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Friday, May 7, 2010

A Conversation About Poverty

How does one explain the dichotomy between wealth and poverty? Even the idea of poverty is difficult to explain, because the reality is that poverty in one place does not equal poverty in another. I started my career in education at the age of 16 while travelling in the Fiji Islands. After working for a week at a school where children went barefoot and had limited access to educational resources, my eyes were opened to the reality of the world: it is an unfair place.

I have worked in urban environments in the United States since the age of 18, beginning by running an after-school program for urban youth in South Miami, culminating in teaching 3 years in the inner-city of Miami and a year on Dickerson Road in Nashville, known for its drugs, violence, and prostitution. But, you know something, after living and working in Haiti, the poverty there does not compare to any other place I have ever been. Here in the United States every child is required to attend school until the age of 16, a privilege that many children in third world countries do not have. Despite this privilege, why is it that we still have a broken system of public education in the United States? Why do students in urban environments still have the lowest-performing teachers, inadequate schools and resources, and a “pretend to care” attitude from school districts and states?

In contrast, only 50% of children in Haiti even have the opportunity to attend school, specifically because 90% of the schools are private and require payment. And when the children do go to school, the resources of the schools are so limited, and the availability of quality teachers is low, that sometimes the only items in a classroom are chalk and a chalkboard. I just want to know, how do we reconcile these differences in life? How do we deal with the reality that our lives are often predetermined by where we are born, not the knowledge, skills, and ability that we are born with?

There are 2 conversations that must simultaneously take place. 1. United States Public Schools in urban environments are underperforming and we MUST provide the same opportunity to learn for all children in this country, no matter the circumstances. 2. Children in countries like Haiti continue to suffer from poor access to education, health care, and basic human rights. Continue these discussions with your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and coworkers. Together, through a unified effort, not only can we continue this discussion, but we can make an impact on the lives of children, both in the United States and abroad.

Steven Kirby
H.E.R.O., President

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