The Pillars of Poverty

Scripted text for three characters across six basic community needs

This is the first draft of scripts for three characters in a digital educational game based on the traditional game Oware.



It’s Table 4 again. “Morgan,” Joe hisses, motioning me over to them, with a jerk of his head. With a sigh, I head across the room. It’s nearly the end of my shift, and I’m tired. Been on my feet several hours now. I spend my life at this place. Six days a week. Seven, eight hours a shift.

If you saw me in your neighborhood, I might not look out of place. But you’d think me a lot older than I am. I’ve been waiting tables now for as long as I can remember. I can hardly remember a different life. I wasn’t much for school when I was a kid, and it wasn’t much for me. I grew up in a series of foster homes. Was always changing schools, always the new kid. There didn’t seem a place for me. School seemed to have nothing to do with my real life. Even my life seemed to have nothing to do with my real life.

And then I met Cole, and everything changed. Or so I thought. Now I’ve got a daughter to care for. I’m on my own, I do the best I can, and the best I can is this job. But Sophie, that’s my little girl, I want something different for her. I don’t want her to live this kind of life.


I grew up kind of ghetto. We lived in this shabby apartment, on welfare, my mom and my sister and me. Our older brother had already left. We ran a bit wild, we two girls, when we were little. But I always took care of Maya, being the older one, when mom wasn’t able to. She slept a lot, our mother. Got high at night, slept during the day. She tried to kick the habit, once or twice. But always went back. Once heroin’s got you, it’s got you for good. That’s how it seems to me. I learned to stay away from the stuff.

But all that was a long time ago. I don’t live there now, and neither does Maya. “Jada,” my teachers used to tell me, “you can change your life.” And they were right. Oh, it didn’t happen all at once. And it wasn’t easy. But school set me free, and it helped me to set my sister free. We’re both on scholarships now, studying at decent universities. Nothing fancy, but a good solid education. I’m not sure what I’ll settle on in the end, but whatever it is, it will mean a life of my own choosing. Not one that is thrust upon me by circumstance.

Maya, she wants to be a teacher. She’ll make a good teacher.



Yeah, I have equal access to work. “Work” being the key word. And work I do. Do I get paid the same as the guys who are doing the same job alongside me? Ah, that’s an entirely different story, and the answer to that would be no.

I work the same long hours — sorting packages early in the morning, loading the truck, out all day for deliveries. But I make about a third less than the guys. Am I burned up about it? Yes. But I need the job and these are the rules. What can I do? Anywhere else I go, it’s likely to be the same story — even if I had an office job. “Denise,” my friend Shanaya says, “It’s the same where I am.” She works as an administrative assistant for a busy executive in a rather large company. She’s got a good job. I mean, a good job. And they’re still paying her less than they would a man.

It’s not right.


The gender pay gap? It doesn’t apply to me any more. A teacher, I’ve just been given a raise that brings me up to par with my male counterparts. The additional pay means I am — finally, finally — being paid a fair wage, the same wage that a man doing the same job, my job — with my experience and my schooling — would be making. My salary is now “gender blind.”

And it’s about time.

The additional pay means I can pay off my student loans more quickly. It means I’ll have more money to work with each month. And it means my place of employment recognizes me as being every bit as valuable as a man doing the job would be.

My mother would be proud. She was a teacher, too, helping to put my father through school — which made her, as sole wage earner, the head of the household, financially. Yet her school denied her the additional head-of-household pay she should have been making.

This is for you, Mom, from your little Belen. We fought, and we won. This time, we won.



Being poor is hard on your health. Being poor and a woman? Even worse. I’m what they call “low income,” and rates of illness and disease are higher in families like mine. Higher because low-income families don’t eat as well, don’t live as well. And we haven’t got access to hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, no access to the latest medical technology or the proper procedures. Take my part of the city. The last decent hospital closed down a decade ago. It’s a long bus ride to the nearest hospital now, over on the west side, and forget about regular doctor visits. Without insurance coverage, the cost of seeing a doctor regularly is more than I can afford. For me or the kids. I’m struggling to keep gas in the car, food on the table. How can I pay doctor bills, with everything so high? So, forget reproductive health, pregnancy and prenatal care, care for a new infant, care for the kids. For adolescent girls, forget information on safe sex or preventing unwanted pregnancies. More than likely, ain’t gonna happen.

And so things continue as they are. In this community, many of us live with untreated illness and disease. This makes life harder, and we die younger.

My name? Yasmine. And I’d like to see some change.


We’re not well off, I’ll grant you that — and there’s lots yet to be improved — but I’ll tell you what is better: we’re going for regular checkups now, all of us; my mother is doing better, getting help; and my folks aren’t worrying late at night about money so much. “Madison,” my father would say, when he caught me hovering in the stairwell to listen, “don’t you worry. We’re going to work it out.”

But I couldn’t see how.

Not, that is, until the new clinic opened up nearby and my father was able to get insurance coverage — for all of us. My mother tests her blood sugar now every day, and she’s got medication to control her diabetes. And I’m learning what I have to do to make sure that I don’t develop the same disease: not so many carbs (less pasta! fewer potatoes), not so much sugar. And more exercise. (That part’s easy.) Plus, I’m going to have my first gynecological exam next week. It’s time also to learn about becoming a woman. I’m excited!

