One of the topics I had been curious about learning in taking a gap year was poverty. I could not come to understand how poverty existed in the 21st century. After spending two months in Puerto Quito, Ecuador and becoming familiarized with Voices of the Poor I have discovered a new definition for Poverty and what it means to be poor. Poverty is not the lack of Wealth but it is a life lived without Bienestar (wellbeing) “the good life”, a day to day life, one that lacks opportunities for a better. “Like being trapped in quicksand, every struggling step you make to escape you only find yourself being lured in deeper and deeper; at first you wait for opportunities,for something to pull you out to peace but non arise. Sooner or later you lose hope and learn to accept your misfortune. Because this trap isolates you from society and the only people who see and understand your struggle are those who like you are trapped in their own quicksand.”
An ill-being life is one without basic necessities, peace of mind, and opportunities. A person living in poverty has ill-being; if you have ill-being then you are living in poverty. This scenario is not the same for wellbeing and wealth; they are seen as opposites. One can have money but not peace; wellbeing is obtainable without wealth. “The rich have money but they don’t have security nor are they respected by the community.” A wealthy life is a comfortable and abundant life while a wellbeing life is a tolerable, sufficient and peaceful one.
According to Voices of the Poor the five main necessities poor people required to obtain a Wellbeing life were: “Material Wellbeing: having enough food, adequate assets (such as a house, land/ livestock and savings/access to good) and sustainable work; Bodily Wellbeing: being and looking well ( having access to doctors and looking presentable to other); Social Wellbeing: desire to taking care of children, maintaining self-respect and dignity and keep the peace in their family, community, and country; Security: a life with predictability and peace and confidence in the future; and Freedom of choice and action: make choices, doing what you want without worries, living in predictable environments and helping those in need.”
After learning about wellbeing and ill-being I felt enlightened; before Ecuador I defined poverty as a state of a person who lacks the money to have basic needs; the opposite of being wealth. The concept of measuring someone life on the scale of wellbeing and ill-being has not occurred to me. Living near Esmeraldas, Ecuador (a research site near my community that participated in the research in 1999 for Voices of the Poor), I was curious to see if people in my community held the same view on wellbeing. Asking members of the community, “¿Que es bienestar para usted?” I learned that their views on Wellbeing were similar; health, peace at mind, food, housing, a job, and happiness were required for a wellbeing life.
The concept of Wellbeing is not for those who have plenty to live the life they aspire. But the concept of wellbeing is for the poor who crave for the things that others take for granted; for those who aspire wellbeing enough for a good life is not much but just the minimum.