So I went on a mission trip to Nicaragua 3 times to work with orphans for Mustard Seed Communities back when I lived in New York after being inspired by my friend Maria Nordone, who brought the trip to our parish.

You haven’t seen poverty until you’ve been to the developing world.

People living in houses–nay, shacks made of cardboard (pictured, right) with corrugated tin roofs. Children with special needs who are simply left on the streets in hopes that someone can care for them because a special needs child will make everyone else starve. People living at the garbage dump with little hope of ever getting out of poverty.

I saw all of this with my own eyes. A young man I visited, who thought nothing of jumping in a hammock filled with bugs, told me some sad facts. “I’m trying to study hard to get to a university and get out of here. I live here in Chureca (the name of the garbage dump) and I work here too. When the trucks come to dump the garbage children run to try to get the best garbage first. Most people tell me that I’m crazy to try. If you are born in Chureca, you will die in Chureca.”

Heart-breaking to say the least. I encouraged him to study. He was a pretty smart kid. With just one advantage that we all take for granted, he would be able to get out of poverty’s blight.

But for many that opportunity never shows itself to them.

I’m in Vanceburg, Kentucky in Lewis County, one of the poorer places in the U.S., and I’m wondering what kind of poverty I will encounter here. Here are some facts from Glenmary’ website about Lewis County:

Lewis County has a population of about 13,752, mostly of Scottish, Scotch-Irish and Irish descent. The county is about 484 square miles in size.

People in Lewis County are employed primarily in logging and manufacturing and about 50 percent of the workforce leaves the county to find work. The unemployment rate fluctuates between 8% to 16%, depending on the season of the year.

The median household income for the county is $28,466 compared to the average U.S. median income of $46,326. The per capita income of Lewis County is $16,683 compared to the national average of $33,041.

The percent of people living below the national poverty level in Lewis County is 25.1 percent which is two times the national average of 12.3 percent; 75 percent of students in the county qualify for free or reduced lunch; 50 percent of infants to preschool age children live below the national poverty level.

The percentage of people over the age of 25 that have a high school diploma is 57.4 percent, the national average is 80.4 percent; 22.4 percent of the population of Lewis County have less than a ninth grade education. The percentage of people over 25 who have a college degree is 6.4 percent compared to the national average of 24.4 percent.

There are 46.5 percent of the families in Lewis County headed by a female with no husband present and 11.5 percent of the mothers in the county are 10-19 years of age.

In our country and with our infrastructure there’s no reason that anyone should be in poverty. I firmly believe that. A redistributing of wealth is certainly needed in some way.

I’m really wondering how this will compare with poverty in Nicaragua? You’ll find out by week’s end when I return.

Pray that we have a fruitful week and that we travel back safely to Buffalo.