Posted tagged ‘Poverty’

Walking through a life in the Dominican Republic

July 17, 2018

I’m always on the look-out for family events that are educational, free or low-cost, and nearby. I had never heard about The Compassion Experience before, but I was immediately drawn to the idea of showing people what it is like to live in poverty in another country.

 

When I told my family that I registered us for The Compassion Experience, they were skeptical. As we were walking through Chinatown in Honolulu, my husband told me, “We don’t need to go to the Experience. We can see poverty right here.”

 

Hawaii struggles with poverty and homelessness, but we also have strong social support programs and public assistance. I wanted to show my son what poverty could be like in developing countries. I told them it would take just 15 minutes of our time.

 

We pulled into the parking lot in mid-afternoon, immediately drawn to the large draped container emblazed with the logo. The tent was hot, even with a portable air conditioning unit running, and well-lit, with uniformed staff and volunteers. The tent walls featured information, photos, and maps of the Philippines and the Dominican Republic, where the two experiences take place.

 

As we waited, we learned that over 700 million people in developing countries live on less than $1.90 per day. In the Dominican Republic, 41% of people live in extreme poverty.

 

We checked in, received clean headphones and an iPod, and walked up the steps to through the curtain-draped opening to experience Jonathan’s Story of living in the Dominican Republic.

 

As we entered each room, which has a scene from his life, we listened to Jonathan’s words. He talked about selling fruit juice to earn money for himself and his mother (opening the small money box was one of the first things my son did), getting an education through Compassion International, pressure from local gangs to steal, and coping with his father’s anger and rejection. He highlighted the support of a special mentor who helped him turn his life around. We watched a video that showed Jonathan as an adult who has become a mentor himself.

 

The rooms re-create Jonathan’s childhood. There are worn shoes with cardboard soles, Dominican pesos in a money box, plates of beans and rice, posters in Spanish, and photographs. What really struck me was seeing hanging wall pockets filled – not with pencils or ID cards – but toothbrushes. It has some serious themes that may not be appropriate for young children.

 

I knew when I signed up that the Compassion Experience is a Christian organization with a child sponsorship program, but I was taken aback by how much Experience emphasizes God. I expected a stronger focus on poverty. The website tells us a little more – half of the country doesn’t have access to clean water or sanitary toilets. In rural areas, five out of ten children are school drop-outs. The poverty rate has been improving in recent years

 

As we left, I was a little uncomfortable by the push to sponsor a child. I think it would have been better to let the photos of children speak for themselves.

 

The Compassion Experience will be in Hawaii for the next few weeks. I think it’s a valuable way to teach children and remind ourselves that poverty is a global problem. We face the same struggles, have the same fears, and feel the same need to give and receive compassion. And with help, people can make their lives better.

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Growing up ALICE in Hawaii

June 26, 2018

Aloha United Way recently released the ALICE Report for Hawai‘i to raise awareness about the economic challenges faced by hardworking Hawai‘i families and individuals. ALICE households – an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – are employed, but can’t afford the cost of living in Hawaii, and lack a safety net for emergencies. Their income may be higher than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but their income falls short of basic necessities.

In Hawai‘i, 49% of households are ALICE or live below the poverty level. They are in every community, women and men, young and old, all races and ethnicities. They could be our neighbors. They could be us.

I grew up ALICE, but I didn’t know it.

We were three generations living in a house in Hawai’i, with three-and-a-half incomes contributing to the household – and me. And a scrappy dog.

We had four adults contributing to the household, and one child who didn’t know that there was anything unusual about it. For financial reasons, for childcare, for convenience, it made sense to live together, ALICE.

We were lucky that we inherited a home from my great-grandmother, so we just had to worry about property taxes and maintenance. We added security bars after our house was burglarized, and one year we all got together to paint the outside of the house, but we couldn’t afford major upgrades.

We didn’t go to farmer’s markets, but we had fruit trees in the yard. We didn’t buy organic food, but we stocked up on canned goods (and toilet paper). We didn’t go to a lot of restaurants, concerts, or plays, but we saved money to splurge on vacations a few times when I got older.

ALICE households are not new in Hawai‘i. What’s new is the spotlight we are shining on them. We’re acknowledging that we sometimes can’t live comfortably on a single or even dual income. We’re acknowledging that as childhood extends into the late teens (or early twenties), and people live longer, multi-generational families are a better solution than living and struggling alone.

In 2016, 8% of all family households in Hawaii were multi-generational (three or more generations), according to the US Census Bureau 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

The ALICE Report reminds us that it’s hard to thrive on our own.

Growing up, did you live in an ALICE household? Do you live in an ALICE household today, or do you have friends and family who live ALICE?