Fighting Low Food Security
“Children’s Hands” by GMB Akash
“It shows eight year old Munna who works in a rickshaw factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The boy earns about 500 taka (7 U.S. dollars) a month, working 10 hours a day. When production often stops due to lack of electricity, he has time to play. It is common in Bangladesh for children of poor parents to work in various hazardous and labor-intensive workplaces to support their families. Seventeen and a half percent of all children aged between 5-15 are engaged in economic activities. The average child worker earns between 400 to 700 taka per month, while an adult worker earns up to 5,000 taka per month.” One U.S. dollar equals about 70 taka.”
A game called Spent that tries to show the difficult choices that have to be made if you live at or below the poverty line in this country. This is both awesome and really upsetting.
If you have never seen this site or tried it out, you definitely should. I played it repeatedly when it first came out, and I learned so much every time. I am frequently reminded of it in my daily life.
Recently, The Heritage Foundation released a report on poverty in American, largely trying to debunk the idea that poor people are poor. They included facts like the majority of people living in poverty have refrigerators, microwaves, and air conditioners. Never mind these things might be attached to a rental unit of some kind… it’s not like those items listed are big-ticket items, particularly when bought used.
I met a family the other day who, according to the Heritage Foundation, is living in the lap of luxury. I’ll let you folks make up your minds.
I was at the Salvation Army last week and was looking at the appliances. There was an older microwave for $5. A woman in front of me (I’ll call her Ann) at the register bought the microwave and was telling her kids they’d get microwave popcorn again. It looked like that $5 microwave made those kids’ day. Now, that microwave would have been included in The Heritage Foundation’s analysis because she also receives WIC, and Heritage Foundation is especially interested in those receiving federal benefits.
I know she receives WIC, because she asked me if all the grocery stores in town took it. Ann just moved here about three weeks ago and was staying with a friend who was now in the process of moving away. I talked to her for about half an hour outside the store. She asked if I knew which hotel was the cheapest and cleanest, because she couldn’t afford the rent here (college is about to start, so the cheapest rentals are gone) and she’s on a list for a housing voucher.
I helped her put a suitcase on a luggage rack on the top of her car to make room for the microwave in her trunk. She mentioned she was glad to have a place to work and, she hoped, a place to live. I asked where she moved from. She said Denver, and that she and her kids were living in their car for a few months (in the midst of a heat wave) because her landlord kicked her out and she had nowhere to go. Ann said she never signed a lease and the landlord evicted her with just a few hours notice because her two-year-old was too noisy. She was afraid to go for DFS for help because she thought they’d take the kids, what with them living in the car. She interviewed for a job at a fast food place here about a week ago and starts this Monday. She’d been out of work for about 5 months when she moved up here.
I gave her the phone numbers for every community resource I could think of, pointed her towards the hotels I knew were cheap and clean, and offered to help in any way I could. Ann said that I’d helped, that she already knew how to get along the best she could, and that “being poor takes skills you don’t know you have ‘til you need them.”
But according to Heritage Foundation, she’s not poor. She and her 3 kids are living in a hotel here that has a fridge, a queen bed (or two), a $5 microwave she bought, and she’s living in the lap of luxury (as defined by them)? I don’t think so. Their report exemplifies what I (and others) call “Poor people can’t have nice things.” Basically, if you have a very basic amenity, like a microwave, you’re obviously not poor. Apparently, being poor involves some kind of “noble suffering” and if you aren’t suffering Oliver Twist-style, you aren’t poor.
I can see Ann and her kids were struggling. But that’s seemingly not “low” enough for folks at the Heritage Foundation. I don’t care what “amenities” people in poverty supposedly have - to me, one person being one paycheck away from homelessness or food insecurity is one too many. One in seven Americans currently rely on food stamps to eat. And never mind those folks trying to subsist on the goodwill of others and/or unemployment. I’m not going to quibble about a cell phone or a television.
I hope she’s doing alright, the job works out, and the kids get microwave popcorn.
Ali and I went a bit off the beaten path (read: I essentially got us lost, but knew that if we kept going in the same direction, we would eventually end up where we needed to be…but don’t tell Ali that). But we discovered some incredible rock formations and just gorgeous natural landscape along the coast. We hiked and climbed and slide precariously (I use that word a lot…) along enormous rocks, aiming to reach a private beach owned by the Sokha Resort. The journey was a lot of fun. :) This is one stretch of the rocks we clambered over, and that is Ali off to the left side, taking a water break.
