With our government’s most recent pledge of $350 million (only the fourth largest pledge after Australia, Japan and Germany), many American citizens feel that their obligation to the tsunami victims has been fulfilled, and that the government has contributed our share. These citizens feel that they are no longer obligated to make further monetary donations to private organizations raising funds for the victims. Few people realize, however, that many government pledges may never materialize. (“A year after an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 destroyed the central city of Bam [in Iran], killing more than 40,000 people and leaving almost as many homeless, the streets there are still strewn with mounds of rubble ... Iranian officials reported that they had received only $17 million of the $1 billion pledged by the international community to help rebuild the 2,000-year-old city.” - The New York Times, Jan. 11.) The private donations of those who continue to contribute are already taking shape.
That, however, is not a valid reason for an individual to be obligated to make private monetary donations. The truth is, I cannot make a solid argument why people should add “donate money to tsunami victims” to their list of daily obligations. Paying bills is an obligation. Going to class is an obligation. Cleaning one’s room is an obligation. Helping our global neighbors survive and rebuild their lives after such a freak natural disaster is not an obligation; rather, it should spring naturally from our human impulse to help one another in our times of need. To those individuals who still refer to donating as an “obligation,” I offer this story from MSNBC:
“Ari felt as if he were caught in a giant washing machine. Tossed 1,500 feet inland, he banged against a mango tree and grabbed a branch.
“‘I saw my friends also hanging on to trees. I thought the world was coming to an end,’ he said. ‘I kept praying hard to Allah for my life.’
“As the tsunami receded, it pulled him under and sucked him out to sea. As he drifted, he thought of his parents, his two elder brothers, a younger brother and a sister. He knew the giant waves were too powerful to have spared their home, only a mile from the shore.
“He still doesn’t know whether they survived, or if they are among the tragedy’s 150,000 dead in 11 nations.”
As humans, we all carry an inherent capacity for compassion and understanding toward our fellow humans, thus making the desire to help each other instinctive. When a friend falls down, you reach out your hand to help that friend up. When families were torn apart in the tragedy of 9/11, we took on their pain and suffering as an American community. Now we find ourselves in the midst of the suffering of a much larger global community that has called to us for support.
Though these neighbors may be thousands of miles away and possess views of the world that are not our own, all of our differences need to be put aside now. Any political, ethnic or religious conflicts we may find ourselves in with these afflicted nations should naturally be put by the wayside. These are our neighbors, no different than our parents, our best friend, or our roommate, calling to us for help. These are fellow human beings, fellow community members, and we have been asked to do what we can to alleviate their suffering.
There is a lot that we can do with very little sacrifice on our part. An amazing group of our peers on campus have started an organization called SHARE (Students Helping Asian Relief Efforts) with the sole purpose of offering the AU community a chance to express their compassion and caring for the tsunami victims through various monetary donation activities. Not only will they be tabling in Mary Graydon and various dorms for the rest of the month, there will also be opportunities for you to trade in your meal blocks to support the cause, and to eat out one night with a portion of the proceeds going to tsunami victims. Look for fliers and e-mail updates about these events for the rest of the month. They are not asking for a lot and there are a lot of small sacrifices you can make to hold on to some cash.
If, even just for one week, you could deny yourself that morning cup of coffee, or resist the urge to hit up the post-holiday sales or stay in for the night instead of going out on the town, those few extra dollars will add up. That triple-venti-nonfat-no-foam-extra hot-vanilla-latte could buy the two or three bottles of water necessary to keep a child hydrated for the day. That super-cool T-shirt you held off on buying could be blankets and that $7 movie ticket could be medical supplies. Hold on to that money, and when you see your fellow students tabling in Mary Graydon for the next three weeks, present it to them proudly. You have followed your instincts to help a fellow human and made the small sacrifice that could very well save a life. Let our global neighbors know that while we continue to live our lives over here, our thoughts are always with them.
Gunjan Koul and Val Mahar are members of SHARE (Students Helping Asian Relief Efforts), a student-run group organizing programs to aid victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia.