Sunken eyes, distended bellies, toothpick-like limbs.
It’s difficult to eat a meal these days or drink a glass of water without thinking of Somalia. Yet here, life goes on.
That’s not to say there’s no poverty, homelessness and hunger in Canada. It is a growing problem that needs immediate attention. But Canada is one of a family of nations.
I can’t help but think of the tragedy in Norway when I think of Somalian citizens seeing much of the rest of the world standing by until recently, watching them starve. Norway suffered an unspeakable horror when mostly young, committed, idealist citizens were murdered by hatred. In response, citizens there have agreed to embrace the values that the anti-Islamic offender wished to destroy, by creating a more open, friendly and inclusive society. As one woman reported, there have not been so many people out in the streets since the celebration of the end of the Second World War – Muslims and Christians, young and old, thousands and thousands of people, hugging and giving flowers to each other.
The Canadian government recently committed $50 million towards famine relief in East Africa, and will match donations of Canadians until mid-September to registered charities doing work there. While the funds are desperately needed and it is critical people donate, a better strategy is needed for the long term.
This may sound simplistic, but many of the problems in the world boil down to an “us” and “them” attitude.
Comments on the Internet following some reports of Canada’s $50 million contribution were in opposition, centred around the “charity begins at home” theme. Yet parents in Somalia don’t love their children any less than we love ours, they don’t suffer any less when they watch them die in a refugee camp.
To many people of the world, Africans are an unknown. The continent often conjures only images of starvation and the effects of AIDS. Yet Africa is made up of many diverse countries with much to teach in terms of compassion, community and more.
Many of the problems that countries and groups of people must face today have their roots in the history of imperialism and racism, the chopping up of thriving societies into dysfunctional pieces. There are also ongoing issues of unfair terms of trade that further force countries into poverty, as well as the world’s desire for particular products. The demand for biofuels, for instance, is pushing food prices in some countries out of reach of those who live there.
While it may be too late to adequately rectify some historical wrongs, it is not too late for people here to get a more accurate and, accordingly, more compassionate picture of the world – to stop thinking of people in Somalia, or in whatever group they may happen to belong to, as “them.”
If we could see each other as humans first, we could use our collective intelligence to create lasting solutions to the problems facing the world. As Norwegians are demonstrating, the first step in world change could be as simple as deciding to understand and make friends with a person who is seen as “other.”