Sunday, October 08, 2006

Inner Agitation: An Alarm is the Precursor to Awakening

Inner Agitation: An Alarm is the Precursor to Awakening
by: Nasir Al-Amin

Internally there is something unnerving about the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia. Their reality is one of exploitation, abuse and violence. “I refuse to call it a life,” 17 year old Fronyi of Ethiopia asserts, after recounting how she turned to prostitution in order to survive. However, Fronyi’s account is a composite of the 1.2 million children who are victims of sexual exploitation annually.

Often people ask me “how did you get involved in this” or “Why Ethiopia.” Although I never completely answer the question, due to time and complexity, one of the many reasons and/or answers to “How” and Why Ethiopia” is this inner agitation that accompanies my thoughts and reflections about the condition of women and children I have met during my travels to Ethiopia. It appears/feels like this inner agitation has enhanced over the years—the more I travel to Ethiopia, learn about orphans and vulnerable children, and actually develop relationships with them the more unnerving this agitation becomes.

I’m convinced that this inner agitation is what gives sound to the inner voice in all of us who have witnesses something in our lives that is unsettling. Through a defeatist mentality (“Oh this is just how things are”, “I’m only one person, what can I do,” “The government…”) and conspicuous consumption (efforts to amass material items for vain reasons only to distract the mind and spirit from an uncomforting reality) we try to silence that voice, yet it is this voice that is the precursor to an inner awakening.

For me that inner agitation and voice awakened this sense that what I’m witnessing in Ethiopia is unacceptable. And that realization is at the heart of why I established Alif (Alliance Investment Fund) and is the impetus to continue this work. As the awakening was not through engaging concepts, theories, or reading annual reports rather it came via interactions with orphans and vulnerable children, through taking the time to not only give them a birr (Ethiopian currency) but also taking the time to ask them about their life: What stops you from attending school? What lead you to prostitution as a teenager? Are your parents alive? Who cares for you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Engaging people, developing relationships is not just giving someone money because he or she is begging. I know an Ethiopian guy that when he went back to Ethiopia, he would look for this shoeshine boy that he developed a rapport with, so daily he would go to the street where he works and sit and talk to him. That shows concern, and gives the voiceless a voice.

So it is the inner voice that serves as an alarm, letting one know that the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia is unacceptable and that one should make a concerted effort to affect change. If its just one child that you send to school, then that’s commendable as we never know where the path of education would lead that child or the number of lives that child will affect in the future, or if you organize a group of family members, collogues, and friends to contribute to the construction of a school in Ethiopia or securing the school uniforms and supplies for 10 or 20 children. The crux is to stop silencing the alarm, the inner voice, as the wretched plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia need you to listen.

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