by Jennifer Shukla
Several years ago, I was living in New York City for a summer as part of a college internship. I had a roommate there, but we kept very different schedules so I almost never saw her. Every morning on my way to work, I would pass a homeless woman who slept under an overhang on the side of my building. The first few days I saw her, although I’m certainly not proud of it, I experienced a feeling common to those people with jobs and homes living in the city who encounter homeless individuals on a regular basis. I looked at the woman sitting there in rags and saw nothing more than another smelly dirty homeless person and resented that I had to go to work while she just sat there all day asking for other people’s money. Despite my awful attitude, the homeless woman pleasantly smiled and waved at me every day when I left in the morning and greeted me every time I came home at night. Her constant friendliness broke through my barriers and I started to return her smiles and waves as I passed by.
After a few days of our new arrangement of exchanging pleasantries, I began to wonder, who was this woman? It bothered me that I saw her everyday, said good morning or waved, and yet knew nothing about the woman other than that she lived outside my building. So, I started pausing to talk to her instead of just passing by some days. I learned that her name was Anna, that she was very religious, and that Anna had been a cleaning person. On the days when I stopped to talk to Anna, I would usually give her some spare change or a dollar. I did it partially because I felt bad for Anna, but honestly I was probably more motivated by a feeling of social obligation than genuine charity. Although I passed Anna at least twice every day, other than my brief encounters with her, I gave her little thought throughout the day.
After a few weeks, though, I was cooking dinner for myself in my apartment one evening. I found myself wondering what Anna was eating that night, whether she had gotten enough spare change to buy herself food that day. I looked at the box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in my hand (I was a college student, it’s what I lived on those days) and realized that it would be no extra work to make a little more macaroni than I could eat. I wanted to share the extras with Anna, but was afraid that she would be insulted that I thought she couldn’t get food for herself or that it was somehow a bad thing to do. I nervously scooped out some macaroni on a paper plate and brought it to Anna. I don’t know why I was afraid, I guess I thought maybe she would throw it at me or yell at me. I clumsily offered her the food and she gratefully accepted. Then I wandered back upstairs to my apartment. I knew it was just a tiny little gesture, after all it had been no extra work to make a little more food and had cost me next to nothing, but somehow that simple act made me feel a lot better about myself and about the world.
After that, it felt a lot more natural. Sometimes I went out with friends or my boyfriend or ate at work, but whenever I cooked at home, I would make a little extra and bring Anna a plate of spaghetti, rice, grilled chicken, or whatever I made with my limited cooking abilities. Some evenings, I just brought Anna the food and left. Once in a while, I would bring my food outside too and sit and eat with Anna. On those evenings, Anna would talk and I would listen. She wasn’t as clever or as witty as others that I’ve known, but she was honest, forthcoming, and friendly. Anna told me about life on the streets and the life she had before she lost her job and home. Sometimes Anna mumbled or repeated the same stories over and over, but she never once judged me or expected more of me than I was willing to give. She was always very grateful when I brought her food and never complained about the nights when I didn’t bring her food.
Eventually, the summer ended and I had to head back to college. I would love to say that I kept in touch with Anna but that would be a lie. I said goodbye, handed Anna some cash, and moved away. But I never forgot those dinners with Anna. To this day, when I encounter a homeless person, I don’t just see a pile of dirty rags, but an individual with a unique story. It makes me smile when I think that my little gesture of kindness did so much. It cost me almost nothing, took very little effort, and yet helped feed a woman who might not have been able to eat otherwise and brought me in contact with one of my all-time favorite dinner companions.
Please post your comments on the above story in this thread at the world hunger and poverty forums!
Posted by Scott Hughes
Categories: Poverty Stories
The National Coalition for the Homeless, founded in 1984, is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness.
Posted by Scott Hughes
Categories: Site Links
I recently received a news story from my friend, D.J Pine, about a push by minority communities for more complete and inclusive American History.
Here’s a short excerpt:
American students often get the impression from history classes that the British got here first, settling Jamestown, Va., in 1607. They hear about how white Northerners freed the black slaves, how Asians came in the mid-1800s to build Western railroads.
The lessons have left out a lot.
Forty-two years before Jamestown, Spaniards and American Indians lived in St. Augustine, Fla. At least several thousand Latinos and nearly 200,000 black soldiers fought in the Civil War. And Asian-Americans had been living in California and Louisiana since the 1700s.
