Thrilling Thursday

Good morning everyone. I hope that you made it through the bulk of your week successfully and are cruising toward the weekend now. Today is my kencho day. This means that instead of going to Ogi to teach, I come to kencho to do PA work. This usually constitutes editing my supervisor's work or sending all of you mass emails about whatever my supervisor wants you to know. Needless to say, I have a lot of free time most Thursdays (when it is not around conference time) so I am in no rush today to get through my blogging. I have a vague idea about what I want to talk about today, but I'm not sure how it's going to come out in written form. Well, here we go. Ganbarimasu.
So yesterday I touched on the topic of volunteerism. Why do people volunteer? I'll leave that up to you to decide, because I think the reasons are different for each of us. For me, I feel that it is my responsibility to give back, partly because I have been lucky in life so far and do not have any major problems. I have all my limbs. I can breathe on my own. My brain is intact (no funny comments, people!) I have amazing parents who sacrificed a lot to put me through good schools. I have gotten the 2 jobs I applied for after university. Life is good.
But, unfortunately, for the majority of the world, life is not so good. Why do I get the good life while all these other people suffer? It's not fair. I don't think I have personally worked all that hard- why is it that some people have to work their asses off every day and get nothing in return? Life is just not fair, some might say. And I agree totally. But I feel that those of us who have been lucky in life owe it to society to give back something of ourselves to those who have not been as lucky.
I'm not a huge shopper. I don't buy clothes that often. I'm not big on gadgets or video games or anything. I don't have an extensive jewelry collection. The only thing I spend any money on are books. Every time I go into a book store, you have a drag me out. Books fascinate me. If I could spend all day reading, I would, and I would definitely learn more than I do on an average day. I just finished a book called Amazing Grace-The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol. Kozol has written many books about poverty in the United States, especially on its effect on children and the horrifying gap in education that exists in the US. I apologize for talking specifically about the US today. But I spent my first 24 years there, and I will probably end up working there again. And the fact that people in the US live in such extreme poverty appalls me. It appalls me that anyone lives like that, of course. But it's even worse, in my opinion, when it happens in a country which claims superiority and has the audacity to go into other countries and pick apart their governments. That is the greatest hypocrisy.
Anyway, I'm not here to pick fights about the US or attack anyone or anything. I'm just here to express how I feel about poverty, especially in the US. I am not claiming that I know everything or anything for that matter about how the government works, how the economy work, or how wars work. I just want you to realize how some people live and how lucky we really are.
Kozol constructs his books from hundreds of interviews with children and their parents from the poorest neighborhoods in the US. This particular book was written about neighborhoods in the South Bronx. The South Bronx is an area of New York City, a city with billions of dollars in the hands of a small percentage of people. A short train ride from the South Bronx takes you to Manhattan, to luxury apartments, excellent schools, walks in the park, and Gucci stores. As the train rolls back to the Bronx, the number of white people on the train reaches zero. The landscape becomes more and more depressing. No longer do you see an area for window shopping- now all you see are beeper ads, storefront churches, trash in the streets, boarded up buildings, and methadone clinics. This is where Kozol gets to know children and what they go through.
I'm not going to paraphrase the whole book. If you're interested, I can loan it to you. But let me list a few of the things that these children deal with on a daily basis (and they are not alone- these are the same things happening in all of our big cities):
-rampant drug addiction of their parents, neighbors
-witnessing death all around them, whether it be from AIDs, shooting, overdoses
-knowing so many people in prison, working in the prison, born in prison, or dying in prison
-living in disgusting, completely inadequate housing where there are rats the size of squirrels who attask babies, ancient elevator shafts that children fall to their death in, constant fires due to poor wiring, lack of heating, water dripping from one floor to the other
-living in constant fear of a bullet flying through their wall
-not being able to go outside at night for fear of being shot
-not having enough food to eat on a daily basis
-having classes in hallways, bathrooms, closets because too many kids are crammed into one school
-having teachers who have no training because trained teachers don't want to work in their neighborhood
-having to wait days in a waiting room in a hospital surrounded by people who are also sick and can make you sicker
-getting a room in the hospital to find the sheets are still dirty from the last patient
-having doctors who don't speak English because trained, English speaking doctors (especially white ones) won't come in your hospital
-having asthma and needing an inhaler because your neighborhood is next to a waste incinerator where everyone in NewYork dumps their trash

That is just a snapshot of the things that kids in these neighborhoods deal with on a daily basis. Why? Did these children do something wrong? Are they being punished? In a way, yes. They are being punished for being born into a low income family. They are being punished for being born Black or Latino. This is not right. This is a disgrace. No one should be forced to live in those conditions. People in Manhattan wouldn't even let stray dogs live in those conditions.

So, what can we do about it? First of all, people need to get over their hangups about race. This is not something that will happen overnight, of course, but it has to happen for countries to ever progress. This issue is not special to the US- we have all seen what is happening in France now. The only way this issue will ever be resolved is through educating the next generations to remove the stereotypes and prejudices that seem to be handed down again and again.

I just read a story on the internet about a wealthy contractor from New York who spent 10 million US dollars on his daughter's bat mitzvah. I am in no way insinuating that bat mitzvahs are not important- I know that it is an important rite of passage in the Jewish faith, and of course it should be celebrated. But, 10 million? For one evening? In 10 years, is the fact that this girl had 50 cent and Aerosmith at her bat mitzvah instead of cake and a DJ really going to make her a better person? Improve society in some way?
10 million dollars could make vast improvements in the lives of so many people, and not even just people in different countries, but people who live a few subway stops away. Maybe a new school could be built where children wouldn't have to have class next to a dirty toilet. Maybe fumigators could be hired to kill off the giant rats that attack people and spread disease. Maybe the money could be put into drug prevention, AIDs prevention, or crime prevention programs. Maybe the money could help build a new hospital that is not disgusting and overcrowded. In my opinion, using 10 million for these things would make a much longer lasting impact on society than one night of partying.
I am fully aware that not everyone thinks like me. If they did, people like Kozol would not have to write books because people would not live that way. I'm not trying to make people think like me- everyone has the right to their own opinions. I just wanted to share. This is a topic that I'm passionate about and I tend to get angry just thinking about it.
Thanks for reading. If you take nothing else away from this, at least step back from your own life for a moment. Think about all the problems you have faced. Then think about the problems that these children face on a daily basis. Maybe you grew up like that yourself, and if so cheers to you for your hard work to make it this far. But for the rest of you, I hope after reading this you will have a greater appreciation for all the things that we take for granted every day. And, maybe I have planted the seed of anger in some of you, leading you to instigate change in the future.