Saturday, 4 August 2007

A politician, a saint, and a sight to see

I was out canvassing the other day in West Hamilton with Ontario MPP Ted McMeekin. While the door-to-door was productive, it was one of our off topic conversations that stuck with me more than anything else. He was telling a great story about Mother Theresa during one of her visits to Canada some time ago. One of her engagements was with a small group of wealthier individuals who in addition to sponsoring her talk, donated about $20,000 towards her organization in Calcutta (India). When the organizers presented her the cheque, she swiftly proceeded to tear it up right in front of the whole room, declaring something along the lines of:

“Jesus doesn’t want your money, he wants your hearts” …

Being both caught off guard by the act, but comparably impressed with her convictions, active discussions were bound to ensue. By the end of the night she had managed to convince the group that they should visit her in Calcutta and witness first hand the shier scale of the poverty that they were facing. For a group of people who for the most part had never previously observed ‘third world’ conditions, they were intensely moved by the monumental challenges that lied ahead for anyone working to improve the situation, including someone as inspiring as her. Needless to say, they returned to Canada motivated to act – and in the end, proceeded to raise far greater than $20,000 every year for her organization’s efforts. So in the end she got both their hearts and their money!

This story highlights an important point - just how hard it is to truly understand a situation without ever being there. While I had studied about international health issues for many years - it wasn't until my first trip to Bangkok in 2003 that I personally fell witness to abject poverty and lack of opportunity on a large scale. It was like a moment of clarity where so many of the dots I had read about all finally connected in my head - and like the visitors to Calcutta, I became instantly motivated to act and to learn so much more about the plight of people everywhere. Now I know there are a good bunch of you who can share a similar tale or two, and that there are just as many who have not yet had much opportunity to travel outside Europe/North America and cannot. For those in the latter group - let's plot some ways as to how we can start giving your passport a good workout soon!