Today as I sat watching my big-screen TV listening to my surround-sound system in my heated two-story home in the center of a wealthy coastal town after taking a ride in my very own Jeep Grand Cherokee, I felt nothing but disgust.
What I had been watching was a segment on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” detailing the forced marriages of Ethiopian girls as young as nine years old. These poor girls usually suffer days of child-bearing labor, often resulting in stillborn babies. What’s worse is that in many cases the labor wreaks havoc with the girl’s body and all-too-often results in the development of a condition know as fistula. Avoided in America through Caesarean sections, fistulas are holes that develop between the birth canal and bladder because the mother’s young body is too small or the baby is poorly positioned. Without surgery, fistulas constantly exude bodily waste, leaving a smell. Thousands of Ethiopian girls are plagued with this terrible stigma, and unable to stand the disability, husbands and parents lock the women in huts or turn them out on the streets to die.
Also detailed on Oprah was the level of poverty and the horrendous living conditions in third-world countries. Villages are made up of shacks lining muddy roads; schooling is almost nonexistent; AIDS takes millions with the epidemic continuing to spread due to lack of education. Children lose parents to disease and malnutrition and are often forced to become parents themselves. Little girls are sold for their bodies and then used for profit, some as slaves, others just trying to support their families.
Clearly, something has been overlooked. Surely a fine country like America with all its fine citizens could help? Why not? Why is it 2006 and the world is in this shape? We live in a country where people own multiple cars and have more than one house ... or even have a house! I wonder what is wrong with us when I see signs on the highway advertising a lottery jackpot over $100 million. In Ethiopia, $100 is a year’s salary. Why then is one person in the U.S., who likely does not have a mutilated body or drink contaminated water or live in a mud hut, getting all the money? Because most of us are selfish and ignorant. A lottery ticket can cost just a dollar. If enough people buy enough lottery tickets so that the jackpot is over $100 million (with the most minute and unlikely chance of winning), couldn’t this money be put to better use? If everyone donated this small amount of money to helping third-world countries, a huge amount could be raised. Instead of one person being the winner, a third-world country would receive the winnings. The ticket buyer would be sure to win - by saving human beings.
Why are we not giving more to these countries, these people? I know my feelings may sound hypocritical since I live in absolute luxury compared to these people, but I am determined to use what I have been given to help correct what has gone wrong. I am not recommending that everyone go to Africa and be a hero, but maybe we could all make some changes. Maybe some of us could stand to tackle all that rugged terrain known as paved roads without our Hummers. Maybe some of us could sponsor a child instead of purchasing designer handbags.
I will not let myself forget what is happening. One of the biggest problems is a lack of awareness. Sure, you see the Save the Children ads on TV or the occasional AIDS documentary that makes you want to help for a day, but you can change the channel, walk out of the room, go out with your friends. What if an hour, or 10 minutes of each day were devoted to reading the stories of suffering and poverty? Then would we be so able to forget these people? Or what if we even heard success stories? Perhaps we would be more inclined to help. What if instead of celebrity magazines taking up all the shelf space, there were magazines filled with pictures of emaciated people and orphaned children? A person who does not know what’s wrong cannot be held truly accountable for not trying to make it right, but a person who knows and does nothing holds just as much blame.
Just spreading the word is a form of help. Tell people what’s going on! We Americans do not like to discuss the mutilation of young girls because it makes us uncomfortable but guess what ... the mutilated girl will never be comfortable again. So let’s step out of our comfort zones. Let’s change the way we’ve been doing things. Let’s care, let’s act. It may be difficult to imagine being able to make any sort of a difference, but if we all start with an attitude adjustment, we can get things rolling. Instead of thinking of people who live in places like Ethiopia as simply residents of another country, let’s just think of them as people. Let’s think of them as our neighbors, as our friends, as our family. What if it was your friend who was homeless, or your mother with AIDS, or maybe your little sister being sold to men with no regard for her? What if it was you?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.