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Really, Actually Poorer Than You (and Me)

Look, the name "PoorerThanYou.com" – that’s tongue-in-cheek. I’m well aware that, simply by being an American, I’m in the top 15% of the world’s wealthiest. Poor as I am, I’m actually rich. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably rich as well. Don’t believe me? Check out just how rich you are.

But I already know how rich I am, because of the quality of the education I’ve received. I’m not even talking about the fancy college education that I’ve gotten into way too much debt for – although that certainly could be used as an indicator.

Rather, I can tell my relative wealth simply by looking at my elementary and high schools. Textbooks, teachers, computers, music classes, science classes, drama club… all courtesy of the New York State public school system.

Most of the nearly two–billion children in the developing world are inadequately educated, or receive no education at all. One in three does not complete the fifth grade.

-One Laptop Per Child, www.laptop.org

Is poverty a cause of poor education, or is poor education a cause of poverty? As best I can tell, the answer is: Yes. Both. It’s a vicious cycle. Poor schooling means little economic opportunity, and struggling economies can’t afford to build schools.

Many of you already know that I lead a group on my college campus called Students for Cambodian Schools. I haven’t been able to donate much money to the cause, thanks to my debt and all that. But debt – being "poor" in America – is no excuse for ignoring the real plight of others. Just because I can’t give money doesn’t mean I don’t have something to give.

Time.

Call this what you want: bleeding heart liberalism, white guilt, "#62 Knowing what’s best for poor people" … it is what it is. I implore you today, on Blog Action Day, to take a look at people that truly are Poorer Than You. And think what one hour of your time or one bill out of your wallet might mean to someone living in poverty.

The floodgate – I mean, the comments section – is open.

9 responses to “Really, Actually Poorer Than You (and Me)”

  1. John Hunter

    Great post. Poverty will not be eliminated in a day or a year or a decade but progress can and has been made. Two of my favorite tools for helping that progress along are Kiva, Trickle Up and many other great microfinancing organizations help too.

  2. Adam Luptak

    I totally agree with your point on the cause-effect cycle of poverty and education.

    Also a reason to attack poverty / a lack of education that is pretty hard to sell as bleeding-heart liberalism (in my own humble bleeding-heart liberal opinion) is that places of poverty are also the places that feed extremism… So an investment in easing poverty is a national security strategy, attacking the cause of the problem rather than attacking the symptoms (with ordinance). Extremist madrassas exist in these place not because they are what the population wants, but because a rich outsider came in and built them, and they’re often the only option for education.

    (Of course, reminds me of a passage in Three Cups of Tea – while Greg Mortenson recognizes the security importance of providing an alternative to madrassas, it’s pretty low on the list of reasons why he builds schools.)

    Also, can I just say that I was a bit disappointed in the VP debate when Sen. Biden said, in response to a question concerning plans that might have to be abandoned, that he thought they might have to slow down development aid. Props to quasi-answering the question – it’s the sort of question that you really don’t want to answer – but I’m disappointed that we’d consider development aid a lower priority. I haven’t written my letter yet to tell the campaign so, but I am certainly planning on it (maybe tonight!)

  3. Super Careo

    I have a child that I have sponsored through the christian organization World Vision. They use the money from your sponsorship to build schools and clean water wells within the communities so that they can become self sufficient and break the cycle of poverty.

    Ncamiso just turned 6 and he lives in Swaziland, which in the very northern tip of Africa.

    Giving money every month and knowing that it is going to help this little guy live a happy and healthy life makes me so excited!

  4. brooks

    Poverty can be eliminated only when we take combined efforts!

  5. Peter Mottola

    A friend of mine runs a non-profit called Global Playground that builds schools in foreign countries (including Cambodia). If y’all feel the need to go dump money somewhere, this is a worthwhile place to do it:
    http://theglobalplayground.org/

    And Steph – thanks for the link to “Stuff White People Like.” How have I been on the Internet for so long without knowing about this?

  6. Dollface

    Excellent post. I wrote about poverty and education in America on my blog. I would agree that poverty and lower-quality education are a vicious cycle. The importance of a good education available to everyone cannot be stressed enough.

    http://therottenlittlegirls.com/2008/10/15/blog-action-day-poverty-and-education-in-america/

  7. Bartolomeo B

    I don’t belive that the level of education depends on prosperity of a state. You now that there are a lot of well educated and intellegent people from India, Russia and other countries where people are poor.

  8. Anonymous

    Hi there, just wanted to tell you, I liked this article.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!