Published: January 1st 2009December 31st 2008
Last night, I saw 'Slumdog Millionaire' (surely you've heard about it!) with my mom. For me, it was difficult to see so many realities I observed in India play out in front of the audience, my mom, and me on the big screen. I hope that people who see the film won’t be too overwhelmed by horror or by relief (because they live in the 1st world), and rather will be compelled to make change in their thinking about poverty and India.
I've discovered an American TV show, 'Secret Millionaire', with the interesting concept of taking America's wealthiest individuals and placing them undercover for a week in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in America (sometimes in their own city). During the week, the millionaires live on minimum/welfare wage (usually around $50-$100) and try to find community members and leaders who help others in need and then in turn, help the leaders. At the end of the week, the millionaires decide who should receive a portion of at least $100,000 of their own money, and then reveal their true identity to the people they have been working with. The most amazing part of the show is seeing how hard struggling people are working to provide services for other struggling people in their community. In one episode, an Internet entrepreneur/businessman goes to Las Vegas and helps a homeless teen’s shelter, a paraplegic teen teaching other kids to skateboard in their wheelchairs, and a woman running a food bank. In another episode, a couple (both millionaires in their own right) go to help people whose homes were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and who are working to rebuild their community.
In case you are wondering…my re-entry into the US has hardly been marked by the relief that one might expect when they return from the 3rd world to their home and lifestyle in the 1st world. I enjoyed spending the holidays reuniting with my family and friends, but it has been difficult to cope with the excesses of American society. For instance, I let my parents take me to the most luxurious mall near Seattle on the day before Christmas Eve (big mistake) and I am no longer willing to spend $4 (200 rupees!!!) on Starbucks coffee. The hardest part is figuring out how to share and process my experience/re-entry with others without sounding judgmental or preachy. Under advisement from my family and friends, I’ve overcome the brief desire to renounce all material things, but at the same time I can’t help but think about how my stuff that I never or hardly use could help my friends at the orphanage and in the slum or people living below or at the margin in hard economic times in my community. Luckily, this isn’t the first time this inclination to downsize and give back has happened to me and I know lots of places locally were I can donate my stuff and my time. I am definitely excited to return to my regular volunteer activities in Edmonds and Seattle.
My parents have worked very hard to create my family’s lifestyle and their wealth is partially what enables them and me to help other people, and to some extend I think it is our responsibility to live how we’d like to help other people be able to live. As opposed to wallowing in depression about (or ignoring) the disparities and inequities in the world, I have always believed that those of us who are fortunate enough to live with our basic needs met should dedicate our time and voices to make a change we wish to see in the world (thank you Gandhi!).
My experience in India shocked, awed, horrified, and moved me (often in the same day), and as I mentioned in my first blog entry I feel so privileged to have been able to spend a semester in India. I’m inspired and optimistic about the future. I think most people at their core are good (sometimes we just get caught up in ourselves, our lives, and the “hustle”), and if given the assistance, the time, and the opportunity they will want to help other people. My goal in life is to make it easier to help people help themselves and others.
Thank you to all of you who took this (ongoing) journey with me because my experience wouldn’t have been the same without your support. I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit about India and hopefully some other things too. I don’t know about you, but no matter how hard it can be sometimes to stretch ourselves and reconsider the way we think, act, and what we believe, I’ve never wanted to live in a box obliviously to the realities in the world around me. Certainly it would be easy to criticize me because of the life I was born into, but I’ve also believed that I was put here in my life in America (instead of in Krupa’s slum) for a reason.
In India I learned the most about myself when I took a moment to step back and reflect about what I was doing and why I was seeing and experiencing certain things. Both India and the US are currently facing a diversity of challenges, and it will take the strength of all of us to see solutions to these problems through.
I will leave all of you today with my favorite saying (and the one on my yearbook page for SYA India) from Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”
Happy New Year!