figures from JustGive.org
I had the great honor of travelling to Ethiopia during my years working for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta. Not only was it a great experience professionally, but it opened my eyes to true suffering.
Growing up in the United States I never saw poverty. Even my travels as a military spouse failed to prepare me adequately.
When I was in Addis Ababa I was housed in a five-star luxury hotel surrounded by a large stone wall and many security personnel to keep out the locals. My room was high up, with a balcony overlooking the hot spring-fed pool and, just beyond the wall, shantytown. A true-to-God slum--the very picture of poverty and want in stark contrast to the wealthy resort-dwellers next door.
(If you'd like to see a gorgeous slideshow of Ethiopia including the shanty town outside the Hilton Addis Ababa, go here.)
Every time I left my hotel compound without an escort I was mobbed by begging children who were foiled in their pickpocketing attempts by finding only tissues in my clothes.
I rode in a taxi to meet friends at a local restaurant and, along the way, a man without legs (blown off by a landmine), mobilized aboard a skateboard, reached up into my open window to beg for food.
I consider these heartbreaking memories among my favorite thoughts of Ethiopia, because my eyes were opened to true lack and real suffering. As I returned to America, I started to pay attention.
I saw beggars under the interstate in downtown Atlanta.
I noticed people walking near the rescue mission in my hometown, cautiously approaching the soup kitchen, trying to be as invisible as possible.
I paid attention to my neighbors, who may have a home but who skip meals because they're unable to buy enough food.
Poverty is a worldwide tragedy, and one that we can do something about. There are literally thousands of charities that cater to serving poverty-stricken people of the world. We all have a responsibility to donate, even when we have our own bills.
Do you know that the average monthly income for a middle-class working person in Ethiopia is $20 US? Even the poorest Americans are wealthy compared to people in developing countries--but that doesn't mean we shouldn't help locally. Let your heart be your guide.
Even if you don't have much spare money, it's possible to help. Food from your garden can be donated to a local rescue mission kitchen. One extra canned good with your weekly grocery trip can add up to a nice boxful of food just in time for the holidays. Invite a less-fortunate friend or family member to your home for tea and a meal. You could volunteer an afternoon at a shelter, or even donate gently used magazines, clothes and toys. Check the website for your local rescue mission--some areas have different programs through various grocery stores for matching contributions. (For my readers local to the Central New York area, see the Utica Rescue Mission and Syracuse Area Mission websites.)
It's easy to help. You just have to make a commitment to do it.
In honor of today's Blog Action Day, I will donate the income from my ads for today (Wednesday, October 15th) and tomorrow (Thursday, October 16th) to my local rescue mission's Thanksgiving meal program.
Learn about making delicious, delicious Ethiopian food from my "Adventures in African Cooking" series!
Looking for ways you can help? Here is a list of charities that combat poverty worldwide, and another list of organizations that help people in the United States. More great information can be found here, here and here.