The need for humanity amidst the need for survival

25 December 2008

My friend's brother once said; "If you were to take pity on anyone in Burma, you would have to extend your sympathy to almost everyone in Burma because they are all struggling just to survive". Such need for survival has unfortunately and probably compelled most of the Burmese people to turn oblivious to those who are worse off than them. That conclusion seems even more probable after I read the Irrawaddy's report on the plight of elderly people on the streets of Burma [Irrawaddy - "Seniors on the streets"].

My friend recounted to me how the eyes of an old lady, begging on the streets of Burma, lighted up brightly when my friend's niece gave her three pieces of 1000 Kyat notes. and how she said a string of well wishes for the girl with so much gratitude. With the black-market rate, this amount will come to not more than around US $3. However, to that old lady, it was a significant amount.

With the kind of government whose focus is just to fill their own pockets as much as possible, and after being hit by the natural disaster like Nargis, Burma has become like an abyss when it comes to donations. Everywhere, everything - be it health care, education, social well-being of the people, political prisoners and their families, etc - is deteriorating and at every turn in the streets, we are faced with the sights of poverty and suffering aplenty. Many people point to the junta as the root cause of all this. That is true. However, I've come to realise that while this junta is still in power, we must find ways to help alleviate the suffering of our people. And money or rather donation has become essential.

As the whole world feels the impact of global economic crisis, donations for Burmese people from NGOs and private individuals will inevitably dip amidst the sense of uncertainty for the future. In addition, a number of Burmese working overseas have to face the retrenchment and among them might include those who have been sending donations for the people in Burma. Moreover, many individuals may have reached a point where their struggle for their own survival seems sufficient enough to justify their own conscious for having to turn a blind eye towards the conditions of people in Burma. Or they may even feel the donation-fatigue syndrome after not being able to see any tangible improvement in the lives of the people.

In fact, I am also hit by such sentiments at times. Whenever that happens, I am reminded of this Burmese proverb which can be translated as; "You do not donate as you do not have the means. You end up not having the means as you do not donate". Because of such belief, Burmese in olden days try their very best to donate within their own means or sometimes even at the expense of their own well-being, to gain merit to have better next lives. It could be as small as just a piece of bread or a bowl of rice. Nowadays, their day-to-day struggle for survival has become so grim that many people can just think of how to get through this life, let alone think about next life.

Such happenings make me wonder whether our sense of humanity will eventually be annihilated in our struggle for survival. If such day were to come, I cannot imagine what might happen to the people in a country - where some people lose their lives or face serious health risks as they have to resort to illegal means of abortion just because there is no proper education and subsidy for family planning methods and they cannot afford to have another child: another mouth to feed [Irrawaddy - "Desperate Decisions"].