Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime. -Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Putting an End to Poverty: Now and for our Children’s Children

Few scenarios are as sad as a child poverty. Being born into extreme poverty is a harsh way to begin life on this earth.

The worst part about child poverty – or perhaps the most fortuitous – is that babies aren’t immediately aware of the realities of their dire situation. Unfortunately, despite protection from their caregivers, these infants inevitably learn the harsh life circumstances of child poverty.

What is child poverty?

About one-quarter of the population living in poverty are living in long-term or chronic poverty. Overrepresented in the chronic poverty statistics are female-headed households, children, and African Americans. Living in long-term poverty (poverty is defined as $23,050 annual income for a family of four) is difficult for anybody, but it is especially egregious for children. Unfortunately, children make up nearly half (45%) of the chronic poverty population.

Child poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and can be measured in many ways. Understanding child poverty to the fullest possible extent is vital. While an adult may fall into poverty temporarily, falling into poverty in childhood can last a lifetime – rarely does a child get a second chance at an education or a healthy start in life. As such, child poverty threatens not only the individual child, but is likely to be passed on to future generations, entrenching and even exacerbating inequality in society. (www.unicef.org)

Poverty rates remain high among children in the United States and continue to affect their health, education and safety, a new federal report shows.

“Nearly a quarter of children in the United States are living in poverty. That’s unacceptably high,” said Dr. Thomas McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We know that children who live in poverty  have poorer nutritional status and poorer health status. They are not well set up to enter kindergarten, they are behind in their learning skills and so forth.”

Unfortunately, the report details bleak evidence to regards to current child poverty statistics. Child poverty in America is more pervasive than ever. Twenty-two percent of those younger than 18 were living in low-income circumstances in 2011, up from 16 percent a decade earlier.

The effects of child poverty are especially troubling. Imagine the immediate stressors for a child living in an impoverished setting. Daily hunger pangs and uncertain living arrangements, even to a state of homelessness. Medical care is a concern, as many of these children have neither health insurance, nor regular visits to pediatricians. What about school? Attendance for the poorest children tends to be spotty and inconsistent, with significant mobility from school to school as the survival needs of their family demand.

Of even a more tragic concern is the fact that child poverty is not limited to these children’s childhood. The longer a child is poor, the greater the impact on the life chances for the child and subsequent deprivation in later life. Children living in poverty are excluded from activities that are the norm for children because they do not have enough income, for example, for school outings and socializing with friends.

What can we do? What more can be done to help so many children stuck in the harsh, daily trials of poverty? Trials that, for many of these young people, follow them for the entire course of their lives.

Provide the Basics
Early in life, our poorest babies require basic necessities and support for their mothers and caregivers. The National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN), in conjunction with Huggies’ Every Little Bottom program, generously donated 100,000 diapers to PCI’s California Border Healthy Start (CBHS), to be distributed to families in need in the San Diego community. The diapers were delivered to PCI’s center on behalf of NDBN and are dedicated to providing every child with the supply of diapers needed to remain clean, dry and healthy.

“We’re extremely pleased to partner with Huggies Brand, a trusted resource for families that continues to give back to the communities they serve,” said Maria Lourdes F. Reyes, MD, MPH Director of California Programs, PCI. “We look forward to working together to ensure Hispanic families in San Diego and local areas receive essential diaper needs.”

California Border Healthy Start Project serves 85% of local Hispanic families through partner programs such as La Maestra Community Health Centers, San Diego Family Care, Best Start Birth Center, Operation Samahan Community Health Center, Family Health Centers of San Diego and San Diego County HHSA Maternal and Child Health Services Branch.

San Diego’s CBHS program is improving the health of low-income pregnant women, mothers, and their babies in areas that represent the highest levels of poverty and poor birth outcomes in San Diego County by enhancing the capacity of the local maternal and child health social service systems and increasing effective outreach and recruitment into prenatal services early in pregnancy.

Emphasize Education

In late 2010, PCI began implementing a USDA-funded McGovern-Dole Food for Education (FFE) program in partnership with District Governments and local communities. The goal of the program is to increase school enrollment, attendance, and performance of 70,000 children living in the Mara Region of Tanzania. The main objectives of the program are: to increase enrollment and attendance, improve the health status of children, and improve the learning environment for children.

Thanks to PCI, and the generous donation from USDA, Steven Wasira is no longer the struggling school that it once was. With support from the FFE program, and in-kind community donations, the program is building ten new latrines and water harvesting structures for the school. The Tanzania Postal Bank, a government bank, also sponsored the construction of two new classrooms. With support from parents, four additional teachers were hired, thus reducing the class size from 69 to 40 students per teacher. In addition, program resources enabled PCI to purchase 162 text books (i.e. one text book for every three children) for the school.

Since the program began, enrollment has increased at Steven Wasira School by 35% to a total of 280 students. The number of female students has increased from 114 to 144. Students are able to concentrate in school now that they are fed two nutritious meals during the day.

PCI, in collaboration with parents and school administrators, is serving a hot porridge made of sorghum for breakfast, followed by a lunch of rice, beans, and locally grown vegetables. Given that children are now fed at school, parents prefer to send them to school instead of having them at home to help with manual chores. Parents have come to value quality education that their children are receiving and, in fact, are now collectively contributing money to provide support for the four additional volunteer teachers.

Economic Empowerment for the Family

Before PCI, Nicaraguan farmers like German Centeno had 8.7 acres for planting corn but little or no potable water and lacked knowledge of soil and water conservation techniques. Three years after PCI began working with farmers in his community, German diversified his production to include vegetables and plantain and began using 1.75 acres of his land to raise a cow.

Through training from PCI staff, German was able to establish barriers, plant trees and build fences to avoid erosion, and construct a water stand. Because of his increased income from these improvements, he hopes to buy another acre to expand his farm. German is just one of over 1,500 small farming families throughout 74 communities in Nicaragua that have benefited from PCI’s assistance. Participating farmers have increased their income on average by more than 10%, and PCI contributed to a 51% reduction in the number of families living in extreme poverty.

Ending poverty for children and their families is a multi-step process. PCI recognizes the vast complexity of needs, including the necessity of individual approaches for each region, and how each level of poverty comes with its own unique set of problems. The work continues as PCI remains ever committed to putting an end to child poverty across the globe.