The statistics of poverty around the world are by now well-known facts: 3 billion people around the world live on less than $2.50 a day, 24,000 children per day die as a result of poverty and there are approximately 1.1 billion in the world who lack access to clean water. Yet when faced with the news that our own country is now experiencing poverty levels unseen since the 1950s, we face the decision of whether we should act globally or lend a hand here at home.
There is of course, a paradox to comparisons of poverty at home or abroad. While one in four children in the United States faces hunger at some point, we need to look at things in relative terms. The United States Census Bureau, the author of a recent report on poverty levels within the U.S., says that 97 percent of those classified as poor own a color TV and 75 percent of them own a car. How do we make decisions regarding who is most in need? Do we ignore the hungry person on the sidewalk, only to go donate to UNICEF? It doesn’t make it any easier to decide when we live in a city with one of the highest levels of homelessness in the country. Perhaps what is needed is not a decision between where to donate our money (“What money?” says the college student), but where to focus our attention. There are multiple opportunities within the city and the Bay Area for students to donate time, service, skills, whatever is needed, to fight back against rising poverty levels here and raise awareness about wealth disparities internationally. Glide Memorial serves as a church, clinic, housing center, daycare/after-school program and dining room; all in outreach to San Francisco’s growing population of those who can’t make ends meet. Anyone can walk in and help serve a meal, right then and there. Working at Glide helps one realize that hunger is something that affects every human being, from California to Kenya and that when we look at global poverty statistics; we aren’t just looking at the third world.
Another place to consider is De Marillac Academy. Students at De Marillac come from low-income households, where school is not always a top priority and often times English is not the first language. De Marillac is located in the heart of the Tenderloin, and to get in the school one must walk past lines of people begging on the street and buzz to be let into two separate gates. In other words, it does all it can to protect its students from their surroundings. It is a school that loves USF volunteers, and it doesn’t hurt that its students are some of the cutest and brightest kids you will ever meet.
De Marillac and Glide are only two examples. I promise you there are dozens more. While community service within the city may not feel like an action against poverty around the world, it eventually becomes one. We often forget that our seemingly wealthy and safe society is just one out of hundreds, and when global tallies of the hungry and desperate are taken, they do not exclude the United States. Ultimately, it does not come down to a decision between the hungry street beggar and UNICEF, but a decision of whether you do anything or not.
Andrea Powell is a junior International Relations major
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