Daylisha Reid, 130 YinD
According to the Oxford Dictionary, poor is defined as, “being of a low or inferior standard or quality.” For much of my childhood, I was told that I was poor, despite never actually feeling poor. My teachers, counselors, and coaches often flagged me as a low income student that was at risk of not succeeding academically because neither of my parents had earned a college degree, I had a single mother, and I qualified for free/reduced lunch. If there was a student success program that targeted such students, I was placed in it.
And now, even on the other side, after years of being a college and high school counselor, and now youth development coordinator, I still hear this idea of “poor” children.
However, over the years that I have served as an educator, particularly to the needs of youth that have been flagged as “at-risk,” “students of color,” “underprivileged,” “low-income,” or “first generation college students,” I have learned that my students can solve their own problems and, instead, what they need the most is what we all need — a safe space to build relationships with advocates who will listen, give advice, encouragement, and a supportive shoulder. They need a role model that inspires them to make the best choices for themselves. My perception of poor began to change the more I came to realize that my problematic savior complex and feelings of sorrow for both myself and others was counterproductive. Counterproductive to anyone breaking out of generational poverty or the self-limiting mindset that their economic disadvantages equates to an inability to achieve personal success.
When people hear that I am in the Peace Corps, they thank me for my service and will even commend me for serving the “poor” in a developing country. The look of sadness on their faces would indicate that I am serving people that are in constant despair. As if I am entering a war zone each time I enter a classroom or bike down my neighborhood.
Instead, when I enter a classroom, I experience groups of students who run up to hug me, give me high fives, shout “I love you,” “I miss you,” and are eager to help me carry my teaching supplies so we can get the days activities started immediately.
When I bike down the one main road in my village, I am greeted by the elders waving eagerly and asking me if I’ve eaten yet or noticed how hot it is.
I witness exotic fruit and vegetable bearing trees that provide food and lucrative businesses for community members blossoming on the sides of the roads.
What I feel and see is what makes us all prosperous; family, love, healthy soil, taking the time to greet your foreign neighbor, smiles, and opportunity.
I’ve learned that poor is a condition of the spirit.
Since arriving to Thailand I have been inside a tiny home for a family of 5 built out of bamboo, with dirt floors, a squat toilet outside, and only a wooden box to conceal it. An outside perspective may result to sorrow, yet that family took pride in the home they built and they were even more excited to give me a tour, pointing out every fine handcrafted details of the common, sleep, and cooking areas.
I reflect on my time in America and I know families who live in large homes and drive luxury vehicles, yet the children go straight to their bedrooms after school, and family members spend much of their evenings in silence consumed by their gadgets.
In Thailand, I have students who go home to no electricity, yet their families gather each evening for a shared family style meal, followed by a collaborative music drum session, as if they do not even notice that their homes are lit by merely a candlelight as they beat their drums to the sunsets each night.
In America, some children have all the latest technology, yet they are deprived of attention, exhibiting rebellious behavior as a result, with parents who are too consumed with their careers to “take the time,” let alone take a few minutes for a family dinner undisturbed by technology or business demands.
My students may be at an economic disadvantaged, but they are not poor!
I’ve seen plenty of people who are financially healthy, yet in spiritual disparity because their lives are consumed with chasing happiness through acquiring materials. People who have plenty of luxuries and friends but still battle loneliness and insecurities.
Poor is an adjective that I will no longer accept to describe the Thai youth or communities I’ve worked in, nor was poor the story of the home I grew up in. When you label people, it can create mental barriers to them truly achieving success. What my students and I have is a rich sense of belonging, the bonds of family, and community with others. We had a group of loved ones, teachers, and mentors that empowered us through and though. These valuables, when continually cultivated will ultimately create stronger families, communities, and contributing members of society for the future. When you believe in people and show them this with your ongoing advocacy and positive reinforcement, dreams turn to reality, and the spirit reigns prosperous.