The story of the other side
When I have heard the sentiment ‘how the other half live’, I have always thought of it in reference to those who are extremely wealthy. Now, after four months of travel throughout Southeast Asia, it is becoming clear the minority groups and those who are living in extreme poverty are the other half. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been aware of the varying levels of poverty throughout the world and I am extremely grateful for what I have in life; I have just always been more aware of those who have more than me, rather than those who have less.
I can draw similarities between myself and some of the women we see in the minority villages. We work hard, striving to achieve something better than we had before. The differences between us are numerous and create a divide that shouldn’t exist between two people in the modern world.
After a days work, usually of varying manual intensity, a woman living in a minority village will return home (or perhaps she is working in a factory in her house) to a house sometimes smaller than our bedroom. She will cook over an open fire after collecting water from the local well. Washing for her is a mammoth task, all completed by hand, again after collecting water from a well. At the end of a hard day she bathes outdoors, often at the local well with the other local women.
Today, I met a woman with three young daughters whose husband died last year of Malaria. She now has the sole responsibility of raising and providing for her daughters. Added is the stress of providing a dowry to the each of the families her daughters will marry into. She was already preparing, making intricate, hand-woven curtains. It is incredibly sad she has been widowed by a largely treatable disease and preventable death.
For me, visiting these villages has evoked some strong emotional responses. The life stories of some of these people are amazing. I have often found myself feeling guilty for the lifestyle I have grown accustomed to. We are backpacking and carrying the bare minimum, yet what I carry in my pack is probably worth more than some of these households’ annual incomes. I want to help but it’s hard to know how. There are charities that have been developed to help the minority groups, however, I have been told they are often corrupt and barely any money reaches those who need it most. Perhaps it would be better to volunteer time, come back and volunteer as a physiotherapist in a rural community.
The one thing that always sticks with me is how happy the children are. Playing on rusted old bikes or running around playing games with one another, they are constantly smiling and giggling. They are content and happy with what they have. They are excited to go to school, which is usually seen as a privilege. Despite their hardships, the parents of these children appear happy too. They work hard, earning an incredibly low income, but they are thankful they have a job and can provide an income for their families.
Education is so important here. It is seen as a way to a better and easier life. For those living in the minority villages and farming, not only is it difficult to raise the funds to send children to school, it also means they are missing a worker. Sometimes the financial and physical cost is too great and the children are kept home to help. I can see it must become a cycle that is difficult to break, and often the children want to stay at home to help their parents.
After some reflection I still feel guilty and a bit lost in what I can do to help. As sentimental as it sounds, travelling and visiting the minority villages has reminded me of how lucky I am. I will be forever grateful for the hard work and support my parents continue to give me. They have provided me with the means to have a successful future and have taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance. It has been a good reminder that what we have is far greater than what a lot of people in the world have.