Monday, December 9, 2013

A picture of poverty

An artist paints a picture with colors. Through his picture, he wants you to see not only what he sees, but also how he sees it and how he feels about it. I've never been much of an artist, but writing has always been something I enjoy. I'm going to try to show you a picture through words. I'm going to try to show you a picture of poverty.

I know that as an 18-year-old student, my credibility as a blogger or as any kind of writer is effectively nil. That's why in painting this picture, I shall quote credible sources. So do not trust me, but trust the linked references when I say that 2.4 billion people worldwide make less than $2 (USD) a day. In ringgits, that's about 6 Ringgits. 34% of the world's population has an income of 6 ringgit per day. Suddenly your wallet seems quite full in comparison, no? Not surprisingly, Africa is home to some of the poorest countries in the world

It's easy to think that these people are poor because they're lazy. A person's success is directly proportional to their effort, right? If these people are suffering and poor, it's because they don't work hard, or they made bad decisions as a kid, and if all these poor people would just commit themselves to their work, that would solve everything,. Not true. If you're reading this, it means that you are among the 34.3% of the world's population that has access to internet. I say this because many of us grow up in conditions where many opportunities are open to us. By studying hard in school, we can get scholarships to enter into the college we want, and by working hard, we can climb the corporate ladder until we get to the top, and we're rather pleased with all our hard work.

People living in poverty do not have so many options. Consider the life of a child in Africa. 15 million African children have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS (page 112). Families live in starvation, with no clean source of water. 345 million people in Africa and 783 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water. On top of that, 827 million people in developing countries do not have enough to eat. Children cannot go to school because they have to help their parents work for food and fetch water. Even the water that they do fetch tends to be contaminated, leading to diseases such as cholera. 3.4 million people die from water-related diseases each year. Not to mention other diseases like measles, malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS.

Imagine what life would be like for a family living under those conditions. The children do not have primary education and do not know how to read. Even the youngest of them spend several hours every day fetching water by foot with their mothers from the nearest source of water, which for some of them could be miles away. That water is even likely to be contaminated with disease. The fathers probably work as farmers, and everyday they struggle to get enough food to feed their families. The parents may even have to go for several days in a row without food, so that their children can eat. Everyone is terrified of getting sick; being malnourished with weakened bodies and no proper medical facilities, a disease may as well be a death sentence. Sadly, as of these 2006 statistics (page 116-117), 16 percent of all children born in sub-Saharan Africa die before the age of 5.

Perhaps now you are beginning to get an idea of the picture I am trying to paint. Poverty isn't just about not having enough money to buy nice things or sometimes getting a little hungry; people living in poverty tend to lose their sense of hope in life. Children do not see much in their future, and parents can do little as they watch their children starve.

At first, it may seem like the poverty in the world may be too much to overcome. Battling poverty may seem like a hopeless task. So many people in poverty and hunger. So many mouths yearning for food, so many children longing for a family. Is there any way to overcome it? The answer is, yes there is. Here comes the hope.
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. - Helen Keller
Be the change that you want to see in the world. - Mohandas Gandhi
We can do no great things, only small things with great love. - Mother Theresa 
Another of his disciples... spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. - John 6:8-11, emphasis added.
When dealing with the issue of poverty, we need to remember that each one of us is able to effect change. A common story used to illustrate this point is the "parable of the starfish". A huge storm by the sea caused thousands of starfish to be washed up on the beach. After the storm subsided, the whole beach was covered with starfish, scattered on the sand. With no way to return to the water, the starfish were doomed to die under the heat of the sun. One man came and saw this, and he sat on the ground and wept for the thousands of starfish that would die, knowing that there was no way for him to save those thousands of starfish. However, another man came and saw the starfish, and he started picking them up and tossing them back into the ocean. He was not discouraged by the magnitude of the task. He knew that alone, he could not make a difference to the world. But to the few starfish that he did save, he made a world of difference.

