Even as a small child, I was always drawn to the pictures of people in dire need of help. I wished to be involved and to provide any sort of contribution to these individuals. While I never thought I could save the world, I wanted to do everything in my power to make life easier for everyone. As I got older, I decided to take action to reach my goal.
This is how I ended up in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. In Haiti, destruction, rubble, and piles of stones were everywhere as monuments of the disaster. While the surroundings were shocking, my encounters with survivors were even more devastating. I met a father who had lost his son, a young woman who had lost her lover, and a mother who asked me to take her child to give him a better life than she could ever give him. I was struck by the poverty and despair of people who were traumatized and I realized my obligation to help in this place of agony and neglect.
Half a year after I returned from Haiti, I arrived in the district of Turkana in Northwest Kenya, a place that the human hand has barely touched for good or for bad. Life in Turkana was different from everything I had ever known or seen. There was, to put it simply, nothing. Turkana is a desert, and while there was no rubble or destruction, there was also no development, limited access to water and food, and no opportunities. Acute hunger is prevalent, and sickness and mortality rates cannot be estimated. Though not caused by a natural disaster, thus suffering was equally heart wrenching and deserving of care.
I found the same to be true as my journey continued to Uganda. Once again, I was impressed with the differences in hardships. Uganda has a special charm in that a mixture of beauty, color and abundant nature exists alongside so much sickness, poverty, unforgivable refugee conditions, and children living in places where no one should ever live.
These are not statistics. These are people, human beings with names, who feel physical pains when experiencing hunger, who mourn the deaths of their children or friends to disease, and who reasonably hope to improve the conditions of their lives.
During the biggest disasters the world has known in recent years – in Turkey, Georgia, Sri-Lanka, Haiti and currently in Syria – people bound together and feel the destruction and loss as one person. Hearts go out to those whose worlds are devastated and whose lives are changed. In these moments, the people bound together to enact good, and it is wonderful and powerful.
But it is not enough. In Haiti, in Uganda, in Kenya, and all over the world, millions of people live in utter poverty, suffer from malnutrition, have no access to medical treatment, have no roofs over their heads, and have no access to clean water. Among the world’s children, millions do not go to school and thousands die each day from diseases that can be cured.
I was honored to learn so much through this journey, but it has not been a simple one. Each new place taught me about life, humanity, giving and receiving, devotion and morality, despair and hope, pain and joy, but at a cost. I learned about life in emotional intensities that cannot be described in words. It was in these terrible circumstances that I understood just how lucky I am and how much I have to learn about this world. I learned real generosity as people gave to me from what they did not have, as others grasped to me as if I were hope itself, and finally from those who wished to love me only because I came. I offered these people my love, and they returned it to me a hundred times and more. The more I give, the more I understand my obligation to humanity to continue to give.
My experiences make me who I am, and I know that I can never go back to simply looking at pictures. While I cannot fully convey all that I witnessed in words, nevertheless, I now know my need to pass on all that I have witnessed.
This work is not only important, it is essential. Activism must be a part of our lives. We can no longer hide behind pretty words. Each one of us can help change reality; it is our moral duty to take responsibility and do! The choice is in our hands.
We won’t save the world in one good deed. “One small step at a time, one soul at a time.” (David Baum). It is our moral obligation to choose, take responsibility and take action!