Appalachia

Of all yesterday’s speakers, the only thing more entertaining than the students, was a doctor at LMU‘s new medical school. He talked about the school’s mission to teach medicine to the people of Appalachia so that they could return to their communities with the skills to help. The doctor was eloquent and passionate and if I was 18, he could have talked me into making Appalachia my home. Unfortunately, I prefer social sciences to physical sciences and the last thing the people in Appalachia need is another social worker.

Several years ago, a school administrator called and asked me to attend an IEP to help a parent understand the process. Attending meetings at schools was a normal weekly occurance. That was the ONLY time a school ever invited me. Usually, the parents called for support and the schools were openly hostile at my presence. This was an unusual situation. The school was in a very rural, very poor area near the Kentucky border and the child was extremely physically and mentally disabled. The child’s very immediate future was a group home or institution. Everyone in the room understood that except the mother. The mother was MR and the state was already in the process of removing the child from her custody. The mother lacked the mental skills to manage her physical health problems and she needed an assisted living situation herself. I have been to a lot of meetings that were sad and frustrating, but this situation was tragic.

I have to believe that many people in East TN don’t know that we have our very own third world just a few hours up the road. Surely they don’t deliberately ignore the situation. Poverty, illness and illiteracy are so extreme in Appalachia that you really feel like the oxygen has been sucked out of the air. There are homes without running water or indoor plumbing. Buckets and pails are lined up around every ramshackle building and trailer to gather rainwater. It is a level of filth like few people have ever seen. Clean homes and clothes are a luxury the Appalachian people can’t afford. There is no door to door trash removal service. They have no phones or transportation. It is physically impossible for them to travel to where there is work. Poverty leads to poor eating options and hunger which lead to sickness which makes further debts, further inability to work and increasingly insurmountable obstacles to surviving. A naive and sheltered young woman visiting TN once proclaimed her surprise to Doug at the revelation that not everyone can read. It evolved into a discussion of poverty and no matter how valiantly he tried, Doug just couldn’t get her to see beyond her belief that you are only poor if you don’t work hard enough. LMU is making steps in the right direction to help. That makes them the good guys. It made me feel even more confident that they are the right people to entrust with my child.

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