Kleshas and Tanhas

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Posts Tagged ‘poverty

A PTSD from Community Service

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Second semester has its unique challenges, none of which a college freshman would anticipate. After a stressful first semester of social, academic, and mental hills that had to be overcome, one would think that second semester would be a breeze. Once adjusted to a new living style, workload, and diet, the second semester was supposed to be just like the first except for new classes. However, the anxiety that I knew would develop at one point or another crept up in an unexpected manner. I think it has something to do with the spring semester’s mindset; there’s no rush to teach students how to become a college student anymore. That being said, the delayed assignments never seemed to be assigned. Without a familiarly dense course load, I grow anxious.

In a similar fashion, service at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries began to take its toll. The routine never changed. A few newcomers have joined the wolf pack that we met with every Tuesday, but I can’t blame any one individual for such a dramatic change in pace. On reentering the tunnel that we call a daily routine, you become familiar with your surroundings. The newness of space and time restraints fades as the tunnel becomes grayer and goes by unchecked as ordinary.

It’s not all that dreary, though. Familiarity allows for my service partners and me to develop deeper relationships with the clients at MNM. This opportunity is great when thinking of service in terms of being “for and with others.” Nevertheless, on the way back from service, my service partner and I simultaneously experienced a jolt of anguish. Oddly enough, she verbalized our shared feeling right after I thought, “This area is like a war zone. These people are fighting the odds here; it’s an uphill battle for them.” I couldn’t help but think of those melodramatic scenes in war films where the company is returning from the front. The troops are battered from what they’ve seen.

Yet, what I’ve seen is not just the neighborhoods in this part of Philadelphia. I am not belittling these people by depicting their environment from my perspective. That’d be cynical. This PTSD, if I may, seems to have been slowly developing like my anxiety for the workload of this second semester. The breaking point, this past Tuesday, came when my service partner and I both realized that at some point on our return trip, our relationships no longer exist with the clients at MNM. We don’t have the luxury to Facebook ‘em or shoot them an email. But we are somehow still expected to develop a relationship, which is becoming increasingly difficult during the time we spend away from them.

Within the restraints of being volunteers, we obviously don’t have access to clients’ personal or medical information. I’m not saying we should either, but it would be nice to know where Mr. Paul has gone. He was something to write about…How are we supposed to ask about him? If they wanted us to know, they would have shared. If we had access to some basic information, we wouldn’t have to ask. The last thing we heard was that he was in the hospital. And not to call out the blatantly obvious, but working with individuals of a certain age inevitably leads one to disregard a certain thought and place in the back of his or her mind.

Still, all the while, we go to service just the same. Our service is about relationships, no doubt, because we aren’t cleaning, cooking, preparing –or any type of physical labor. We found that out last semester. We don’t need to be constructing some physical memorabilia to point at after we have finished it, kicking back to relax saying, “Ah. We’ve done something good today. Check that off the list. Better yet, let’s take a photo.” What my service partners and I are left with, then, is spending time with the individual. On learning that clients at MNM, like Ms. Gladys, spend time all alone until they return to Mercy the next day, we experienced the significance of our time spent with the clients.

But where has Ms. Gladys gone off to? My service partner discovered by indirectly asking around that she hasn’t been able to attend MNM for various reasons. The fluidity of not only the comings and goings of the clients, but our coming and going causes a lot of disruption in developing relationships. I’m not sure what really can be done other than talking about it. The system won’t change for deeper relationships; I think that ranks pretty low, ironically, on the priority list for a company that has to be systematically run. I mean to say that, while idealistically, stronger relationships would be great, the structure of not only service learning would have to change, but MNM would have to somehow give some basic information on the whereabouts of the clients that we year-round volunteers have befriended. I know that may be crossing the line for the volunteer-administration relationship, which is business like, yet, how are we to just cross our fingers and hope that the same individuals will be there next week? We are prohibited from progressing in our relationships. And in that fifteen minute car ride back home, we just sit and hope that the person we just shared a joke with will be there next week.

