What Is Poverty

Today in Sociology class we watched a video called ‘Slum Insight’. It was about a small nation in Africa whose people are living in absolute poverty. Absolute poverty means that it is life threatening. There is no access to clean water, no shelter, or the means to obtain food. There are over 1.4 billion people on the planet who live in absolute poverty. Though it is rare, there are some people in America that live in absolute poverty. Relative poverty however, is the most common here in the United States. Relative poverty means that people have the ability to afford the basics, but are unable to live in the average standard of living. The basics are food, clothing, shelter, and clean water. There are very few people here in the United States without access to clean water, but it is rare as our country makes it possible for its citizens to have access to such an important basic need.

It was really hard to watch the video without shedding a few tears. There was a scene where a family lose their young child and were laying him to rest. I could not imagine life without my daughter. She fulfills me in every aspect of my life and is the reason why I look forward to waking up each morning. I am going back to school to better myself in hopes to sustain a better life for us. I grew up knowing what it is like going to bed hungry, being bullied because I lived in a shack, and bullied because my clothes were dirty and ragged and worn.

Growing up I lived with my parents and two sisters in a small 24X24 house. It had a basic house frame with a plywood exterior and basic sheet-rock interior. We did not have any walls separating rooms in the interior of the house, we had sheets. Sheets hung from the ceiling to the floor, sectioning off an area for a small bedroom for my parents. Later they moved their waterbed out and move a twin bed in, placing it in the living room area. It was also used as a couch. My sisters and I slept on bunk bed, they were on the top and I was on the bottom.

There was a curtained corner where a ten gallon bucket was placed where we would use it as a potty. It was my job to dump it daily. I resented my parents every day for making me do this job as I found it disgusting, but that was one of many chores that I had to do…every day. Not to mention it was too heavy for me to carry at times and the contents would slosh out on me making me feel even more resentful.

We had to heat our water for bathing, which was time consuming, so they were not a daily thing. At first we took our baths in a thirty gallon tin tub in the middle of kitchen until our grandparents found us an actual bathtub. It sat outside for the longest time until a bathroom was built on to the house. We had running water in the house that came from our own well that we dug out, but in the five plus years that I grew up there, we never had hot running water, nor an actual toilet.

It was extremely hot during the summer time. Our house had three windows and one door. Every summer we would have one box fan sitting in the window, facing inwards, and another box fan sitting in the window facing outwards to have some sort of air flow going through the tiny house. This sounds like a great idea, but it only cooled it slightly. Not to mention, we lived on a dirt road, so each time someone drove by, a cloud of dust would make its way inside the house.

During the winter we had a three foot tall kerosene heater that was used to heat the whole house. Mind you it was still cold in the house, but not as bad as it would be without that heater. We were fortunate to have a grandmother that had the ability to make quilts. Our beds were layered with them, at least mine was. I think at one point I counted how many blankets were on my bed and remember it being around eight or nine.

After about two years or so the sheets that were used for walls came down, except for one sheet left separating the living room area from the bedroom area. This gave us some privacy for three growing girls. By that time we had a bathroom and a front porch built on. Our potty bucket was replaced by a portable potty and moved into the bathroom. It was still my job to empty and clean the thing. We had a washer put in the bathroom, but it only used cold water. The tub was moved from the front of the house, into the bathroom and running water was hooked up to it, though we still had to heat our water for our baths.

We had a garden that was at least an acre or two in size where we got our fruits and vegetables. We raised rabbits, chickens, and a couple of turkeys, so we had eggs and meat. Later our grandparents bought beef cows, so now and then we had beef in our freezer. Our mother only went into town when she had transportation. She would get basic commodities, which included peanut butter, powdered milk, beans, and cereal. At times the only food we had was what we ate at school, so it was crucial to not miss a meal or to not leave food left on our tray.

Having watched the video, Slum Insight in class today, I can say that we were much better off than most. We did have running electricity and clean water, so our situation was not absolute poverty. It will always be something that I will not forget from my childhood and it is something I would not like my child to experience.

For those of you who would like to view the short video, it is free and it is only fifteen minutes long. Go to: http://www.gapminder.org/videos/a-slum-insight/

*NOTE: This timeline of my childhood was from when I was in the 5th grade until I completed the 9th grade in Prattsville, Arkansas


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