• Have we lost ourselves in statistics?

    Posted by Eliza

    28 April, 2011

    Atticus Finch was on to something when he said "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Atticus was not talking about those in poverty when he said this, but I feel it encapsulates my experience of the 'Connecting Lives' exhibition a few weeks ago.

    The exhibition, which officially opened in Sydney on Monday, provides the general public with an opportunity to experience the life of three children in Africa; Innocent in a Ugandan IDP (Internally Displaced Persons Camp), Kombo in AID's affected Kenya and Selamawit, enduring child labor in Ethiopia.

    Having already walked through the story of Kombo at St Mary's Cathedral as part of World Youth Day in 2008, I recently had the privilege of walking through the life of Innocent and Selamawit. The stories of these girls are exceptionally powerful. I found myself hanging onto every word that came through my headphones, not anticipating the emotional extremes that I was experiencing. For 40 minutes I shared their anxiety, anger and sadness, before their relief, peace and joy.

    I know what poverty is, I know that 1.4 billion people are living in extreme poverty, I know that about 8.1 million children die before their 5th birthday each year. I can tell you what causes poverty and what possible solutions may be. I can talk about Australia's aid budget and where we need to be focusing our efforts. As part of my job, I must keep up to date with relevant statistics and movements around the world concerned with global poverty. I can recite all these things, but do I really understand poverty? Am I concerned with individual lives or statistics?

    Exhibitions like Connecting Lives assist us in separating our understanding of poverty from numbers to individuals. "You can never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it". I wonder if the reason we think of poverty numerically is because we have not experienced life from another's point of view. Perhaps we are too afraid to put a human face to poverty; perhaps we are worried of becoming too emotionally invested. But whatever way we look at it, poverty does have a human face. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, behind the vast number of statistics are human beings. For those of us who have not experienced the reality of poverty, this exhibition is invaluable. Understanding poverty is not just about statistics, but also about the pain and hardships of individual lives. As I reflect upon my experience of Connecting Lives, this realisation is most poignant.

    The stories of Kombo, Selamawit and Innocent represent the lives of millions of children living in poverty. Lives - not numbers. Suffering-not statistics. This should move us.

    Eliza Whalley is Micah Challenge's Political Engagement Intern.