It’s Who You Know: Poverty and (Lack of) Connections

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It’s hard to say which comes first, the lack of connections, the injustice and abuse, or poverty. But people under the poverty line live in a cutthroat world where no one is there to make people play by the rules.

“It’s who you know” — it’s conventional, nearly cliché advice for succeeding in the workplace and in life. Career counselors, speakers, and advice columnists all say it. Network, meet people, do favors and be helpful so you can ask for favors later. It works, both to get ahead and as a safety net when things go wrong.

When Americans think of being well connected, they think of things like job offers and big breaks — things that grease the wheels and make life in the middle class smoother.

house blog crop

But when you delve into the causes and contributors to poverty, you discover that connections aren’t just a nice-to-have. Knowing the right people protects you from being bullied and taken advantage of by landlords, business people, and employers. It also makes justice more likely — knowing the right people helps encourage the police to listen to and address your complaints when you’re mistreated.

“But,” you may protest, “those of us with means don’t enjoy complete immunity from injustice. We’re still lied to, stolen from, and mistreated by employers.”

That’s true. But we have the resources to defend ourselves and connections to those who can help us. We can rally friends and even get the media’s attention if we need it.

For example, a few years ago, my family had an insurance company try shameful and deceitful tactics to avoid paying a claim. This dragged on for months until we finally threatened to go public. They paid because we had the connections to give that threat teeth. When a friend found herself the target of a frivolous lawsuit, her network quickly produced an attorney who got the lawsuit dismissed pro bono.

Poverty and Lack of Connections

People in poverty don’t have connections.

homeless children begging

It’s hard to say which comes first, the lack of connections, the injustice and abuse, or poverty. But people under the poverty line lack family and friends to turn to when something breaks, a boss treats them unfairly, or a landlord tries to cheat them out of money. It’s a cutthroat world where people don’t play by the rules because no one is there to make them.

The United Nations defines poverty like this: Poverty is “a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.”

Listen to their stories. You’ll see it — to live in poverty is to live on the edge of catastrophe with no safety net, no recourse, and no back-up plan.

Mala

House in Sri Lanka
House in Sri Lanka

Several years ago, I met Mala in Sri Lanka. She lives at the end of a deeply rutted dirt path a few miles from the nearest real road. She told us through an interpreter how she skipped meals for months to save the money to purchase a piece of land closer to the main road. Moving her family closer to the road would make it easier to get her kids to school, and she knew that was the only way for them to have a better life than she had. But the landowner took her money, and then sold the property to someone else. Mala went to the police, but the landowner paid them to ignore her report. He stole her hard-earned money, and she lost the land.

Mala had everything – the drive and determination, the discipline to save, the savvy to find a piece of property — except one critical ingredient: she didn’t know the right people.

But this doesn’t have to be the story.

One of the most important ways Feed the Children fights poverty is by becoming a connection to resources, safety nets, and justice when it’s needed.

Elena

We help women like Elena. She lives in Honduras with four children, Edwin, Miguel, Francisco, and Leiry. After she was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis, her husband left her and their kids for another woman (he said she complained about bone pain too much!). He refused to send money for the kids, so with a debilitating illness and no recourse to demand child support, she had to send her kids out to work, trying to sell snacks at bus stops. Sometimes they went a week without food.

Today, Leiry is in the fifth grade and thriving
Today, Leiry is in the fifth grade and thriving

But thanks to generous donors who helped start Feed the Children’s feeding programs in Honduras, she was able to get help. Today, one of her sons is grown up, the two other sons are thriving at a residential school for boys, her daughter is finishing 5th grade, and Elena and her daughter receive food and dry rations in exchange for cooking at the local feeding center.

Anne

We also helped Anne, who lives in Kenya with two children, a son and a daughter. Anne’s husband lied to her about a previous marriage and his status as HIV positive. She found out that both she and her son also had HIV when the boy was admitted to the hospital and received a blood test. Fortunately, she learned how to care for herself during pregnancy so her daughter is HIV negative. At age 3, her son lost his sight and shortly after, her husband left her.

