For a Dignified Life

Matchbox Child

Living in a matchbox
This city
This barrio
This shack
This life.
Cruel, ludicrous lack of space
Competing for limited everything
Survival of the toughest
Self-preservation a permanent posture
Imprisoning fear
Strangling hope
Why bother?

I am a match
Small, skinny, easily snapped in half
Snapped in half every day
Until I am so small
As not to be counted at all
Disposable.

—From a poem by
Annette Mandeville,
Maryknoll Lay Missioner
in El Salvador.

Matchbox children staggering under the weight of $2 trillion in debt live daily the reality of "limited everything." With three billion other people in the world who live on less than $2 per day, they yearn for the basics essential to survival. With 1.5 billion others without access to potable water, they thirst for the possibility of a dignified life. One hundred and fifty million of these matchbox kids never get to school, yet they hunger incessantly for the knowledge that enables good work—for the possibility of nurturing the unique potential that each human life, including the most impoverished, contains.

How many hundreds of thousands of times has an Alice Walker or a Beethoven, a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Rigoberta Menchu flickered out in a matchbox of poverty and hopelessness? And how is this tragedy linked to the staggering foreign debt that cripples the economies of many impoverished countries?

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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