Decisions. We all have decisions we can make.
For me, it was the decision to be a part of something bigger than myself.
It was the decision to make a change.
During my week here at the CDC my eyes have been opened to just how lucky we are. We’ve never had to worry about receiving an education, we’ve been empowered to dream and inspired to work hard for whatever we want in life. We’ve been encouraged to be independent – led to believe in ourselves and in the idea that hard work will take us as far as we can imagine. We’ve been brought up to believe that we have the power to make decisions for ourselves, and we’ve been blessed with people in our lives that support those decisions.
Our family and friends are a gift. They’re the people we look up to, the positive influences in our lives that guide us as we move through the world, which isn’t quite as hard or cold toward us as it’s been to the children we are working with. We’ve been fortunate enough to have people we can reach out to and call when we need a helping hand, and for the most part, each of our days has been a blessing that most of us are guilty of taking for granted.
This week has made me very aware of the sad reality that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. From growing up without a worry in the world to having the power over my journey into adulthood, I’ve been supported with almost every resource and tool to help me succeed.
The CDC has taught me many things. One of the most important things I’ve learned, though, is that we often think of poverty in a very simple way. We equate poverty with a low income or limited access to food, but poverty is about so much more.
Poverty is about powerlessness.
Spending time with these children who are victims of poverty through no fault of their own has opened my eyes to a different world, one that’s not too far from my own. This experience makes me wonder, what if I had no one to call? No one to turn to on my worst days, no one to ask for help. Where would I be? Who would I be?
These are the challenges the children of the CDC face. Challenges that I can hardly imagine dealing with, let alone all on my own. I think what’s most heartbreaking is that these children have no choice. They have been born into this reality. We are only experiencing a fraction of it through them temporarily, as we indulge in the option of taking time out of what we consider to be our busy life schedules for a glimpse of what it is to be an inner city child that faces uncertainty every single day.
With few role models to look up to, these children have little positivity to surround themselves with. When asked what they’d like to be when they grow up, they seem confused. They’re unsure of whether they’ll have something to eat tomorrow, let alone who or what they’d like to be.
And if we met these children anywhere else, we may not suspect their hardships. Their eyes sparkle as they play at the park and their smiles are happier than most. They don’t see the world as an ugly place because it’s the only world they’ve ever known.
I don’t know whether to feel sad or comforted by that.
I wonder if they know how to dream, if they think that one day they can be doctors, teachers, politicians or professional athletes. They must fear the same fate they were born to know.
What we are really learning a lot about here is how important it is to have those people in your life that will encourage you and push you to keep going. The people that believe you are smart, that you are good enough. The people that convince you of how powerful you really are, that encourage you to imagine the unthinkable. I think that’s why we are here. And that’s why more people like us need to volunteer – to give these children the positive energy that’s missing from their lives, to give them that little kick in the butt that so many of us are lucky to have and can only appreciate when we see what life without it looks like.
John Locke believed that children are born as blank slates. I too believe this theory – that humans are born with a blank slate and that as we learn from our role models and are educated, we grow into the people we are today. Children shouldn’t have to worry about their next meal, or struggle to read a storybook because they haven’t had the chance to learn how to, or because they lack access to family members or tutors who are willing to teach them.
This journey has been wonderful but also painful. It has been difficult to watch these children come to the CDC every day, often in the same clothes as yesterday and in desperate need of a healthy meal. Each day has granted me fresh perspective on what really matters, and just how much we take for granted. We worry about what we’ll be making for dinner after a long day at work, while these children aren’t sure when they’ll eat next or what tomorrow has in store for them.
This has really been a time of reflection. A time to think about how we can create change, and how important it is to come together in an effort to do so. It’s been a time to think about all of the ways we are separated – by race, class, income and so many other factors that interfere in our ability to come together and contribute to a better world for everyone.
Let’s remember this feeling of helping someone else. The feeling of lending a helping hand. Let’s remember how good it makes us feel. Let’s remember the feeling of being a part of something greater than ourselves.
We can make a difference. It is not impossible, but it will require all of our help.