"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sins"
During my Uni years,never mind how long ago, I spent some time in Pakistan through a program to complete a certain academic requirement. My first thought was, "Oh, joy" minus the exclamation sign. I cursed those who were lucky enough to go to other exotic places..
Three months, countless chapatis and Chai-s,(chai = tea ), two episodes of diarrhoea and new vocabulary of expletives in Urdhu later, I settled back home and when I was finally able to catch some time to reflect, I thought to myself, despite the challenges in daily routine in Karachi, the all too-frequent-for-comfort no electricity occurrences followed by no water supply , as their water pumps run on electricity, to name a few, (basically, you have oh so not zen moments in the darkness, sticky, hot, bothered and smelly wondering how did you get yourself into this dung, or did that dung smell came from you) that I've actually learned more about life, than even Google could offer. It was priceless, with or without the dung odour.
You must by now wonder, where am I going with this article, I do know that I'm to write about world hunger. However, it is my belief that to enable us to fight world hunger, we should ourselves decipher how being in a state of constant hunger really feels like, or at least understand, to a certain extent, why hunger is a tragedy allowed to subsist. Only then would we be able to open our eyes our minds, our hearts and decide, whether we are going to do something about it, or chose to be obtuse or oblivious about it. After all, to some, ignorance is bliss.
What I saw in Pakistan, was perennial absolute poverty and hunger first hand. I was there just ample in time to decipher what was it like to starve yet not to die, and just not too long to reach the point of becoming comfortable with the idea of hunger as a norm of life, which I guess was what happened to some of the people of Pakistan.
Like I said, I arrived. Initially, I was preoccupied with my own "sufferings" and adaptations, like for example trying to grasp the concept that in Pakistan, "No prrrrrrraaaablem" means, yes problem, oh, that is but another story. After some time, I began to notice the sufferings of others around me that seemed to have dampened my own which merely turn up to be Hepatitis A at the most. I see poverty that I do not see in my own country. In Malaysia, when we talk about "hunger", it is about wondering which menu to pick to satisfy that hunger. Absolute poverty does not exist in Malaysia. Except for the hunger for educational books on how to improve one's sex life, and of course some gadgets that comes free with them, Malaysians generally do not go constantly hungry.
In Malaysia, when we talk about poverty, we are actually referring to "relative poverty", poor in comparison to the more fortunate, or even the absolute rich and the absolutely filthy rich on other people's money. Except for very scanty cases of pure poverty which somehow find its way to the National broadcast, ironically approaching the time of general election, ergo, our poor people comprises of people who have less of everything compared to others, in the material sense of it.
There were incidences when "poor people" who stayed in squatters remained resiliently resistant against the relocation programs,the grumbles may be of the inconvenience due to the hassle of relocating their TV satellite dish. Food is ample, so blessed we are. When there are others in some part of the world die from food deprivation, we Malaysians seem to die from excessive and reckless food consumption. Still, we complain. Gratitude may sometimes abandon the minds of the unreminded.
I've seen homeless people making a home by the roadside, when the city's hustle and bustle finally resigned to the chillness of the night. In the daytime, when the body seemed unable to get itself off the street, there were incidences whereby cruel people would kick them off it. Those who were resilient towards all the kickings and expletives thrown at them, would just lie there, oblivious to their surroundings,in surrender, probably wondering why did God sent them onto earth only to have them starve on a daily basis. To them, they were the unlucky ones who survived the coldest of nights, as there were the few lucky ones who never did woke up from a night's winter.
I've seen single mothers doing whatever it takes to keep her children fed. Doing odd labour jobs in the day and by night, after putting the children to bed, leave the eldest child to take care of the rest, walk on the streets past midnight wearing black hijabs (burqah/purdah), face covered, to sell her body to make as much money as she can. If your customers are poor too, how much money can a prostitute make in a night?
I've seen the sufferings of men turned into serfs under the manipulation of landlords via the feudal system. They have to continue paying the debts of their forefathers to the landlords' forefathers, and the only way they could pay the debt inheritance is by offering hard labour. These landlords are probably the same hypocrites who would shout "jihad!!" when an "infidel" utter a word to imply "defamation of Islam", when they feel nothing enslaving their own fellow Muslims.
What a life, if you can call it living....That is why the Mujaheedins in Afganistan never come short of Mujahids ready to blow themselves up in the name of Jihad. Dying is a better option, and since committing suicide is regarded as one of the biggest sin in Islam, why not join the "jihad" and become weapon of mass destruction. At least you die not in hunger and shame, or so it seems.....
