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Poverty is one of the biggest problems we face as humans today. But the  most interesting thing about  poverty is that is has many faces; some will say that being poor means  lacking  the basic necessities for survival , while others will say that being alone and unloved is being poor.

So, what is poverty?

I looked up many definitions of poverty and in all I saw the reference to humans’ lack of adequate resources to support a minimum level of physical health and survival. Only one definition, of Mother Theresa, caught my attention. She, so smartly, said ” “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

I agree! Poverty is more, much more than just not having enough money.

I want to share with you a story that changed my thinking and understanding of the meaning of poverty.

I have a new patient who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. She is living on her own in a small apartment. During my first visit at her house I was traumatized by the living conditions she lived in. She barely had the basic furniture; she had a spring bed with a very thin mattress, no winter blanket, just a sheet (during these cold days), no pillows, and an old refrigerator with one half full carton of milk, yogurt, and half eaten tomato. Her clothes were old and stained. It was Thursday when I saw her and asked her when she ate last- she replied (with an embarrassed smile) “Sunday”.

I didn’t want to embarrass her by asking her about her living condition so I have decided to just talk to her and see if she mentions anything about needing help. She didn’t! All she spoke about was her little sister who is diagnosed with developmental disability and was taken away from her last year because of her Illness. She spoke about how she dreams to get better so she can get her sister back home. I asked her several times if she needed anything for the house for herself, something to improve her quality of life, but she didn’t seem to see what she is lacking at home. She didn’t seem to see all the things that she needs at home except for her sister.  To me, her living condition defines poverty, but to her- the only hunger she has is for the care and love for her sister. She told me that her sister gives her hope and reason to fight every day and to survive and that she feel strong and motivated even if she doesn’t eat much. I had tears in my eyes, I wanted to cry so badly but the only thing that kept me strong was her smile and the way she looked at life, her optimism.

With the help of my team, my husband, friends and good people, we managed to repair her home, furnish it, get donated food, home goods, and clothes just so she can be more comfortable while working one her goals and dreams. Although she was happy and very thankful, she didn’t seem to understand why I was so shocked by her living conditions. To her- the house, the clothes, the food were all the tools that kept her strong enough to fight for want really gives her a reason to live…the connection with her sister. Other than that, she didn’t feel that she needed much.

If I felt sorry for her at first, I now admire her! She taught me that in order to be alive; you don’t need only food and water but also love and company.

I was touched by this that I have decided to do a little research of my own on that matter.

I spoke with some of my friends, who live in different social economic statuses, but mostly in the mid-high socio-economic status, and with some of my patients, who are all supported financially by the government and make less than minimum wage as disabled. It was interesting to get different perspectives of poverty. All my friends said that poverty is basically a state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money. Interestingly enough, most of my patients also defined poverty as lacking the basic needs of love and attention.

Poverty is associated with the undermining of a range of key human attributes. The poor are exposed to greater personal, emotional and environmental risks; they thus have a higher risk of illness and disability. Conversely, illness can reduce household savings, lower learning ability, reduce productivity, and lead to a diminished quality of life, thereby perpetuating or even increasing poverty.

Despite the many definitions, one thing is certain; poverty is a complex societal issue. No matter how poverty is defined, it can be agreed that it is an issue that requires everyone’s attention.  It is important that all members of our society work together to provide the opportunities for all our members to reach their full potential. It helps all of us to help one another. At times $10 for a person who needs it can make a big difference. At times 10 minutes for a person who needs you can make even a bigger difference. Just as the Talmud says;  ” Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself “.