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Age of apathy

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Emily W.
Member since May 23, 2018
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As I type these words, there is a child writhing in the dirt from hunger pains being looked upon helplessly by his or her mother, who's heart aches more than her empty stomach, as she is unable to help her distressed child, or children. As I sit here, not only comforted by the warmth of my physical blanket, but also the blanket of security that is draped over my entire country, a family is being separated at our very border, or being turned away and forced to return to their "home" where stability and safety is more of a distant dream than a reality. As I excitedly look up at the sky marveling at the beauty of the fireworks celebrating our nation's independence surrounded by the giggles and smiles, the Rohingya people face unimaginable brutality, torture, and violation.

My heart bleeds for these suffering people around me, but that won’t help to bridge the blood shortage gap in Nigeria. My tears fall freely down my face as I feel the torment of those that the world has left behind, but how will that help the 11 million in Yemen who need water? The cries of refugees, orphans, and all of the world’s most vulnerable harass my ears and claw at my conscience, demanding action that so many, as well as myself occasionally, feel incapable of giving. Almost all those who hear the horror stories of the innocent and helpless being terrorized and slaughtered are affected emotionally, and desire to help, but they are hindered by thoughts of “I’m just one person, anything I do won’t make a difference,” or “I’m too young to do anything,” or even, “What can I even do?” These thoughts are clearly misguided, and are the products of a perhaps unintentionally uninformed or unaware person. For example, the thought that an individual cannot make a difference is far from the truth; like ripples in the water, it takes one person to incite change. For those who question what they can do, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities both local and international available to the public in order to help those in need, as well as charities and organizations that are directly linked to certain issues, for example obtaining water/food for Yemeni children, etc. that one can donate to. The last thought of “I’m too young to do anything,” which I am personally plagued by as I am too young to volunteer for most of the organizations that are directly linked to international humanitarian causes, is perhaps the silliest of all when you really think about it. There are countless ways for young people to get involved, such as local or national charities that are open to minors as well as many opportunities to be involved in international aid, such as donating items to your local church or school that will be shipped to those who need them.

While these thoughts are mere hindrances that are easily overcome with a minimal amount of research (or even a quick scroll through the United Nations website, they have unfortunately caused many people to brush off these vital issues as “not their problem,” or just assume that someone else will fix it. It is this attitude that has facilitated the growth of individuals willing to turn a blind eye to those in desperate need of help, ushering in what I believe is an “age of apathy.” Additionally, it seems that with every glance or scroll through the news, there is a new death, tragedy, war, or violent act, that is being broadcast, and this simultaneously overwhelms and desensitizes many of us to these issues that should profoundly affect us. However, under-reporting humanitarian crises would also have obvious negative effects, as people are unable to help or volunteer if they do not know that a crisis even exists.

In this age of apathy, there is also what I call “apathetic sympathy,” which refers to those who only pretend to care about humanitarian issues insincerely. These are the people who are quick to post on social media about how affected they are by a certain tragedy or crisis by sending their “thoughts and prayers,” to a certain nation or group of people, but are suddenly too busy to act upon their apparent sympathy by actually going out to volunteer or actively trying to make a change; it is important to feel and express sympathy for the suffering, but it must be paired with intentional and active steps towards improving the situation or lives of the people you are expressing sympathy towards. However, I am not going to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” so to speak. I am sure that among those who are inauthentically expressing sympathy on social media platforms, there are those who view these platforms as an opportunity to bring awareness to certain issues in order to facilitate change, after all, isn’t that what I’m currently doing? The pervasiveness of social media in almost all aspects of life has rendered it a powerful tool for reaching a wide and diverse audience of people, allowing it to be a useful platform for activism and incites for change.

As I type these words, there is a UNICEF volunteer feeding and comforting a mother and child, as they smile for the first time in months. As I sit here, under my warm blanket, a UN Refugee Agency worker is providing scared refugee families with much needed blankets. As I look to the sky and marvel at the fireworks, a mother is marveling at her child who was once on death’s door but is now running about due to medications provided by WHO. Could that volunteer be you?

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