Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty in Paradise

This post is for Blog Action Day 08. The theme is poverty.

Living in Paradise, filled with mansions and resorts and tourists from all over the world swanning around clutching the latest limited edition LV bag, it is hard to imagine how they are not affected by the current economic climate. But they continue to live their lifestyle, with a cushion of funds and a high paying job, and a lower cost of living wherever they are visiting from.

We have families here on Maui who are struggling. We don't have heating bills, but gas and electric are still outrageous. Basic foods are expensive. And though the cost of living is so much higher, it is still difficult to qualify for assistance.

I have NO IDEA how single parents make this work. I have absolutely no clue. How do they pay for childcare, and transportation, and food ? Our family is living a middle class lifestyle, courtesy of American Express. At some point, this will have to come to an end, I imagine. But what about the folks who don't have credit ? They can't even get off this ISLAND without hundreds of dollars. And so, they are giving up their homes and living in their cars. Or tents. Or on the beach. Or with friends. The kids eat their meals at school - but during school breaks, it gets a bit tricky.

Here is my real-life experience with poverty in my community.

I volunteer at my son's school. 60% of the children qualify for free or reduced price lunch (and that doesn't take into account the families who don't know about the program or don't read or speak english and didn't fill out the forms to apply, and instead struggle every day to feed their kids.) One of my favorite projects at school last year was Backpack Buddies. Any child who qualified for free or reduced price lunch could come on Friday and get a small bag of food (donated by a local church and an anonymous donor) to bring home for the weekend. Around 80 kids (out of 400 total in the school) participated each Friday. Sometimes, we ran out and I would drive home and put together extra bags of food, and bring them back to school so everyone would have something to eat over the weekend. These kids counted on this food. They would rush to make sure they got in line and picked up their groceries before going to class. 5 year old children would hold open their backpack, and look, with big eyes, as you put their food inside. Some were shy, some were thrilled, the older kids were embarrassed or too cool to say thank you or make eye contact - but they all came and took the food that was offered.

And this year, there is no program in place. How are these kids eating on the weekends ? Do they have enough to eat ? Teachers send home notes saying that it is important that your children eat a good breakfast before school - because so many kids are coming to school unfed. Uncared for in a most basic and primal way.

On Maui, it's not about panhandlers and soup kitchens, it's about families struggling to feed their kids - living in their car and driving that car to soccer and cub scouts so the kids can still have some sense of normalcy. Can you imagine having to choose between a roof over your head, and a meal for your child ? Knowing that there is NO WAY to get off this island, to move somewhere more affordable, because you don't have the money for plane fare ? To be totally STUCK and unable to move forward, and yet surrounded by wealth and luxury everywhere you turn ? Poverty is everywhere - even in paradise.

1 comment:

jen said...

what an important message you have.