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Written by Jack Viere

February 5, 2012 at 9:30 am

There is something ethically vitalizing while riding trains

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You can’t help but see the underbelly of society; the infrastructure that one can sense, but no one wants to admit exists. Riding the SEPTA in Philadelphia over the Schuylkill River displays you the declining socio-economic classes that are compiled into what is called a city. Starting with middle class homes and their neighboring duplexes, the train passed more barbed wire fences and broken concrete as you enter Center City Philadelphia. Wrecked buildings are still inhabited since the city’s orange conviction notices did not label any doors. Garbage is that factor to gauge the destitution that communities face. You realize that garbage is an expense; you pay for garbage pickups and disposals-something that a college student wouldn’t realize offhand. While people cannot afford a new window to replace shattered glass or fix their deteriorating homes, how will they be able to properly dispose of their trash?

And then suddenly, as if the poverty witnessed was all a dream, the train magically arrives at a transportation hub. Filled with prominent business people that sit across from the untouchables, you begin to smell the pretzel shop at 30th Street Station. The sky is grey, allowing no sunshine to breach the windows as you walk widely around those that invade your path. Your smartphone of choice is your compass that your nose is pressed to in the hope that you don’t trip, fall, and land face first into the lap of one of the beggars.

God forbid you spill that Starbucks you sip as you walk down to the platform. Waiting impatiently, you pull your collar up closer while experiencing the smallest of glimpses of what the homeless must feel. You’re still inside; you’re only catching a slight breeze from the opening on the other side of the platform. And so you continue to sip that coffee as if it’s some barrier keeping you from being no different than the beggar that you avoided up stairs; he’s now sitting directly above you, still looking on with his bleak eyes. Your smartphone happens to be out again, acting as your status shield. It says, “Don’t worry everyone; I am financially sound and stable! I can’t afford to be here now though, I have to check Facebook statuses from the past and Like events in the future.” Is the present too expensive for the well-off? The poor man upstairs was rich enough…“But more importantly, I have that piece of plastic to suggest otherwise, don’t I?”

As you become situated in your own row that is designed for two but Mr. Suitcase fills that extra seat, you look up from your phone. Staring after college girl and her body before she turns; you think no one sees you as you try to mask your act as some sort of thinking posture; “Did I crunch those numbers correctly?”

Your dream turns into a nightmare as your Amtrak starts pulling out of the station. You leave the city’s prominent skyline-buildings and stumble into a rapid decline into the impoverished areas again. This time it’s worse. You see the outskirts of another city: Baltimore. Where did those hours go; the time in between Philly to here? It couldn’t have been the suckers only free Wi-Fi, could it?

 

The portion of Baltimore’s underbelly you’re witnessing is worse than Philadelphia’s. This time, you see white conviction notices that bar individuals from inhabiting eroding structures that you dare to call a home. More grey. More trash. Less people. As you’re about to look back down to some distraction in your lap, a magazine or a laptop-“What’s the difference these days when you can get your news online?”-something catches your eye. The train is slowing for the next station; why is there such an obnoxiously colored turf in one of the traffic medians? Its highlighter quality is in glaring contrast to its surrounding counterparts; broken benches, broken homes, a broken community.

That baby won’t stop crying any time soon will it? Luckily, I have those Bose headphones. One of the best purchases of my life! Or was it a gift from Tina? It doesn’t matter, I’m almost home. I can just see myself waking up from this mess.

Written by Jack Viere

December 16, 2011 at 6:46 pm

A Farewell to Service for Christmas Time

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My last day of service began like it always does with the infamous cloudy weather that seems to initiate all of my posts pertaining to my service learning experiences. Rain is pretty miserable to endure without proper rain gear like umbrellas and thick jackets. I’m constantly reminded this as our Ford Focus whips along West Hunting Park Avenue, passing more individuals on foot than in vehicles.

