Monday, April 07, 2008

A Lesson in Caring

Central Massachusetts is a long way from Zambia, but somewhere soon in Zambia 380 care kits will arrive that were assembled at Tantasqua Regional High School this week. These kits will assist people providing care for people living with AIDS. The profound nature of of providing something as basic as anti-fungal cream was made evident to students on Friday when they heard the testimony of Princess Zulu. When she was 17, both of her parents died from AIDS. Her mother died while she was on a five-hour journey to find anti-fungal cream in hopes of alleviating a portion of her suffering and possibly extend her life. Princess Zulu, herself living with HIV, told this and other tales with a nobility that belied her suffering. Her presence held the students' attention and clearly earned their respect.

The creation of these care kits was the culmination of a year-long project begun when the summer reading list included a book about a young African woman's experience with AIDS. For young adults unlikely to be touched personally by the AIDS pandemic, this had to have been an eye-opening read. Thankfully, it also touched and opened hearts. Students led an effort that raised nearly $10,000 to help people that none of them are likely ever to meet. To the credit of the school district, they are teaching the next generation of leaders the importance of becoming world citizens. They are learning the answer to the question “who is my neighbor?” is anyone anywhere who suffers and for whom you can make a difference. Isolation, insulation and impotence in the face of massive global problems are easily created with simple and indifferent silence. We do our youth a disservice when we fail to expose them to the truth that one billion people on this planet struggle to exist on one dollar a day or less. They are better able to create a brighter future when they have hope that they can change the fact that 6000 people die every day from AIDS or that the preventable, treatable disease of malaria remains the leading cause of death for African children under the age of five. We can take comfort in the fact that these young people are looking at these problems and imagining solutions.

The students also got a quick civics lesson when a college student asked them to join in advocacy to support the reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). If we all learned our civics lessons correctly, we should know that emails, letters and phone calls to our legislators help to make our democracy work. We can join with these future leaders today by supporting them in the effort to support this worthwhile legislation. $30 billion over five years is a small gift from us that could mean the gift of life to thousands. Caring for others is a lesson we can never learn too well.


sojoman said...

There is a mixed message in your post today. On one hand, it's a terrific object lesson in getting involved with civics and the actual doing part of the equation. I think this will reveal some of my conservative bias, in that by then teaching the students to lobby for billions from the government, the students lose their passion to make things happen on their own. Notice the premise of this was to celebrate what the students "did". They did this without the help of some detached Washington politician. I'd like to see the church and the community at large lobby each other rather than becoming a Washington lobbyist. So much of our involvement is on auto-pilot thanks to what we perceive others to be doing on our behalf. The truth is that the administration of alms by the government is so poorly done that the waste itself could support small countries. The small investment you speak of would executed better by a disorganized group of rag-tag community organizers. It's great to be involved and aware, but it's even better to find ways to do things that actually get the job done without the help and lousy execution of the government. It's also better to teach our kids self reliance and their duty to rely on each other.

Culture Dove said...

Good observation about the mixed message. I didn't intend that to be the message, but I don't apologize for it either.

I would love for the church to be strong enough to care for all the needs in the world allowing the Libertarians to run the government without detriment to any who suffer, but that is not the world we live in. I have no problem expecting moral behavior from government, particularly in a democracy that represents me, thus hopefully my values as well.

Big problems require big solutions and since we have a big government capable of addressing them I choose to have that happen. People dying of AIDS in Africa should not need to wait for the churches to get organized enough to raise $30 billion. In fact, just consider how unreasonable a hope that sounds like. And that amount of money is still a drop in the bucket in combating this pandemic, as well as a small expenditure for our government.

I see a continuum being taught that is both/and, not either/or. Activists make good citizens, shaping the nature of government by the passion of the governed.

sojoman said...

True that good citizens shape good government, but if your mom (like mine) is, say, waiting for a government program to assist her with her skyrocketing medical bills, and she's getting no answer, it's my duty as her son to find another solution. That is what I mean by teaching kids to be doers and not dependers.

I do smell a hint of "government utopia" in your response. But I can also sense that you really believe that government is truly the best delivery system of services. If that were true,UPS, Fed Ex and DHL would be out of business. However, if democracy works like it's supposed to, then we are the government, and we decide what works, what to promote, what to fund, etc. The problem is, that the beast called government is hard to manage, unresponsive, and often contolled by those who don't share our values, even if we voted for them in the first place. And I think that's when the private citizenry gets it right. Like homeschooling. Like medical savings accounts. I know there are times when that isn't doable. But if more us did it, the few that can't, could.