A Million Steps Away
Take a journey with me. Walk down a dirt, trash lined path in Mankurd, Mumbai, India with me. The smell is pretty strong at first, but after a few minutes your nose gets used to the unusual scents. To your right, a man naps on top of a table with his goat. Up ahead to the left, a few women in brightly patterned saris squat outside small wood and aluminum huts, washing dishes. Their dexterity and ability to keep such a steady flat footed squat to do chores is astounding. You watch them for a moment before you nearly trip over a small grove in the side of the path. That was a close one, that grove houses all sorts of dirty water and sometimes waste. You realize where that smell is coming from. You’ve been walking for awhile when you finally arrive. There they are. A crowd of little ones run towards you. Some are in school uniforms, others in street clothes, but all are excited. And amidst the crowd, Parumsheela emerges. Her big brown eyes and wide smile bring a smile to your face. She grabs your hand and guides you to the small schoolhouse. The journey was worth it, just to spend some time with her and her friends.
The picture looks a little different in another part of the world. In Kajo Keji, South Sudan Nancy wants you to walk with her to get a little water in jerry cans. The walk is a couple miles through a winding dirt path with thick brush on either side. You aren’t as concerned about waste or human hazards on this trek, but your eyes scan the thick brush for any signs of snakes. You’ve been told that an encounter with a snake in Southern Sudan usually means that you’re in deep, fatal trouble. It’s sobering to think that this walk is normal for Nancy and so many other little girls in Kajo Keji, a several mile trek daily just to get some meager water for her family.
Another plane ride would take you into a community of tents and partially collapsed buildings. A short ride in an SUV and you’ve arrived in Kampung Mulia. You walk past the shell of a mosque and up a small rock lined hill. A few more steps along the bank of a muddled river and you’re at a small shack built from mismatched, warped wood. Everything in this community was destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, but a couple families came together to build a coffee shop out of driftwood. Rupiah equal to about a quarter gets you a steaming cup of black coffee with a little sweetened condensed milk mixed in. It’s pure bliss, but the company makes it all the more better. Nurul approaches, excited to see you. You do what’s customary when you visit: you hand her your digital camera and away she goes. The pictures she and her friends take tell a story words can’t adequately tell.
These sweet girls are a part of my story and I was recently reminded of them. I just finished reading a new book by one of my heroes, Gary Haugen. “The Locust Effect” comes out tomorrow, and I was thrilled to be selected as part of a ‘launch team’ of bloggers to read and review the book. The book is incredible, and as I flipped the pages, engrossed in the stories and concepts laid out, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet girls. You see, this book reminded me that they are at risk.
My sweet friends Nancy, Parumsheela, and Nurul are a mere step away from becoming victims. They walk a delicate line in their communities of relative safety and extreme exploitation and victimization. Their families may be one small loan away from complete slavery. They could be one short walk to a well away from being raped. Their lives were challenging but still so innocent when I met them. Even Nurul had innocence about her. She had lost everyone and everything in the Tsunami, but she still hoped. She still dreamed. She still loved to pose for pictures and play dress up. Parumsheela loved to play tag and jump to pop bubbles. Nancy could spend hours braiding my hair, wrestling with its unfamiliar texture and many knots.
After finishing The Locust Effect I feel even more inspired to action. I was reminded that while these girls are a mere step away from systemic violence, you and I are a million steps away from the painful stories of many who are just like them. We need to step closer to them. A million steps is too far, we need to walk alongside and take the journey with people around the world who are desperately poor, and desperately vulnerable. This post is just a teaser for the meat of the book. It comes out tomorrow, and this week I’ll be featuring it. My tweets and at least one more blog post will be dedicated to discussing the concepts and lessons I learned from the pages of “The Locust Effect”. And, I’ll be giving a book away to one reader at the end of this week. So stay tuned my friends, let’s dive into discover how “the end of poverty requires the end of violence”.