From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

An Unforgettable Glimpse of Genuine Poverty

Many of America's "poor" are rich by world standards.



This is a true story about an experience I have never forgotten.

When my husband and I were first married, we taught school in Bolivia for two years.

Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America. It's tropical, and it lies south of the equator. Some of the Amazon lowlands lie in eastern Bolivia, but on the western side of the country, some of the peaks of the Andes Mountains are nearly 4 miles in elevation (over 21,000 feet.)

We were in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which is a major city in the lowlands (but not in the Amazon basin.)

In the early 1980's when we were there, the socio-economic structure was much as it had been since early colonial days--

  • a small wealthy upper class, mostly of European ancestry
  • a large, extremely poor, and mostly illiterate lower class, mostly of Indian ancestry
  • almost no middle class at all.

Many beggars lived on the streets. Many of them were people who were mentally retarded, insane, or physically handicapped. They coped as best they could, with the help of family if they were lucky.

And now, the little story I want to tell ...

We bought our fruits, vegetables, and many necessities of life in the open air markets because grocery stores simply did not exist. I was at the Siete Calles market one afternoon, and I had bought some cloth in a group of booths under a roof.

Coming out of that building, I saw a very short Indian man coming toward me. He would perhaps have come up to my waistline. As he caught my eye, I thought, "My goodness, that man is a 'little person'!" (I thought he was a dwarf.)

Then I looked closer and saw that he was "walking" on his knees, and I thought, "Oh dear Lord, he has somehow had his legs cut off!"

All this time, I was walking toward the man as he hobbled along. And as I met him, I saw how he really was: his poor, withered legs from the knees down were dragging along in the dirt behind him as he walked on his knees.

When I hear the saying, "I felt bad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet," I always think of that man in the market. To be so handicapped and to cope with it as he was doing is beyond my imagination.

I am so fortunate to have been born an American. Though I'm not rich by American standards, I'm wealthy by world standards. Many Americans do not comprehend what real poverty is.

Please be generous with your favorite world charity this Christmas. If you don't have a favorite charity, I suggest the Lutheran World Relief, an organization that uses 92.5¢ of every donated dollar to help people in need around the world.

2 comments:

KennethF said...

Hey "G", Merry Christmas & a "H.N" &
Wonderfully written story! The more you write... the better you GET! I just told Jo Anne that (not more than a few hours ago).. Brother's Brother's request in our mail today, holds the highest dollar percentage flow-thru at like 98.5 This is not for the same directions as LWR which could be a better way? I'll check it out, Thanks Much ~(:-_))-kfh

Genevieve said...

Hi, Kenneth. Merry Christmas to you, also.

There are quite a few worthy charities that make good use of their donations. I mentioned the Lutheran World Relief because I am a Lutheran, and I know that they help with all sorts of crisis situations besides their regular work in poor countries.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.