I travel frequently for my job as president of World Help, and every time I visit another country, I am always struck by one thing — the poverty.
Of course, even here in America, you don’t have to look far to find people who are destitute. But the poverty I see overseas is different — it’s what the United Nations has defined as “absolute poverty.” Absolute poverty is a “condition characterized by severe deprivation of human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information.”
And it’s not just that these people can’t afford basic necessities; they don’t receive any kind of support, either. As a friend in Thailand recently said, “There are no safety nets for the poor here.” There are no food assistance programs or homeless shelters to turn to.
When I travel to places in Africa, South Asia, and parts of Latin America, I see absolute poverty everywhere. One day, I visited a trash dump in Guatemala where desperate children and their families search for food. When they can’t find food, they look for broken pieces of glass. If they fill a bag full of glass, they can sell it for the equivalent of about a quarter. It will take them nearly all day to fill a bag.
When we talk about global wealth, the richest areas of the world should come as no surprise. Western Europe, North America, Japan, and certain parts of the Middle East are home to the majority of the world’s wealth.
And the poorest areas are where you would think as well: sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Over the past few years, the global economy has continued to grow — and yet, its distribution remains woefully uneven. According to the Global Wealth report from Credit Suisse research institute, the richest 1 percent of people own 45 percent of the world’s wealth.
But here’s the really shocking part — you need only $4,210 to your name (assets minus debts) to be counted among the wealthiest 50 percent of the world. That’s it. You may not feel wealthy, but if you can afford to have a roof over your head and a little money in the bank, you are.
Who suffers the most from this extreme economic disparity? Children.
A study conducted by the World Bank Group in partnership with UNICEF found that out of the 767 million people who live on less than $1.90 a day, half of them are under the age of 18. This means that half of them are still developing, still growing, still trying to become a fully functioning human. But poverty won’t give them the chance.
In his book, “Outlive Your Life,” Max Lucado says, “In the game of life, many of us who cross home plate do so because we were born on third base. Others aren’t even on a team.”
As a parent in America, I can’t even begin to truly understand what it’s like to be unable to care for my boys. My husband and I have worked hard to provide a good life for them — to give them opportunities to cross home plate with excellence. But many parents don’t have that opportunity. They can barely survive on their own.
It isn’t just that they can’t afford toys or books or school supplies. One of the most devastating impacts of extreme poverty is malnutrition and starvation. Most of those 767 million people cannot afford the regular, nutritious meals their bodies need.
On a trip to South Africa several years ago, I met a young man who grew up in extreme poverty, but thanks to help from others, he eventually broke free. What he remembers most about his childhood is the hunger.
I’ll never forget what he shared with me. He said, “It’s hard to hold on to your dreams when you don’t have food to eat.”
Most days I don’t have to worry about having food to eat unless I have simply neglected to go to the grocery store. But every time I travel, I see the faces of people who are starving … starving for food and for hope.
Here in America, we often hear debates about how the rich should do more to help the poor, but we feel little responsibility since most of us don’t fit into the highest financial brackets.
In the context of the world, though, we are the wealthy ones.
Sure, we can say, “That’s not my problem. Their government should help them.” But the truth is, that can’t or won’t happen anytime soon. And the slight relief these words may bring our conscience does nothing for the children who are starving to death right now.
This is a terrible reality, but it’s one that you and I have the opportunity to help alleviate. We have the ability to reach out our hands and share our resources with someone in need. One of the ways World Help is fighting for change is by providing a year’s worth of nutritious food for children who desperately need it. With just a small effort, we have the power to save lives.
One of the early leaders of the Christian church, Basil the Great, wrote, “When someone strips a man of his clothes, we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not — should not he be given the same name?”
As people “born on third base,” shouldn’t we do what we can to help those who are stuck on first … or worse yet, locked out of the stadium with no food, medicine, education, or opportunities?
We may not be able to save everyone, but we can save at least one — and that one matters.