Lets do our best, be it big or small
Let there be no poor, once and for all.
My German teacher is back from his holiday in Peru. Eager to show off what I had learned in his absence, I excitedly quipped: “Wie war Ihre Urlaub?”. The man was obviously shaken by his trip, because what I received was not an expected “I had a wonderful vacation, thank you “, but grim details about poverty and the living conditions in Peru. And even though the torrent of the words that came out was in German, I could see that he had been moved.
Somewhere in the no-man’s land of unfamiliar vocabularies, my mind wandered off to the “vacations” I had enjoyed. Budget was often a main consideration in my travel planning and save for a couple of indulgent ones, most of my vacations had been to the poorer places, mainly because they were the cheaper destinations. But I realised that after every vacation, while I gushed about the wonderful architecture and the beautiful scenery and the hospitable natives, I often conveniently ignored the stark realities that were right in front of me. Children begging on the streets at mid-day, when they should be in school. Mothers desperate to feed their infants. Disabled and handicapped beggars on the sidewalks. Schools shut down due to political riots. The look of resignation in the eyes of an AIDS patient. Slums without even the basic sanitary conditions. Whether it was in my own home country or in the countries I turned to for my leisure, all these sights had passed before my eyes in this lifetime. From Mumbai to Jakarta to Siem Reap to Bangkok to Colombo, the now-familiar sights had been played out again and again before me.
Yet, have I really seen them? Why do I ignore them over and over again? The last time I talked about them passionately was in my high school at a speech on 2nd October, 1994. Its been more than 10 years. Apart from the annual party that my mother organises at the local orphanage on my birthday because she doesn’t get to celebrate the day with me and my contributions when Srijith indulges in an excessive ordering of Xmas cards from CRY which we never send out, the visible outcomes of my dormant philanthropy have been next to zilch. Somewhere between high school and now, the passion had died. And skepticism had crept in. Hatred towards the bureaucracy that stopped development in the rural areas. Ridicule at the corrupt politicians whose wealth grew in tandem with the size of the slums. Resignation that whatever I do will not even be a drop in the ocean.
Amidst the volley of Deutsch that my German teacher was hurling furiously at me, I wondered if I could regain my passion again? Could I ever be shocked to the extent that he seemed to be? Or having seen it too early too soon just killed the spirit? And could I ever begin to believe again that perhaps, just perhaps, I too could add a drop to the mighty ocean?
This thought-provoking article by Jeffrey.D.Sachs, the Director of the UN Millennium Project, allows us a ray of hope, while still managing to convey the gravity of the situation. “8 million people die each year because they are too poor to stay alive”, he reminds us. But he also says that, if we make the right choices and actions, “we can end poverty by the year 2025”. He exhorts that the costs of action are only a fraction of the costs of inaction and lays down nine concrete steps to achieve the goal. The UN aims to halve the proportion of people living in poverty and hunger by 2015, ensuring primary schooling for all children, and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases.
While there are the lofty goals by mighty organisations which help us with the big picture, there are numerous NGOs at the grass root levels, where each helping hand will be greatly appreciated. A few are:
Global foundation for children
UN associated NGOs
Two of my personal favorites:
Asha and CRY
Whether you have been an arm-chair proponent or a socially responsible global citizen, now is the time to take it up a notch. The world needs everyone, including you and me, to contribute to making a difference. Lets get our arses off our comfortable chairs and do something, today.