesn’t understand, makes assumption or simply judges others, we tend to want to categorize people into classes.  I am ashamed to share that I have consciously and subconsciously “classified” people – even on sight.  Society teaches us to organize one another to create order.  Unfortunately this is a pecking order – where women and children are inevitably on the bottom.  And just like my experience with our new apartment, a physical oppressor is not needed for one to experience oppression.  Somehow, just like in Upstairs Downstairs, we become our own oppressor and stay in our “places” all on our own. 

So where do you think your place is?  


voluntary blindness

voluntary blindnessIs there any escape from the world?  Is there a place that one can go which is untouched by poverty, violence or greed?  Many people go through their lives running away from these things, believing that they don’t exist where they live.  The truth is that we just don’t want to see it – it’s a form of voluntary blindness.

My grandmother is one of my heroes.  She has lived in the same town all of her life.  Grew up in the same house and lived there when she had a family of her own.  She has seen so many changes over the eighty years she’s lived in the small city, one of which is the effect of poverty.  In a recent conversation she told me that she always thought homelessness only occurred in the big cities, but now it is in her town as well.  The other shock was that among them were women in children.  For my grandmother, this problem only became part of her personal world when her church began offering itself as a shelter and food kitchen.

And that is how reality hits home – when it hits home.  Sure one can read about it in the newspaper, online and hear about it on the radio and shake their heads in dismay.  But until one is confronted by it in a personal way, it is seemingly easy to ignore.  Or perhaps it is not ignored, but many feel that the issues are too big to do anything about it.  The first step is awareness.

We live in a fast paced world where society has taught us to focus on #1 -survival of the fittest.  It can be difficult to relate to those in different circumstances or circles than oneself.  And for many, as long as these issues do not affect their own lives, they are content to continue in ignorance – until it lands on their doorstep.

Society dehumanizes their victims with general labels of “the homeless,” “working class poor,” “troubled youth” – but until you put a face with the name, all of the statistics don’t reach the heart of the matter.  What is the root of this problem?  What is causing people to arrive in such desperate circumstances?  How can we as a society not take responsibility of our own kind?  How many more people must come to share the same fate before we look beyond our small worlds and see each other as human beings?

I don’t know the answer, but I can see enough to know that our current system isn’t working.