Today is Blog Action Day – a day where thousands of bloggers around the world commit to write on the one topic in the hope of creating awareness around that issue. The topic this year is Poverty. For a lot of great resources on the topic of Poverty check out Learn About Poverty. I’ve included a few of their videos scattered through this post (they don’t relate directly to the stories I’m sharing but hopefully will add to our thinking on the topic today.
This post contains a few reflections on Poverty from my own experience (I’ve also posted a more photographic exploration of the topic of poverty here). It has little to do with blogging – please forgive the diversion – but it is an issue close to my heart and one that I’d like to reflect upon.
As I ponder the topic of Poverty my mind is drawn back to numerous times where I’ve been confronted by it.
As an 18 year old (half a lifetime ago now) I was fortunate to spend two weeks in Thailand. I was traveling with a small group of young adults from our church to visit a number of aid projects there. We spent the 14 days traveling around Bangkok, visiting Slums, Prisons, Rural Villages, Schools, Aids Hospices and more. We largely observed the work but at times were able to lend a hand where we could. This was the first time in my life that I’d seen poverty first hand – it was confronting, depressing, confusing and yet somehow inspiring.
I was so impacted by what I’d seen and experiences that I decided to return two years later to spend 6 weeks living in one of the Bangkok slums that we’d briefly visited on the first trip. This second trip changed my life as I lived in a small community house that at night housed 8 men with Aids and provided child care for 40-50 children during the days. The centre was built of discarded building materials and stood on stilts over raw sewage that was inhabited by snakes, rats and who knows what else.
While there I was confronted by things I’d never have imagined in my previous middle class existence. Children wandering the streets while their parents worked on rubbish dumps scrounging for food and things that they could sell, women forced into prostitution, drug addiction, watching a woman learn that she had Aids, taking a child to visit his drug addicted father in a Thai jail, seeing the impact of a flood on a place built over sewerage….
Yet while there I was also confronted by things I’d not expected to find including JOYFUL people who appreciated and focused more upon what they did have than what they didn’t, HUMOR (I’ve never seen people laugh as much as the night that community tricked me into eating Bulls testicles), GENEROSITY (I was fed like a king in that place and lavished with gifts before leaving), COMMUNITY (these people came together in ways that were inspiring and make the petty fights that we sometimes have as bloggers look embarrassing), HOPE, FAITH, LIFE and much more.
I returned home from that trip and changed the course of my life in many ways. I received much much more in those 6 weeks than I was able to give.
A few years later and ironically just before I got married (a day that I probably spent more money on myself than any other) I helped lead another team of young Australians on a short trip to the Philippines – this time to visit an organization called International Needs who operate out of Manilla but who work in rural areas also. We spent time on that trip again observing and working in a number of aid projects.
A number of images continue to haunt me from that trip.
One was spending a day at a city rubbish dump where thousands of families lived and worked on massive piles of rubbish. They built their little shanty homes on rubbish that periodically would collapse and swallow people. Children worked and played in the filth – it was one of the saddest things I’ve seen.
On another day we traveled for 5-6 hours in the back of a van to a small fishing village where a pastor had started a feeding program for the village’s many children. The children were malnourished – their hair had even begun to change color from the lack of nutrition.
The desperation I saw that day was quite heart breaking. We had brought bread to the village that day to give to the pastor to distribute through his program. Unfortunately someone in the back of the van let the bread be seen by one of the children outside – the word got out that we had food and the van quickly became surrounded by a desperate crowd of people hoping to get just a small share of the bread.
Once again – the memories from this trip are a mix of heart breaking ones an those that give me hope.
One such hopeful memory was seeing a project where money was loaned to families to start their own businesses. A family would by a ‘pedicab’ (a three wheel bike with seats on the back, like a rickshaw/bike taxi) with the loaned money and then over time would pay back the loan while also earning a living for their family. Once the loan was repaid the family would have an ongoing income source and the money would be loaned to another family with the process continuing. This micro-business is all about breaking the cycle of poverty. I actually did a 24 hour blogathon to raise money to be able to seed some of these loans back in 2004.
Today as I ponder the topic of Poverty a lot of these memories continue to cycle through my mind (in fact they do so on almost a daily basis – even years later).
My constant reminder to myself is to not just let these experiences be ‘memories’ have or ‘stories’ that I tell – but to let them be motivation to live a life that makes a difference.
I’m not in the business of sharing how V (my wife) and I ‘give’ to projects like some that I’ve mentioned above but one way that I think many of us making money online can make a difference is by being generous with our earnings. Just this week V and I have been able to find a way to reconnect again with the feeding program in the Fishing Village that I mentioned above and we’re looking at ways that we can use some of what we’ve been given to share into that community. I don’t share this to big note myself – I could give a lot more than I do and am feeling somewhat challenged to do so today – but wanted to mention it in the hope that others might be challenged to examine how they might make a difference also.
Blogging is built on principles of sharing, generosity, creativity and community – my hope is that we continue to explore how it might be used as a medium to not only benefit ourselves (something it does) but those less fortunate than ourselves.