(More of Karachi, world hunger and poverty, and what we can do about it)
Of course I am talking about Karachi, a huge impersonal city whereby survival of the fittest seem to be an axiomatic virtue. There are middle class society as well as the rich, but the poor constitute the majority, they should all come together to form a party and win by democratic process, which has never been the case sadly. It is but the minority landlords who manages to govern all, preoccupied with the power struggles, more than the welfare of the citizens. I have however, been to their villages and although there were poor people there, the village people seemed to be more larger at heart, empathic towards each other, looking out for each other the best way they can. I have witnessed the poor helping the poor, through eyes that were blurred with tears of sadness, deeply touched to the very core. I think although they are regarded by society as poor in the material aspect of life, they are blessed with the richness in humanity. But there are limitations to what one can do, when the problems weighed ginamously more than that chubby heroine character who drowned the " Titanic".
There were some kind souls in the city. Restaurateurs who opened the back portion of their shops to feed the endless queue of the poor. As for the people who were reluctant to extend a helping hand, what were their excuses? I've heard, "they are poor because they are lazy" , "even if we help, there are too many of them", or "the more you help, the more they will become lazy" numerous excuses, but they are what they are, sad excuses, merely a gateway to the escapism of public responsibilities. Of course there were rich people who tend to evade tax using the excuse that the government is corrupted, which isn't that far from the truth, sadly, who's prerogative were to spend that money evaded from tax, to help the poor instead, or so they claim.
And there were beggars all over the place. Alas! Do not be fooled by some of these beggars who uses human sentiments to scoop fast cash. Regardless, there were genuine beggars of course, and soon enough after the first day I set foot on that soil, I developed the impending skill to differentiate between those who were genuine, and those who had the potential to become Bollywood backup actors/actresses. We use to go up to the beggars for some loose change!! I've once gotten loose change for 500 rupees!!
You'd see some of the children who, at that age, were suppose to be at school and have fun growing up, instead were used as a tool for syndicates to beg for money, not even for themselves. In Malaysia, we only abuse our kids by killing their creativity with tremendously tight schedule of home tuition and endless extra-curricullar classes as though the parents were trying to pay back their childhood of deprivation through their children, leaving the kids exhausted doing the things their parents wished they could do when they were children, and well, no time to be kids. Well, THAT, and the freakingly heavy school bags, everyone may grow up to become the Hunchback of Notterdame !! (I seriously think these kiasu parents should be charged under some kind of law. Prosecute for the murder by third degree of a child's creativity and childhood)
Back to the child beggars, some have deformed limbs. I was told that these children had their limbs distorted by the members of syndicate since childbirth. Due to the deformity brought unto them by purpose, these children become beggars ,continuing their parents legacy. Albeit they were given shelter and food, judging by their poor physique, they must have been starving all their lives. Who would want to feed a fat beggar anyway. And just like the supermodels, having weight that can actually move the indicator on the weighing scale could mean occupational hazard. There was one time when it hit the headlines, that a rich man was found guilty of extorting men, and exploiting women and children to beg. They, the head of the syndicate, lived in huge mansions with fancy continental vehicles. It makes you wonder, if they ever have mirrors in their mansion. Frankly, I don't think any humans can look at themselves in the mirror knowing that their body parts are made out of others' misery.
Then there were the, mostly Patan boys who were scavengers. They were the cutest little beings aging from roughly 9 years old onwards,occasionally younger, but it was easy to spot them because they have a precocious puberty look about them, and always carrying a sack of gurney full of ,rubbish to us but income to them, over their small little shoulders. They have small bodies but you can see that their childhood had left their facial features, what was left was the occasional hint of naughtiness in that sparkling colorful eyes, and perhaps you'd be lucky to have them smile at you when you hand them food or money.
Like I said earlier, there are quite a number of wealthy people and upper as well as the middle class society. The rich can sometimes be sinfully rich. There were countless occasions when I was invited to posh parties during my stay in Pakistan. I attended only once, and that was the first invitation. I was swept away for some moments at the extent of wealth the wealthy people of Pakistan had to offer. That particular party was hosted for no apparent reason, just celebrating the coming back of the people who hold permanent residence status from various part of Europe to the winters of Karachi. The house was huge and I cannot help but wonder if someone were to die of that oily food, how long would it take for the maids to discover the body. There were free booze, yes, booze served free flow. Let me pause here to allow you to catch up with the bewilderment of boozing in an Islamic Republic. Would it make you feel less confused if I say, that if there were anything some Muslims are good at, it is at being a hypocrite, but that is another story.
That was the first and the last party I've ever attended, not because I was thrown out of it for being overdressed in those short skimpy skirts, in comparison to how those girls were dressed, or perhaps undress would be more accurate, but because the next day, in the aftermath of a great evening, I got out to throw my garbage and there, feasted upon my eyes was a Patan boy, engrossed in his scavenging activities. He looked up suddenly, face hopeful and for a brief moment, I was lost in those pleading emarald eyes, lost in an abyss of sadness. It broke my heart when I had to ask myself, "how could some people be so rich that the only challenge they faced in life as a youth was try not to choke from their own vomit after getting horribly drunk and high on Hashish (grass) from the party the night before, when there are others who considers eating a full meal in a year is a blessing?" . I wondered, why can't the rich get together to help the poor? Frankly, the rich have no business to party when they have got a responsibility at hand, that is to help the poor be able to get out of the rut and be able to fend for themselves.
"Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that"
-Norman Vincent Peale-
-Norman Vincent Peale-
I am sure there are rich people helping out the poor, but obviously insufficient since the poverty in Pakistan is still a perennial phenomenon. In any country, I feel that everyone especially the government holds the responsibility to fight poverty. A corrupt government would be too engrossed in filling up their own pocket with money,or engage in power struggle, to be bothered about fulfilling their obligations as leaders, let alone help the poor, as that would force them to actually work. Why bother when you can get fast money via corruption. The rich become richer, the poorer stay poor.
"A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money"
The state of being poor, not even when absolute, may encourage people to surrender to the temptation of corruption, crime and to certain extent, violence. A society who have nothing to loose, may become potentially dangerous, especially when they are frustrated with their lives.
And that was just Pakistan I'm talking about. There are more unfortunate countries suffering from a more grave hunger, Africa for instance. We cannot close one eye and let people die from hunger.No one should be allowed to go constantly hungry...except for fashion models and celebrities, whereby hunger in a form of fad diets is a prerogative if not a lifestyle, and of course if they chose to fast.Unfortunately, that was never the case. Here's a general idea about the statistics on poverty : (Click on maps to get a bigger picture)
and below is the Global Hunger Index, regretfully receiving an alarmingly less attention than the Composite Index.
Welthungerhilfe came out with a Global Hunger Index and to give you an idea, on how hungry most of the humans living on our very earth are. For a detailed report in PDF, click and follow the link Report: Global Hunger Index 2008
Have I not made you depressed enough? Well then, feast your eyes upon the 2005 release from WHO on child poverty; (why 2005? Because this is the latest report I could get my hands on) Multiple dimensions of child povertyy . But the good news is, there's Unicef; goal to eradicate poverty, to comfort us with the thought that something is being done about it.
In fact, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) even have Article 11 that states:
"The States Parties to the present Covenant.....shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed; (a) To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources; (b) Taking into account the problems of both food importing and food exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need"
Studies on poverty and hunger are done by many parties; The World Bank studies done in collaboration with WHO, HERE to name some.
" It would be nice if the poor were to get even half of the money that is spent in studying them"
Well, no point spending all that big money studying the poor if you can't come up with a plan to solve the epidemic. And the answer is, yes we do. There are existing bodies via United Nations that provides programs to combat world hunger, here's to name a few;
1. World Food Program
2. Food and Agriculture Organization
3. Under UNICEF, there are goals and programs to eradicate hunger amongst children, click to view the details.
Let me just throw in good news for the Obama Mamas, something that has got nothing to do with the new first puppy, or anything out of the product of stalking his kids; "President Obama announced his intent to work with Congress to provide $448 million in immediate assistance to vulnerable populations, and to double support for agricultural development to over $1 billion." This statement had very much pleased UK based Save The Children, as you can see when you read Save children strongly supports Obama's initiative to combat world hunger . A bonus track to the good news is that there's a road map to end world hunger. I reckon this road map have lesser chances of dragging on till the next Ice Age, as it doesn't have any direct involvement of the Israeli and the Arabs.
The world have never ceased to notice world hunger, whether we decide to act on what we noticed however, is a different story altogether, albeit there are existing programs in execution and are indeed comprehensive. Still, the ultimate question remains - what can we, the people with no authorities, do to reduce if not vanquish world hunger? There is nothing new I feel I could suggest that had not already been suggested. However, we could use more suggestions on how to implement the earlier suggested suggestions. Basically now, what is needed is ACTION. And we do not need Super Heroes (with underwear worn over their pants and capes that could possibly be the cause of death when it gets stuck in some wind mill or something) for that. We all can unleash the Super Heroes that lies within us.
The sad part about world hunger is that, it is the direct cause of bad politics. The power struggle may instigate the lack of interest of these politicians to care for the poor as their time are preoccupied with plotting to topple, or recapture the reign, neglecting their basic duties as they go along with the politickings that seem to consume them (and we call Tuberculosis the Consumption). Whilst nothing much can be done to change the politics of a country plagued with power struggle, (oh unless of course your country is rich with oil, then you stand better chances of the Super Powers invading...ooops sorry, liberating your country to topple this vicious leader, who killed less than the Super Powers have in the process of trying to get rid of this particular leader,in order to inaugurate democracy) leaving common people to pay the price of the whole ordeal, the least the rest of the world could do is extending a helping hand. Here's a few ways how we can;
1.Create as much awareness as we can regarding world hunger and poverty, emphasising the need to address it together. This is an exclusive condition whereby the vessel that makes the most noise, is actually not empty. We've already done that by sharing our writings with others via blogging today. Spread the awareness like wildfire, for through the exponential growth of awareness , we can unleash more man power to volunteer and contribute in anyway they can, ergo the effort is in larger magnitude to make a significant difference.