Whether or not the world's battle against poverty is successful or not depends on what you, as an individual, choose to do. Will you sit in the sand and weep, or will you start rescuing starfish? If your friends, your family, or your community were to all unite in giving to the poor of the world, it can have a bigger effect than you would imagine. For example, according to World Vision President Mr. Richard Stearns, drilling a well to provide people with clean water costs $12,500 (USD) and can serve 500 people for twenty-five years. Mathematically, this means that 1 US Dollar or 3 Ringgit pays for one person's clean water for a whole year! If you have RM50 in your wallet, you have enough to pay for enough clean water for a baby until he turns 16.

So, what can you do to help? I'll outline two simple ways:

1. Give.
The easiest way to help would be with our money. We may be richer than we think, and at the end of the day, most of us probably have a dollar or two to spare. There are many international organizations which focus on linking people who want to give with people who need to receive. One such organization is World Vision, an organization that works to tackle the root causes of poverty by providing poor communities with a source of water, job skills, loans, medicine, etc. World Vision is, I think, well-known for its child sponsorship program. If you are willing to sponsor a child, World Vision links you to a child in need of help, and you will get to pay for this child's basic needs: food, water, medicine, and education. You can also donate to World Vision's various projects or pay for medicine for people in developing countries and other needs. In light of the overwhelming statistics that I've just shared, it may seem like giving a bit of money might not make much of a difference; but it does. It makes a huge difference to the person who received your gift. You may even have saved someone's life.

2. Speak.
Maybe you're like me. You're a student with a laptop that his parents bought, your on an allowance and have to buy your own food, and you don't actually have that much money on your own, although hopefully someday you'll make enough money to be able to sponsor a child. But for now, you can't realistically afford a hundred Ringgits a month for a long period of time. So what do you do when you can't give much money? Spread the word to those who can. Talk about it. Blog about it. Tweet, or Retweet, or share on Facebook. Help spread the awareness of global poverty. What's more, for people who can and have sponsored a child, you can talk to your friends about it. When you sponsor a child, you're not just helping that one child. In the big picture of things, you're also helping the sponsored children of those you influence. Perhaps from your one action, you will influence others to pick up the same tune, and they will in turn influence their peers, until the whole community is in on it. It's like the ripple effect.

Now my blog post comes to a close, and as always, just reading about it is not enough. In order for change to be effected, there must be a conscious decision to effect change. The question isn't whether or not you are able to do something to help the world's poor. The question is rather whether or not you want to do something. Even if you are only able to do a little, if you can only sponsor one child, or influence only one person to sponsor a child, you've effectively saved one child's life. That child's life could be in your hands. What are you going to do about it?


I've just finished reading The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision. This book taught me everything I now know about poverty, and was invaluable as a reference in writing this post. I'd recommend it to anyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Calling in sick

Okay... Okay, so I've been trying recently to carefully think through what exactly I want to post before writing the post so that I can avoid getting too carried away, and I can stay on the topic. But this kind of causes my blog posts to be a little... stuffy. Inexpressive. I mean, I try to put the meaningfulness into the post, and I do hope it's in there somewhere, although I can't really be sure myself, but my posts may lack... emotion. Personality. Thingy.

So today, I'm going to type about why I didn't post anything last week. I was already drafting in my head how I would talk about laziness, and how it's all perhaps just in one's head, and how we can overcome laziness by trying really hard and how there's always a lesson for us in every challenge if we just look. All of that may be true, but if I had written it that way, it would probably have been awfully boring. So I'm-a just gonna be myself and write this thing and see how it turns out.

Why didn't I update my blog post last Sunday, like I said I would? Well, I could say that it was because I was sick. What's more, that would be the truth. I had a medium-level flu that weekend. Some fever, runny nose, sore throat. Now, usually I get all grumpy when I get sick, because I used to think that hey, I'm sick, and unless I act surly and grumpy no one will know. Basically being sick was a get-away-with-being-an-ol'-jerk-free card for me. But a lot has been changing recently, and I decided to do something new and take this sickness and turn it to my advantage. When I looked at myself, I really looked quite hilarious. My eyes were like, really really red, and my voice was like I was speaking through cotton, or something. Who cares if I look and sound horrible? I can either be grumpy about it, or laugh it off and be happy. It's just one of those small decisions that mean a lot.

