Today is Blog Action Day where approximately 9000 bloggers from around the world will be writing about poverty. Hopefully our collective voice will make a difference in raising awareness and generating ideas to combat the misery of living in poverty. This is my contribution. Also posted at Make A Plan. Read what others are saying about it here. (Also, it’s not too late to join in if you have something to say about it too).
I first encountered extreme poverty when I visited India in 1996. It was the first time I’d been out of Australia where I grew up and it was a massive culture shock. I had mentally acknowledged poverty, but seeing it in front of my eyes made it real to me in a way reading about it or even being told about it could never do.
I couldn’t believe people lived in such terrible conditions, day after day. I couldn’t believe there were people begging who had massive open wounds, and no one did anything about it. Or someone lying on the road in dust and dirt, and quite possibly dying and ordinary people walked straight past. I wanted to stop and do something! I wanted to get that person to a hospital and cared for.
But I walked past too. I was intimidated. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where I could take these people, didn’t speak the language, and couldn’t very well scoop them up and take them in an auto rickshaw back to the backpackers hostel! I was also just too scared. I thought I might be told I was doing something wrong or offensive in a foreign culture. In a way, I was too young. Yes I was naive and idealistic…sometimes the issues aren’t simple at all, and I didn’t give much thought about the reality of taking on a person’s care when I was just 20 years old, in India for 3 weeks on a very limited budget! I didn’t have a clue.
But in a way I never want to lose that youthful naivety, and almost reckless approach to poverty. So often we don’t do anything at all because the problem is too big, or too complicated, or not our problem. We don’t act because it’s a political issue, or it could be dangerous, or we are just one person and what difference will it really make. We are intimidated.
Earlier this year, a friend of my husband’s who lives in Taiwan and regularly emails us, sent us an email about the political situation in Zimbabwe. I’ve seen these emails before…you know what I mean. Emails about a cause. Most of the time I delete them thinking that I can’t take on the worlds problems, and often just not interested. Something about that email caught my eye though. I think because it was a story about an ordinary person just like me, a family just like mine struggling in life. I became interested enough to start searching the internet to find out more. I remember typing “What is going on in Zimbabwe?’ into google. The results were alarming for me.
I read about chronic shortages of the most basic kind, of hunger, of starvation, of illnesses. I read about hospitals unable to treat patients because of lack of basic medical goods and pharmaceuticals. I was moved to pray and continued to read about the situation (then approaching the March 29th elections)
And then a few weeks later by chance I stumbled upon an article which listed the wish list of items required by a hospital in a rural hospital north of Harare. The list had been collated by the Chief medical officer, and I was shocked to read some of those items. Things such as toothpaste and toilet paper. The most basic supplies. Also large quantities of fairly basic medical supplies like gauze and dressings.
‘Stuff it’ I said. ‘I’m going to send something’. I was sick of talking about how bad things were and doing nothing. I didn’t want to walk away again. So I emailed the doctor and indicated my intentions to send something and he gave me advice on how best to go about. My secret dream was to send a shipping container, but I mentioned this only to my husband and privately told myself to get my head out of the clouds and just take baby steps. Personally we didn’t have the money to send a container and I knew that it was more realistic to send a couple of boxes.
I started by emailing local medical supply companies and asking outright for donations. I approached over 15 companies and heard back from only one. They offered 4 pallets of perfectly usable goods.
I was so excited I could hardly think. A few weeks later this was followed up by a further large donation from the same company, and eventually a third. Now our garage is full to capacity with boxes of medical goods to be sent to Zimbabwe. It is approximately 28-30 cubic metres. ( A 20ft shipping container hold exactly 33 cubic metres.)
Our next challenge is to raise the funds to ship it there. It’s been a slow process, but I’m confident we’ll get there. I can’t wait to get it sent, and that hopefully my little crazy idea is actually going to make a difference in peoples lives.
This project has shown me that everyone has something to give no matter how insignificant you think it may be. Some people think that dealing with poverty is only about money. Yes, some people have money to give, and I think that all of us who live privileged lives in developed nations should consider giving something regularly. After all we live like kings and queens with our clean hot running showers and fresh food every day.
But it’s not just money. Some people have time on their hands. Some people can paint. Some people can give manual labour. Some people are good in business. Some people have blogs. Some people are hospitable. Some people are nurses. Some people can pray. Some people can design websites. Some people are doctors. Some people can sew. Some people can write. Some people can sell. Some people are politicians. Some people can make amazing food. Some people can sing. Some people can fundraise. Some people can spread the word. Some people can create beautiful things. Some people are lawyers. Some people are actors. Some people are activists. Some people work in medical supply companies and make compassionate decisions about what to do with surplus or written off goods.
Anyone regardless of age or background has something to give. Be creative about what you can do to help those less fortunate than yourself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts…especially if you’ve come here for Blog Action Day. Drop me a comment and let’s talk about what we can do about poverty.