Poverty

All is not well

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Just two weeks ago, I saw the movie ‘Darfur Now’. The movie told the story of the oppression of the Sudanese people by their own government which culminated in the separation of the country into Sudan and South Sudan. It was nothing but a gory sight. There were soldiers on rampage all around the country: raping women, killing children, dropping grenades from the air, firing gunshots riding on horseback. These were absolute atrocities of the highest order and in the end; it was up to the men and women of Sudan to pick up arms and fight to protect their posterity, because there was no dignity left to fight for.

Over the course of several days, I pondered on the images I saw in the movie and the stories that I’ve heard all my life. I later stumbled on the story of Lucy Awuor, a six-year old orphan who lived in the Kibera slum of Kenya. At six years of age, this little girl was forced to exchange sex for food in order to survive. But she was merely one of nearly half a million lost in the slums of Kibera, denied education and a reasonable livelihood, resigned to suffering daily indignities just to stay alive.

Actually, I grew up in this mess. I’ve seen it with my eyes, I’ve read it in the news, and when I became a journalist, I realized that a story is not guaranteed to make the headlines, unless it is really bad news. What has happened to the world? When did we stop caring? Imagine the inhumanity of man against man and we all just seem to get along just fine. Who are those campaigning to bring an end to the unending bloodshed in Syria? Who are those campaigning for Africa’s dictatorial regimes to transit peacefully to democracy? Who are those campaigning for China and North Korea to listen to their citizens, and embrace universal human rights? Of course, our presidents and diplomats will always condemn global violence with the strongest of voices, but then what changes?

I’m speaking out on behalf of the millions of African children who have not better options than to urinate into and drink from the same streams. I’m speaking out on behalf of the millions of Sudanese refugee men who watched their wives and daughters raped before their very eyes. I’m speaking out on behalf of the many seven-year old kids who have been forced to picked up AK-47 rifles and join the free armies of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo just to stay alive. I’m speaking out on behalf of the several segregated and subjugated populations all across our world and I’m asking someone to look me in the eye and tell me that it’s okay.

Look me in the eye and tell me that I live in a world that cares for me, that protects my right to life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness; look me in the eye and explain to me why universal basic education is not a reality; look me in the eye and help me understand why millions of kids have to die of cholera and malaria every year because we cannot help them gain access to clean water. Look me in the eye and explain why it’s okay for a terrorist to walk into a church on Christmas day and open fire on innocent worshippers.

Who cares about the subjugated of Myanmar? Who cares about the hungry of Ethiopia? Who cares about the displaced in Somalia? Who is telling them that it’s a beautiful world out there and we are one? Who is speaking to the kid who has no pairs of shoes, while some people have seventy pairs of shoes and handbags in matching colors? Who is speaking to the kid who has no food to eat, while some throw away heaps of leftovers every night after dinner? Who is speaking to the kid whose family cannot afford a bath soap, while every single bathroom in America’s 142,000 hotels and motels changes bath soaps everyday?

I once heard someone say that the world is a mirror; whatever we do in this world will be reflected back to us. It is not sustainable for us to live in a world where 10% of the world consumes 90% of the world’s resources. We need to fight and fight hard for what is right. If the world is going to change, we all must play our parts. We need to educate ourselves about the challenges that confront our world and seek roles to play in changing our realities. All might be well in America or some other part of the world, but it won’t last long if all is not well across in the world.

I’ll be keeping hope alive that maybe some day, we all can sing in our various voice, languages and dialects, Louis Armstrong’s beautiful song “what a wonderful world”.

We are the minority!

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One of my favourite movies of all time was Slumdog Millionaire. I loved that movie, not only because it was filmed in India, a country I’m so fascinated by; not only because it talked about the unwitting intelligence of a young man, an idea that inspires me; not only because it affirmed the truth that love could run away forever but it will somehow find its way home, but because it tells a story; a story of reality, a story of recognition; a call to responsibility.

I’ve never been to India, but every scene in that movie resonated with my experience. I know that people think of disaster whenever they hear of the continent Africa; they recall the images of hunger from Somalia, terrorism in Nigeria, war in Rwanda and famine in Ethiopia. Many times the media paints it as such, and many times people in my position are expected to defend Africa, to say that those things are not true; to say that the media is blowing things out of proportion. How I wish I could do that; I wish I can deny the reality that I have seen first-hand. But how can I deny the story of my own existence?

I’ve always wondered why poverty is such a wide-spread global phenomenon. I’m deeply impassioned about societal welfare. I believe that there is so much in the world to take care of everybody, but I am also aware that the forces of Capitalism will always ensure that some people have so much that they lose their peace defending it; while others will have absolutely nothing and they’ll lose their lives seeking survival. It’s just the reality of life and it’s never going to change.

But here’s what can change – your reaction to the realities that surround you. You don’t have to go as far as Africa, you can forget about India, you can ignore the reports of the media but you cannot ignore the homeless families all around you; you cannot ignore the bullying that is going on in every school across the world, you cannot ignore the jobless adults who aimlessly hang around street corners everywhere you turn. We ignore them at our own peril.

Again, I’ve always wondered what exactly the term ‘minority’ refers to. I’ve often heard it used in reference to the black community in America and sometimes the Latinos also. I don’t know how that came to be, but I’ll be loath to have anyone refer to me as minority based solely on the colour of my skin. I’ve spent a significant portion of my life being made to feel inferior to others and I’m done with that. I know that there is still a perception of black people being less intelligent than white people- much as we like to deny it, racism is very much alive.

In October 2011, I attended the Northeast Conference on Public Administration in New York City and I chaired a panel on Addressing Social Equity Challenges for the Urban Youth. I listened to scholars from several institutions reel out statistic after statistic about the challenges facing black kids and their families. One of the main challenges was the absence of the fathers (not just because they are more prone to commit criminal activities but because it is easier to suspect and convict a black or latino person than a white person). I heard about Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa Country in Arizona, the 4th largest jail system in the world, who had to open up a tent city because the Arizona jails could no longer accommodate inmates. Amnesty International published a report as far back as 1997 decrying the inhumane state of those tent cities but who cares? The jail is populated by the minority!

When exactly did we make the trade-off between spending on education versus spending on justice? My heart sank deeply when I listened to Gail Brooks the Executive Director of Isles YouthBuild Institute in New Jersey who showed from her research that it costs about $140,000 to convict a person and $40,000 to keep them in jail for a year, whereas; it costs only about $25, 000 to educate that same person in one year. How come it is more convenient to spend $180,000 on justice than $25,000 on education? Some of these things just don’t make sense.

Here’s my conclusion, you don’t have to look outside your window when you think of the minority. We are the minority. We are the ones who can afford three healthy meals in a day, we are the ones who can stay up all night studying for a degree, we are the ones who can concentrate on our jobs because there will surely be a pay slip at the end of the month. We are the ones who can afford to travel as we please and attend professional development conferences. But how many are we? Compare our population with their population and rethink the concept of the minority. They are more than we are and they have the capacity to make life unbearable for us.

I reiterate that we each have to embrace personal responsibility and demonstrate community leadership. We have to help one more child from that group – encourage them, inspire them, buy them a meal, pay for their education, give them a gift, mentor them; don’t just speed past them in your fancy car. Show some love. You might be helping to raise the next slumdog millionaire.