We are not the poor

One of the first advice my Professor in University gave me after graduation when I felt lost about stepping into the working world, was to do community work. Though initially that didn’t quite gel with me as quickly finding work is always on a young graduate’s mind, yet I soon learnt that was one of the best advice given me as it gave me perspective. I volunteered briefly for a camp with autistic children and it opened my eyes to their worlds. It created in me an understanding and compassion for such children.

Today, I want to advocate this to my young graduate friends. If you can, don’t rush into working. Save money to go a trip overseas to see how life is like for people in the developing countries. Instead of a grad trip just to have fun, what about one to have fun and also visit a third-world country, dropping by a NGO along the way? Or if you have started working, start saving money for such a trip. Or if going overseas is not for you at the moment, volunteer locally at least once-off or on an ad-hoc basis.

I think it’s so easy to stay in our own comfort zones and reason to ourselves that we will not get involve in other peoples’ problems, but I believe being citizens of a first-world country, and having so much given to us, we have responsibility to steward what we have wisely.

A friend was mentoring a group of young adults from a developing country I recently visited and this was what she said,

“We need to take responsibility for our extras. Bless people who cannot bless themselves! We are not too poor to give. We are not the poor.”

And mind you. We are not the poor. She was speaking to people much poorer than we are.

One thing I want to warn my friends who have just starting working, is not to compare salaries. It’s easy to feel discontented from asking one friend after another what is their pay and realising you have less and it’s also easy to feel proud if you do find out you have more. Instead I challenge you to think this way, “With this amount that I have monthly, what is the appropriate lifestyle I should live and still be able to save up for my future and even give away to people who need it more?”

I am reading this book called Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn and would like to end off with a quote from the book:

“Young people often ask us how they can help address issues like sex trafficking or international poverty. Our first recommendation to them is to get out and see the world. If you can’t do that, it’s great to raise money or attention at home. But to tackle an issue effectively, you need to understand it – and it’s impossible to understand an issue by simply reading about it. You need to see it first hand, even live in its midst.

One of the great failings of the America education system [Shuyi – I would say possibly the Singapore one too], in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. Study-abroad programs tend to consist of herds of students visiting Oxford or Florence or Paris. We believe that universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world, either by taking a ‘gap year’ or by studying abroad.”