I’ve never had to make a Christmas tree before. I guess that says a lot about where I come from; the haves and the have-nots of the holidays. One of the sisters at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries asked us to assemble a six foot tree. Apologizing in advance, she forewarned us that we might be gnawing at each other by the end of this grueling process. Yikes. This wasn’t really my idea of easing into the preliminary Christmas spirit; up until then, all the coursework that my professors have been throwing my way have busied my schedule so that I could not sense any tinge of secular X-mas. (I’d say that’s a good thing from a faith standpoint!)

here we are after getting that tree together

The Christmas tree assembly brought out the worst of us as my service partners and I poked harmless  fun at each other’s ideas on how to mantle the tree with lights and decorations. A string of three year-olds passed by as we figured out which branches were the longest and were to be placed on the bottom of the rod. There were more ooh’s and aah’s from their mouths than you’d hear for that overdecorated house your family drives by every Christmas to marvel at its grandeur. The tree wasn’t even finished. You could see the ugly metal that the fake “fir” branches were stemming out from; it was hideous. Yet, I began to wonder how many of these kids had trees. For Thanksgiving, various community programs affiliated with MNM donated turkeys and other supplies for the parents of these children (and other age groups) to take home and serve as their feast. So I’ve got the vibe from this act of charity, as well as from the walks we’ve taken in the immediate area, that this community includes individuals who don’t have that financial excess to purchase a tree; real or fake. (And apparently, those fake one’s are price fairly high; it made me feel less guilty that I blurted out we had a real one every year back home.)

On our way home, we always find it difficult to meet everyone’s musical tastes. My service partner Earl has resorted to bringing his iPod. Graziella and I have agreed upon cheesy 80’s music that we can sing along with most of the time. After setting up the holiday decorations at MNM, what better genre to listen to than the Christmas stations? On immediately pulling out of Venago Street, we tuned into hear “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” It was drizzling at this point, and the only thing my mind would focus on was the stark contrast between the bright and cheery words of Bing Crosby and the darkness from our immediate surroundings; factors were the predominantly black neighborhood and rain. Similarly, as we sat in traffic on City Avenue,  Perry Como’s Home for the Holiday’s lyrics really spoke to me:

From Pennsylvania folks are trav’lin’ down
To Dixie’s sunny shore
From Atlantic to Pacific, gee,
The traffic is terrific!

I couldn’t help but think, “Hey! That’s me in PA, and I want to travel back home to Dixie. My oh my, what horrible traffic we are sitting in!” This song proved to be an excellent soundtrack for my self-absorption as I watched a disabled man in an electronic wheel chair traverse a puddle in the downpour.  We all saw, witnessed, and quickly looked away as we knew we couldn’t do anything to help his pathetic case even while our whole service learning class’ focus was an empathy-over-sympathy approach. That really put me in the Christmas spirit! And what fostered this lively mood came after a cement truck cut us off; a bumper ornament of a male’s genitalia dangled in front of us as Frank Sinatra sang Let It Snow.

A Crippling Digital Divide: Social Injustice Caused by Advertisements Part 2

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Today, America’s attitude towards consumption exacerbates the digital divide between higher income individuals and lower socio-economic groups. In Time’s Luxury Survey, research shows a surge in consumerism with those born between 1980 and 2000. “Because [18-27 year olds have] grown up in the age of dotcom billionaires, wealth and success are a given” (Time, 2008). At the turn of the century came the invention of the smartphone. In 1992, IBM’s Simon was a concept smartphone that initiated the trend of handheld devices (Schneidawind, 1992). While this technology evolved into the sleek, status-fulfilling must-have-item, a sense of inherent exigency began to dominate young adults. The category “looking stylish is important to feeling good about myself” had a 93% approval vote from young adults (Time, 2008). The smartphone’s timely introduction during the turn of the century has taken advantage of America’s new fashion; consumption.

What further deepens the digital divide is advertisers’ selection of who is depicted using what product. In another commercial, Boost Mobile promotes its Anthem 2.0 phone. Among others, rapper Young Jeezy advertises the new product by using lines of his material to promote the practicality of Boost Mobile’s deal offered sublimely through the thirty second clip (Boost Mobile, 2007). In this instance, Boost Mobile promotes their Anthem 2.0 to a young, pop-culture-fixed consumer population. With several rappers promoting their product, Boost Mobile attracts the attention of not only the youth, but a black population as well. In contrast with this specific commercial, Apple products are geared towards a white population. In a commercial promoting a Macintosh computer, actor Justin Long utilizes wit and charm to depict the sharp edge of Apple products (Apple, 2007). There is a drastic difference between these two commercials; it is easy to see who is to be using what brands of technology.

