Once upon a time, in 1987, my mother’s employers (the people whose house she cleaned a few days a week) visited our home and captured this image. Our first family photograph. Happiness.
A family of four, living in a one bedroom council flat, our first home. I broke my arm while playing catch with my brother, throwing hair curlers to each other from our bunk beds. I missed, fell off the top bunk and crashed against our cupboard. We had our own beds!
Rewind to the time when I was the only child. We moved around A LOT, living in the living rooms of friends’ family homes or renting a bedroom in someone’s small house. Back then my bed was my baby bath while my mom and dad slept on the floor. Happiness, a family living together.
Poverty does not equate unhappiness. Poverty can borne a resilience and an appreciation for even the most miniscule of things, like having toothpaste to brush your teeth and toilet paper to wipe your ass. An appreciation for having the R15 to buy sanitary towels instead of the “flennie-lappie” your mother used to neatly cut up in rectangular shapes when menstruation came at a time of the month when a sanitary towel was a luxury, one that the family just could not afford! Or when you eat jungle oats for the second night in a row because well, times were tough.
Poverty does not equate an undignified existence because poverty can borne a resourceful mind that appreciates that dignity does not require money, but a certain mindfulness that recognises that the value of your life has got nothing to do with the cost of your lifestyle or the basics of living.
Poverty is when you lose your self-worth and seek your value in how others see you. It is when you go out into the world feeling worthless because all around you children are wearing the latest designer brands while your parents slave away day in and day out, yet their hard work is not reflecting in the clothes you wear. Poverty is when you fail to appreciate that which you have and constantly complain about the things you wish you had and pointing fingers at others – building up a resentment for what they have.
It is now in my adulthood that I recognise that back then the word poverty did not quite feature in our world, because our world was a happy one. A world where we had it all even though we had very little!
Whilst poverty is the reality of many, it does not have to be a life sentence! Your dignity does not need money nor does your self-worth! Living in poverty is not a choice, but it is your attitude towards the very little that you have that will be the difference in where you end up in life.
Give your children the gift of a happy childhood, no matter your circumstances. My childhood has taught me to see the world through a rainbow coloured lens, and today I strive to be that silver lining for my child. I can guarantee you that those happy memories will be your child’s comfort no matter where they end up in life as adults.
My wealth has very little to do with the balance of my bank account. The wealth of my world can be found in the life that I lead, in the company that I keep and in the ability to create my own happiness. It can be found in my recognition that I do indeed have an exceptional role to play in the life of my child, and in order to fulfil this role I surround myself with the wealth of knowledge and guidance of others.
Poverty is real, but it does not have to define where you end up in life nor does it have to negatively shape your character as a person.