Just last weekend, we were in Jakarta for a music festival. On our way back to the hotel at 4am, we came across a small disabled man crouched on the ground by the road side among some food stalls. His black, callused hand was outstretched, his head covered by a hat, his face down as though he struggled to face the world that went by without him. I didn’t see him at first, being too pre-occupied with looking for our cab driver amid the chaos. But Sean who was with me stopped in his tracks, turned back quietly and passed him 50,000rp without hesitation before moving on.
The moment touched me. The lack of restraint or question in that simple gesture rekindled in me the pure idealism that I used to have growing up. Since I was a child, I’ve always been adamant about fighting poverty and inequality. I remember 5-year-old Angie in her pyjamas watching documentaries of children afflicted with AIDS in Africa or starving on India’s streets and tears streaming down my face. I kept asking why they suffered so much when I didn’t. It wasn’t fair and I vowed to do something about poverty to change the world for the people who couldn’t help themselves. Up till I was in junior college I’d always say yes to anyone who’d beg for food or money, sell flags or ask for donations.
But as time passed, people ask you why you donate. They said it was naive. They tell you about scandals of fraud in large charity organisations, crime syndicates taking advantage of the elderly or disabled to make a quick buck, people selling ‘vouchers’ to raise funds for sham organisations. Eventually, I built my walls up. I’d always think twice and ask questions before giving. And I was ashamed of it. While I felt more worldly and ‘realistic’, I couldn’t face the little girl inside me who wanted desperately to save the world.
But of late, I’ve started to see things a little differently. Sure, there’ll always be people who take your kindness for granted. People who lie, cheat and are part of something that takes advantage of the less fortunate. But shame on them. I’ve come to realise that we can’t say no to the people who truly need the help just because of these bad eggs and our bitter skepticism.
People who need help ask for it in so many ways. It could be in the form of monetary assistance, a listening ear, a warm meal or even to redress some kind of social/economic injustice.
It is a privilege to be given an opportunity to save or improve a life. It is a gift. I have some causes and projects close to my heart that I work for and believe in. But this simple gesture by someone I love was a reminder to not just look at changing the big picture. Sometimes, the people who need us most are just the ones we miss and overlook in our daily haste. Blink, and you miss the chance to save a life.