Dale Hansen Burke, an evangelical Christian and business owner, asks herself if our mythology about pluck, hard work and drive are really all there is to over coming poverty. Her encounter with people in poverty made her ask “why am I not poor?”
For the first time in my life, I actually knew desperately poor people. The more I listened to their stories the more it became obvious to me that if there was a difference between us it was that they worked even harder than I ever had… With stunning clarity, I realized that I could never survive in such circumstances, let alone succeed.
These realizations led me to study poverty from a slightly different point of view. This month, many organizations are honoring January as Poverty Awareness Month. For my part, instead of asking why others were poor, I had to ask why I wasn’t. If hard work and determination didn’t really set me apart, what did? Much of what I had taken for granted in my life took on new meaning when I compared myself to some of the people I had met and noted our differences. My list included:
I had access to a good education. I attended public schools that prepared me well for college. Unlike many young women in the world, I did not have to beg my parents to let me go to school instead of doing family chores or caring for younger siblings. I did not fear that I would be married off or sent to live with a male relative or that I would have to find someone to pay for my school fees in exchange for work or sexual favors. I did not have to walk miles to the closest school or fear being assaulted on the way. My school expected as much from girls as boys.
I am healthy. Throughout my childhood I ate nutritious food, took vitamins, received my immunizations, and slept soundly each night in a safe and comfortable bed….
As a woman, I am protected by the law and society. Unlike many women in the world, I chose whom and when I would marry. If my husband didn’t treat me well, I could divorce him. I was free to start a business and own it myself. I could own a house and other property in my name. For much of my life I took these rights for granted until I learned how few women were similarly protected.