Today, I was in a meeting at work where we were discussing a global initiative that will take our programs to India, for students in the most disadvantaged classes there.  There was this sense of, “Yes, this is a good thing to do–there is no question about that.  But does it fit in to our overall mission?  And should we be helping these children half a world away when we haven’t even figured out how to help the children two blocks away?”

It got me to thinking…  We see so much on TV about how children in other countries are starving to death, begging in the streets, living in shacks.  No doubt, they are much worse off than most children in the United States.  But people seem to ignore the fact that there is real, abject poverty right here in the US.  I grew up knowing kids who lived in houses that looked like abandoned shacks (and had the heating and electrical capabilities of said shacks).  There are millions of children who survive on the free school breakfasts and lunches, and are lucky if they get a meal over the weekend.  (This is particularly disturbing if you think about the fact that these children are about to have a 4-day weekend, and many of us will be gorging on the traditional fare.)

I grew up in a small, rural, and exceptionally poor area of the country.  I knew these kids, I saw these kids, I sat next to these kids in school and played with them after.  Growing up, I thought we were rich.  It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized we were probably lower-middle class at best.  I was amazed by the amount of disposable cash, clothing, cars, video games, whatever else, that my friends had.  I was even more amazed when I found out that only a handful of us were on financial aid.  Because I thought my family was rich, I couldn’t even conceive of the kind of family income it would take to pay for a Duke education.

Lately, it seems that celebrity culture has taken over, and luxury goods are more attainable for even average consumers.  I think that makes it easy to forget that starvation and poverty can happen in our own country, just two blocks down the street.  So, with the upcoming holiday, I am thankful for all the blessings I’ve received:  a warm home, a good education, loving parents who went out of their way to hide when we ourselves were poor.  And I’m also thankful that I understand that true poverty doesn’t just occur in India or Mexico or the African country that is being taken up by celebrities today.  There is poverty in Durham, North Carolina, and all over the US too.  We cannot help them all, but we can try.

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