Taking responsibility for the welfare of others
Throughout my schooling, I’ve studied and applauded men and women who were able to reach across lines of difference, working together for the betterment of our world. I’d often feel so heartbroken when studying how cruel people could be to each other or how apathetic or indifferent some could be to the suffering of others, and then feel overwhelmingly thankful for the few who did take on the daunting task of challenging the status quo and fighting injustice –even at a young age, I knew it was something hard, something scary, and not done very often.
I remember many a time, when I’d cry to my parents, saddened by the state of the world and wondering why I was blessed with so much when others have so little? Why was I born in a certain country, in a certain time, to a certain family, all of which played a role in the opportunities I was given in my life as well as simply the living of my life? There were people dying from hunger, from preventable disease, from acts of prejudice and hate, and at age ten, they all weighed heavy on my heart.
I began to pray then to always “feel” for others, for my heart to never harden against the plight of those less fortunate, and to have the courage to stand up for the marginalised, the vulnerable, and the discriminated against, remembering to live the values of social justice, equality, and compassion so essential to my faith. My parents aided me in remembering the only way to thank God for all I had, was to do my part and live out my prayers and gratitude by remembering others of varying backgrounds and situations and doing what I could to lend a hand (or a voice) whenever possible. The only intelligent way to actually go about creating that change was by doing as others had, reaching across lines of difference and working together for the betterment of our world.
Two inspirational leaders that often come to mind are Martin Luther King Jr and Rabbi Joshua Heschel who marched side by side in the Selma Civil Rights March. They spoke about moral responsibility, a call to aid others, and the need of people of faith to transcend the categorisations and classifications that separate us, and instead, work toward a common goal. Heschel said, “The opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference,” reminding us that we are all responsible for the welfare of others.
At times however, this responsibility can be overwhelming. Recently, the world’s population reached seven billion. In light of the Faiths Act Fellowship, my thoughts went to the Millennium Development Goals, wondering about the challenges so many still face in relation to maternal health, education, gender equality, and preventable disease. I reflected on the questions Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s asked at the UN press conference to mark the seven billion milestone.
“What kind of world has baby seven billion been born into? What kind of world do we want for our children in the future?”
I felt intimidated, feeling far from where I want and dream we as a world community will one day reach.
There are about 2.2 billion children in the world; one billion of them live in poverty and according to UNICEF, 22,000 die each day because of it. One of every 12 children dies before celebrating his/her fifth birthday - their FIFTH birthday.
358,000 women still die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and even though they produce half of the world's food and work two-thirds of the world's working hours, they earn only ten per cent of the world's income.
Domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse still happen regularly in hundreds of thousands of families, though we can’t get accurate numbers because even in this day and age, when many of us know such behavior is not right and not acceptable, survivors often don’t have anyone to turn to for help.
And in education? 75 million children cannot attend school with nearly 50% of them in Africa and 57% of them girls, evidencing that to many gender is still a reason, a disgusting reason, for a girl to be denied the opportunity to learn.
Jeez. Just in recounting these statistics, I’m finding it hard to breathe, overwhelmed by the disparity and inequality in the world.
In the realm of public health and preventable disease, in 2009, there were still 1.8 million HIV/AIDS-related and 225 million cases of malaria, causing 781, 000 deaths, again mostly of children under five. These are people behind these statistics – real people with real stories, real families, real dreams.
Martin Luther King had a dream that we, as human beings, would establish greater equality in the world, and that his children, one day, would no longer be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. I also dream this dream for my country and for my world, praying that lines of ranking based on race, religion, socio-economic status, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and more, will soon fade, as we collectively realise we are responsible for the welfare of each other.
I want a world:
- - free of HIV/AIDS and malaria deaths.
- - in which every child is fed and has access to clean water, is raised in a safe and stable home, and is allowed, and encouraged, to dream their own dreams and pursue their own happiness.
- - in which gender justice is established in every society and women and girls are given equal access to education and resources for their betterment (health, food, water, etc).
- - in which violence is never resorted to and abuse is condemned by all, a world in which men and women, together, demand better.
- - in which people think less about power and separating the world into groups to be evaluated, and more about treating people, all people, with more respect, generosity, compassion, and understanding.
I want a lot, and I see how far we are, but I also have faith. I am reminded of my 34 new Faiths Act Fellow friends, from various faith traditions and backgrounds, who equally feel this call to serve the Almighty by serving others. I am reminded of the many more out there, of belief and otherwise, who are similarly passionate about development, equality, and social justice, ready to start living our prayers and building this dreamed of a more just, beautiful world.
I have much faith in each one of us. Although it does get overwhelming, I am thankful for the many I can look to for inspiration and motivation when needed, from the past and indeed, from the present. You restore my belief that by continuing to feel and remember those less fortunate, fighting indifference and apathy by engaging with the issues that plague the world, and working together, across lines of difference, we can and we will truly better our world for all. InshAllah. With God’s help and blessing.