February 13, 2013. Brittany Aubin, Road Scholar & Global Citizen, USA.
It’s a snowy Saturday evening in Syracuse, and I am freezing. My day began many hours earlier when I packed my belongings in two bags, said good-bye to my family and piled into the van that would be my home for the next 14 weeks. Now, five hours and two gas station coffees later, I am here – quite cold, a bit tired, but ready to talk.
In particular, I am ready to talk about Bon, a seven-year-old Burmese refugee who I met while working with an arts therapy program in Thailand.
Bon is unique because he is tiny – really tiny. He dances Gangham-style like a pro and somehow manages to get the teachers to help him more then we ever should.
If you happen to be curious, you’ll ask Bon why he’s so small. He’ll tell you, “It’s because I drink Coke and not milk, because Coke is cheap.” Then, he’ll grin at you and add, “and more delicious.” Bon’s family cannot afford to feed him the things he needs, and because of it, he does not grow.
It was around the time that I came to know Bon that the Global Poverty Project offered me a position as presenter on the spring 1.4 Billion Reasons tour. And it was because of Bon and others like him that I accepted it.
Extreme poverty means a lack of choices. It’s why David, the young Zambian who was my best friend during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, probably won’t be able to access an education above a ninth grade level. It means no healthcare, no sanitation, and no shelter. It’s about not having options, or having only the heart-wrenching ones: which child to send to school, which mouth to feed, which basic necessity to sacrifice in order to pay for another.
Bon and David are just two of the 1.4 billion people who live on less $1.50 USD a day. But to me, they are important – because I know them. I drew on the floor with Bon. It was David who came to my hut’s doorstep every morning, asking to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and review his math homework. I can no longer reach these friends around the world. I cannot write a letter, or send an e-mail, or dial a number and know that they will be on the other end. Since they cannot share their stories with the world, it falls onto us to share them with you.
So, it’s Saturday in Syracuse and I’m excited. I’m excited because change is possible. I have read enough statistics to know that extreme poverty can be eliminated in our lifetimes. I have seen enough in my travels over five continents to know that such poverty is intolerable in any form.
If Bon and David were able to tell their own realities, they would do it in a way infinitely more eloquent and vivid than I will. But in the absence of that, you’ll have to settle for me. I encourage you to share your stories – with your friends, family and co-workers. I tell a story, and you tell a story, and more and more people tell a story, we won’t have 1.4 Billion Reasons. We’ll have 1.4 Billion Friends. And when that day comes, extreme poverty will be a part of history.
Suddenly, it isn’t so cold anymore.