I just had an hour and a half long conversation with this boy about space, the creation of Earth and humans, whether or not there is a God or an afterlife, whether or not white people have historically been the most evil group of people, and finally whether or not individuals can make a difference in the modern problems of the world. Whew.
He believes that the world will eventually be peaceful, as people will have to realize that peace makes more sense than war. However, he thinks that those changes simply happen with time, and that there isn’t a whole lot that individual people can do about such massive, widespread problems. I, perhaps being the idealist (but maybe it is idealists who make changes on the planet…), disagree wholeheartedly.
Most obviously, what if Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Aung San Suu Kyi, for example, had felt like powerless individuals who couldn’t make a difference?
What if Somaly Mam, a Cambodian survivor of both the Khmer Rouge and sex slavery documented in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s fantastic book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, hadn’t started the Somaly Mam Foundation? Instead of believing that she herself wasn’t capable of creating change, she now works passionately toward eradicating human trafficking in Southeast Asia and helping victims. ***
What if Edna Adan hadn’t created her maternity hospital in Somaliland, because she felt that the problems of maternal and infant mortality and female genital mutilation were too big for her to tackle?
What if Kennedy Odede had believed that creating Shining Hope for Communities, a girls’ school in a Kenyan slum, wouldn’t be able to tackle poverty and gender inequity?
Yes, the aforementioned individuals dedicate their lives to their respective causes. And yes, the problems of sex slavery, maternal and infant mortality, female genital mutilation, poverty, and gender inequity are very much alive still. However, these organizations still help thousands of people directly, who can then spread their knowledge gained to others in the community. Isn’t helping thousands of people better than helping no people?
Even those who don’t start organizations or spend their whole lives working on one cause can still travel to these places and volunteer. I just met this guy the other day who took two years off of university to rescue sex slaves in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Ah, my boy says, but most people have jobs and lives- they can’t just abandon those to, say, go volunteer in Africa for a year.
I reminded him that not only is it possible to save up money and subsequently quit one’s job to travel or volunteer abroad, but that people do it all the time. One need only take a look at Nomadic Matt’s website to gain inspiration.
Ah, he says, but I have my life here that I love and am comfortable with. How can I help people in Kenya when I don’t really want to go there for an extended amount of time?
Well, one can donate money. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money at all. In the Catholic tradition, people are expected to donate 10% of their income to charity. Thus, even if one’s income is very small, he or she still reserves at least a tiny bit of it for charitable purposes. Loan someone in a developing country $25 to help him or her start or run a business. Not only is $25 not very much money, but it is in the form of a loan that will be repaid.
Finally, one can volunteer in one’s own community. Developing countries have lots of devastating problems, but we in the U.S. have issues in our own backyards. One need only listen to Kendrick Lamar’s album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, to understand the poverty, gang violence, and prostitution that befalls on a city 20 minutes away from my house. I unfortunately am not familiar with organizations working to combat poverty in the area, but I know of lots that help domestic violence victims and prostitutes; WomenShelter of Long Beach, YWCA of greater Los Angeles, Rainbow Services of San Pedro, and 1736 Family Crisis Center of greater Los Angeles, just to name a few, help domestic violence victims; The Mary Magdalene Project of Van Nuys helps women out of prostitution and sex trafficking.
Finally, as the boy with whom I was speaking is a musician, I reminded him how music, art, literature, etc. have been used since the beginning of time to make changes and spread awareness about issues that matter.
The world does have a lot of issues, and one individual alone can’t solve all of them or even completely eradicate one of them. However, we each need to find the cause that stirs our soul and do what we can with what we have to help- for it is better to help a few people or even one person than nobody. Just imagine what would happen if each person did this, and what significant changes we would see on the planet as a result. We all must follow one of my favorite quotes of all time by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
***Somaly Mam has been under investigation for lying about her background as a former sex slave. She has since resigned from the organization bearing her name. This goes to show how careful one must be with choosing where to donate one’s money- however, when Nick Kristof of the New York Times is endorsing an NGO, that tends to legitimize it. Kristof has since stopped supporting Mam and has said that he wish he had never written about her . There are good charitable organizations out there, so don’t lose hope, but it’s a shame that some NGOs are run by people with questionable motives.