Change Yourself…Change The World.

August 16, 2009, 5:47 am
Filed under: Plain Mary Jane, USA

Tonight I was poking around on Doctors Without Borders, checking out some possible internships for next Spring in New York- and I decided to check out some of the countries they were doing work in. I randomly clicked ‘Thailand,’ mostly because I had traveled there and knew the country pretty well. Innocently scrolling through the projects there, I clicked on a special report on the problems with Laos Refugees being held in a Detention Camp in Northern Thailand. What I read there was devastatingly sad; these refugees from Laos took asylum in Thailand, and the military is trying to force refugees back to their country by threats, ‘voluntary returns to Laos,’ food or medical cuts to refugees, and other forms of coercion. Many refugees said they would rather die than go back because they’ve seen their family members killed in front of them, they’ve faced rape, malnutrition, disease, persecution, and violent discrimination on their ethnicity (Lao Hmong- by the way, the reason why they are discriminated against in Laos is because of the USA- great job, America).

I mean first of all, who KNEW this was even going on Laos? What is so disturbing about reading this article, is that I had absolutely zero inkling there were problems of this magnitude going on in Laos. On the outside, Laos seems like a totally chill and peaceful country (yes, they have their share of problems as they are a developing country, but I didn’t know people were being brutally killed). It also seems like NO ONE knows about this- I have not read one article in the news, I have not heard one mention of it, ever, besides randomly reading this article.

We hear about tragedies on the news like Darfur, Congo, Pakistan; now that Aang San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to another 18 months of house arrest, Myanmar/Burma (and now that we’re on the subject of Aang San Suu Kyi, while I think she is an AMAZING, strong, and courageous individual, it does tick me off a little bit that the only reason she has such international recognition in the West is because she is basically the poster girl for democracy, which is all what ‘the West’s’ agenda is about in developing countries)- but Laos? Never once have I seen an article about the situation going on in Laos. And it makes me wonder, how many things like this are going on all over the world, that we have absolutely no clue about, that we are not aware of?

My Dad just watched Hotel Rwanda for the first time tonight, and he said “Wow, I had no idea that 1 million Tutsis were killed there in 1994 or that a genocide even happened.” I am not trying to highlight that my father is ignorant (far from it as he is one of the most intelligent people I know), but the point I’m trying to make is: people just aren’t AWARE. Is the media to blame? SHOULD the media be blamed?

Then there are those times that I actually CAN’T enjoy the good things I have in front of me, or the good life I have, because I feel so damn guilty about it. I think, “Wow, I am enjoying an absolutely delicious sandwich for lunch that I bought for $9.00; but I could’ve skipped lunch and sent that money to someone who desperately needs food, and could use that $9.00 to buy food for them and their family for a week.” Or to look around at all of the material possessions I own, and wonder why it is that I have or need these things when so many people have absolutely nothing at all. How can I go out and enjoy a movie in a movie theatre for $10, when that $10 in my pocket that goes to entertaining myself for an hour a half, could be used to save someone’s life? Yes, I am a hypocrite for stating all of these things, because the truth is, I DO spend money on sandwiches and movies and clothes and things that are deemed perfectly normal in the West.

The problem is, I don’t have much of an excuse, do I? I can look around at others and justify it, because they haven’t been to developing countries, they haven’t seen starving children firsthand or looked into the eyes of someone who has suffered a terribly hard life and will die within the next few days. They haven’t lived with a family who yes, has enough food to eat, but doesn’t have enough money to send their children to a good school, or to give them proper vitamins or nutrients, or can’t get a decent job no matter what because it is IMPOSSIBLE to get any job in the area they live; they haven’t seen refugees who’s faces have been blistered away by land mines, or who’s mother was raped and killed by the Burmese army; they haven’t seen even MINOR floods in Bangladesh to get a dim comprehension of what would happen if a typhoon passed through the country.

But I have. I have seen all of these things, with my own eyes, because I have been there, I have met them. Sometimes my family gets angry with me when I come home because I withdraw, or feel very strange around all of them. What they don’t understand is how hard it is for me to just adjust back to a life full of comfort, security, and more than I could ever ask for, after seeing all of these things with my own eyes. The level of guilt I feel (though I know I should not feel it but rather be grateful for what I have, though usually what ends up happening is a refusal to truly appreciate all of the things in front of me because to do so would require reflection/sadness/guilt for those that don’t), or the level of disgust I feel for the inequalities of the world, the anger that boils inside me that fuels into passion to look for something, some way, to make things better, to find SOMETHING to make things better- is overwhelming at most times.

But then I go online, just goofing around, and pull up an article on a random country and find out that THEY are war-torn as well, and I just feel– Wow. How is it even possible to make a difference when there are SO many problems? What is the best thing to do? What is the most effective way to make a BIG difference? Is it micro finance? Is it economics and development? Is it fighting through politics? Is it becoming a lawyer? Is it working on education for children? Is it working for an advocacy group? Is it working in refugee camps? What is it? WHAT IS IT? I know, everyone says baby steps, Maggie Doyne is the prime example. I know, it is looking at the little things, working on one thing at a time. And what about all of those people that ARE tirelessly working out there to make the world a better place, whether it’s Doctors Without Borders, or running refugee camps, people risking their lives to make a difference to others- all of these nameless people, who no one ever hears about?

But I know that even after I die, whether it be 1 day from now, or 100 years, there will still be people that are suffering, that are starving, that are dying from easily preventable diseases, that aren’t being educated, and that couldn’t even begin to dream of the life that I live- and I don’t know what to even do about that statement.

Sorry for the rambling post, I tend to get on these sometimes. Just something for everyone to think about.

Costa Rica in a week and a half. I am not mentally, physically, or emotionally prepared for it in the slightest.


1 Comment so far
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You know my favorite story about the starfish on the beach ‘made a difference to that one’. Its amazing that you want to help sooo many people, but I don’t think anyone would want you to spend your life in a totally stressed out place feeling guilty and inadequate for what you hadn’t accomplished. You have already accomplished so much in so many countries with the volunteer work you have done, and if you can get up each morning and feel you have made a small difference in just one persons (or animals) life it was not a wasted day. Enjoy the journey. Remember that guilt is a wasted emotion, it takes energy away instead of giving you more which is what you want and need to accomplish all you hope for. Sending you love, Mama

Comment by Bonnie Boroian

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