Out of Sight

Jennifer Wnuk

Since the beginning of the summer, the situation in the Horn of Africa region – encompassing Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other nearby countries – has continued to deteriorate due to a massive drought bringing famine and sub­sequent starvation to thousands of people and livestock in these areas. Given the rise of the Islamic militant group, al- Shabaab, most foreign-aid agencies have been unable to reach the people in the greatest of needs as violence persists in and around Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, and as al-Shabaab has balked at the presence of Western aid workers within their spheres of control. This situation has particularly struck me, as I both feel for the people afflicted by this disaster and am unable to contribute to relief efforts given the gravity of the political problems at stake. In addition, I have been surprised at the limited extent of media attention that this crisis has received, as well as the lack of interest being shown toward averting or diminishing the aftershock that has been experienced by the people in this part of the world.

I do not wish to convey in this piece that we all have the capability, responsibility or means to abate the impacts of this crisis across the region. While this is certainly a noble goal, I am quite certain that many on this campus and in other areas are also striving to help their communities, further their education and make a valuable contribution to society. We cannot always stop dead in our tracks and devote all our time to one cause, as tempting as it sometimes may seem, when there are so many needs out there and so many people who are dealing with loss, suffering and severe strife. Moreover, the religious and political dimensions to the crisis management, particularly in Somalia, are beyond the scope of what many of us can circumvent.

That which we all can do, however, is take a moment and realize the tremendous devastation that this crisis has had on the people in the Horn of Africa region, much in the same way as we remembered those who died on September 11. This is particularly important in this moment as the drought has already taken thousands of lives and as the famine continues to wreak havoc on an already impoverished and oppressed society. Truly tragic stories, such as those of women who have had to abandon some of their malnourished children in the desert while seeking help in order to save others, should strike us in a deeply personal way and make us recognize our own human kinship with people half a world away. We should resist the urge to hear of these events and regard them as another society’s or another person’s problem and not our own. How could we bear to see such a horrific sight in person and not manage to act? Furthermore, how can we know of such impossible choices being made elsewhere and continue to live at peace and enjoy all the pleasures that life has to offer in a place so far removed from this disaster?

Certainly, we cannot stop living and impede our personal and academic growth because of the famine or its effects. I am strongly urging you, however, to consider the value of living a modest life in light of what is happening. In doing so we should appreciate everything in our lives to the fullest – our education, our families, our friends, our meals – and not waste time or effort worrying about trivial issues or indulging ourselves through excessive behavior. Although it may seem that the drought in Africa and our lifestyle here may be unrelated, the underlying thread linking these issues is that we should not fly in the face of such grief and tragedy by depreciating our opportunities, our blessings or our simplest necessities. When we do this we demean ourselves and show disrespect to those who suffer both within this country and across the world. On the contrary, we should devote more time and resources to the needs that are so plentiful in this society and beyond. None of us live in isolation and therefore our thoughts, our choices and our actions have direct consequences for those around us and to those more distant from our immediate circle of influence. This article is not about bringing down judgment, but about provoking thought as to what is truly important in our lives, how we can show respect for ourselves and others and how we can accept some small steps toward modesty in our lives as so many have been forced to lose all.

Contact Jennifer Wnuk at [email protected]