2. Get our ass off the comfort zone and volunteer to make a difference. It doesn't matter if we do the smallest thing, because any good done, may not be significant to us, but it makes a huge significant difference, to the people in need. If you don't have that much money to contribute, you can volunteer in tackling the education, skills and health aspect for instance. Education is important in hope that not only we offer them help to survive, but also equipt them with the skills to survival.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach the a man to fish and you feed him for life perhaps they may change their own fate in the future"(Try telling that to some people in Malaysia. They'll tell you that it's their birth right to be fed throughout life!!! Next thing you know, you'll get some primitive looking weapon, called the Keris - hardly a weapon of mass destruction, shoved at your face insisting that the law does not require them to learn how to fish, but to be fed fish till the day they depart planet earth....this is one situation whereby "Veritas vos Liberabit" is a no no, instead "The truth may set your ass on fire" stands true. You've got to be a Malaysian to appreciate what I've just said)
There are many existing organizations, both locally and internationally, that can accommodate this.(and I'm not referring to setting someone's ass on fire). For instance, I've been doing "pro bono" via a Buddhist movement , albeit I'm a Muslim, to help with the Myanmar refugees. I deal with the health aspect, and if you happen to wonder why volunteer through a Buddhist movement and not organizations such as Mercy or UMNO ( though to be precise, UMNO would fall under "un-organization" actually), as anyone would aspect me, a Malay Muslim, to do? (although I much prefer to be addressed as just "Malaysian", but you need to be a Malaysian to decipher why the former) . Well, simply because I wanted to portray to my fellow multiracial "carbon bipedal descendant of apes" (as Douglas Adams would put it), that you need not discriminate when you offer help. We should not in our minds discriminate the poor by categorizing them, be it by race, religion, culture, etc. Poverty makes it's own race. Let humanity and not discriminative reasons be the motivator in offering sincere help.
3. Contribute monetary wise; 10 cents may not worth anything to a wealthy person, but it may worth a lot to someone who struggles to eat on a daily basis. Or maybe more than 10 cents, to be realistic as even the toilet cost 30cents in some parts of the country. For those who are lucky to have money for extra shoes to match that extra hand bags, perfume etc, well, when you look at the evaporated fragrance gushing out of the tiny nozzle as you press on it, think what that perfumed vapor is worth if it changes it's form into food...the last I checked the cost of a bottle of Channel may afford a poor man one month worth of groceries. Besides, why do we need to smell that good anyway, considering it's the natural human (and I don't mean foul) body odour that gets the human conjugal instinct to turn on anyway, why pay so much to smell like....well, fruits sometimes?
"However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts."
-Henry David Thoreau-
-Henry David Thoreau-
I envy the rich who contributes millions to charity, for not only are they rich with material indulgence, but also rich with kindness and humanity.(I did not say anything about tax okay) However, it is a tragedy when the people in charge of handling these contributions, abuses that trust. Such characters are mind boggling really. It makes you wonder whether, are these people in fact, human. They need to be severely punished. Perhaps an international law should be passed to hold accountable and to prosecute the authorities that allow poverty to resume, treat the act as criminal act, after all, it is a crime to let someone die from starvation.
"We spoke out, committed civil disobedience, and went to jail because the peace hangs senselessly and precariously upon weapons costing billions to build and billions to improve - weapons which become more useless as we add to their destructive force. With this money, we could have fed the world's people. Half the children on earth go to bed hungry - millions more have retarding and stunting protein deficiencies. Instead of building the peace by attacking injustices like starvation, disease, illiteracy, political and economic servitude, we spend a trillion dollars on war since 1946, until hatred and conflict have become the international preoccupation"
Food is basic human right. Anyone responsible in standing in the way to that right had committed the gravest of crime. And the people who chose not to do anything too are partners in crime. If empathy is a virtue unforgotten, it will find it's way through positive action. Ask ourselves this question; "How would I feel if I am consistently deprived of food". Close your eyes and imagine the stories I've narrated earlier, happening to you right now. Tell me how would you feel? Let's all turn ourselves into Super Heroes and help make the difference. Let us all be what we are sent to earth to be.....HUMANS.....Together, we can. (And Obama's campaign slogan rang at the back of my mind....."YES WE CAN!!!")
(The rabbit hole ends here..) ...Click here to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.....