We do this work here at Christian Help because people need the help and they deserve the help. But it’s very easy to imagine someone responding to that statement by challenging it: “Why do they deserve it? They got themselves into the situation they’re in now, and they can get themselves out of it.”
Why do they deserve it?
Because they’re human beings. They don’t want their poverty any more than you or I would want it.
So why don’t they do something about it themselves?
Many can’t. First of all, there are the disabled and chronically unhealthy. Did you know that health statistics here in southern West Virginia are among the worst in the entire United States? Did you know there are many places in this region, in this very county, where safe drinking water is difficult to find? Of course, poverty and poor health are intimately connected, so where there’s lots of poverty, there’s lots of poor health, and that means lots of people for whom it’s very hard or impossible to work steadily.
But there are issues beyond poor health and disability. Central Appalachia is a place with few opportunities for quality education, personal development, and decent work, and that has been the case for many decades. Many people who live here have received a raw deal from American society, the American economy, American politics, and life itself. No, they’re not the only poor people in the country, but poverty is concentrated here unlike few other places in our nation.
Again and again, we hear the comments from the student groups who come here to visit and serve: These are the conditions of a third-world nation. How could this be happening in America?
Many of them could do something about their situations, if they were living in another place, in a different situation, or had a different set of experiences that has brought them to where they are now.
Many, many people here grow up in families where academic achievement is understood as having little value, where an expectation of going to college, even an option of going to college, is completely absent. Sadly, setting a kid’s sights on success and on preparation for college is often not a priority even in some schools in our region.
Another element in this mix: The culture of the region is highly, intensely family centered. Many people, even many young people, couldn’t conceive of moving elsewhere for better opportunities. Did you know that burying deceased loved ones on one’s own property is a common practice here? Show me a person whose family is buried on their own land, and I’ll show you someone who has no intention of going anywhere, and would understandably find it very hard to, even if they wanted to.
Are these things that could be overcome? Could someone succeed and thrive in life despite these facts, if they really wanted to? Yes, they could. But shouldn’t modest success, and even basic survival, be accessible to more than just the very strongest, most resilient, and most determined among us?
Are there deadbeats and lazy people among those who are poor? There sure are. I even suppose that they’re occasionally recieving help from Christian Help. But as our founder Sr. Brendan Conlon often says, The only way to be sure we’re never taken advantage of by clients is never to help anybody. If we end up helping a few lazy people in order to relieve some burdens of people who really are in need of help that they couldn’t get any other way, I can live with that.
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