It is no coincidence, then, that the racial divide in America factors into the digital divide. Preying upon crude stereotypes, commercials depict more than who should be using what form of technology; they depict a financial gap between the races that is prevalent in today’s society. “The poverty rate for non-Hispanic Whites was lower than the poverty rates for other racial groups…For Blacks, the poverty rate increased to 27.4 percent in 2010, up from 25.8 percent in 2009” (Census Bureau, 2010). This conveys that the white population is more financially sound to purchase expensive technologies such as the Macintosh computer in the Apple commercial. “Broken down by race and ethnicity, African American residents of rural areas and central cities had the lowest level of access to computers (6.4 and 10.4 percent), followed by central city Latinos (10.5 percent)” (Modarres, 2011). Computers allow for more than social networking, emails, and entertainment; the limitations of a smartphone. Computers enable a white population to a more expansive spread of technology, information, and internet use.

From this difference between the levels of access to the internet derives a social injustice. While there exists a digital divide between upper and lower socio-economic classes, there is a misconception that smartphones are closing the gap by allowing access to the internet.

“While there is a distinction between using a phone for communication and using it to access digital information, it should be equally obvious that having a smart phone is not the same as having a networked computer (laptop or desktop) that allows the user to create and manage a business or a community Web site” (ibid).

Non-white, typically poorer consumers are able to purchase cheap deals from companies like Boost Mobile and the issue of the digital divide appears to be solved. However, smartphones only allow for a limited access to the internet. Social networking does not equate to a full, complete use of the internet, and assuming that smartphones are bridging the digital divide is ethically harmful.

The social injustice, then, is the limited internet access poorer individuals have and the misperceptions of affluent individuals who believe that smartphones are a legitimate portal for a full access to the internet. This inhibits the poor from gaining better access to knowledge as well as cripples young peoples’ education.

“The most devastating consequences of the digital divide are the long-term effects it will have on today’s youth. Lacking access to technology and computer skills, an entire generation will be disempowered from realizing its full potential to contribute to society” (Koss, 2001).

Furthermore, the statistics from the US Census Bureau support Time’s concept of young adults’ intrinsic need for material goods. While more expensive computers would be more beneficial in an educational setting for today’s youth, cheaper, more attainable, and incomplete smartphones are fashionable and more captivating for young people to purchase. The media drives this social injustice by depicting who is to buy what products by feeding off of racial stereotypes. As a result, innovations, such as smartphones, are frequently built on top of misconceptions. Change, in this instance, is restrained by empowered advertisers. As Heraclitus once said, “Nothing endures but change.” The hold that advertisers have on their consumers disproves Heraclitus; people will buy what is trendy and ignore the social injustice that they create for themselves.

References

Apple. (2007, January 9). Get a mac-surgery [Video file]. Video posted to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ci2D1ig4df4

Alverman, D. E. (2004). Media, Information Communication Technologies, and Youth Literacies: A

Cultural Studies Perspective. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(1), 78-83. doi:10.1177/0002764204267271

Boost Mobile. (2011, April 6). Working man [Video file]. Video posted to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZX6tHkW7xg

Boost Mobile. (2007, December 23). Anthem 2.0 rap commercial [Video file]. Video posted to

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnvYBtZNowU

Coupland, D. (1991). Generation x, tales for an accelerated culture. St. Martin’s Griffin.

Koss, F.A. (2001). Children Falling into the Digital Divide. Journal Of International Affairs, 55(1), 75.

LaGesse, D. (2001). So many gadgets and so little time. U.S. News & World Report, 130(2), 36.

Modarres, A. (2011). Beyond the digital divide. National Civic Review, 100(3), 4-7. doi10.1002/ncr.20069

Pain. S. (2006). The phone that roared. New Scientist. 190(2550).

Schneidawind, J. (1992). Big blue unveliling. USA Today.

