Some people hate crows. Some people hate cockroaches. I hate poverty. It deprives. It disempowers. And it destroys.
Poverty deprives millions of children around the world of healthcare, good nutrition and quality education.
Poverty disempowers communities by rendering them vulnerable to injustices; they are powerless to improve their circumstances.
And poverty destroys hopes and dreams by denying the poor the opportunity to rise to their full potential.
The poor may be less conspicuous than the rich, but they are also less forgettable.
Among my earliest childhood memories was that of a hungry vagrant who roamed the back alleys of my town.
He used to hang around a popular hawker stall stretch, his eyes scanning the tables. The minute a customer got up from the table and walked away, leaving an unfinished plate of noodles behind, that was the cue for the vagrant to move in and polish everything off.
As a kid, I never had to go to bed hungry for want of food. Even then, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine that life must be hard if one had to hope for leftovers to fill one’s stomach. If anything, it taught me not to take food for granted.
I wonder if this early impression of deprivation has anything to do with my habit of cleaning my plate. After all, every grain of rice is precious. If it’s the little drops of water that make a mighty ocean, then surely every grain of rice adds up to a serving.
Talking of servings, I am reminded of my cash-strapped days as a young working adult.
The company I was working for at the time had a serious cash flow problem. According to Malaysian labour laws, workers are to be paid no later than seven days after the usual pay day. So instead of collecting our salary at the end of the month, we would get it six or seven days later. Meanwhile, rental had to be paid on the first of every month.
There was one particular night when I had RM1.70 left in my pocket for dinner. I headed to my regular nasi kandar stall, plonked the RM1.70 in front of the young man who manned the stall, and asked him to pack dinner not exceeding that amount.
It was a self-service stall but I didn’t want to risk scooping up a bigger portion than I could pay for.
I didn’t know then that the young man who was washing dishes and faithfully serving customers night after night was the heir to a successful chain of nasi kandar restaurants. Today he helms the family business. I am happy for him. How fortunes change.
Fortune is as unpredictable as the weather, it is said.
My taxi driver friend has fallen on hard times. He finds it increasingly difficult to put food on the table.
Two months ago, he could not scrape enough money together to pay for the rental of his taxi. So he fasted for a month, eating only one meal a day.
By not eating breakfast and lunch, he could save enough money to cover the shortfall.
Stuff that we often take for granted are treats to those who have very little.
Not too long ago, a single mum who lay seriously ill in hospital, asked me to help fulfil her little girl’s birthday wish. And guess what her daughter wanted for her birthday? A bottle of baby shampoo and a bottle of body wash. I offered to throw in a dress but the mum wanted to pick one out herself when she got out of hospital. Unfortunate-ly, she passed away.
A friend who teaches in a rural school came across a particularly scruffy kid who smelled like he hadn’t bathed for days. Upon further enquiry, my friend found out that the family was too poor to afford soap.
I sent over a big bottle of antibacterial body wash, and the feedback I got was that the kid was simply thrilled with the menthol-infused body wash that promised an invigorating bathtime experience.
Well, the kid can look forward to more bottles of body wash heading his way.
When kids skip school occasionally because their dads do not have enough money to buy petrol for the battered bikes which they use for transport, it really gets me thinking about what poverty does to a person.
Aristotle the ancient Greek philosopher may be long gone, but he left behind this immortal quote: “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” Now that’s something to think about as we head into a new year.
Touché is a monthly column in which team Star2 shares its thoughts.