War On Poor Children

What It’s Like To Grow Up In Poverty


Photo courtesy of Maire Odermann.

Maire Odermann, Photojournalist, Writer

Since I was a kid, I wanted to travel.

My biggest dream as a child, and a quote I still use today when asked what I want to be is, “Everything.”
So when I discovered journalism and filmmaking. I discovered I could be anything through the power of storytelling. Whether the character in my film was an officer or the person I interviewed was a seamstress. I could discover and learn anything I wanted to.
Yet, growing up as a child in poverty is detrimental to not only your physical well-being. Such as having a stable place to live or food on the table, but it also affects your mental health. As an adult, I can’t buy anything for myself despite the ability to do so without hurting my well-being. The guilt of, “This could be for someone else or useful to my household.” instills a sense of mental instability. I am not able to even buy myself what is necessary due to the thoughts of, “I don’t deserve this.”
As a child, I would be ridiculed by other children for both getting nice things and sometimes nothing at all. I almost went without Christmas quite a few times due to the state of our financial instability.

My mother had to sell her beloved violin to bring food to the table. I remember getting kicked out of our apartment in Billings, MT, on Christmas day, I was five years old.
The longest we stayed in a place was our first house in Missoula, MT, and we stayed there for 8 years total. My family didn’t leave by choice; we never left a place by choice. There’s an impact of never knowing when you will have to leave your own home forever. Which causes one to revert to primal instincts.
The reason I am giving you backstory into my life is because I want you to understand this. I want you to realize, poverty is not a choice. No one would ever desire to be in survival mode from the day you are born once you have lived in it.
When you sit in line and judge the single mother before you. When she buys her kid a candy bar, a toy, or even something more expensive like a phone or an instrument and you judge her. You are engaging in a culture of inhumane and entitled thoughts.
It isn’t even about one category of poverty-stricken individuals. Everyone is affected, whether you are in the bottom rung as society views it or at the top of the pyramid.
You are affected and you are affecting the world with your ignorant selfish side remarks.
Every post that dissed those on food stamps. For every headline about how, a very small percentage by the way, of people sell food stamps. Every single time you say in front of a child. Every time that you say those who need benefits are heathens and parasites on society. When you say that your money is going to those who actually need it, to actual human beings. Including children. When you say all these things that are negative and you engage in an inhumane and tiresome ideology. You are creating a worse injustice in our society and creating a world that is only made for you. Who will take care of you after you have treated everyone else like they shouldn’t exist because of your perfect worldview? Then when you are no longer supported by the same system of hatred you worship, you end up suffering like the rest of us.
I remember as a child living in a system that not only judges the parent for having you, but for you having been born. The guilt and regret you feel growing up always outweighs the good emotions.
My strongest memory is the instances of going to camps, workshops, and extracurricular activities.
I was treated different by not only the other parents, but also the children. All for living and breathing poverty.
I typically went to these on scholarships. However, as I got older I soon learned that this society is not designed for poor children. The scholarships paid less and less, I had less opportunities and less hope for the future. When I went to my first high school, I had the opportunity to visit Japan. I had to pay $2,600 to go, which was paid by many friends, family, and even strangers on Indiegogo. But, it still was not enough and didn’t reach the goal.
It paid for my flight, my hotel, and some gifts. I was humiliated and snubbed by the other students. There were many occasions when other students could afford cool gifts and fun activities. I usually had to sit outside or wander because I couldn’t afford it and no one would pay for me. In the end, I was treated like it was my fault for not being able to afford the shuttle ride ($30, I was $5 short). That it was my fault for not having the gift money sent to me right away. Because my mother and father were still trying to gather funds, so I could pay for food and gifts. I ended up borrowing money from a teacher. I felt like I shouldn’t have come along – that I was at fault for being financially less stable than my fellow students.
When kids desire and hope for something better. Like a trip to another state or even another country or even affording a new phone, computer, a necessity in today’s society. They are faced with humiliation, deprecation of their lifestyles and a loneliness no one would be able to face or understand.
The programs dedicated and targeted towards children, they should never feel like you don’t deserve to attend due to your financial situation.
Programs should focus on getting sponsors to help generate funds for the children who can’t even begin to imagine paying $1K+. I want every kid to be able to visit a Journalism convention, a science workshop, a filmmaking program and more.
Embarrassment and apathy, the yin and yang of poverty.
This is the price poor kids have to pay, but can’t afford.