My considerable time as a volunteer doing humanitarian work among underprivileged and displaced populations living in the squalor of slums and camps has provided some exposure to overwhelming misery brought upon by poverty, conflict and dispossession that is impossible to quantify and, perhaps, wholly comprehend.
Amidst all of my experiences, I can unreservedly declare that the most heart-wrenching sight is that of the children. Living in circumstances that can only be described as unfair, undeserved and unlivable, with very little in their possession, they wrestle with unfavourable odds of survival. And if they do manage to survive, the reality of a bleak future and severe hardship remains in store for most of them.
And yet, despite all that, they remarkably -- almost defiantly -- find ways to keep busy and share laughter; their innocence seemingly untouched and preserved in spite of the injustice and cruel environment they had no choice of being born into.
Image credit: Shujaat Wasty/RSF
Often, those of us who have been blessed with much more seem to also have many more complaints. We may possess much, yet will strenuously find reasons to be discontent, whereas it is oddly not uncommon to find those with very little be more content. Being happy -- or unhappy -- is a state of mind.
It is thereby essential to have a positive outlook through focusing on what we do have rather than what we don't. It is through this recognition and subsequent gratefulness that we can overcome the greatest obstacles life throws at us.
Social media feeds today are rife with what seems to be an overwhelming avalanche of news reports, which undeniably tug at our heart strings and, in some cases, evoke negative emotions. They do serve a purpose in raising awareness, and empathy with those enduring great difficulty is an absolute must -- however, without dwelling on or getting mired in negativity, hopelessness or apathy.
Because even among tragedies like the Syrian refugee crisis, with mind-numbing photos such as that of a lifeless Aylan Kurdi washed ashore, there are those in Turkey, Germany, Iceland, Canada and elsewhere opening up their hearts and homes to help the biggest refugee crisis of our time.
While so many Rohingya refugees try to escape the horrors of what publications such as Yale's human rights report term as 'genocide' in Myanmar by braving dangerous waters on makeshift rafts, it is those unknown Indonesian fishermen who rescue as many refugees as they can that give humanity some hope.
There are the heroic medical staff of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who sacrifice hefty paycheques and risk their lives in conflict zones or on the front lines in countering epidemics like Ebola in Sub-Saharan Africa, saving so many of their fellow human beings who may otherwise have perished.
There are living saints like Abdul Sattar Edhi, a one-man administration who continues to overcome a plethora of the most difficult challenges to provide basic services to thousands of the most vulnerable every day in Pakistan.
There is Azhar Maqsusi, who grew up in a poor household, going hungry for days at times. Today, he feeds over 100 destitute people daily under the Chanchalguda overpass in Hyderabad, India, for the past three years, devoting modest earnings from his small shop for the cause.
There is the Bangladeshi rickshaw driver, Jaynul Abedin who saved money for 30 years on a daily earning of $6 so he could establish a clinic in the remote village of Tanhashadia that now treats 300 patients each day.
The question we must all ask ourselves is, within the limits of our own opportunities and capabilities, what are we concretely doing to be changemakers?
There are people like Anwar Khan, who after working his full-time job like millions of other Americans, volunteers whatever remains of his time and money in running the charity he founded, OBAT Helpers, that is changing hundreds of lives thousands of kilometres away. Or others like Tina Frundt, a survivor of domestic sex trafficking as a child, who now helps women and children victims escape from being trafficked and find a new life.
In short, for every tragic incident in the world today, there are countless more women and men humanitarians -- changemakers -- making the world a better place in their own respective capacities. Some have built on difficulties they themselves overcame and others balance their empathy and remorse for those suffering by refusing to wallow in negativity; in either case, their response is similar in being positive and constructive.
They realize that while they cannot bring back the departed, they will not allow their passing to be in vain. As such, the question we must all ask ourselves is, within the limits of our own opportunities and capabilities, what are we concretely doing to be changemakers?
Light is more potent and powerful in effacing darkness; let's each of us resolve to spread more light around us, in our communities, and throughout our world.
Whether it be a kind word or action, a monetary contribution, volunteering time, moving an obstacle from a pathway or even offering a smile at a passerby, each of us are presented with numerous opportunities daily to make a positive impact in the life of others and to make the world a better place, even if incrementally.
If everyone did a little, the result would be a lot; it's not just a cliché, the examples shared above are of varying scales and are evidence of that.
Emotions tend to be contagious, and just as negativity breeds negativity like fire consumes wood, happiness can be bred and shared like sunlight pierces dark clouds. Light is more potent and powerful in effacing darkness; let's each of us resolve to spread more light around us, in our communities, and throughout our world.
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