All Poverty is Not Created Equal



“There are more people living in poverty in India than live in the entire United States”.  This graphic is from Design Impact – an org based out of my hometown (Cincinnati, OH!) that is doing similar work, designing improved cookstoves for rural Indian populations, among other projects.  You can read their full post here.

This info-graphic addresses a common refrain I hear: “you know, we have poor people here in the US, too.”  The thing is- it’s really not the same.  I care a lot about problems in the USA, strongly identify as a US citizen, and feel a very deep desire to work to improve my home country.  But I can’t shake the belief that problems are worse elsewhere, and that I am more needed there. 

In India, destitution is a continuous image – poverty, lack of education, poor sanitation, and environmental abuse saturating the land.  Over 408 million people are living on less than $1.25 a day.  Endless scenes make me want to scream until the whole world can hear that things are not OK.  Things that seem to really “matter’ in the USA (dressing fashionably, having a great time hanging out with friends, going on vacations, getting into the best schools, always being happy) seem truly hollow and disconnected compared to the realities of daily life for so many… So many that urinate on the street, bathe in a river, drink water from a fountain… build a house by the road from bamboo sticks, sheets of plastic and cloth, and can’t even send their children to school.

I do not believe that lack of sanitation is fully someone’s “fault” in these conditions.  If the government does not come to pick up your trash – what would you do with it?  Clearly, take it out of your house.  Maybe leave it outside in a pile, so that animals will come and eat it and thus it will be gone.  Or burn it, if you want to get rid of it.  Of course you don’t know that burning plastics has toxic emissions for you and the planet.  Also, if your house is without electricity or running water, where will you go to the bathroom?  Somewhere outside of your house, surely.  Maybe into a small waterway so that things will be washed away.  If you have no water, what will you drink? If you cannot buy soap, would that prevent you from eating?  If you have no electricity or cleaner fuels, would you not burn whatever wood you could find to cook with?

I have met tourists who are in India and say: “These people are filthy and disgusting.  This country is full of trash.” [These people were in Bhubaneswar] But again, unless the government provides basic public essentials (such as water, trash pickup, etc.) I cannot bring myself to blame the destitute who must do something with their waste and have very few options.

If you live in a country with these public services, you are a very, very, VERY lucky person.



3 thoughts on “All Poverty is Not Created Equal

  1. i honestly don’t know if I would be strong enough to do the things, see the things in these places. I think we are both frequently reminded how most helping is not glamorous; where we have to hold firm to ethics and be open to change and progress… The things you are facing are so different from the areas I work on. You are working to address meeting the basic human needs that most of us never think twice about. Speaking in reference to my own work, people who don’t have their most basic needs met aren’t likely to be thinking about identity recognition or rights… they don’t have the luxury to address many things within themselves because they must push it aside for life’s essentials- things you’re trying to improve upon. I’m not downing my own work, just thinking of how amazing and important yours is. you’re a rock star, you inspire me.

  2. I really appreciate your comment, JAC. Even though I am drawn to this work, I think that other work is incredibly important too. What you are doing is so important – we as a world need to provide equal rights for all. I think there are hierarchies of development – and aspirations are very relative. More-developed countries are striving closer towards ideals (organic produce, better public transit, equal rights campaigns, healthcare, etc), while poor countries have other immediate goals (nutrition, education, corruption, caste violence, domestic violence, widespread hunger and homelessness, lethal pollution, etc). I can’t say that one fight is more important than the other – but I do really struggle to keep in mind and understand that they are both occurring at the same time (this very instant) but exist seemingly apart from each other. When you live in only one of these worlds it is hard to remember that the other is equally real.

    • totally agree. I think that the most important thing is thinking and working intersectionally, We have to think about the forest and the trees, what complex systems go into these oppressions, and how we can address multiple issues at once. woot for multi-tasking!!!!!!!


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