I believe in the interdependence of humanity. Oppression is too great to bear alone, and I believe the afflicted yearn for those of us who can help to take action.
In university I was intrigued by learning about the tragedies of other nations. I was amazed at what happened outside my comfortable home. Attending lectures on social justice inspired me to live for more than myself, but it also left me overwhelmed about the needs of this world. When I went to Kenya as a volunteer teacher, the enormous distance between the Nairobi slums and my home kept me feeling distant. I was burdened knowing the statistics of AIDS, street children, rape, and genocide. I could write e-mails to spread awareness, but making even a dent in their needs seemed too lofty for my resources. It was one subtle meeting that shifted my feelings of pity to a sincere realization that I was involved in the desperation.
I was visiting the chief of a local Kenyan village. During my visit a man came to speak with Chief. I stayed in the kitchen laughing with some friends and trying to make doughnuts. We were interrupted when, with a quiet desperation, Chief invited us into the room with his visitor. He proceeded to explain to us what this man had come to ask. He had AIDS. This disease had consumed sub-Sahara Africa. It presented shocking, even numbing, statistics that now manifested itself in a face… and a story. His first wife had died from AIDS as well as his second. He was now raising his nine children, two of whom were sick, and he supposed they were HIV positive. His sickness kept him too frail to sustain his subsidence faming, and now he came needing food for his family, money to send his children to school, medicine, and antiviral medicine for his children. Even as I looked at this feeble man, his tragedy was not mine: I was already consumed with my own students’ many needs. I was teaching—surely that was enough. All I could offer was my pity as I waited to see what the chief would do for his neighbor.
Then, Chief turned to me and asked what I could do to help. Both of their eyes rested on me, and suddenly I was involved. Feeling removed, I had watched this man’s burdens become the chief’s, but then realized that I too had been invited to share his dilemma. Now I feel desperate to find others to share this with.
Even today, while I am moved hearing about the burdens of Darfur, sex slavery, and children soldiers in Uganda, I can feel the chief’s desperate eyes on me asking, “Can you help?”. The oppressed, whether in our town or across the sea, are dependent on those of us with resources. I cannot let my comfort distance me. We need to be involved.
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