I wouldn't be Ellie Coburn if my boldness in words and beliefs didn't turn some heads. This post is no exception.
A lot of people, a lot of goodhearted, good-intentioned people, are showing up in third world nations and making the very bold, naive assumption that by simply showing up in an impoverished setting, they are making the world a better place.
I will be the first to tell you that working in the third world, in all of its Instagramed glory, is followed by a seemingly never ending round of applause for my mere audacity to grace an impoverished world with my presence.
What I'm suggesting is as bad as it sounds. In western perspective, by and large, an American stepping onto "lesser" soil, gets an incredible amount of praise based solely on the fact that they are an American on lesser soil.
There is this broken ideology that the people of impoverished nations -- fully functioning, intelligent, inspirational people, will fall over and die without an American hand to feed them. This ideology kills me. This ideology is why we as a species, united on one earth, have manifested the bizarre and sick concept of two worlds - the first and the third.
The more we manifest these concepts -- the more we divide "us" and "them" -- the further we move away from any possibility of a world free of poverty. When the western world continually hoards resources, education, and materials from other nations, these other nations are forced to live with nothing as a byproduct of other parts of the world demanding everything.
I am not amazing -- I am not selfless -- I am not inspiring and if you've ever called me any of those things, thank you, but you'll have to come somewhere like Africa to meet truly amazing, selfless, inspiring people.
I gain more each day from the humble, perseverant, compassionate, giving spirits that I work to support and educate than I will give in a lifetime of work in these misunderstood pieces of the world.
Passing through the slums on a motorbike with my Mac laptop, my professional camera, my iPhone, and my tablet I look like nothing more than a westerner on third world soil and in so, so many ways -- that's all I'll ever be.
Still though, I tell my motorbike driver, "can you stop up here, I need to see my friends," he slows the bike next to the slum houses and furrows his brows, "here? You want here?" He asks with confusion and concern. "Yes, here please," I say, stepping off the bike handing him a crumpled bill from one of my many pockets. He doesn't drive off, instead he watches with amusement as the slum children and their mamas come out to greet me with hugs and dancing, he watches and he laughs and other motorbike drivers stop to watch too because these are the friends I am referencing.
I don't take baby girl 3 of 7 down to the river on my hip to clean her infected toe because I am serving her, I take her down to the river on my hip to clean her infected toe because her mama, my friend, is working in the field and her baby girl 3 of 7 has an infected toe.
I don't bring their family rice and beans to feed them because they are less than me, I bring them rice and beans the same way I would drop a casserole off for a friend who needed an extra set of hands. I feed them rice and beans because that's what's for dinner.
I don't pull out my pop up elementary school on my tablet, phone and computer because I am more, I pull up my pop up school because my friend's children have a capacity and drive to learn with no funds for school.
I live in a town with over 1000 missionaries here serving in organizations or working in some capacity to better this community, still though, natives pull their small Nokia flip cell phone cameras on me when I get on my knees to kiss and hug the slum children and their mamas because apparently, that's too much. Apparently, my love for these people in this form, not as an organization or a service worker or a missionary but just as a person who loves people, is unique enough to document.
This is a crisis. This is a problem. This is a testimony to issues large enough to cripple humanity in its entirety. This is a divide between man and man that needs to stop.
You can help. You can help at home in your own neighborhood -- you can help around the world -- you can help instill new, fresh principles into the little people sleeping in the room right next to yours (if you have them).
You can do anything I am doing, and many of you might even have the resources, education, and capacity to do it better -- but you have to break free of the ideology that you can't. You have to understand that the third world is a place in our minds not on the map. You have to break away from the ideology that people with less are to be feared. Above everything else though, you have to be willing to extend your resources, education, and capacity to communities and circles other than your own.
The only two things that happened when I stepped foot on third world soil is my shoes became dirty and my heart became full because there is no "us" and there is no "them," there are no real boarders or lines or division between nations, and if you look closely enough, you can see yourself in the eyes of every person.