What Is Extreme Poverty Like?
EXTREME poverty is life threatening. It means not having enough food, water, and fuel as well as lacking adequate shelter, health care, and education. It affects one billion people, roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the Americas. Yet, most people in places like Western Europe and North America have never known a person in extreme poverty. So let us meet some now.
Mbarushimana lives in Rwanda, Africa, with his wife and five children. A sixth child died of malaria. He says: “My father had to divide his land among six of us. My share was so small that I had to move my family to a town. My wife and I work at carrying sacks of stones and sand. Our home has no windows. We get water from a well at the police station. We usually have one meal a day, but when there is no work, we have no food all day. I go out when that happens—I can’t bear listening to the children when they cry for food.”
Victor and Carmen are cobblers. They live in an isolated town in Bolivia with their five children. They rent one room in a dilapidated adobe building with a leaky tin roof and no electricity. The school is so crowded that Victor had to make a desk for his daughter so that she could attend. The couple must walk six miles (10 km) to cut firewood for cooking food and for boiling drinking water. “We have no toilet,” says Carmen. “So we have to go down by the river, which is also used for bathing and garbage dumping. The children often get sick.”
Francisco and Ilídia live in a rural area in Mozambique. Four of their small children survive; another died of malaria after a hospital did not admit him for treatment. The couple grow enough rice and sweet potatoes on their small plot to provide food for three months. Says Francisco: “Sometimes the rain fails to come or thieves steal the crop, so I make a little money by cutting and selling bamboo slats for construction. We also fetch firewood from the bush, a two hours’ walk away. My wife and I bring a load each, one for the week’s cooking and one to sell.”
Many feel that there is something very wrong with and unjust about a world in which 1 out of every 7 people lives like Mbarushimana, Victor, and Francisco, while billions of others enjoy unprecedented prosperity. Some have tried to do something about the matter. The following article considers their efforts and hopes.
[Picture on pages 2, 3]
Carmen with two of her children, drawing water from a river