The Eurocentrism taught in mainstream U.S. history classes is very relevant to hunger and poverty in the United States – a country in which 14 million children are food insecure. The Eurocentric and patriotic way that United States history is taught convinces Americans that the minorities, the working-class, and the poor are inferior. This is the main cause of the myth of meritocracy in the United States. Because oppression is omitted from the history courses, and because the achievements of the minorities and the poor are downplayed and ignored, the American people – both poor and rich – falsely believe that the poor are just lazy, and deserve to be poor. It is this false myth that creates and falsely justifies racism and classism in America.
A great book about U.S. history and the misleading way it is taught is Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen.
I’ve recently added some pages to millionsofmouths.com.
First, I’ve added a page about my hero Diogenes The Cynic, the philosopher who chose to live in poverty. You can find this at http://millionsofmouths.com/diogenes.html
Secondly, I’ve just added a message board about hunger and poverty to the website. This message board is new, so obviously discussion is slow to start. That’s all the more reason for you to go, register and start discussing these important issues. Also, I’m looking for moderators, so if you ever wanted to moderate discussion forums now’s your chance. You can find this at http://forums.millionsofmouths.com
Posted by Scott Hughes
Categories: Site Updates
The below is a bulletin I recieved on MySpace from A Crazy Idea:
A Crazy Idea and Youth Against Poverty have teamed up to form a coalition to end poverty in America, and they need your help!
The numbers are staggering. Today 37 million Americans live in a state of poverty, hunger and hardship. That’s more than last year, More than ever before. But one by one, working together, we can reverse the trend. For the fourth consecutive year, the poverty rate and the number of Americans living in poverty both rose from the prior years. Since 2000, the number of poor Americans has grown by more than 6 million. The official poverty rate in 2004 (the most current year for which figures are available) was 12.7 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2003. Total Americans below the official poverty thresholds numbered 37 million, a figure 1.1 million higher than the 35.9 million in poverty in 2003. The U.S. Census Bureau defines poor families as those with cash incomes of less than $15,067 a year for a family of three or $19,307 for a family of four. (U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004) On average, more than one out of every three Americans – 37 percent of all people in the United States – are officially classified as living in poverty at least 2 months out of the year. (U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004)
The number of Americans living in severe poverty – with incomes below half of the poverty line – remained the same at 15.6 million. (U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004)
A single parent of two young children working full-time in a minimum wage job for a year would make $10,712 before taxes – a wage $4,355 below the poverty threshold set by the federal government. (U.S. Department of Labor; U.S. Census Bureau.) About 40 percent of poor single-parent, working mothers who paid for child care paid at least half of their income for child care; an additional 25 percent of these families paid between 40 and 50 percent of their incomes for child care. (Child Trends, 2001.)
More than two-thirds of all poor families with children included one or more individuals who worked in 2003. Whats more, family members in working-poor families with children typically worked combined totals of 46 weeks per year.
We can end this now! As Americans we have a duty to stand up for those citizens who are suffering in our own country. Learn more on how you can change your own country and change the world. Get involved! Some tips on where to start: Write a letter to your local newspaper, alerting the editors to the information you’ve learned about poverty in America, and what is being done to eliminate it. Submit an article to the newsletter published by your church, synagogue, mosque or house of worship about poverty in your community, and about successful initiatives that are bringing long-term results. Follow local politics, and tell your local elected officials that you support policies aimed at permanent solutions to poverty in your community and your nation. Question candidates on their plans to address poverty in your state and nation, vote your conscience — and hold politicians to their promises if elected.
This fall more than 500 children in Thailand will be part of a pilot program for “quality testing and debugging” of the $100 laptop. The One Laptop Per Child program, which is supplying the computers, is the brainchild of tech guru Nicholas Negroponte, who has spent the last several years developing and refining the technology. The computers run on the free Linux operating system and use flash memory instead of a standard hard drive. When access to the electrical power grid is unavailable, the computers can be powered by either a foot pump or a hand crank.
So far, Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand have expressed interest in purchasing the computers, and Nigeria has already bought the first 1 million. India, which had originally expressed interest, declared the computers to be “pedagogically suspect,” and has decided not to participate in the first round of purchasing.
This is a perfect example of good business in practice. The foundation of free-market economics and business is mutually beneficial trade and production, such as the production and distribution of these laptops.
Thanks to http://www.nextbillion.net/ for this story. NextBillion.net brings together the community of business leaders, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, policy makers, and academics who want to explore the connection between development and enterprise.
Posted by Scott Hughes
Categories: Poverty News
In a world of plenty, huge numbers of people go hungry. Hunger is more than just the result of food production and meeting demands. The causes of hunger are related to the causes of poverty. One of the major causes of hunger is poverty itself.
