A single shaft of sunlight was breaking through the dense canopy of mango leaves above. It shot down to where two calves were busily munching on a fresh helping of water hyacinth that had been piled in their trough from the nearby slough. The stems, a tangle of shiny wet tubes, were a brilliant green in the natural spotlight. The black-on-white of the contented calves was brilliant too. Nudged by that sunbeam, I suddenly wanted to linger, to be welcome, to watch life grow out of this latent corner of the earth. This is what a small measure of light can do in a dark place.
|(photo by Tasfiq of Change)|
It's difficult to tell. That's the tricky part about trying to do something worth doing in this world. How can we know that a "real difference" is being made? How does change actually occur?
|(photo by Shah Shahid)|
But for all that intention, what was actually accomplished "on the ground" that day?
-We spent about 6 hours enduring the chaos of Dhaka roads to go to a village that is only 33 kilometers away.
-We distributed sports equipment (that will likely disappear very soon) and school supplies. -Our visit and gifts brought a lot of smiles and excitement that may linger in the village kids' memories.
-We installed a light fixture that provides a negligible amount of light.
-We installed a hand-washing station next to the village well (making it arguably redundant) only to find that its most critical components, the plastic jug and the bar of soap, were already missing by the time we left, apparently confiscated by a villager who felt there were more important uses for such items.
-We helped the children from the school use the bar of soap to wash their hands before it disappeared.
|Students line up for a hand-washing - photo by Shah Shahid|
I'll explain by offering this more hopeful--and probably more realistic--version of what usually is accomplished on a trip like this:
|Faiza teaches a little one to wash with soap - photo by Shah Shahid|
-You go with the assumption that you will be helping the developing world.
-You are moved by the contrast between "your world" and "their world".
-You realize it's not actually possible to have two worlds in our one world.
-You let that realization evolve--perhaps subconsciously--into a more empathetic worldview.
-You then spend the rest of your life making instinctive decisions that are an outgrowth of this new way of thinking.
-With your influence on others, the amount of people like you increases.
-The world gradually shifts from its current unbalanced state to one where those who have too much have less, those who have too little have more, and everyone basically has what they need to live a healthy, happy life.
What does this look like in practical terms for the wealthy, educated, good-looking, conscientious, kind-hearted students who sat through 6 hours of the worst traffic in the world in hopes of "helping" some underprivileged village children?
It means they don't become the new generation of businessmen and women who get rich by exploiting the poor; they don't become politicians who care more about getting reelected than improving the lives of their fellow citizens; they don't live a life that prioritizes material gain and leads to over-consumption. Instead, they instinctively care about people and our shared planet, and they live their lives accordingly.
|Two schools: a tin shed and a boat (photos: Shah, Tasfiq)|
Indeed, consciences have probably been pricked in many ways. At the very least, smiles were exchanged and the beauty of human interaction was reaffirmed. Most significantly, small lights were turned on that day in the hearts and minds of several young people. They are lights that when turned on reveal that we're all in the same room. They illuminate our shared existence on this planet and they are difficult to put out. They might be miniature for the present, but the darkness of unawareness has been pushed back--and that will eventually make all the difference.