April 25, 2014

No One Can Do Everything, but We Can Each Do Something.

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Using Our Privilege for the Greater Good.

This world is full of problems, pain and suffering. It feels overwhelming when we look at the heap as a whole. But as the saying goes, no one can do everything, but we can each do something.

Do you know how many orphans there are in the world?

One hundred forty one million. That’s the population of Russia. It is an unthinkable statistic, and though surely there are some well-run orphanages and loving foster homes out there, if you’ve set foot in even one poorly-run orphanage, you’ve surely felt the palpable deprivation and suffering, the energy of melancholy and loneliness.

Fourteen years ago, my friend Caroline took a round-the-world trip with a stop in India. Witnessing the despicable conditions of a rural orphanage she visited changed her life and motivated her to create The Miracle Foundation. She has, through trial and error, created a system that prevents corruption and promotes healthy, sustainable practices in orphanages. She has raised millions to fund simple necessities like healthy food, decent beds, schooling. She has installed house mothers for small pods of 30 children.

To ward off corruption, they have implemented simple procedures, like weighing the kids each month to ensure that they are gaining weight and growing at a healthy pace. Because, believe it or not, corrupt people will steal food from the mouths of orphans to pocket the money for themselves.

I feel fortunate, because I am fortunate.

I am privileged. I am white. I grew up in a loving, middle class family in the United States. I excelled in school and finished college with a degree in a field I no longer cared for (advertising) and was privileged with the ability to switch to a more suitable career (education).

If you’re reading this, you’re probably relatively privileged, as well.

If you’ve traveled and visited any “developing” countries, you’ve no doubt witnessed poverty. Did you avert your eyes? Did you wonder why you were born so relatively rich while others have next to nothing? Did you feel guilty for it?

Feeling confused about our privilege is a natural phase.

Why are we so lucky while others are not?

Why were we born into the family and place that we were?

Getting over the guilt is important. It is the first step toward using our privilege for good.

I moved abroad almost five years ago. Living as an expatriate in the beautiful, fertile, mountainous land of Guatemala continues to be an eye-opening and heart-opening experience. My lifestyle has changed in deep and lasting ways, and my quality of life is, in my opinion, sky high.

Guatemala has a plethora of poverty, hunger and malnutrition for its size, but nothing in my experience here compares to the weeks I spent in northern India in 2008. The barefoot, hungry children swarming and begging for money, food, anything, was almost too much to bear.

If I had never traveled to India or Mexico or Guatemala, I might still be living in Austin, getting pedicures, drinking $8 cocktails at happy hours with my friends and shopping at Old Navy for superfluous garments and shoes to stuff into my closet. I might be driving a gas-guzzling car and working for the weekend. I might be donating to charity, more to make myself feel less guilty than any more noble aspiration.

Living in Central America has made me super conscious of the value of a dollar. In the States, one can easily spend $50 or more on a haircut at a nice salon. Fifty bucks goes a long way in a developing country, toward buying books, healthy snacks and supplies for schoolchildren.

This is not to say we should feel bad about occasionally splurging on nice things for ourselves and loved ones. But when such “splurges” becomes routine, they’re no longer a treat, they are examples of excessive consumerism.

Acknowledging and owning our privilege is key. Leveraging it to benefit others is essential to creating an enlightened society of conscious, compassionate beings.

Several years ago, I invested $300 in various projects via Kiva.org in lieu of Christmas shopping. Now, the site tells me when I log in, I’ve lent $1275 in 21 countries.

They paid me back, and I reinvested. People I will never meet have benefited from tiny loans from my and others’ humble bank accounts. That’s the power of micro-lending.

To deal with the overwhelming desire to relieve the orphans’ desperate need for love and attention, Caroline decided she would change her life and dedicate it to helping orphans—as many as she could, So far, she’s helping support 10 orphanages, all in rural India.

Even if we can’t make such a drastic change personally at this time, we can support the work of Caroline and other karma yogi go-getters like her.

We can recognize our privilege and use our educated minds and money to create waves of good karma, compassion and care that radiate out from our hearts into the world.

How are you using your privilege for the greater good?

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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Flickr

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