Over the last week or so I have spent lots of time out of the office meeting lots of different people to talk with them about Practical Action’s work. I love this part of my job – acting as an ambassador for Practical Action and inspiring people in the hope that they will support us. At the end of one meeting yesterday a dynamic young guy who had been asking lots of questions about our work suddenly said:
“A baby in Bangladesh cries in just the same way as a baby here in London”
His words have been sparkling through my thoughts for the last 24 hours. They are so completely true. Sometimes when you read about the difficulties that people living in poverty endure – losing their makeshift homes to raging monsoons, or making impossible choices about whether to feed children or animals, or knowingly drinking dirty water because that’s all there is – these challenges are so far removed from our daily lives here in the UK that empathy can be difficult. And giving money to help people overseas overcome their poverty is harder still.
But being born into abject poverty – or not – is a matter of chance. Or as Scarlett Johansson, actress and ambassador for Oxfam, said in December 2011 after visiting the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya:
“We’re all the product of our circumstance, and it’s just really by pure luck, that some of us were born in societies where we’re able to have a hot shower, where we have rights for women, where we aren’t in a state of war, or constantly struggling to find our next meal and feed our children. But it could just as easily been any one of us.”
So those people who are fearing this year’s floods in Bangladesh, or the families in Sudan who will go to bed hungry tonight, or the refugees who are still living in the Dadaab camp – they’re not different from you and me. Just distant. And because of that distance it’s easy to feel like it doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t have anything to do with us.
The young dynamic guy who I met yesterday also told me that if all the trees in the Amazon were chopped down, all human beings would eventually suffocate to death, due to the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. Now I’m not sure of the exact science behind this, but it’s an interesting point. A small change a million miles away can impact directly on your life. And equally, small actions here can bring huge transformation for the people that need it most.
For example – you donating £8 today (which is what – 3 coffees a month?) could mean a family in Bangladesh can plant a floating garden which will enable them to grow enough food to eat all year round – even during the floods.