Poverty cannot be appreciated until you have lived it. Until you have walked the streets wanting, but not looking like you are wanting. Until you have trundled through Shop Street at Christmastime with an ache in your heart knowing that you cannot have what others have. But it is not envy. It is the feeling of being unnoticed, unwanted, that is the most hurtful and debilitating.
We all make the mistake of thinking that poverty is being without food, without clothes, without shelter, but is so much more than that. It is about how all of these things make people feel.
If poverty was like all of the symptoms above, it would be easier to notice. we could walk right up to it and say, here this is how I can help. Take my coat, take my cake. But it is often invisible to the naked eye, because it is all consuming. It shapes your interaction with the world around, it forms the basis of your ambition, it takes every waking effort of the extraordinary to seem like the ordinary. Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows just how expensive it is to be poor. For those who have, the effort to exist is effortless; for those who strive to exist with dignity, the effort is doubled.
While poverty is ever-present, it is felt more extremely at this time of the year when we try to equate the season with the desire to solve all ills. To gather everyone around the fireside. And although it might seem that it is only now when they are at their busiest, the good people of the St Vincent de Paul are combating poverty all year round. This year, they are focusing their effort on the issue of all the children who find themselves in poverty at this moment in our history.
Poverty and lack of dignity places many obstacles in the pathway of every child in this country. I feel sorrow for the lost opportunity. I cheer on those who will make the leap from poverty, from the forced poverty of the State that is Direct Provision; the failure of our Government to release children from thinking that home is Room 256 on the second floor of some bankrupted and sold-out hotel.
By allowing poverty to continue to block the capacity and potential of every child, we are deflecting resources that could go into opportunity, creativity, stimulation, ambition.
Thankfully we have in our community hundreds of great people who can see through all of those, who can recognise the poverty, who can see the need, address it, meet it, they can see those who are rich in spirit but poor in possessions. They know too the role that dignity plays in poverty; how it prevents many from reaching out until it is too late.
In his inauguration speech last Sunday week, President Michael D Higgins quoted some lines from the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil in 1919 setting out the first duties of the Government of the Republic. This included the duty ‘to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter’.
This Christmas, do what you can to support St Vincent de Paul. They take 1,000 calls a day. In the time you have taken to read this article, about 100 people have reached out to them in desperation.
Some 800,000 people in this country live below a poverty line. Do what you can to support St Vincent de Paul when its collectors are in front of you this winter, and if you can, do everything within your power to support them all year round.
Change the world of a child this winter, by letting him/her see that there is light ahead, that there is someone willing to give a leg up so that he/she can grow up believing in the possibility that tomorrow may be the best day ever.