Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Comparing Poverty: A Trivial Task

I live in Chile. I live in a rich country. It has been hard to admit that. I mean, yeah, technically Chile is no United States, but compared to my experience in Bolivia, Chileans might as well be the Spanish word for “lots of money.” Name a major United States corporation and they are probably here and doing business in Santiago. I take a metro subway system to many of my work sites and have witnessed a commercialized Christmas come and go.

At times it has been a struggle to find myself a volunteer in a fairly wealthy country. You try not to do it, but invariably you start to question the work, your place in the scheme of things, and how you ended up trying to be a soldier of justice in a rich country, when so many countries with a higher measure of poverty might well have needed your time and efforts.

And yet, I am beginning to realize that service in Chile is maybe not that far out of place. Because like LA I am seeing the sad reality of development and growth… with great richness and exuberate wealth comes benefits indeed, but more important and less focused upon, a widening gap between those who have and those who don’t.

The experience is not only something to be looked upon and commented upon, but now, it has a direct impact on my life as well, a valuable lesson in real solidarity, a word I used so much before hand and am just now beginning to get a tiny dose of… Living a lifestyle of simple living in a country that offers so many of the commercialized benefits of the United States becomes a bigger challenge then I ever expected. It is one thing to make $60 in a country where a good Argentenian steak costs $3.50 (Bolivia), quite another to make the same amount but have the same steak cost $25 (Chile). Simple living has been a much greater challenge in Chile because everything costs so much more!

In the end, what I am really learning from my experience is that poverty manifests itself in many ways and often times a measure of a countries Gross Domestic Product or whatever general wealth measuring standard we are tempted to use in the classroom is not a fair evaluation of what poverty is. No matter how hard you try, I do not think you can find a standard of measurement that will tell me the 15 year old mothers, and there are a lot of them, that walk around my neighborhood are not victims of poverty just because the structure they call a house is a better construction then what they would find in a neighboring Latin American country.

I work in Santiago, Chile. I work with a people who suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Pinochet. I work with a people who have watched massive development sweep through their country, development praised by politicians and economists alike, development that developed now what seems nothing more than the grand ability to hide the real poverty of Chile. Hidden above the state of the art subway system, behind the growth, the NY Times raving review and the beautiful town center.

Or perhaps, behind the baby strollers pushed by babies themselves this is where we quietly search for God. Rich thriving city or not, poverty is poverty, and it is here I find my calling to work.

“To take an ‘option for the poor’ does not mean to direct oneself toward one part of the whole in order to ignore the rest, but rather to direct oneself toward the whole from the standpoint of one part.” –Jon Sobrino, S.J.


Anonymous said...

Finally read it :). I still want the ritz carlton though ;)lol...psyche!

Anonymous said...

When you talk about wealth and poverty, most people assume you are talking about money, or things money can buy, like houses, and cars and vacations and boats. You get the idea. But maybe poverty is a state of mind. Maybe by some peoples' standards they have lots of money but can never seem to get enough, always driving for more. Then you have problems like Enron and Tyco and MCI. These people seem rich to us; but they can't get enough money--so they use illegal tactics to get more. Were they poor in the first place? Probably. Maybe someone is rich like Donald Trump and now they need fame. So they act like a fool and attack other people's character. Lots of people are rich and don't have happiness, or love, or maybe children. So in a sense they are impovershed. And maybe some people who don't seem to have a lot of money have happiness, or love or maybe most importantly, made a difference in a child's life. Don't they seem rich to you? Making $60 a month, you won't be able to eradicate poverty in Chile, but maybe, just MAYBE, you will enrich a lot of lives with your simple presence. DO IT !


Bolorunduro said...

Nice to know about your work.Keep it up.
I agree with the second anonymous comment.Poverty is a state of mind.

I blog on sustainable development and poverty eradication.