But I really can't excuse myself from weekly blog-writing because of a little flu. I really suspect that my sickness was really an excuse for me to legalize my underlying laziness, which had really been building up for the past month or so. I really was becoming lazy and uncommitted to blogging, and it was merely happy coincidence that I got sick last week, allowing me to metaphorically "call in sick over a tummy-ache". I could have written my blog post last week even though I was sick, the fever wasn't really all that bad. But I didn't because I was lazy

I mean, really. I have this journal which I keep everyday, and everyone always asks me, "Oh, so it's a diary?" and after about five months of the same dialogue I decided to stop being nit-picky about the difference between a journal and a diary and I just say "Okay, yeah, sure, it's a diary-thingy. Whatever." Nevertheless, I am usually in the habit of updating my journal every night. Stuff I want to share goes up on the blog, and stuff that I need for my own personal instruction and improvement goes down in the journal. Now, I really love writing my journal. It's a habit that I picked up at Jeremiah School, and it just feels nice. It helps me make sense of the events of each individual day, and sometimes becomes useful for referring to past events. But recently, I just... stopped writing it. I started feeling that it was too much trouble. Like, "Hey, if I skip writing my journal tonight, I get to sleep earlier. Moar sleep sounds goood...." But I still do like journaling, and I don't like the idea of skipping it. Kind of like a guy who's hungry and thinks "I like sandwiches and I like making sandwiches, but I'm too lazy to make a sandwich right now so I'm just going to be hungry." 

What is the point of this post? I don't know. I didn't determine a point before I started writing. I just got in the car and drove where I felt like, without determining a destination beforehand. But now that I've come this far, I can look around at where I'm at, and either be upset about it, or content. I guess I'm mostly just writing this as a kind of self-rant. Ranting about myself. That's a pretty long post up there isn't it? I'd better pull over and park right now before I lose track of time and bore everyone. So, yeah, I've basically written a whole lot about how I've been a lazy bum this past week. Soooo, is there going to be a moral to this story or what? As the writer, I feel that it's my obligation to finish off with something for my readers to think about, kind of satisfy them, give them their time's worth. Understandable. It was very kind of you to take time of your schedule to come here and read my blog, so I owe you something in return. And I have just the thing right here.

It was about 10 months ago that I made a decision to be a better person. Friendlier, more sensitive to other people, that kind of thing. Generally, I tried being nicer to people around me. More cheerful, talkative, and so on and whatnot. I guess you could say I've been doing okay. Then when I got sick, I nearly fell back into my usual habit of letting the sickness make me surly. But I wanted to be a nicer person. I didn't let a sore throat stop me from talking to people, even though my voice sounded like some kind of Dracula, according to a friend of mine. However, when I got sick, I did stop journaling, even though it's been a big help for me in the past and is meant to help me be a better person too. But the sickness wasn't the direct cause in my lack of journaling. My resolve in that area had already been wavering for a while. All it needed was a little event, a little fever, a little headache, to trigger a bout of laziness and lack of commitment.

This is entirely optional, but perhaps at this point you should answer for yourself this question: what is your main goal in your life right now? Whatever your goal is, there will be times when you catch a "flu" - a problem will come up which may make it harder to reach your goal. Next question is, what are you going to do when you "catch the flu"? Will you allow that to weaken you? Will your commitment to your goal disappear? Will you stop journaling for the sake of half an hour more of sleep? Or is your resolve strong enough that you will pursue your goal despite a few setbacks? Will you be a red-eyed runny-nosed hoarse-voiced go-getter? As always, it's a conscious decision for you to make for yourself, and it can change everything. 

Even if you find that your resolve has weakened, it's never too late to renew your commitment to your goal. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go write about this blog post in my journal before I go to bed.