I had a letter the other day from a woman who told me that she and her husband and their sons are just about getting by. They did not splurge out during the Tiger years, that they have paid all their bills and that as a result, they are surviving — but there is not much money to spare. In fact there is nothing to spare when all is said and done by the end of the month.
She said that her sons are bright lads, that they’re never in trouble, they do their studies and she and her husband are very proud of them, but just the other day, one son came home and was very excited about a foreign trip that his school were holding as part of Transition Year. “The trip is costing a lot of money that we just don’t have. My husband and I looked at each other in despair, both of us wondering what are we going to do.
“My lads are good bright lads and it breaks our hearts to have to tell him that we just don’t have the money. I’m sure more parents are going through the same. What is wrong with our schools that would put this hardship on families. The pupils who can’t go are going to be devastated and marked out as being impoverished by their classmates. A friend of mine told me that she is going to go to a moneylender to borrow the money even though she knows the slippery slope this brings.
“Surely our schools could create excitement by having simple non costly events. We are feeling we are failing our son by not being able to afford these events, making him feel left out. I have lost all faith in an education system that would allow schools to organise such costly events and put extra burden on families,” she wrote.
The letter dripped of despair, a despair felt by many of you reading this article this morning. The despair brought on by knowing that any small money you have is just enough to keep your head above water. Any shift in this and you go under, caught up in a maelstrom of turmoil. Chaotic and heartbreaking.
The poor nowadays are not the Dickensian urchins of old; they do not go around in rags. They are the people just about holding on to their pride.
Our lead story this week tells of how on one night a fortnight ago, 44 adults and 22 children were housed by COPE in Galway city because they found themselves homeless for a variety of reasons. And these are people who would never have thought they would find themselves in this situation. This is not a normal number for this service and Martin O’Connor of COPE says that we can expect these figures to increase over this coming winter. These are in the main people who were left floundering by the collapse of the economy and who have never recovered.
As you read this article this morning, there are people walking the streets of this city with a pain in their heart, a hurt put there by despair. I know only too well the feeling of that pain in your gut, that black hole in your heart when you see people enjoying life and can’t partake in it because you have no money, when you feel excluded, an outsider, seeming invisible to yourself and to others; there but not there.
We have heard a lot this week about how we’re on the up again; how the green shoots are flourishing, but for many people those green shoots are merely nettles that cannot be grasped lest they be stung. The St Vincent de Paul is looking for more volunteers in the city and county; COPE speak of rising numbers, parents contact us over insensitive demands by schools.
Today when all the bluster and self congratulatory plaudits finish being bestowed on economists and politicians, and the country basks in the rising economic sun, spare a thought for the reality that exists. Help one another; tell one another; be fair to one another and know you are not alone and that there is no shame.