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Poverty and extreme poverty

| Monday, September 18, 2017

When I was twelve years old, my idea of poverty was the young man standing on the street corner, bundled in a dirty, oversized jacket, begging for money to survive another Minnesota winter. His name was Brandon. After trying to think of ways that I could help him improve his situation, or even just improve his day, I began making breakfast for him every Sunday. This sparked my interest in helping in my community because I was able to see, first hand, how much he appreciated my gesture. I quickly learned that taking a few minutes out of my week to help others could make a huge impact, and I wanted to do more. The same year, I traveled to South Africa with 14 members from my parish and saw a completely different kind of poverty, something overwhelming.  As we drove past miles of shacks composed of cardboard and aluminum, I recalled making cardboard “forts” with my friends. We tore them down at the end of the day and climbed into our inviting beds at night. For the South African people we visited, the cardboard served as their shelter and beds.

The extreme poverty in the ghettos we visited seemed completely contrary to the friendliness and positivity of the people living there. For these families, it was obvious that happiness meant much more than having a bed, a real house or even something as overlooked as a pair of shoes. This experience opened my eyes to how fortunate I am to enjoy these simple comforts. Although many of the people I met in South Africa lived in extreme poverty, they were extremely rich in community. Families were always willing to share the little they had with others, like food and medicine, even if it meant they would no longer have enough to supply their family. Friends and families were always together and made a huge effort to support one another. They may not have always had materialistic things, but they always seemed to have each other’s backs.

Touching the lives of these few South African people in need is, by far, my proudest accomplishment and greatest memory. Now, whenever I think of community, I think of my entire journey to South Africa, beginning on the day I learned that I could finally go on the trip, and ending when I stepped back onto Minnesotan soil. I will never forget how strong community can truly be. My trip to South Africa taught me what it means to be part of a community and how for some people, being a part of that community is all they have. I look back at my trip and think of how fortunate I have been with the opportunities and things that I have had throughout my life, but I will always be envious of the strong, optimistic South African community that warmly welcomed my parish to join them.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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