One child every three seconds. That’s the estimated number of deaths that occur around the world each day as a result of extreme poverty, hunger and preventable illness, according to UNICEF. The organization recently estimated that out of the 2.2 billion children worldwide, about half live in poverty. Thousands of Canadian aid workers worldwide devote their careers, and sometimes their vacations, to help alleviate this issue. ParentsCanada brings you a few of their stories.
Laurel Rothman, Toronto
Poverty is not just a Third World problem, says Laurel Rothman, who works at Family Service Toronto as the National Coordinator of Campaign 2000, a cross-Canada network of more than 100 organizations aiming to end child and family poverty in Canada. As a poverty activist working in her own country, Laurel often takes the fight to the halls of the federal government.
Many Canadians may be surprised to learn that poverty is a serious issue in all parts of the country, says Laurel, even though the House of Commons voted in 1989 to eliminate poverty among Canadian children by the 2000 and reaffirmed that commitment in 2009.
“We still have about one in 10 children and their families living in poverty. What’s particularly striking is that one in three of those children has a parent that is working full-time in the labour market and still cannot lift themselves above the poverty line,” she says. Far too many families must rely on food banks to make it through the month, she adds, and about 750,000 children under 15 live in housing that is unaffordable, sub-standard, overcrowded or all three.
“These are not new problems; these are problems that have become worse over time.”
In First Nations communities, particularly in Northern Ontario, the situation is especially dire. “It’s shocking that conditions in many of our First Nations communities … could be compared to developing countries,” says Laurel. “Poverty is a critical issue for Aboriginal people and many of their experiences are rooted in the legacy of extremely harmful policies, including the residential schools and other things that separated children from their families for decades…. First Nations communities are not getting the funding they need to provide decent services.”
Laurel notes that the number of First Nations children that were in foster care in 2010 was three times higher than at the height of the residential school program of the 1940s.
“Those children are there as a result of unacceptable living conditions, which are often beyond the capability of most parents to do anything about,” she says, adding that more than 100 First Nations communities are under drinking water advisories.
Conditions are so deplorable at the northern native community of Attawapiskat near James Bay that in November 2011, officials there urged the province to evacuate the community of more than 2,000 before winter set in. Although Ottawa has agreed to spend $500,000 to renovate housing in Attawapiskat, critics say that isn’t nearly enough to meet the needs.
“We’re going to have to see some key federal leadership on this,” says Laurel, who will be one of the people applying the pressure.
Learn what you can do: campaign2000.ca
Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal writer and television producer and a frequent contributor to ParentsCanada. Read more about her at taketwoproductions.ca.