Poverty: the word on the bottom of everyone’s cup of tea. I guess you could say I’ve lived a relatively cosy life. I’ve always had a roof over my head, food in my stomach and lights to comfort me… well, sort of. As a child, I lived in a tenement and no, not a cool west end tenement with double glazing and big bay windows. I mean a 60’s tenement thrown up in the outer suburbia of Glasgow later known in the 90’s as ‘schemes’. Did that word make you cringe? Yeah, me too. I reminisce about an easier life, coming in when the street lights came on, hearing your mum call you in for dinner and sitting under the duvet on the couch by candle light… wait you didn’t do that?
We weren’t a stranger to the ol’ leccie cutting out at 5pm and having to tell stories hoping mum could scrap together enough money to get a power card the next day. I mean, I was completely unaware of this ever being a problem, I was happy and yet, I had no idea that I was living in relative poverty. I had my essentials, running water, food, shelter and I had education. See, I remember being eleven and walking into my best friend’s house and being shocked. It was the first house, except from my own, that I could walk through with only my socks on. It wasn’t uncommon for houses in my area not to have any flooring, after all many parents couldn’t afford it. Luckily, that was never the case for our house, we had carpets and laminate wood flooring. I joke about it now but things got better for us. We weren’t always a family struck by unemployment.
No one is ever born into poverty in the UK, there are often reasons behind it. Drug addiction. Mental health. Unemployment. Divorce. These are only some to name a few. We live in a society of food banks, clothes banks, and homeless units. The UK is the fifth richest country and yet, we have people who have to rely on other means to survive. One in three children in the UK live in poverty, that is roughly 9 children out of a class of 30. It’s hard to think that one day I will stand in front of a class with quite a large number of those children unable to focus due to hunger or home worries. When a child grows up in poverty, they begin to miss out on the smaller things due to their families having the bigger things to worry about. School trip tomorrow, you’ll have to stay off school. Having a friend over for dinner, the house is a mess and I can’t afford to feed another mouth. Negative effects on a child’s wellbeing can often cause a chain reaction. School attendances begin to fall and later as an adult ,they can fall into the same vicious cycle.
I’ve looked into the eyes of absolute poverty. In 2011, I was given the chance to visit Tanzania as a volunteer at a high school. I stayed in a house with four other girls and our teachers. The house we lived in had no glass windows and was made of solid concrete. Running water was scarce so every morning a local woman would bring us a large bucket of water from the well and boil it so we could wash. The electricity came on maybe once or twice throughout our two weeks stay, most of the time we sat with lanterns given to us by teachers from the nearby school. Every night we ate rice, plantain, bread and chips. However, the students of Olaleni Secondary lived very differently. Many of them the first from their families to attend education, some so poor their families could only afford to send them there for a year or two. I met students who were 22 years of age and were sitting at levels lower than I was. Some living at the school because it was too expensive for them to go home or they lived too far away. A life of hand me down clothes and doing chores at the school for money and yet, so many were happy. Each student desiring for a job as a doctor, or a teacher. Full of hope and excitement for the future. Education was so important to them, they felt so blessed just being able to learn.
I remember my first night in Moshi. I remember seeing people sleeping on the streets with missing limbs and rags for clothes. I remember children lying on their parent’s laps watching all these people walk by and not even giving them a glance. I remember crying to my teacher that night and feeling so guilty. In only one night, I had seen so much poverty, so many people with bones protruding through their skin. How can we justify living like kings when so many live with nothing? Always wanting when people are barely surviving. To them education is most of the time, their only way out and yet, we have so many who take it for granted. We are so lucky to have the opportunity of free education, rich or poor and it shouldn’t be a luxury. In a way, education is our pathway to equality.