Anne and her daughter show the beaded cards Anne creates
Anne and her daughter show the beaded cards Anne creates

Anne went into hiding, ashamed of her HIV status and overwhelmed with her son’s special needs. Without food, without income, and very sick, Anne was desperate. A friend told her that Feed the Children was running a support group for people with HIV and was giving out food. Once she had regained her strength, they invited her to attend weekly meetings where they encouraged the attendees to start doing something that could make money. Anne learned how to make beadwork and today, she makes beautiful pieces that she sells to Feed the Children and to couriers who sell to tourists.

She told us, “At the time when I first met Feed the Children officials, I was so down, hopeless and just didn’t know what to do with my life. Remember, I was hiding from the world because of my status. I didn’t have food or money. I was desperate. Feed the Children gave us food, yes, but what I really want to thank Feed the Children for is the skills training that they imparted on me and other ladies too who were in a similar situation like mine. These business skills are the best. My children never lack food, and they are going to school. Do you know that my special child would never have gone to school?  Feed the Children has gotten me out of poverty. I don’t want my children to be like me. I only studied until sixth grade.”

Anne and kids blog crop

Feed the Children Connects People

When you support Feed the Children, you help connect people like Elena, Mala, and Anne to the resources they need to make a better life. They can’t do it on their own. When kids and their families meet Feed the Children, they finally have someone to turn to and the boost they need to build momentum towards self-sufficiency and away from dependence. We help parents find ways to support themselves so their kids can go to school instead of working. We help kids get the food they need to grow and learn. We help communities become strong enough to help each other so they don’t need us anymore.

You can support schools, livelihoods, and infrastructure like water and sanitation here.

P.S. Want to learn more? Many have documented how important justice is to eliminating poverty. This site by the World Bank discusses the need for justice work around the world, while this video discusses the problem of “one kind of justice for the rich and another for the poor” in the U.S.  Organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative work to make sure that U.S. law enforcement and justice system applies the legal concept of “innocent until proven guilty” consistently no matter a person’s race or socioeconomic status.


 

 

 

12 thoughts on “It’s Who You Know: Poverty and (Lack of) Connections

  1. Hurrah! Thanks for posting this very compelling description of how injustice and poverty are so closely intertwined both here and abroad. AND thanks for pointing out where we can go to get more deeply informed and involved!

  2. I have worked with ‘Feed the Children’ each of the past few summers, and glad that I have been able to continue my work with the organization this year. This particular article is well written and researched; connections are indeed one of the keys to success in charitable assistance offered to any population. My connections in the business world have enabled me to lend my support to ‘Feed the Children’.

  3. So true. I am an American living in poverty for the very same reasons. I was orphaned at the age of 8, and consequently adopted by my maternal grandmother who was an abusive alchoholic. I had no brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles and grew up with no support or protection from the abuse. This was many years ago when government programs did not get involved in family matters. The poor choices I made later in life were a direct result of feeling helpless and unloved. I have struggled to support my children in low paying jobs because I married men who also considered me worthless and powerless. I am now nearly a senior, and am still living in poverty because of this background. This article is SO TRUE and explains my situation better than I ever could.

  4. I am the working poor in the U.S.A.—-sleep on the floor(for yrs. ),No refrigerator,or heat, or air–in an old mobile home,sometimes so very hot in the summer..no money in bank…always pay my rent–all these conditions for years–Children grown & far away–they are too busy to call..(I don’t get a free govt. phone–I have a job)…I am honest, hard working–lucky to eat once a day–can use a computer to type this ..so I feel for anyone/all that experiences poverty.I am so grateful for all I have—I lost all in a flood–(not one of those states that got all the free help)–no money for lawyers–disasters can leave a person so very broke…(never tried drugs including cigarettes,not an alcoholic either) ..am a giving helpful person–as much as possible..

  5. I admire your compassion, concern and hard work, but I find it appalling that our own children — right under our collective noses – appear to be invisible!! Not just by you, but so very many organizations who seem to find it more romantic and dramatic to serve the poor, starving uneducated poor of other countries.
    Borders on hypocracy!!

    • We work very hard with Americans as well. We do not see feeding children as an either/or proposition. We are attacking hunger across the country and around the world. Last year alone, we provided food, everyday essential items, education support, and disaster relief to more than 10 million Americans. You can read more about what we do in the U.S. here: http://www.feedthechildren.org/how/us/

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