Poverty hits home during time to give thanks

As the weather gets colder and we approach the holiday season, it’s common for students at the College and elsewhere to turn their thoughts to Thanksgiving, football and warm jackets.

As a senior who has lived on campus for almost four years, I have recognized the advantages and disadvantages of campus living. The bubble that we operate in while at school allows us, as a friend of mine said, “to pretend.”

We play the roles of student, employee, scientist and journalist, among others. It is not that these skills do not correspond to the “real world,” but they simply do not take place in it. The purpose of discussing this insulation is to draw attention to the lack of awareness it encourages.

While most of us will go home to Thanksgiving meals, heated homes and warm clothes, many people will not. According to the most recent census, 8.4 percent of New Jersey’s population live below the poverty line – that’s approximately 733,000 people in our state.

In 2000, the U.N. agreed on a declaration aimed at cutting global poverty in half by 2015. Out of this Millennium Declaration, eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were created. The MDGs are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental stability and create a global partnership for development with targets for aid, debt relief and trade.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said, “The Goals are ambitious but feasible and, together with the comprehensive United Nations development agenda, set the course for the world’s efforts to alleviate extreme poverty by 2015.”

Of the eight MDGs, the eighth is the most important. While the first seven are actions that need to be taken in developing countries and impoverished communities, the eighth focuses on what wealthier nations and people can do.

Without a partnership between people, the other goals will fail. I interpret the MDGs not only as a list the U.N., governments and organizations should follow, but something in which an individual can participate. There are corresponding ways everyone can make a difference in reference to each. The first step is to become aware.

On Nov. 22, the College is sending a small interfaith group to a Poverty Simulation hosted in Princeton by the Crisis Ministry. The purpose of the simulation is to give participants firsthand awareness of low-income life and enable volunteers in the community to develop more understanding and sensitivity to the issue of poverty. The College interfaith group hopes to learn from the experience in order to organize a similar event at the College in the spring.

Poverty is something that affects everyone. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”

Accordingly, the sooner we can recognize that we are all connected, if by nothing other than the human condition, the sooner we will be able to create a better world for ourselves and those that will come after us.

Sources: UN.org, nytimes.com, U.S. Census Bureau