Human rights and gender equality


You’d think that here in the states we’ve solved the issues of gender equality. You’d be wrong. Oh, people’s attitudes — for the most part — have changed. It’s not the same world today that it was for my mother and grandmother. I have rights, I have options, I have opportunities. Well, sort of. The problem is that for the last twenty years or more, work demands have increased. We’re working longer hours now, longer weeks, but work practices have not shifted to accommodate households where both parents work. Family-friendly policies? You’d have to look to Europe for those. In Europe, employers must pay part-time workers the same hourly rates as full-time workers and they must grant them the same pension plans, the same time-off policies and pay. All too often that is not the case here.

When our second child became sick and needed more at-home care, I had to shift into part-time work. I am paid less, I get less time off, and I’m not able to advance in my career. If it turns out I must leave altogether for a couple of years, I might never be able to recover my former position. These realities translate to fewer opportunities, less money.

And this doesn’t just affect me, Alexis Ruiz, and my family. Women all over the country face this reality, which means that so do families.


My partner and I both work for companies with family-friendly policies in place, so we manage the work-life thing pretty well. Both of us are able to work flex time — meaning we can work throughout the week, evenings and weekends in place of some weekday hours — and both of us are able to work from home too. So many evenings find us at the computer, once the kids have been put to bed. As for weekends, if one of us is playing catch-up with work, the other will occupy the kids here or take them out for the afternoon.

I was able to take a few years off, also, when the kids were little, so as to be able to spend time with them in those formative years. So as not to have to put them in day care as babies, so as to be a full-time mother for a short while. It was delicious. When I returned to work, it was to a position comparable to the one I’d left. With the birth of each child, my partner was able to take paternity leave. With that time together when the children were little, we were able to create a strong sense of family.

A more enlightened work-family policy is not just a women’s issue — it’s a human rights issue that affects us all. Parents, children, partners. Young and old alike. I, Graciela, bear witness to this fact.

Protective legislation


They call me a housekeeper, a “domestic worker” — but it’s more like slave. Me, Amaya, whose great-great grandparents struggled so valiantly to escape slavery. I clean sometimes nine, ten houses in a day. It’s long days, grueling work. And it’s hidden work — there aren’t the usual protections. I’ve had to work when sick. I’ve had to work ten-, twelve-hour days, so tired I could drop. I’ve been slapped, pushed, yelled at, sexually harassed — and once, assaulted. When I tried to talk to my employer about fewer hours — and about not working in that one house, the one I never want to see again — I was let go. Let go! After nearly eleven years in his employ.

Now I will have to try to find another job. It’ll be the same thing. The pay is not great. But this is the only work I can do. I’m trapped. At the very least, there should be some laws in place to make my work safe. I may work in people’s homes, but that doesn’t make my work any less important. Or me any less deserving of respect.


Yes, I’m a nanny. I studied hard for this job. It’s not easy, taking care of kids, other people’s kids. You’d better believe it’s not easy, though it can — when you get it right — be wonderful. The best work in the world, well, for now anyway. I’m taking night classes. I want to do something else, something other, eventually. But for now, I like this just fine.

I’m lucky that I work within one of the few states with legislation protecting domestic workers from being overworked, sexually harassed, or abused in any way. With those laws in place, my work is safer and saner. My hours are reasonable, the pay is good. I get sick time, vacation time. I’ve got workers’ rights. And I can continue my own education. I’m thinking I may go into social work or psychology, maybe child psychology. You can learn a lot from seeing families up close, watching kids grow.

Yes, I could do this for a while. I’ve got time to think, time to plan. Time to make a future. But — “Bailey! Bailey!” — the kids are calling me now. Gotta run!

Environmental stewardship


What was the river like before?, you might ask. I can only tell you what I know from my mother and grandmother. The river has been clogged with chemical sludge for all of my eleven years. It’s a dead river, this river that was once strong and vibrant, once singing with good clean water, teaming with fish in the deeper waters, with tadpoles and insects and frogs and all manner of water creatures here in these slower or shallower bits.

My mother used to build small dams in this part of the river, the part that flows across their property, when she was a little girl. Chase salamanders, catch tadpoles. Once she brought home a little water shrew she’d “rescued” from the river. Well, thought she’d rescued. The poor thing was probably on its way home.

The point is: the river was alive. It was home to fish and animals. It was a healthy part of the ecosystem. It was a living part of the planet.

Now it’s poison.

And sadly, it’s not just this one river. Though because I think of this river — the river that could have been, the river that was — as mine, Taylor’s Crossing, this is the river I miss the most.


I’m a Girl Scout, a Cadette. Next year, I’ll be a Senior.

This year in my troop, the focus is on the environment. We’ve done a river cleanup. We volunteered one Saturday a month at the children’s nature preserve, giving tours. And we’re embarking now on our most ambitious project — a campaign to introduce our community to the idea of an organic community garden. We’ll be researching the dangers of pesticides, and methods of gardening to take the place of using chemicals. We’re going to bring in an experienced organic gardener to teach us all about using beneficial bugs to control pests, about planting companion crops that discourage pests, about planting in rotation to interrupt pest reproduction, about using row covers to protect plants, and about using insect traps.

We’re hoping to wake people up to the need for clean food, food without chemical residue, so that we can start keeping our soil cleaner, our rivers and lakes cleaner, the Earth itself cleaner. What’s in the Earth is in us as well, so cleaning up the planet means cleaning up our own bodies as well.

Life as a farmer? Nope, that’s not what I’m preparing for. I’ve got my sights set on the legislation to help make this all so: Shanice Williams, future congresswoman. Future congresswoman with her very own organic garden in the backyard.