Poverty is very real issue in our country. I live close to New York City and have either directly viewed or driven past various nearby cities suffering from this problem many times during the course of my life. For example, in simply driving to a good ol’ Yankee game with my family, it became very clear that most of the buildings in city’s such as the Bronx seem as if they are deserted, dirty, and dangerous. The areas in general are very intimidating and obviously impoverished. From my car window alone, I could see the evidence of the destitute conditions these people live in. To think that this is “home” for many children is an extremely sad fact and a true disgrace on our country’s part. No one should have to live one day of their life in these conditions, yet this is how many children grow up and spend their childhoods.
I recently read a very well written documentary by Jonathon Kozol called Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation. This author has journeyed to many impoverished cities and has directly seen the disturbing truth of the lives its inhabitants suffer through on a daily basis. In this particular book, he focused on the South Bronx. His research and journeys through these neighborhoods further supported my already strong feelings and concerns pertaining to this issue.
For children living in poverty, this miserable lifestyle is all they know, and taking the time to read this book dramatically changed my perspective of these children. Obviously, I was aware that poverty existed and that conditions were bad, but I had no idea just how appalling they really were. These children are born into this life and have no way out. Many are born already HIV-infected or with AIDS and other diseases. Others are malnourished, suffer from asthma, and are neurologically impaired due to ingestion of drugs in utero, lead poisoning, or low-weight prematurity at birth. Each day after attending an overcrowded school, they then go to roach and rat infested, extremely hot or cold, dirty, dark, and dangerous buildings they call “home.” They are consistently surrounded by toxins, prostitutes, drug addicts, rapists, murderers, and criminals of all kinds.
These children grow up fearing death, sickness, and disease and barely have any food, clothes, or toys. They are reminded everyday of how little they matter in this world and how miserable their lives are just by looking around. Most of these children have never even seen a stocking or a Christmas tree. They have never gone shopping in Times Square or been cared for in a state-of-the-art hospital. Rather, many do not even know who Santa is, fear going outside because it is too dangerous, and wait for days in hot and crowded waiting areas just to be placed in dirty and bloody hospital rooms.
Prior to reading this book, when I heard stories about juveniles and adults from poor areas committing murders, rapes, robberies, and other serious crimes, I would think to myself, “How could anyone be so heartless? How could anyone honestly look another person in the eyes who they do not even know, murder them, steal all of their money, and not even care?” Now, I can honestly see the reason why! Why would they care? They grew up knowing that no one cared about them. They watched their loved ones die, neighbors and friends get murdered, join gangs, become addicts, etc., and no one of power with the ability to make a change and offer assistance ever stepped in to help. I would be angry too and would not have empathy for my fellow man either! It makes complete sense to me now.
Due to the lack of concern the government and other human beings have for the poor population, feelings of insecurity, fear of others, depression, and lack of trust may develop in children living in these conditions over time. As these children grow older, they begin to see reality and sense that the world is against them and their families. This is when negative emotions tend to arise. On the other hand, when children are very young, they are very resilient and hopeful. They trust others and generally have a very positive outlook on life. This is why I, as someone who will one day work very closely with children, need to fully understand this concept and learn to accept, listen, and respond to their needs.
These children desperately need to feel important and loved, and I have the power to provide them with these vital aspects of life and help them build a strong and positive self-concept. It is crucial, that when dealing with children in such dire circumstances, to start building up their levels of confidence at a very early stage in their lives. Failing to do so may very well lead to these children growing up with negative self-concepts and very weak emotional intelligences. Early on, we need to provide these children with the resources they can turn to if they need to talk, cry, or simply just play with children their own age in a safe environment. Children look up to the adults in their lives, and without positive role models such as quality teachers, they are left with the addicts, prostitutes, and criminals on the street. I have the power to be one of those quality role models, and therefore, have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than myself.
Although I may not necessarily work in a poor community, I may very well cross paths with children in these types of circumstances or other serious situations sometime during my career. I feel it is my duty, now that I understand more about their needs and situations, to provide the best care possible. I will make it my goal to build their self-esteem, because it is their attitude, belief in themselves, and ability and drive to succeed that will help them achieve greatness and success in life. If I can make them feel that they are needed and important in this world, then I will have done half of my job already. They need attention, support, love, compassion, empathy, and to be around people who truly make them feel good about themselves. To these kids who rarely, if ever, receive any of this positive treatment, simply having a teacher believe in them is probably sufficient enough. They do not take things for granted, so even a simple pat on the back or a high five means the world to them when it comes from someone they look up to.
Having the opportunity to work with children at a young age is a gift! We have the power to gain their trust, shape and mold them into strong, positive people, and little by little, slowly but surely, we can make a difference and change the course of their lives! We can help them create their own individual paths to happiness and success rather than simply allowing them to surrender to and accept the life they were born into.
Kozol, Jonathan. Amazing Grace: Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, The. New York: Crown, Inc., 1995.