SDG 1 | Life Below Poverty Line

Yes, I would like to talk about poverty even though I am from Central Europe, from a developed country. What knowledge can I have about it?

Some of it is direct, such as not being able to afford a pair of holeless shoes, forming sores on my soaking feet every time the heaven pours rain thick as drapery; or an indigent year of my life when I ‘incomeless’ volunteered in a developing country.

But first, it is about a generational gap: understanding my grandparents’ drudgeries with satisfying the basic needs of humans; and with it, understanding the long-term effects of poverty.

Let’s talk about human needs first. If you have ever studied economics, this pyramid will be familiar to you. The bottom four levels of the Maslow hierarchy are often called ‘deficiency needs’.

Figure 1 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – Source: Neel Burton (1)

Shortage of air, rest, water, health or food is indeed deadly over a more extended period. If you kick out this “leg”, the whole structure will collapse. 

War is something which blows up this entire structure causing instability and many more troubles with security.

With that in mind, thinking of my grandparents’ childhood, surviving in the middle of countryside Hungary in the 1930-40s must have been depressing. 

It is a miracle they could even witness my birth and life until my late 20s. This luxury is a social need we often take for granted and forget to be grateful for having grandparents around. 

Let’s look a level deeper first to discover some of the many faces of poverty:

I remember how they used to entertain me as a child with their memories. I do not remember at that time understanding why it might have looked depressing through adult eyes. Now, all stories I remember from them are just well-coated fables of “existential anxiety”

They often shared the experience of marching up to 5 km barefooted from their village to the nearby elementary school, where most of them only received 4-6 years of education. They always loved to tell me this when I was asking for a lift from home to my primary school on a rainy/stormy day.

They had had their fair share of weather experiences and even more: bombing and war, which drastically shaped their access to education, information, or the ability to develop their self-esteem.

In the end, what “growth need” (5th level in the pyramid) can you achieve wrought in poverty?

One of them used to joke, “I preferred walking barefooted as my shoes were hanging around my neck. We had only one pair of shoes and look at you today, having more pairs than teeth you have!

It is bittersweet as I was always so annoyed when they lectured me “take care of your things, we don’t have money to buy more if you break them” or “don’t wash your hair every day, it uses too much water. When we were young, we only used a bucket of water every Saturday to clean ourselves. Otherwise, just splashed a handful of water on places which needed some cleaning…” I imagined it must have been such an odd lifestyle!

They had stories from such a world, I had never encountered or imagined before as a kid. They even made it sort of funny/strange for me back then, even though it most probably was the uneasiest period of their lives.

Maslow knew all too well, if you don’t have your first four levels of needs consistently satisfied, you get anxious. 

If you grow up in a world which over satisfies these, you won’t feel anything having them satisfied. Perhaps, as a result, you will take some matters way too for granted. It is just part of your day to turn on a faucet to behold water coming out of it, and not to carry water from a nearby polluted lake.

What if, for some odd reason, the lights are turned off or—perish the thought—the Internet? Instant, major frustration hits us!

Fancy fresh food? How easy is it for us to order some veggies and other ingredients in a box for delivery to our front doors in a few hours? Most of us can’t even imagine the struggles of growing vegetables. The time required to do so is nearly impossible to spare in modern-day life.

Contrarily, in old times, my grandparents knew everything about nature and every single plant native to my country. They knew how to look after animals for years, and then, when the time comes, gorge on them.

As I am a vegetarian, it sounds so cruel! They would refute, “why are you so picky? When we were children, we had to eat what we found! Even fought over the neck of a chicken with my siblings on those rare—mostly celebratory—occasions when we had the privilege to get meat!”

Poverty is about not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter(2). What self-actualisation can one accomplish lacking access to housing, having an empty stomach, or walking miles for clean water?

If you have never been surrounded by these sad circumstances before, it can be a beneficial journey to do so. It indeed was for me when I lived in West Africa for a year below the poverty line. That is up next in my following article about poverty.

Created by Kriszti@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Illustrated by Oguz@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Proofed by Greg@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
Edited by Lee@Whatareyoustillwaitingfor.Space
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The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of AAI.

Calls to Action:

  1. Read more →
  2. Discuss the following topic with your sympathisers: How can we create awareness in this information tsunami engulfed modern life for those in poverty? What should be changed in poverty-awareness communication to make it more effective?
  3. Find a project and reach out to the host entity to support them with advice or funds to deliver it, especially West African bodies because of the urgent need to provide SDG-related changes there.
  4. Sponsor and motivate someone in your world to take a global volunteer project with AIESEC → I suggest the one in the Benin Republic →



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