Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I dreamed of
Once in a lullaby
A few weeks ago I saw the recent NZ film Hunt for the Wilderpeople at the cinema with Karen. An indigenous teenager from one of Australia’s most remote communities, she laughed loudly and often, sometimes at inappropriate times. I was amused but slightly uneasy that the audience around us might be irritated. At the same time I pondered on the concept of sophistication. I’m sure that if I spent significant time in Karen’s community I would also behave in ways that locals would consider unsophisticated. If sophistication is a heightened insight of the culture you are interacting with then noone has universal sophistication.
In it’s first weekend following release, Hunt for the Wilderpeople grossed over $1.2 million at the Box Office in New Zealand. In a country of 4.5 million people, at $20 per ticket, 225,000 people attended a screening. That’s one person in every 20 who saw one film in one weekend. In the majority of the world economies of survival mean that such frivolous entertainment is not even in the mindset of most people. Events such as this one film release showcase just how prosperous we, who live in wealthy countries, are. There is a reason beyond targeting an English speaking audience, that these films are not released, or that world famous entertainers do not perform, in poor countries.
Today I see the prosperity in my world with the eyes of someone who grew up immersed in it as “the norm”, but whose view of the world was chewed up and spat out by the revelation that I belong to an over-privileged minority. My life and the lives of those around me in Australia and other Western countries, have an overriding theme of freedom, comfort and opportunity. In Cambodia – as with most of the world – the lives of my friends and colleagues have an overriding theme of crushing adversity.
On Facebook this morning my goddaughter messaged me from London with her latest plans for her Australian holiday next month. I then opened my email to news from another friend who had just returned to London from a business trip to Rome, Budapest and Amsterdam. At the same time an ex-colleague in Cambodia wrote that he has two critically ill patients with only one oxygen cylinder, days after his last message about a TB patient who had died due to inadequate medical attention. Earlier this month I met with a group of doctors all earning high Australian salaries in a work environment considered “normal” for the rich world minority yet unimaginable to most, including resources, training, paid holidays and superannuation. They admitted to knowing little about Tuberculosis thanks to the fact that it is such a rare disease here. As I sat observing them, I thought of my good friend and Cambodian doctor earning $700 per month, who sees dozens of sick and dying Tuberculosis patients everyday. He once said to me “I try not to think about my future because it is very dark”. This comment from a medical doctor took my breath away. In my world, the future of any medical doctor is one of opportunity, reward and status. To suddenly have to comprehend that this is in fact, the exception rather than the rule, for medical doctors on a global scale, was a massive shock to my first world brain.
These disparities exist purely due to circumstance. Ultimately all health professionals have the same goals – to do the best for their patients. The abilities of my Cambodian colleagues are suffocated by lack of resources to do for their patients, what we are able to do for ours here in the wealthy world. The opportunities that I and my western world friends are offered, exist purely because we were born into a prosperous system. Not everyone in the wealthy world takes the opportunities on offer and in fact, not everyone in the wealthy world appreciates or envisions that these opportunities are available to them. Conversely, opportunities in the poor world exist in a highly competitive environment, often cloaked in corruption and nepotism, and incomes are rarely more than enough to survive on. Yet many know that beyond their world are prospects that they would strive for if they could. These people work hard towards improving their situation, working long hours, finding creative ways to improve their knowledge and education, sacrificing meals and other basic needs, all in the hope that the world might be better for their children than it has been for them.
Speaking of one of the many children enrolled in the Cambodian Children’s Fund’s educational programs, Scott Neeson said “She arrived in May, 2013 in a terrible state, out of school, sick, without a light in her eyes and an overwhelming sense of sadness. That was then…. Yesterday she won “The Best Student of 2014” at her facility. Note the confidence, joy, poise – and the light in her eyes….As I have said many times before, it is not about us putting all this magic into the children: it is already there“. The same can be said for the indigenous children I know here in Central Australia, and for disadvantaged children anywhere, as Harris Rosen can also attest after his Tangelo Park Project turned a troubled American community around in only 20 years. All that children anywhere really need, is the right input, to retain and realise their boundless potential.
We all have the capacity and the right, to have that light in our eyes. The loss of human potential resulting from deprivation of basic freedoms and opportunities, whether due to poverty in a distant and impoverished country, or disadvantage in sub-populations of wealthy countries, is a loss to us all. Children all over the world are born with that light in their eyes. What could be more important than working towards ensuring justice and equity for everyone – not just an entitled few?
Over the Rainbow was one of my all-time favourite childhood songs. Especially when Kermit the Frog sang it from his log on a pond during The Muppet Show on a Saturday night. How amazing it is, to discover that the land beyond that rainbow, is where I always was! How wrong and unforgivable that so many of our equally deserving fellow humans do not know this liberty.