They say that this world harbors many horrors, and we would be incredibly lucky to not come face to face with at least one in our entire lifetime. I am no exception to this. Every year when I visit my relatives in India, my eyes are unwillingly drawn to the horror of hunger in almost every street I pass by. The sight of frail men and women with sunken eyes and gaunt bodies begging for money and food on roadsides and traffic signals makes my heart ache. Looking at malnourished children scavenging for food in dustbins and garbage piles, or running from car to car to sell toys or flowers in hopes of making some money, makes my eyes tear up. This spectacle of poverty-ridden people begging, selling, and walking as if every step costs them a precious breath of life drives me to question the society we live in. The irony of sitting in my car in luxury while watching these people suffer never fails to strike me, and yet there is barely anything I do about it except giving them money and food whenever I can.
However, the question that arises is whether that is enough? Are food and money the only things these people crave? Are they not hungry for love and affection, for education and knowledge, for care and support? We live under the impression that we ‘help’ them when we give them what they ask for – be it by buying their goods, offering them food, or presenting them with cash. We observe their hunger from the state of their pitiable physiques but overlook the silent cry for help burning in their eyes, turning away from their beseeching glances that starve for some ‘real’ help – for some love and warmth.
If confronted with this reality, most of us would respond with a guilty look and an answer along the lines of “What can I do that will make a difference?” and “If only I didn’t have my own problems to deal with.” Indeed, each of us has our own lives and we can’t go around trying to better the life of a stranger or trying to solve a problem that is apparently none of our concern. But, is that really true? Can we truly not spare a few moments from our comfortable life and share them with a needy, albeit a stranger? If we wish to, we most certainly can. In fact, it is not a question of “What can I do that will make a difference?” but a question of “What should I do to make a difference?”
Yes, It may not be possible for all of us to share our wealth with an unknown man, woman, or child and put them in a good school or give them clothes to wear and food to eat on a daily basis. Nonetheless, it is possible for us to spend some time with them, show them our love and care, perhaps have a snack with them, or even share a laugh in an attempt to quench their hunger for some care, to show them that they matter, that their lives are not worthless. Contrary to popular belief, these are not merely a bunch of “inspirational” words but reality. I know it sounds too good to be true, too ‘far-fetched’ some would say, but if we put our mind to it, we can do it.
The other day at the KTM train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I saw a young boy who couldn’t have been older than seven or eight years of age walk up to a man singing with a guitar near the ticket station. The boy offered him his McDonald’s drink when the man stopped for a rest. He looked momentarily surprised before accepting the drink graciously. However, the boy’s next gesture was what amazed me the most. He took the man’s hand, told him he had a wonderful voice, and gave him a genuinely adorable smile. The gratitude and happiness shining in the man’s eyes was far greater than I had seen when he received money from the people passing by. The emotions flitting across his face were enough to tell me that the man felt good about himself for perhaps the first time in long.
Witnessing this incident only strengthened my belief that sometimes the needy are hungrier for a few encouraging words and an affectionate moment than for food and money. It taught me that if a little child can give them that, then so can I, and so can the rest of us. It made me realize that in the end it is just about us finding and pulling out that humanity from within ourselves to help feed the many starving hearts.