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Poor Across Oceans

Updated on March 26, 2012

As I stroll through the streets of my father’s country, Indonesia, I witness a people wallowing in their poverty. I see children fumbling in the sewage. I see mothers begging near the road. The rivers within the city were black and stagnant with trash and human feces. My sheltered eyes could hardly keep back its rivers. I died a little inside and cried out – How? I was horrified and shocked by the conditions in which these people lived. Yet, this is the country where my parents grew up in and to them this was normal. They played along the road. They twiddled with sticks and stones. They experienced poverty in all its forms. When I hear stories of my grandfather biking tens of miles just to sell fabric in market to feed his family, I am ashamed that my biggest problems are concentrated on talking to girls and playing sports. Is this how I repay sacrifices my parents and grandparents made so I can live in America, out of the grip of poverty? So much has happened in a single generation; I was born in America, the land of prosperity, where no child gets left behind and the provisions of life are a right, not a blessing. For the longest time I didn’t even know what poverty was, let alone what it looked like. Every now and then I would watch commercials that advocated the building of wells in Africa or the support of children in 3rd world countries but that was the extent of my exposure to poverty. But as soon as the commercial ends, I forget all about it and am again sucked into another episode of SpongeBob. All my life, I had enjoyed an sheltered environment that had no poverty, no disasters, no disease, no death and I believed that that was life. But the summer when I visited Indonesia my perspective was undermined by reality. It isn’t until I actually saw it - until a mother of four tugs on my sleeve begging for a dollar to feed her family for the day. Until then I didn’t believe it. I didn’t comprehend the conditions at which people live. However, Indonesians are not the only people that struggle with poverty. America suffers from poverty, as so most nations and communities. Poverty does not have a universal definition. People and Countries have different definitions of what poverty looks like. However, I claim that although some people in America may live uncomfortably because they don’t have the resources to have a more enjoyable life, their situational condition is not indicative to true poverty as poverty is defined by its effect on survival and how detrimental it is the longevity of life.

In America the standard for poverty is around $22,000 a year for a family of four (Rector). However, there is great speculation over the poverty line and how it is not conducive to the quality of life at which the standard promotes. Typically when people think about poverty in America they think about people who are “homeless, hungry, and unable to meet basic needs (Rector).” However, this stereotype is misleading because the majority people at the poverty line live quite comfortably. They own a house, car, and refrigerator. They have much of the basic amenities found in any home. The biggest difference between the “poor” and the middle class is that people at the poverty line aren’t able to afford as many luxuries. They cannot always buy the nicest furniture, the most up to date computers, the latest fashion trends. However, the lack of many luxuries, does not determine that someone is poor for in themselves luxuries are superfluous trinkets that have no effect on survival and the absence them won’t cause one person to live longer than another. So by the standards of survival and longevity of life a poor American is not different from a rich one.

Along with the income that a family will use to support their home and children, the government also takes a large initiative to support the poor. Although it is not always necessary for some of the poor to receive extra backing, the taxes that we all pay go into funds that directly provide aid to people who do not have the means to care for themselves. Basic non-profit organizations and functions like Goodwill and even parks and libraries are all allow free access to facilities that they normally could not afford. Reduced cost to medical care is also provided (Rasmussen). Therefore, there are really few opportunities for families to experience extreme depravity because there is so much aid that is given in America.

I actually had the opportunity to work in the kitchen of the Salvation Army, where many ex-convicts and homeless people were housed. One of the members told that he was able to stay for months at a time and 3 meals were provided daily. I was surprised the food at the center was often better than the food at my own house (my mom is not a very good cook). The dormitories had showers, air conditioning, and workshops were also organized to train the people with basic job skills. All of this for free - Only in America. How blessed Americans are that we are strangers to hunger, to disease, to violence.

However, Indonesia is not so blessed. Of the 220 million people who live in the country around half of them survive on 2 dollars a day, which is portioned out to pay for food, “housing, clothing, education and health care” (Always with Them). Oddly enough, this group of people is considered to be middle class. The other half of the population is divided between the filthy rich and the filthy poor, where some families make $30,000 a month and others make $30 (Always with Them.) This massive gap in wealth is a culmination of corruption and a lack of education. It is common place that many politicians, police, and workers are bribed to turn a blind eye and keep crooked leaders in power. Unfortunately this cultural acceptance of immoral business and political practices creates a helplessness that provides no justice to the needs of the people. Who do you turn to when your leaders are the very people suppressing you? The Police? They work for the government (Corruption Continues to Plague Indonesia)! However, I believe that the lack of education is the most significant stump that prevents families from improving their way of life. It is found that only 55% the poor are able get past even junior high (The Economist.) The inability of children to progress through school and their obligation to work on the streets creates a cycle of poverty that consumes entire generations of people. In turn they eventually fall into holes that their parents struggled to overcome. My own grandfather only finished 6th grade because his parents could not afford to pay for his studies and he was forced to work the rest of his life. Yet he was an exception of the few who was able to survive and make a good living. Most of the kids who grow up in a poor home end up performing the same manual labor their fathers did and inheriting the card board and sheet metal shacks that their fathers built. It is sad to see that such a curse would continue from father to son.

Unlike America where support is generously given to the extent that may be excessive, Indonesia does not have the capacity to provide for its people. Its current 5% growth rate is really insufficient in providing enough jobs for the majority of its workers, which creates a perpetual percentage of poor people. Even if workers wanted to make money and provide for their families they could not because there aren’t enough jobs to go around. Another significant lack of support that the government cannot sustain is free and convenient education. In Indonesia, schools are privately owned “companies.” They are business first and schools second. As a result, not everyone can afford to pay for tuition and children who are cut short are then forced to work the streets, selling or stealing. This is the sad reality because the government is unable to support its growing population. In the past 5 years, ministers have distributed 1.4 billion dollars to alleviate poverty in the country (The Economist). Unfortunately, the money is spread thin because of Indonesia is just too large. It is definitely hopeful that continued relief efforts may expand the country’s economy and pull people out of poverty however, any significant change is bleak at the moment.

From these two countries and comparison over the conditions of their poor, the support and average quality of life of Americans can be considered very rich compared to other countries, whereas, the lack of support, corruption and weak economy of Indonesia makes it a hot bed for poverty. Of course America does have a marginal poor that is completely incapable of survival and needs the shoulder of the government, yet this percentile pales in comparison with the poverty that strikes the entire nation of Indonesia. In Indonesia, poverty is a battle for survival, while in America, it is usually nothing more than an quarrel for comfort.

Cited Sources

· "Always with Them."The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 14 Sept. 2006. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <>.

· The Economist. The Economist Newspaper. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <>.

· Rector, Robert. "Send This Report to a Friend."What Is Poverty in the United States: Air Conditioning, Cable TV and an Xbox. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <>.

· "Rasmussen: Most Americans Below Poverty Level Have Enough Food, at Least One Car."Newsmax. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <>.

· "Corruption Continues to Plague Indonesia." Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <>.


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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      7 years ago from United States

      You are so right that we don't what poverty is in our country. So many Americans never really travel to see how most of the world lives. I would add that in comparison to people in other historical periods, all of us in America are rich beyond imagining. Even the kings of the past didn't have air conditioning, vaccines to prevent their children from dying and transportation that could take them half-way around the world in less than a day! Voted up and beautiful.


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