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What is the one thing that we all owe to ourselves and to humanity?

This is not a blog about writing. It is not a children’s book review and it is not offering up tips about how to engage kids with creative writing and poetry. It is a blog about what we can possibly do, how we as humans can feel any less impotent in the face of all this suffering that we know goes on around the world.

Today, it is the image of the bodies of three year old Aylan Kurdi and his five year old brother Galip washing up on a beach in Turkey, Kurdish refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria in a desperate attempt to seek asylum in Canada. But yesterday it was a different image and a different conflict. There will always be images and human stories behind them that will haunt us. We sit in front of our computer and TV screens and we download this gruesome pictures into our minds, filing them into a box we push back as far as we can. And then we continue with our lives because what, really, can we do?

It’s a good question. More than that, it’s an age-old question and one that we in the West have the privilege to dip in and out of. We can buy The Big Issue, arrange a monthly direct debit to Friends of the Earth and practice some armchair activism by emailing our MP’s about the closure of the local library, then pat ourselves on the back for doing something. But it is enough? What can ever be ‘enough’?

Hey, I’m not judging. These things are all good and are sure as hell better then doing nothing at all. But let’s face it, when children come into the picture, this tugs at the heart strings more than anything else (think of BBC’s Children in Need which raises more millions in a single night for kids than any other charity), which is why I am probably writing this today, as those images of Aylan and Galip in the past couple of days have been unavoidable.

I don’t pretend to know the answer. Suffering and the cause of it is so multi-layered and is never, ever black and white. I remember as a child on holiday with my parents in San Francisco witnessing first hand the huge number of people living on the streets. My brother and sister and I wanted to help and we would save them our breakfasts from our hotel and then give them to the homeless people, feeling at least we were ‘doing’ something; helping in some way. And yet, so many of them scoffed at us, pushing the food away. They didn’t want food. They wanted money. This was my first lesson, as a child, in the complexities of suffering. That there is no easy answer.

But here is my suggestion to anyone reading this. It is a tiny, miniscule little drop in a vast sea of suffering. But it is something.

Volunteer.

Let me clarify. What are you interested in? What are you inspired by? What makes you tick or gets that heart beating just a little faster? If you want to save Britain’s dwindling number of hedgerows, don’t just think about it, join a local environmental group and do something about it. If you love books, ask as your local library about reading to vulnerable or lonely or elderly people. If you like horse riding, join a riding for the disabled group.

I love writing so I volunteer at a school in Nairobi with kids who have no access to anything vaguely creative. Shit, the last thing I want is to sound virtuous as it is such a small thing. Seriously, we cannot save the whole world. It is far, far too broken. But we can do something, something small. So let’s let something good come out of these horrific images we are confronted with day in, day out. Let’s make a difference to someone else’s life. Don’t simply continue to think about it. Do it. Please.

 

 

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