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Survival of the Richest: The Western World's Indifference to Africa

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Monies promised, hands shaken, imaginary dollars for the taking, for the saving; sadly, never materialize. All good intentioned, but while backs are slapped and t's are crossed, another life is lost - in a rising sea of lost lives. World leaders, from the wealthiest and most privileged nations gather at G-8 summits under the pretext of combining compassion with dollars to bring about change. To help enrich the lives of millions of people living in abject poverty, persecution, or dying from curable or preventable diseases. With heavy hearts and swelling pockets, they pledge a difference to those who needlessly suffer. Collectively, they remember what they were told, were taught, what the good book said about helping those less fortunate. Yet somehow, after the last heartfelt story is heard, tear shed, slipped through the crack in another AIDS orphan, a five year old dying from malaria or malnutrition, a woman fleeing a burning village with a frightened child strapped to her back. They don't know that you meant well. That you were good intentioned. Today, all they know is fear. And tomorrow what they will know is grief as yet another loved one becomes one with the earth. How much loss, how much suffering is acceptable for any one human being? When is enough, enough?

Undoubtedly, overwhelm. If we are drowning in it, God knows Africans have been treading for much of their lives - it is what they endure every day - more survival than living. Last year was Niger. Thousands of starving men, women and children, dropping like flies alongside their dead or emaciated cattle. Tiny bones littering the dust, indistinguishable - animal or child? Father or sister? We cannot eat another bite. They are lucky to eat at all.

We have Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Africa has Hunger Seasons.

For the last few years, the persecuted in the Darfur region of Sudan have fled their homes and villages, now gone. Women raped, children fatherless, husbands and brothers slaughtered like sheep. And to where? No home, no land, no future. Another genocide ignored. A blind eye is a handy tool to keep alongside the duct tape in our survival kit.

Tension and hostilities are escalating with sectarian demands and increased violence in Somalia. People are afraid and dying. Extremists, rising.

In Uganda, children living a perpetual nightmare in full daylight. Laborers, tiny soldiers, forced to kill or be killed. Hunter and hunted. Childhood, a distant memory, if remembered at all.

Ethiopians too, are hungry, again. After months of drought - shriveled crops, fields of powder, germ-laden waters. And that was yesterday. Today, flooding rains have left thousands homeless, hundreds dead - swallowed whole. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Washed away.

Siblings raising siblings, nothing more than children themselves, raising more children in South Africa and Malawi, parents dead of AIDS. Forget school, kids. Forget learning, one foot in front of another, a possible yellow-brick road to Future. Cook, clean, change the diapers of your tiniest of siblings, sick yourself. Education? Not in this lifetime, little sister. No backpack or warm school lunch. No time for play, no recess for you. Forget hope. That, child, is a luxury you do not have.

Thirty-four. The life expectancy of a woman living in Zimbabwe. Just as we, the fortunate ones, are beginning our lives - marriage and family, a home and security - blissfully blowing out the last of thirty-four sweet candles - hammered, a final nail in a crude wooden coffin. A final pealing bell for a young Zimbabwean woman, in the cold, hollow sound of a nail. Heartbroken. Families never the same. Never again whole. As Robert Ranke Graves wrote, Good-Bye to All That.

We, the Western World, the lucky ones, are born into a privilege that we will never truly understand or appreciate. We take for granted, like the roof above our head, the embracing arms of a parent, a book from which to learn, more food than we can eat, an inoculation to ward off disease or crippling limbs, a promising future for which to plan, decades of more than we will ever need.

How can one have such a plentiful life while another goes with nothing? Is it not wrong for a child to go hungry. For a child to be without a single toy. Without the privilege of education. For a child to be parentless. Orphaned. For a child to suffer. Die. These are questions, all.

It would take so little to make a difference in so many lives. Mosquito netting, lives saved. Inoculations, families healthy and together. A single warm meal, a thatched roof, a book, a pencil, a familiar smiling face. A blanket, clean water, a bicycle, a safe place. A garden, a crop, a child's laugh. It doesn't take much to make a future.

Worldwide, there are more tragedies and horror stories than we can possibly digest. And I fear that why so many of the ongoing crises in Africa have been left under reported, unreported, or trivialized, are for myriad reasons, some complex, some too simple to ignore. I do believe that the differences in culture, skin color, and a continent, that for the most part, has been seen as something other than it is - less than it is - has contributed greatly to a universal neglect and dismissal. It is a misunderstood continent, a place that many of us see as too far away to worry about, too unlike ourselves to find compassion for, something so different than what we know, we cannot begin to relate, or care.

What has made us indifferent, intolerant to the plight of so many? What has created this internal monster, this innate fear of what we perceive as the unknown or unworthy? What, in our skewed vision is seemingly so frightening in the "others" of this world, that it forces us to turn the other way? When a child cries, the sound is colorless.

At the end of the day, when the light is switched off or fades from a faraway sky, drifting to sleep, our collective dreams and nightmares may be very much the same.
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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a grant (more...)

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