Warning: Some of the pictures in this post are very hard to look at. You may want to skip it if you’re feeling super emotional today.
For many years, I have avoided things like this. I turned my head from pictures of suffering children, because I can’t bear to look at them. I gave money to charities, and I have a sponsored child in Uganda. But I couldn’t read stories about heartbreak and tragedy unless there was a happy ending because someone else had already stepped in. I could barely get through stories of children or babies or women suffering—whether it was from circumcision (male or female), or abusive relationships that left women feeling like death was the only option, or bullied children, or children malnourished in Africa because their mothers weaned them too early because of their own malnutrition or unethical culture dumping, or any myriad of things that have left me shaking in fury and sobbing with empathetic grief.
Last week was epiphany week. As I turned away from the picture of sick and starving child in Africa that was in my textbook for an English class (its placement was intended to showcase the strength of emotional argument, pathos), I suddenly forced myself to turn back. I looked at that naked little girl, her bones sticking out, a tired and miserable expression on her face; I looked at the gentle hand of her mother that caressed her stick-like leg; I willed myself to accept the emotion that comes with seeing the effects of war, devastation, and human rights violations. I let myself feel the anger, the grief; I refused the crushing weight of hopelessness. I channeled my feelings into a special fire in my heart, feeding the determination I have for the course of study that I’ve chosen.
It’s not just about traveling and learning, fulfilling my lifelong dreams—it’s about relieving suffering, changing oppressive culture, spreading love and light in dark pockets of the world that have been filled with anger and grief for too long. It’s about being strong and connected and having hope in spite of it all. I have privilege, I have means, I have health and strength. My maternal instinct will not sleep, and it will not go quietly into the night.
A word on the pictures: I found much, much worse and chose not to use them because it can become another form of exploitation. Each picture is linked to a site that explains what it is and the horrible story connected to it.