How is Poverty Perceived by Our Children?
On the one hand children
represent one of the major social groups in Belarus for whom the concept of
poverty has a real meaning. According to the national statistics, children are
most vulnerably to poverty. For example, 36% of children were poor in 2003 and
the risk of poverty for this segment of population was 1.4 times higher than the
national average. On the other hand, development of children's and young
people's entrepreneurial skills, their enthusiasm and extensive capabilities are
the factors encouraging social optimism and contributing to the establishment of
a platform for selfrealization of young citizens.
Therefore, the UNDP Project has
decided to carry out in 2004 a number of events targeted on children. The action
«Make Good Deeds» involving 250 schoolchildren aged from 7 to 15 years
representing nine schools of Minsk was conducted in May in the Minsk Palace of
Children and Youth jointly with the Center for Youth Entrepreneurship Support
and Development. The action started from visiting the exhibition of children's
posters dedicated to good deeds, charity, mutual aid and empathy. Being so naive
and sincere, children's posters reflect poverty perceptions and ways of
eradicating it. The most impressive titles are: «Change the World Through Simple Dream»,
«Children's Home is Closed, I Want to Bring A Picture Back to Life», «Change
the World by Your Own Efforts», «Planet of Good»
In addition to painted works,
visitors could study the best essays covering such subjects as «Poverty»,
«Wealth», «Charity» and etc. In the essays schoolchildren expressed their vision
of the current problems and proposed the ways of addressing social concerns.
After visiting the exhibition of
children's posters, the participants of the action were invited to the hall
where the best teams of debate clubs organized a discussion «We should fight
poverty» raising various issues of public concern and focusing on different
poverty dimensions and problems of the vulnerable groups in Belarus.
A survey of children was
conducted during selection rounds for the action «Make Good Deeds!». The design
of the questionnaire was based on the specifics of a child's mentality and their
vivid perception of a problem. This allowed to identify how the problem is
viewed by children and how they would like to address it. It is interesting to
note that 35% (the figure is close to the share of poor children in Belarus) of
respondents believe that poverty is something they are facing in their own life
and in the life of their relatives and friends. In the opinion of children, a
rich person is happy, welleducated, lucky, healthy and young. Children do not
always see a correlation between willingness to work decently and financial
welfare. The poor are perceived by children as miserable persons, who are
industrious, but sick and have low level of education.
The survey findings suggest that
there are considerable gender differences in poverty and wealth perceptions.
This is influenced by differences in upbringing boys and girls which are then
translated into unequal social status. Girls believe that they can become
wealthy with somebody's help while boys tend to rely on their own efforts. Among
key factors contributing to poverty children listed those which can be seen as
consequences of an individual choice or experience (excessive alcohol
consumption, drug abuse, laziness, inability to cope with life problems, low
level of education). Second in the list are factors which cannot be coped by a
person through his or her own efforts and which depend on other individuals
(illness, disability, family with many children).
The action and the survey are starting points of the campaign intended to
engage children and young people in discussion of social concerns and to
facilitate formation and enhancement of civic consciousness and responsible
attitude among younger generation. The action «Make Good Deeds!» received a
positive feedback from children and teachers of schools, gymnasiums and
outofschool centers. The action was intended to promote universal values such
as good deeds, charity and willingness to help to the needy. Such an approach
allowed the participants to express their life credo, to share ideas and hopes
and to feel that they are equal and active members of the society capable to
influence its development.