Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rich and poor

Every piece of writing has a point of view just as there is a perspective in a painting. I can only share my experiences through my own personal lens and I can only share the particular slice of life that I see. Being in Paraguay in this particular program, I am meeting students who've themselves come through a path that brought them to this place which is a class meant for those who have serious plans to come to study in the United States. They are an elite either because of wealth or intelligence or both.

Those who know me and know my writing also know that I have certain populist tendencies. That having been said, I also have to say that I really like my students. I can see that they've had much teaching on how to present themselves. Good eye-contact. Excellent people-skills. These young people have been raised to be leaders, and leaders I believe they will be. I believe that, before I retire, some of the students I see in this class will have grown to be folks of much influence, and as a teacher, it is my priviledge to have some tiny part--whatever can be done in 45 hours--in shaping that.

I've also seen people who are not rich. I've seen the poor on the streets. Near every stop light on Artigas, Trindad, Sacramento, or Transchaco--every major street I've been on--are the poor. There are boys with squeegies who will come out to clean your windshield for a few coins. Women with babies come to the windows to beg. Near Universidad Catolica there are children who come with their hands out to harvest from those who are waiting for a ride.

This is not an easy subject and it shouldn't be. Our natural empathy leads us to want to give, but there have been words created to make it easier not to: enabler, codependent. We giving we are perhaps enabling an able-bodied person not to work. We are enabling the government to get out of it's obligation to provide a safety-net for the poor. When we give, we are only making ourselves feel better while preventing the begger from finding a more productive way of making a living.

I've decided that a few dollars a day to make myself feel better is a rather small price and if the person at the other end doesn't need the money, then, well, that is his problem. In this, I think I'm following the example of some of the people here in Asuncion I've come to think of as virtuous. German, for example, always carries a few coins for the kids. I've seen him give half a bottle of pop to a boy who cleaned his mirror.

It is a bigger issue than me.


Alice said...

This is an issue I have struggled with for the 9 years I have traveled to PY. Sometimes I have told the children - "No tengo" (I do not have) and sometimes I give a few coins. The KS students I take to PY are never prepared for this, even though we discuss it in our pre-trip meetings. They are always saddened by the housing situation (just outside the university) and the children.

Bobby Winters said...

There is no way to be prepared. Like so many things, you just have to see it.