We came across a family fishing for crabs along the rocks, and stopped to watch for a few minutes. This young man was quite skillful in luring the crabs out from under the rocks and snagging them. :)
More crab catching fun :)…in the background is our intended destination, Sokha Beach
Another view of the rocks, the sea, and the perfectly blue Cambodian sky <3
This is Sokha Beach…it is a privatized stretch of the finest beach in Sihanoukville, owned (and monopolized) by a petroleum conglomerate that built a massive and exorbitantly expensive resort & spa here. It is entirely secluded and cut off from the local population (and yes, you should read that statement with a tone of frustration and distain). The beach is, of course, gorgeous. But it is terribly wrong, in my eyes, that this company swooped in and took total control over it. And it felt terribly wrong to be completely cut off from the locals. Moreover, the beach is situated next to a shanty-town built along the water (very likely illegally). It was sort of a perfect representation of one of the worst aspects of Cambodia—overwhelming, opulent, and likely corrupt wealth juxtaposed next to chaotically simple makeshift communities marked with poverty and struggle.
Part of the shanty town next to Sokha Beach
Part of the beach with the shanty town in the distance.
I loved Sihanoukville. And my favorite beach was definitely Serendipity, because we got to interact with the locals, play with Cambodian children, eat cheap (and delicious) Khmer food on the beach front, and enjoy the natural beauty of the coastline. Serendipity (and most of the other beaches, besides Sokha and a few others that have been privatized) are free, public beaches open to all—as they should be. Sihanoukville is a beautiful place, despite it’s flaws (like the tuk-tuk cartel at the bus station, some glaringly exploitative sex-based businesses, corruption, poverty, etc.). I am so glad I went, and I hope to go back.
Since being back in Cambodia, I have noticed a few glaring changes between now and 2009. First, I have encountered far fewer children begging in the streets. When I was here last, children as young as 5-11 would be wandering through traffic in Phnom Penh, dodging tuk-tuks, motos, and cars whizzing by on busy streets. There were often children that looked to be 7 or 8 walking barefoot and dirty, caring younger siblings on their hungry hips. There was one road in particular where there never failed to be children begging in traffic, hanging off the side of our tuk-tuk when we stopped at a light. I often cried because there was so little I could give them or do for them. My roommate and I stopped in a market and bought cookies and crackers to pass out to the kids. It was heartbreaking and infuriating. But that scene has been startlingly absent this time around. Most of the children I have encountered this time are involved in selling items like bracelets, postcards, booklets, scarves, etc. And even then, they appear to mostly be concentrated around the tourist-heavy riverfront area—and they appear to be older than the children we encountered last time. Most of them look to be teenagers, though there are younger children out selling in the streets too—just not as many, and perhaps not as young.
My memories of Siem Reap from 2009 include aggressive, desperate, persistent little girls following us around temples and insisting that we buy their bracelets and scarves, forcing merchandise into our hands and demanding money, clearly desperate to make the sale. But I knew then (as now) that those girls were sent out by someone else. They wouldn’t benefit from the money I gave them. It would go back to whoever sent them out into the streets in the first place. Maybe things haven’t actually changed—maybe my memory of 2009 is a bit clouded by the exhaustion I was experiencing by that point in my trip. But things do at least appear better/different this time around. Again, the girls seem older, less frantic, less demanding and aggressive.
Of course, they are just as intelligent, creative, and sharply witty as they ever were. The kids I met in 2009 and those I have met this time around are incredibly capable and strong and wonderfully intelligent. I don’t want to give the impression that they are helpless (they aren’t) or that they are not/cannot be agents for change in their own country (they are). But like children everywhere, they need opportunities and love. They need the chance to go to school and cultivate their natural gifts and abilities and discover their true potential. They need to be valued and respected and seen as the capable and strong individuals that they are. Cambodia is changing and (I hope) moving forward. And these children are the ones who will shape Cambodia’s future. So they need to be recognized as agents of change, not as hopeless and helpless and in need of “saving” by privileged white men and women swooping down and putting a band-aid on the larger problems (of poverty, a history of genocide and conflict, exploitation of local populations by foreign corporations and manufacturing companies, environmental degradation, government corruption, etc). These kids should not be treated as powerless victims. They can and should be treated as capable, empowered change makers. I just wanted to make that clear…
I forgot where I was going with all of this…I am not sure yet what to do with these observations, but I wanted to share them. I hope it was coherent…More thoughts to come…
then the average customer would pay just 46 cents more per shopping trip—or around $12 more each year.
There is strong evidence that jobs created by Walmart in metropolitan areas pay less and are less likely to offer benefits than those they replace. Controlling for differences in geographic location, Walmart workers earn an estimated 12.4 percent less than retail workers as a whole, and 14.5 percent less than workers in large retail in general.
…Establishing a higher minimum wage for large retailers like Walmart would have a significant impact on workers living in poverty or near-poverty… 41.4 percent of the pay increase would go to workers in families with total incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. These poor and low-income workers could expect to earn an additional $1,670 to $6,500 a year in income for each Walmart employee in the family, before taxes.