In our first meeting prior to our Workfest adventure, we were asked to take a minute and answer a couple of questions pertaining to what we thought we knew about Appalachia and poverty and what we wanted to learn. My responses were very limited (in regards to what I knew):
What do you know about the Appalachian region?
All of my limited knowledge of Appalachia comes from the Appalachian foothills of Southeastern Ohio. My general understanding of that area is that it is very poor, very secluded, and has serious struggles with meeting state education standards. I really don’t know much else.
What are some stereotypes that come to mind when you think of the Appalachian region?
The stereotypes I associate with Appalachia are that the region is poor, undereducated, isolated, very white (demographically), has subpar living standards, and drug addiction is rampant.
Define poverty. What does it mean to you?
Being someone who has never battled with poverty—a great privilege, I know—I think of it with a literal definition in that it means being extremely poor and lacking an income to live—maybe even survive—in the society in which you exist. But, I do think that poverty means many things to many people, and I definitely think it means something different—something more—to people who have experienced it first hand.
What do you want to know about the Appalachian region?
I really just want to know more. We learn so much about the urban core and how poverty stricken people live and interact there, but Appalachia is disregarded by many and disregarded in our educations. I know very little, and that disappoints me. But specifically, I am extremely interested in the role religion plays in the lives of Appalachians. After spending a semester in Morocco, where religion is ingrained in the day-to-day—minute-to-minute, really—I’m interested to see if there are parallels what I saw there, and what I will see in Appalachia.
Our learning about Appalachia began in this meeting as well—it wasn’t just about our assumptions. We looked at pictures of Appalachian homes and watched a video about some of the children in the area. I had a couple reactions to these media pieces. The first, these poverty stricken parts of Appalachia look like a developing country—the piles of trash and junk, gutted houses that people live in, etc.—even though it is in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The other thing I realized is that, beyond the stereotypes, these people have the same values as many Americans. Pictures of kids getting ready for prom, playing sports, and going to church, etc. indicate that though Appalachians seem a world apart from what most of us know, they aren’t all that different. Clearly, there are many things I still need to learn and explore in regards to Appalachia, and I really look forward to being immersed in the culture—even if it is just for a week.