Pink Floyd, of all people, said it beautifully.
“On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”
I have just finished reading “Princess Kasune Zulu: Warrior Princess” by Princess Kasune Zulu and Belinda Collins. Princess is an AIDs activist, who is herself HIV positive. She lost her parents and sister to AIDs, and when she was diagnosed herself, she took it as a sign that she had to do something. Her story is incredible.
I was lucky enough to hear Belinda Collins speak a few weeks ago, at World Vision, and half way through her talk I was on the verge of leaving the room. I wasn’t sure I could continue to hear what she was saying, because it was shattering. 15 million children worldwide orphaned due to AIDs. Without even stopping to think of all of the other preventable, treatable, and eradicable diseases and symptoms of poverty that are affecting our children, that number alone is devastating. Picture your own children, orphaned in their infancy, unable to find enough food, clean water, or even shelter over their heads, let alone education. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Belinda made the point all too clearly – but for an accident of latitude, that could have been us. Could have been our children. We haven’t done anything special, we are not different. We are just incredibly lucky. Warrior Princess puts a very human face on the AIDs epidemic in Africa. In Zambia, Princess’s home country, 1 in 3 children is an orphan. Look around your child’s classroom, and imagine one third of them orphaned. Except, of course, they wouldn’t be in school – they’d be out trying to find enough food and shelter just to survive.
Fortunately I did stay in Belinda’s talk, because the second half was incredibly positive and inspiring. We don’t have to let it happen. We can end extreme poverty in our lifetimes – and make no mistake, the AIDs epidemic is nothing more or less than a symptom of extreme poverty. Every one of the 192 member states of the UN has agreed to support the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are practical, specific targets aimed at ending extreme poverty, reducing child mortality and fighting disease epidemics, among other things.
Do go and read about the MDGs, because they are down to earth, achievable targets that will inspire you. It has been calculated that if every person in the developed world gave just $200, the MDGs could be achieved (and the goal is by 2015). Sadly, governments are using the global financial crisis as an excuse not to meet their MDG commitments. Australia is one of the worst – ranking 13th out of developed nations as at September last year, we are a long way from our commitment of 0.7% of GNP. The Australian government has committed to raising our aid to 0.5% of GNP by 2015, still well short of the 0.7% target that would see the MDGs achieved.
Following the current election campaign, you would be forgiven for thinking that Australians couldn’t care less about anyone else. Not interested in climate change, refugees or poverty, we are only interested, according to politicians and the media, in the size of our own wallets. Yet I don’t believe this. I believe our politicians and our media are reducing us to the lowest common denominator – dragging us down to a level they are comfortable with.
But ask the next person you see in the street if they are racist, xenophobic, heartless people who could happily watch a child die of hunger, or walk past an orphan begging in the street. No-one wants to be that person – yet that seems to be who our politicians think we are.
Now, in the middle of a federal election campaign, is the perfect time for Australians to tell our government that we do care. That we want to help. That it’s time to honour our commitments and tackle the hard stuff – extreme poverty, disease, climate change, refugees. We can do it. Email your local candidates, tell your friends, write to newspapers. Speak out in support of Australian compassion. As Princess says: ‘when the years have faded and we have all gone and our grandchildren ask,“What did they do?” what do we want the answer to be?’
Leave it to Pink Floyd to sum it up:
“No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?”
P.S. If you are moved by this blog, please share it – email it to your friends, post it on facebook or twitter, spread the word however you can – it’s a message worth spreading!