This is a post for Blog Action Day--an incredible collective effort by bloggers all over the world to take action against poverty and promote awareness about issues surrounding poverty. I was excited to participate but when I signed up to create a post I had to wonder what I would write. The statistics about global poverty are staggering (one which is 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day) but I'm not incredibly innovative when it comes to leading a campaign. This is a pretty simple blog I save for the things and ideas that are pleasing to me---a place where I take my good and positive thoughts to remember how lucky I am for the small and good things we here who write and read this blog have. I have a roof. I have clothes to wear. I have food on the table. All sometimes to excess. I suppose it's a perfect place to start.
Last night an old friend from my time in India called me. We hadn't spoken for a while and it was wonderful to catch up realizing how much we had changed since those days and how much from that period we had carried with us still.
So many memories flooded back to me from that year, and while I experienced all kinds of incredible things that year in India, an overwhelming part of my experience was being confronted with real poverty everyday. I remember my first shocking impressions of a ride into New Delhi from the airport in the early morning dusk, people dotting the fields outside the airport, squatting with little makeshift cans of water for their morning toilet. Cows crowded the little lanes of the old city, along with masses of people pushing out into the morning streets along with pushcarts and market vendors along the side of the road with a few little peppers or limes to sell on a little tea towel. These scenes became a normal part of life that year but that first day I had never seen anything like it and my eyes were wide open for the first time I think to a way of life so very foreign to my own.
Over that year I saw poverty in many forms every day: the enormous shantytown outside Calcutta's largest dump and all the smaller shantytowns seen in passing from a train window; beggars with no arms or legs weaving through traffic in Delhi and Bombay or lining the walls of temples. I saw babies with bloated stomachs held by their mothers with their palms out on train platforms, the sweepers, the keepers of the pigs outside my friend's house, the coolies in the mountains hauling wood or luggage for a few rupees a day. There were people I talked to every day, many still smiling but always seemed so tired, living with such meager means but with so much to teach about dignity, more to teach about appreciating the very small things you have no matter what your means. These were people who experienced hunger, had little or no access to clean water and often had no place to sleep at night.
While there is a wide divide between extreme wealth and extreme poverty in India and since my last visit in 1997, there have been incredible changes as the middle class has grown, I had a fellowship that year to study the passing of artistic traditions with a family of lower caste toy-makers in the Northern Indian city of Benares. They worked and then slept in small rooms, and although they lived with the bare minimum: a shared squat toilet and water pump (with water only coming twice a day, many meals of only rice, a daily bath for body and clothes in the Ganges nearby, they were people always quick to share what little they did have, a small meal or a cup of tea and in the end treat me as sister and daughter. It was an eye-opening year and their generosity and faith in our strange friendship was outstanding.
The days that passed sitting with them and in my travels that year in India taught me many things, I think the most important of which was about the things I did not need as opposed to all the things I thought I did. I try to remember this every day. There is very little we need to maintain a healthy and even happy life and these are things we take for granted more often than not: clean food and water, a clean environment, decent medical care, warm clothes and blankets in winter, a kind and compassionate heart.
So today this long-winded post is asking you as well to think about what you don't need today. Today, when you think about what you think you need to spend on yourself, instead, consider giving to one of the good organizations listed below. Or one of your own choosing...or write your own post today and spread the word. Or tell me what you would change in your life: Here's mine: I would like to continue with less and less and try to give more and more.
Maybe you can let me know if you have any more organizations you'd recommend. And if you do nothing else, read this: 88 Ways to do Something About Poverty Right Now.
Some sites to visit and contribute:
Bread.org : A place to learn what you can do to combat hunger around the world.
Heifer International: It's the Holiday Present my family usually gives to each other--much better than wrapping gifts-think about it this year...
Build A Nest is a wonderful organization who forward the money from sales of designer goods to finance microloans for women beginning craft-based business in developing countries. I sell these Nest Key Fobs Sets made especially for Nest, and while I normally give 25% of the proceeds, I'd like to donate 75% until November 15th. You can shop early and guilt free for the holidays and know your money is going towards a good cause. (If you don't want this there are lots of great designers also donating beautiful goods!)
Water Aid provides water, sanitation and hygeine education in developing countries.
Kiva.Org is an amazing organization providing microloans to assist people wanting to start bunsiness in developing countries. Maybe we can sponsor a business together?
WEAVE is a small and important organization that Jim and I worked with in 1996--assisting and empowering Burmese women living in exile in the refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border to finance schools and medical clinics through the creation of traditional weavings.
Free Rice. A game that actually helps to buy rice for families in need.
Iowa Hunger Summit
More reading about global poverty relief.