Every so often, you find yourself in a confluence of events that change how you see the world, and yourself. This happened to me recently.
Firstly, I found out that a friend was involved in a fair bit of charitable work. This produced a very uncomfortable contrast to my own existence, which has been somewhat more self-centered. Sure, I give a little bit of money here and there, but that – like most charity – is more about salving my conscience rather than producing meaningful change in the world. It’s never a good thing to realise discomforting and undesirable things about yourself, so I realised I need to follow my friend’s example, and do more for others.
Secondly, I spent some time in India. I’ll write more about that another time – and there’s a whole lot to write about – but seeing with my own eyes the astounding poverty there had the effect of viscerally confirming my own privilege in living in a developed country. We might complain lots here in the West, but we’ve got it good (and a big part of the reason we’ve got it good is the centuries of colonial rape, which directly explains why others have it so bad). So I think I now understand my place in the world a bit better than before.
As some of you know, next year I’m planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which is the nexus of these two realisations came home to me. What had seemed to me to be a great adventure suddenly seemed more like an an arrogant and self-indulgent ego trip. For me – a rich, white person who has had pretty much every advantage – to climb a mountain in a poor country, simply because I can, now reeks of obscene dilettantism and moral blindness.
So, in an attempt to at least turn this trek into something that will help people, rather than simply stoke my ego, I’ve decided to use it to raise funds for Medecins Sans Frontieres, a charity I have an incredible amount of time for due to the importance of the work and their unwavering political independence. So I’ve set up a JustGiving page to provide a central point for funds to be donated here, and if you could possibly spare some money to help support MSF’s work providing medical care to some of the poorest people in some of the most dangerous locations, I’d be extraordinarily grateful.
I’m not sure this is exactly the right response, but I am sure that it’s a damn sight better than what I was doing before. I also know that I need to do more for other people rather than concentrating on myself as I have been. But this is a start.