As I read the daily news articles about the famine in the Horn of Africa, I’m continuously shocked at the angry comments posted at the end of these articles. Many of them are downright hateful, and imply that we as Americans should not help other countries where there are groups that have expressed hatred toward the U.S.
I’ve even heard questions like, “Why should I care?” Or, “Haven’t those people brought this on themselves with their violence?”
To me, this is irrational thinking. Humanitarian organizations provide aid in some challenging places. We do so because there are innocent children and families who are caught in the middle and need help. In the case of Somalia, these families have no government to turn to for help. It doesn’t exist. Their crops have failed, their animals have died, and they have left their homes in search of survival.
In almost all suffering it is possible to point to people individually or corporately that are responsible for the injustice. The most intense suffering and hardest to overcome is that which people inflict on others. Injustice is not limited to the rich oppressing the poor. Wherever people have an element of power – whether wealth, land, social, political or positional – over another person, there is the risk for oppression. This is the situation in Somalia. There are those with power that are oppressing the powerless. This has held people down so they have been living just above the survival line in the best of times. The drought has limited food production for the last two years and plunged the population below the survival line. Oppressed people are dying.
So what is to be done about the oppressors in Somalia and the rest of the world? As humanitarians, we believe reaching out to people in need shows a path other than violence as the answer. I am not suggesting that if we care for those in need the oppressors will see the acts of kindness and change their ways. But those who receive help are given a chance to see compassion, rather than violence, in action.
All other concerns aside – these are people that are dying. When a child is withering away it really does not matter whether the cause is drought, ignorance, or social injustice. It is a precious child that is dying. If we determine that any person is of less value because of where they were born, we have lost our humanity.
As one who deals with the issues of injustice everyday in my profession, I realize the impossibility of meeting every need myself. I feel the frustration of the overwhelming need weighed against limited resources. But I also know that the real question I must answer is not how much can I help? But rather, should I care? We can all do something. If everyone did what they could, then extreme poverty could be conquered.
What is the purpose of our freedom if not to help the powerless? We must do more than “do no evil.” We must “do good.” It is not enough to point fingers at the oppressors. We must help those that are oppressed. We must reach out to those who cannot repay us and will never know our names.
This is what compassion is about. This is what makes us different from those that oppress.