Poverty does have a face

Nov. 20 is the United Nation’s designated day for Universal Children’s Day.
Why was this date set aside for children and what was the intention of the UN? Probably to remind us of the legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren—a legacy that has the planet gasping for breath; has nations fighting over oil but leaves the abduction of 200 young girls in Nigeria unchallenged and no longer worthy of mentioning in the news.
A legacy that has single mothers raising children in poverty with no option for escape; where poverty begets poverty in a cruel and vicious unending cycle.
Universal Children’s Day was a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in 1954 to promote global awareness of the welfare of children; the date marking the adoption of the Declaration of Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989.
In 2000, the UN’s goal was set to cut extreme poverty in half, to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to provide access to education to the world’s children by 2015.
2015 is rapidly approaching. Will those goals be met? Will we find the 200 missing Nigerian girls and will we halt the abduction of others?
Will fewer of the world’s children go to bed without feeling the pain of hunger and without being lost and alone, having lost their mother to AIDS? Will children not be gunned down in their schools?
Will 2015 see any change in what was present in 2000 when the UN General Assembly put together their wish list?
How do we save children from the madness of the world?
I visited a food bank last week here in Wolfville, N.S. The energy in the donated space in a church basement was joyful; volunteers scurrying around and clients of the food bank gathering up their groceries and stopping to chat with one another, and to look through the clothes to see if any of the winter jackets might fit their children as we brace ourselves for winter.
I heard stories from clients who said to me, “The [Wolfville] food bank thinks of everything for us. We have no money for food, so how on Earth are we going to afford the right-coloured garbage bags.”
I was moved to tears when one client told me she received a concert ticket to her favourite band, The Trews, and she held a new top up for me to see that she had found in the used clothing section of the church.
She was ecstatic. She quietly explained to me how she had come to require the services of the food bank.
Poverty isn’t invisible; it’s in our neighbourhoods, it’s in our schools, and on our streets. We can look the other way, say we didn’t notice, but we know in our gut when we see someone who needs our help.
We see children on their way to school; we see single mothers in the grocery store trying to figure out how she is going to feed her children with the money left in her wallet.
We know what despair looks like, but too many of us ignore it—too many of us look the other way.
A lawyer works at our local food bank, works as a volunteer full-time. She cuts through the bureaucracy so that those who need the financial assistance that is available can get to it; cuts through the system that requires those in need to have access to a computer that can connect to the Internet.
She helps clients get to job interviews, and helps them find their way to training and education. She speaks up for those who have no skills to speak up for themselves and then she teaches them how.
But most of all, she is a friend to those who need help and support.
How do we meet the goals of the United Nations? One child at a time.
wendistewart@live.ca

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