There are other related causes (also often related to the causes of poverty in various ways) including the following:
- Land rights and ownership, Diversion of land use to non-productive use
- Increasing emphasis on export-oriented agriculture
- Inefficient agricultural practices
- Poor crop yield
- Lack of democracy and rights
by Scott Hughes
I had a friend recently ask me why I called myself an atheist. She said, “you seem to have such a big heart.” Apparently, she thought that there was something oxymoronic about a benevolent atheist. (In her defense, it turned out she thought I was a Satan worshiper, not an atheist. )
As a history buff, a news junkie, and a political activist, I certainly must acknowledge all the helpful and philanthropic accomplishments of religious people and religious institutions. One must commend what religious people and religious institutions have brought to this world – in terms of education, healthcare, nourishment, housing and unity.
Even though I acknowledge these achievements, the idea that religion could possibly have a monopoly on philanthropy shocks me in its absurdity.
I could reject the suggestion of a link between religion and philanthropy on the basis that religious people have committed great atrocities in the name of religion. However, humans have committed great atrocities in the name of many non-religious ideas as well – Namely communism and nationalism. The fact of the matter is that humans commit atrocities, religious or not.
Despite that cynical point, I think it’s manifestly false to say that the only reason a human would be kind is because a god or gods told the human to. Yes, mankind is far from perfectly benevolent. However, mankind is equally far from perfectly callous.
The reason I help people is not because a god told me to. The reason I help people is not because I believe such actions will get me into heaven. The reason I help people is not because I believe it is moral. I don’t even believe in god, heaven, or morality.
I help people because it makes me feel happy. I believe that I am not the only person who receives this pleasure. In fact, most (if not all) of humanity takes pleasure in helping each other out.
Love may be a deep emotional connection that’s hard to define, but I think itï¿½s a secular word. Philanthropy literally means love of people. There is nothing necessarily religious about loving people. People, religious or not, love other people. Are we not all philanthropists in our own light?
I’m a cynic; don’t get me wrong.
It may seem that the abundance of social conflicts between mankind are incompatible with the theory of mankind’s inherent philanthropy. However, this seeming incompatibility quickly vanishes when one remembers that people often engage in self-destructive and foolish activities.
If one can accept that a person would harm themself due to their own self-destructive folly, one can equally accept that a person would harm the object of their love due to the same self-destructive folly, even if that object is all of humanity.
What religious people may call sin, I call foolishness. What religious people call good, I call wise.
Whether you are religious or not, let me ask you to do something that will make you happy. Remember that inside of you and every person is a quintessential love. This quintessential love conflates the self with humanity. Fundamentally speaking, to say one loves oneself and humanity is redundant. Whether you believe this love is endowed by a godly creator or not, let yourself act on that quintessential love. By helping others you help yourself. By pleasing others you please yourself. Let yourself be at one with humanity.
About The Author: Scott Hughes owns and operates Millions Of Mouths – a website dedicated to ending hunger. Read more articles like this at the hunger and poverty blog on MillionsOfMouths.com:
You may republish this article so long as you keep all links intact and keep the “about the author” footer.
For those with an interest in hunger, poverty, and the social science thereof, I’ve compiled a list of books and reading materials. You can easily buy any of these books from Amazon instantly, so I recommend you get one, two, or a few. Here’s the list:
And, that’s it for now, but I’ll post more as I read them or they are recommended to me. If you want to add any other books to the list please do by using the comment function. (Hit comment below the post.)
Remember, collective ignorance and neglect allows hunger, poverty, and social injustice. The spread of knowledge and rational discussion are the most quintessential part of the solution, and books epitomize the spread of knowledge.
Although I am not personally a religious man and prefer to look at hunger as a practical secular problem, religious people and institutions have worked diligently in the cause to end hunger.
A powerful TV documentary presented by the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), “Hunger No More: Faces Behind the Facts,” takes an unflinching look at the persistent problem of hunger in the 21st century and offers solutions. It is available to NBC television network affiliates beginning September 10.
Most of us don’t often ask where our next meal is coming from. But for millions of Americans and nearly a billion people worldwide, such food insecurity is a daily reality. The documentary approaches hunger from the perspective of faith, declaring that hunger is more than a social issue.
“It is a moral issue that needs immediate resolution,” says Burton Buller, president of Mennonite Media, who produced the program in collaboration with the NCC.
This one-hour, closed-captioned special, presented by the NCC in partnership with the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission, will be telecast by NBC affiliates nationwide, beginning on Sunday, September 10. Interested viewers should call their NBC station and ask when the program will be broadcast locally.
A study guide for the program or more information is available online at councilofchurches.org/hunger.
Peace, Scott Hughes
Posted by Scott Hughes
Categories: Poverty News