Poverty and Pandemics

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I wish I could take you on a walk down the streets of Primo Tapia. I wish together we could see the realities of one room concrete spaces housing families. I wish you could smell the mold on the bricks of a family’s home after the rainy season. I wish you could see the mats that are pulled out at night so that everyone has a sleeping spot on the floor.

In underdeveloped countries, we often rely on statistics to tell us about the welfare of the people. So I can read online that 46.2 percent of people living in Mexico are operating below the poverty line. In a country with 129 million people – that’s a lot.

But numbers feel distant and cold.

I contend that if you could walk with me through our streets in Primo Tapia and were then asked to come up with a number as to how many people lived in poverty here, you would say it’s much higher.

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Poverty is a tricky word that means more than just how much you lack in money, though it is that. It also accounts for educational lag, access to health services, access to food, housing quality, space and basic housing services like running water. 

In this season where the world is in a pandemic, I challenge you to think about who will lose and just how much.

Underdeveloped countries like Mexico and so many others have a fragile health care system on the very best day. If you walked into a government run hospital here for treatment, my guess is you would turn right back out and walk away. Sure, there are private hospitals in major cities, but those living in poverty don’t have access to that. 

So what will happen in Mexico over the next few weeks? To say we are concerned would be an understatement. 

If you look out my window you would see business as usual today. The small shop on the corner is open. The woman who hangs second hand clothes on the chain link fence is out at her usual post and people are stopping to browse. Taxis are lined up on the corner and the smell of meat grilling at the taco stands is in the air. On the weekend, produce tables lined the streets as people came to sell their wares and others to buy their provisions. There was no social distancing. No isolation. 

You can get mad for that. Call people uneducated or fret about how they aren’t taking it seriously, but that’s not it.  Because here’s what I know;

If I’m a single mom with 3 kids barely making enough to cover the rent on my one room “home” where I bathe my children in a plastic tub with cold water I got from a hose  outside, barely scraping enough together to buy my children second hand uniforms so they can go to school, and relying on tortillas and rice and beans to fill their bellies each day, I assure you I won’t stop selling mangos at my small stand because there’s a virus.

Why? Because I have no back up plan. No savings fund. No government that will step in and defer my food purchase payments.

I have three little mouths to feed and if I don’t work today, they don’t eat today. That’s the reality for the marginalized.

Am I concerned that my children, neighbour or aging parent who lives with us will get the virus? Of course. But I’ve never had access to proper medical care and I know I won’t should they get this, so what are my options?

  1. I can work today and feed my children today.
  2. I can not work today, not feed my children today, wait for a virus to most definitely hit our family, and sit at home praying they make it through. 

This isn’t strange for Mamas living in poverty. This is everyday. This is normal life. It’s called survival.

The struggle to survive is always before families here and so in some ways, this is just another Tuesday.

The question can hardly be, what are the poor doing to flatten the curve, but rather what are those in the developed world doing to help those living in poverty to make it through this, alive on the other side, with their children by their side and a roof over their heads that is somewhat sufficient. Unless, of course, it rains. 

Social distancing, unfortunately, is a privilege of those who have access to credit cards.

Here, many live with multiple families in a house or ‘compound’ for lack of a better word. Picture a myriad of rooms all behind one common fence. The poor don’t own cars but rely on crowded public transit to get anywhere, even to the market to buy food. Markets are tent upon tent, altogether in a row. Oh, and did I mention the city water went out yesterday? So that whole hand washing thing is out the window now, too.

The measures needed to be taken to protect from this pandemic are simply not the reality for those we look around and see in our neighbourhood.

So, what do we do? For now, we pray for an increased measure of wisdom, for  provision in the days to come, and we ask the Lord to give us the ability to live out what we believe and the strength to love our neighbour as ourselves. Because let’s be honest – we love ourselves well.

There are many amazing organizations to give to in this time.  Find one and do what you can.  If you don’t have one you already love, I suggest the link below.

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