There are moments for me when the day to day realities of the children we work to help become much more real. I will never forget the time I was distributing Christmas presents at a school, and none of the children would open their gifts. I couldn't make it out until I asked a teacher who gently explained to me that this was probably all many of them would receive, and that they didn't want to ruin the paper or open it yet. The girls all watched as the teacher carefully opened one, and slid it out to show the rest, then put it back together again.
Recently, I spoke to a class of four year olds at our church, and I very much wanted to communicate to them how different these children lived from even the humblest who attend our church. I was telling them that in Iquitos, the houses are up on stilts, and many times, if you look into the house as you walk by, you see that there is nothing at all in them--maybe a hammock or something like that. I explained that the children don't sleep on mattresses like we do (most sleep on a pallet of some sort, with a sheet). The children sombered up considerably, and one sweet little one, eyes wide opened, said, "Ya mean they ain't got no BED?!!!"
It was amazing how they suddenly understood how poor these children must be. They got it.
I must admit that I tend to bristle when well-meaning folks say something like, "We got poor people here, you know! You don't need to go so far away to find poverty!" Of course, that is true. But there is the kind of poverty that makes you be careful at the checkout, put back things you are going to need later, and worry about making your mortgage payment. Even then, many of us still have our education, our way of seeing ourselves, which elevates us and makes us eligible for moving on and achieving a brighter future. We usually have some resource, even if that is moving in with our parents until we find our footing again.
There is a kind of poverty that crushes. It keeps kids from getting a decent education because their lives are chaotic. It keeps their brains and bodies from developing as they should because they are malnourished. It isn't fair. Sometimes I just can't get my mind around how many of our students are forced to live. I see something that sets off that "Ya mean they ain't got no bed?!!" sort of reaction. I don't have anywhere in my mind to put a child who doesn't have a bed, or who doesn't have any love or affection in their lives, or gets nothing for Christmas. I hope that I never get used to it!