I was watching television yesterday, as I’m usually doing when I’m at home, when I was fortunate enough to watch a show that got me thinking about what, the assassinated president J.F Kennedy, once said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but rather, what you can do for your country”.
The television program was a reality show that put young people in positions of responsibility where they could spearhead change in their communities.
While the participants’ goals were modest (beautifying a previously derelict and garbage strewn open space and converting it into a nice park, where kids could play without the fear of cutting their feet on broken glass and shards of metal), the overall effect was enormous; both for the community, that got to enjoy a wonderful public space and for the volunteers themselves, who got a sense of achievement and appreciation.
Personally, that television program struck a nerve. One volunteer group, that was based in the capital, Cote d’Ivoire, met a bunch of fellows that made me blush. These guys, when asked to help clear the park of debris, chuckled and asked, “show us the money”.
Why did I feel embarrassed? Because I’m pretty sure that I would have said exactly the same thing if I was confronted with the same situation.
I’ve never done a spot of volunteer work in my life. The motto I’ve lived on is, “how much”?
I’m not ashamed by the fact that I believe that an honest day’s work deserves an honest paycheck, but, rather, I’m ashamed that the pay check eclipses every other priority.
While I can’t be called poor in material wealth, I’ve got to admit that I’m poor in spirit. Research has found out that the poor give more, in proportion to their overall wealth, than the more affluent members of the society.
This statistic can be seen every day if you open your eyes to it. I’ll think that the five thousand banknote in my pocket is little to share with THAT beggar who’s always hanging around the Ministries; but then some fellow, who looks like the last time he saw the same bank note I’m totting around disdainfully, was in his dreams, reaches into his torn back pocket and gives the beggar a fifty franc coin.
So, here is the situation as I see it. The government is doing the best it can to help everyone who needs assistance, the poorer members of the society help prop their more unfortunate brothers and sisters, some NGO’s and churches are helping…but the younger, wealthier chaps are caring little and making THAT dollar. I don’t think that I, and the majority of the young people who have my mindset, are pulling our weight.
We are fortunate enough to be able to earn sums that would turn most people in this country green with envy. We live a lifestyle that compares favorably with that lived by the yuppies in western capitals. We drink J&B Fine Scotch Whiskey and Smirnoff vodka by the bottlefuls, eat spaghetti bolognaise, attend salsa classes and use more than a primary school teachers monthly salary in a single night of merry making.
That, my friends, isn’t, and should be, sustainable. Life can’t be about the next party, the next drink, the next visit to the bank account. My relative success shouldn’t be a cause of resentment but, rather a source of happiness to the larger community. Here is my person plan for change; I’ll participate, for my very first time this Saturday in umuganda.
Although, that looks like a small step, Chairman Mao once said that a thousand mile journey begins with one small step. Yes, its seems like one person can’t change anything but then again, Rosa Parks was one person….and look at what she started. President-elect Obama owes her a big one.