“The Reality of Life in Alabama’s Black Belt”

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 5, 2005

While in school we are required to take the basic course on any given subject first.

Many of us don’t feel like we need “the basics” and want to avoid this requirement altogether and go straight on to the next level.

Why should we have to go over the simple stuff when we already “get it”… not to mention we will have to attend class with students who are not as knowledgeable as we think we are.

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Sound familiar?

Most of us feel we know a lot about our state and its problems, right?

Would you be surprised if I told you that we know more about the suffering of Third-World countries than the suffering going on in our own state?

All we have to do is turn on our TV and “witness” for ourselves the deplorable conditions in which people of other countries live.

When I see the faces and hear the stories I am overwhelmed at their needs and sense of hopelessness.

I feel the same way when I enter “The Black Belt” of our state.

Do not misunderstand me.

I have great respect for all individuals and groups who travel to these countries where famine and death are prevalent.

This shows great faith and as a Christian I believe the Lord continuously calls his disciples out of their “comfort zone”.

When I talk to groups about my experiences many think I have been out of the country.

I have been asked many of the same questions over and over again.

Where is the Black Belt?

Do people really live without running water and electricity?

Why isn’t our government doing more?

In southwestern Alabama where the Appalachian Mountains drop off into fertile flatlands, is an isolated, remote and poverty-ridden area called the “Black Belt”.

It consists of the following 12-counties:

Pickens, Sumter, Choctaw, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Perry, Dallas, Wilcox, Lowndes, Macon and Bullock.

The “Belt:” is a desperately poor place – one of the poorest in the United States.

Residents are stricken with persistent poverty, poor employment, unemployment, poor health, limited education, etc.

It is so hard for somebody from Birmingham (where I live) to imagine people who don’t have water, don’t have phones or cars, live without electricity, or have raw sewage running onto their own yard.

I like many others had to see it with my own eyes to believe it.

No matter how many times you see it…you never get used to it.

What would you do without these “basic” necessities?

Thanks to my work with the Friends of Hale County Foundation over the past two years…I can give you a first-hand account.

If you are unable to drink the rain water gathered in various outdoor containers then you go thirsty.

You sponge bathe and wash your clothes by hand when the weather permits.

Getting to the doctor or store becomes a major issue.

If you are elderly you are isolated and dependent on family or friends (if you have them) to check on you.

If you become sick or get hurt you tough it out and hope you live long enough for someone to come by and find you.

In the heat of summer you stay drenched in sweat.

When winter comes you can see your breath as you stay closed up in one room using anything you have available to keep out the cold.

As for the raw sewage…it becomes the least of your worries.

Why is the government not doing more?

I have no answers…only questions.

How long is this to continue?

How bad does it have to get?

President Bush proposed 5 billion in aid for Third World countries that the US says demonstrates a strong commitment toward health and education and a desire to root out corruption and uphold human rights.

According to President Bush, “This growing divide between wealth and poverty, between opportunity and misery, is both a challenge to our compassion and source of instability.

We must confront it.”

Ironic…isn’t it?

I encourage each and every one of you to educate yourself on what is going on in your own backyard.

Ask yourself one question.

Is this acceptable?

Pam Chism

Executive Director

Friends of Hale County Foundation