Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fulfilling a Purpose

Approximately 25% of people live below the poverty line in India alone. In a country with a population of 1.22 billion it seems like a simple equation where it would take 3 people to help 1 person to bring a semblance of dignity to the 300 million! I am not talking about providing just food and shelter - rather helping provide sound education so they may attempt to be self sufficient. Utopian - maybe but if we aim for perfection maybe we will reach somewhere.

The challenge is in identifying what is needed to help someone living below the poverty line to reach a level of self reliance. It no longer remains just math and numbers then. The human element becomes paramount. There are organizations that arrange a meal for a day during a special occasion or the distribution of blankets or a medical camp for the poor. The intentions may be altruistic - but I wonder if such spurts of charity does much to help in the long run. Yet it may save the life of some who are really in dire straits. I think it is important for organizations to measure the true benefit of such kindness and assess if maybe it would be more effective to spend some percentage of their funds on providing more long term help like education and vocational training along with training on personal and community hygiene.

It begs the question - is there a purpose to charitable work? Is it to feel good about being charitable or is it about making a difference? Of course it is important to help the sick, the hungry, the homeless in their moment of immediate need and this is a very important aspect of charitable work and must be continued but it must be as a complement to other sustainable efforts that will help those who want to step out of this cycle of poverty and be productive, successful citizens of the world. One cannot thwart the other.

There are many of us who are in the field of voluntary service and we all have a vision about why we want to be involved in this work. I am sure that most also have a vision that is larger than a 'feel good' need to serve. We want to make a positive impact on the lives of those we serve. It is not so much about making someone world famous but more about making someone feel good about their life and themselves. That is a great motivation for someone who is afraid to dream and teaches one to open up and begin to imagine good things for oneself.

When we lose sight of the bigger picture and get caught up in the need of the moment, we begin to lose the capacity to make a lasting effect. We bring about a drastic change in the capacity to dream. We make them short sighted and stop them from reaching out to the stars. We limit them to the dream of the light of a street lamp. A bright young man who wants to be an accountant is taught to be satisfied as a cashier. He is told that the faster he goes out there and earns money to feed the family the more he will be valued by his loved ones. In the process we tell him to stop valuing himself! Poverty is a horrible curse and an easy cycle to perpetuate. A major element that nurtures it is lack of self worth. There is no love in stunting the growth of a loved one - only greed. Yes I believe that it requires unconditional love towards a child to encourage that child to grow to his/her full potential. Any parent who is unwilling to give up their life for the betterment of their offspring does not know the meaning of love. If a child has not learnt how to dream or only dreams of being a cashier and becomes one, that is fine. It is not that a cashier is less than an accountant - but for one who wants a career as an accountant in a corporation, a cashiers position in a supermarket is a major let down.

When we undertake education of the poor as our purpose in life and we encounter forces that are bent on thwarting this effort we begin to understand why those living below the poverty line are unable to cross over. The sad part of it all is that those who are thwarting personal growth of our future generation forget the child and hold the condition of family and the community as their justification for doing so. In a culture where thinking about others before thinking about oneself is looked upon as an essential life quality it is easy to see why the child willingly gives in. Unless we teach our next generations to value themselves first it will be well near impossible to bring about a shift in the statistics of poverty in India.

We must stand up for the children! We must teach them to value their dreams and their ideas. We need to teach them to include others in their dream not exclude their dreams for others! We must teach them to stand up for their beliefs, to be strong and courageous and show them how to fulfill their dreams and dream bigger. We have a purpose in life and that purpose is to serve this world so more of us are living courageously, unafraid of evil forces and willing to stand up for right. We must lead by example and unless we stand up and fight for the children of today we will not have fulfilled our purpose.

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