I've long thought that compassion and empathy were key for truly understanding poverty. If you have no compassion for people who are poor, then it's unlikely that you will care about their problems, or about the problem of poverty in the world. The big question is, how to inculcate that compassion in people who don't already feel it? How can poverty education encourage empathy, and thereby spur both understanding and action about poverty?
Those questions need big answers. Nicholas Kristof offers a few thoughts on them a propos of a recent column on low-income Americans that elicited some uncompassionate responses from his readers.
"There is an income gap in America, but just as important is a compassion gap. Plenty of successful people see a picture of a needy child and their first impulse is not to help but to reproach.
To break cycles of poverty, we have the tools to improve high school graduation rates, reduce teen pregnancies and increase employment. What we lack is the will to do so."
Read the whole article.
While on her research trip to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo this past November, Dr. Serena Cosgrove was interviewed by Rwandan television.
Check out the interview here: http://rba.co.rw/rwanda-world-serena-casgrove
The New York Times recently featured an interesting editorial making the case for a higher minimum wage. One of the best things in the article was its interactive element that allows you to test whether you could live on the current minimum wage. Check it out:
"The political posturing over raising the minimum wage sometimes obscures the huge and growing number of low-wage workers it would affect. An estimated 27.8 million people would earn more money under the Democratic proposal to lift the hourly minimum from $7.25 today to $10.10 by 2016. And most of them do not fit the low-wage stereotype of a teenager with a summer job. Their average age is 35; most work full time; more than one-fourth are parents; and, on average, they earn half of their families’ total income."
Go read the rest of the article and the interactive feature.
"After a long 15 hours of traveling, I arrived at La Mariposa Sunday afternoon. La Mariposa is a Spanish school located near San Juan de La Concepcion, Nicaragua. While I am here, I am staying with a host family, volunteering at a primary school in the morning, and taking Spanish classes in the afternoons. While I am only three days in, my days have been long and full of Spanish, great people and many smiles. My host family, the teacher I am working with, and my Spanish teachers have been very welcoming and are helping me improve my Spanish and begin to know the people of Nicaragua. What to tell you all about...I will start with my home stay. I am staying with Nila and Chico Alama Lopez, two of their four children, a son-in-law, two grandchildren, six chickens, three dogs, one cat, and a backyard full of fruit trees. Dona Nila and Don Chico have a very large family and have welcomed me into their house with open arms. They have a very interesting story and I am just now beginning to understand the complexities behind it. Things in the house are very different than the US, the most noticeable is how most of my house, minus the actual bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen, are outside. The weather here permits much of life to be lived outdoors. There are only two seasons in Nicaragua: Inverano and Verano, the wet season and the dry season. It is currently the dry season and the average temperature where I am at does not exceed 70 degrees, but with the strong wind, it feels like a nice 60. However, El Limon, where I am going, is supposed to be much hotter because it is further south."
To read more and view pictures, click here.
The internet has been abuzz recently with a new report on inequality released by Oxfam. Timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the report contains findings such as these:
• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.
Source: Oxfam briefing paper "Working for the Few," January 2014
Among the internet commentary on the report is this post from Humanosphere, which contains links to several other articles in the media in relation to inequality and the Oxfam report.
The whole Oxfam report is definitely worth checking out if you're interested in analysis of current trends in inequality.
The PEC was a co-organizer of Seattle University's first-ever poverty immersion workshop on November 19th. This was a simulation for 100 participants of what it's like to live a month in poverty. The experience is based on the widely-respected model established by the Missouri Community Action Group. The workshop is a powerful experiential learning activity, useful for any class connecting to poverty, inequality, or social justice issues more broadly.
During the 3 hour workshop, participants were able to role-play a month in the lives of low-income individuals and families, meet others in the SU community who care about the issue, and explore the impact of poverty on the community while discussing collaboration and action.
Ben Curtis and Serena Cosgrove were in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a week in October on a trip funded by an Endowed Mission Fund grant. They were doing research for their book on global poverty, and preparing to lead a group of students to study conflict resoluation and peacebuilding in Bosnia next year.
While in Sarajevo, they received an invitation from the German government for Seattle University to be the American delegation to an international youth peace conference to be held in the city in June 2014 as part of the centenary commemorations of the start of World War One.
On May 11th, the Poverty Education Center hosted "Jesuit Universities Engaging Poverty: Perspectives from Seattle and Managua." The event brought together students, faculty, staff, and community members to hear from Seattle University and la Universidad Centroamericana about how they were engaging poverty in their communities.
Poverty Education Center