The Luxury Survey. (Cover story). (2008). Time, 17158-59

U.S. Census Bureau. (2009, October). Current population survey, reported internet usage for

households, by selected householder. Retrieved December 3, 2011, from http://www.census.gov/hhes/computer/publications/2009.html

U.S. Census Bureau. (2010, September). Income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the united

states: 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2011, from http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-239.pdf

35% of American Adults Own a Smartphone. (2011, July 11). PewResearchCenter Publications. Retrieved

December 3, 2011, from http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2054/smartphone-ownership-demographics-iphone-blackberry-android

Written by Jack Viere

December 5, 2011 at 11:30 am

Strays, Abandoned Buildings, Garbage

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Sure signs of poverty. I find it frustrating, to say the least, when educated people have a tendency to stress the importance of poverty outside of our country over our destitute neighbors here in America. I must admit that before arriving in Philadelphia, my priorities for where resources such as time, talent, and money were to be spent had not been set. My hometown afforded me that luxury. Yet, here I am. I enter a wormhole on Route 1 that bisects our gated university and somehow find myself transported to another world as I head off to service. A heavily impoverished world, completely separate from the affluent culture of university living. The gates bordering the university are more than just physical boundaries; they exist as the wool pulled over many students eyes, (myself included) prohibiting them from experiencing (noticing) the poverty they actually live among.

I would make it a point that my frustration is not focused on students’ tendencies to choose the pathos-invoking, starving children somewhere halfway across the globe. I actually take great pride in my school’s incredibly proactive, socially aware community. Nor is my frustration to say that there exists no sense of urgency in third world countries that also suffer from poverty’s inflictions.

My frustration derives from a fuller context of our larger society: Americans turn a blind eye to its own poverty. And in doing so, they can sleep easy knowing that they pitied some foreign country that made it on to CNN for thirty seconds. Maybe it’s this sense of sympathy; maybe Americans have enough sense to innately feel that sympathy alone towards another American is un-American. Maybe we really can tell the difference between sympathy and empathy in that our sympathy shown to our neighbors really is ineffective. Sympathy doesn’t help anything. And we know it is because our neighbors will tell us it is so. People get fed up with the pity card. We therefore shift our pity to some distanced country that cannot communicate its frustration with our passive sympathy; we are distanced from the problem.

I had the chance to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail last night. And yes, the racial context of his writing may seemingly appear contrasted with my point about poverty. Yet, when you remove the racial tone from his thesis just for a moment, you get a similar frustration with America’s poverty. “…the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society…” (As a side note, I would argue that the racial tone should not be removed because every time I go to service in north Philadelphia, my service partner, a traffic guard, and myself are the only Caucasians to be seen.) Nevertheless, King goes on to depict his disappointment for the white moderate:

“who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advices the Negro [impoverished] to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

Could his words be anymore perennial? I would argue that if you cannot see the truth of his words in today’s context, you should take a walk around the “shady side” of your town on a beautiful day. I have had this opportunity for the second time while at service. The hairs on the back of my neck instinctively stood up as I walked passed peoples’ homes with shattered windows and deteriorating wood work. I had Kim, an employee at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries and local/native of the area, point out her grandmother, who I received a beautiful blessing from impromptu, as well as her cousins and friends. We pushed wheelchairs around the detours on the split sidewalks. It was impossible to go 25 yards without hitting some break in the pavement that made it impossible to transverse in a wheelchair.

Cats were in a great host in various abandoned residences. Not the average feline either; more of the stray breed. I saw a pit-bull at one point. No collar and no owner to be found. Garbage piled alongside the curbs, windswept to their permanent homes. As our little caravan ambled through the “sketchy” section of town, I couldn’t help but notice that money was not the only factor that was keeping the community from improving their immediate area. Garbage just simply needs to be picked up and thrown in a bag. And, even if the streets were lined with garbage bags until the garbage truck came by, it would sure cut the similarities between America’s streets and third world countries’. The latter seems to be what people seem are more sympathetic towards anyways…

But back to the point: why don’t people just pick up their garbage? I think the apparent answer is their desolation; their reaction to being overly sympathized by fellow Americans-the ones who still sympathize over Americans instead of distant peoples in foreign lands. They’re tired of being left to fend for themselves. They’re tired of being thrown the most pathetic bone ever: sympathy. The solution: start becoming empathetic and proactive by curing the blind-eye people turn when words like homeless, hungry, and Americans are strung together. Helping our immediate surroundings is an immediate cause-effect scenario. There’s no middleman, no tariffs on shipping foreign aid, and there’s no lack of proximity between the affluent and the destitute. Both of them are right around the corner!

Written by Jack Viere

November 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm