Compassion through Computers?

In this digital age, most of us are compelled to conduct our personal and professional transactions through the faceless and soulless online frontier.  We have been sucked up into a voluminous vortex from which there is no escape.  Though it has its advantages, it comes as no surprise that a lot of people lament the loss of real human interactions in everyday life.  Unfortunately, trying to resist modern changes is like rowing backwards in a canoe on the edge of a waterfall.

No faces with the online interface

There is one particular digital trend amongst all the others which leaves me a little uncomfortable.  It is the concept of the online charitable donation.  The effortless task of sending money to a charity via the click of a button, in the knowledge that it will translate into relief for some hapless soul on the other side of the world, is, of course, a satisfying one.  It eases my conscience and for a time I can convince myself I am engaged with those less fortunate than myself; I reassure myself that my niyyah (intention) was a good one.  Insha’Allah (God willing), it will be rewarded.  Isn’t that what matters?  However, soon after, I know I return to my oblivious and disconnected state again.

But perhaps the online means does justify the end.  Perhaps I am being too hard on myself.  Perhaps I am my own worst critic.  Allah knows I have had to reluctantly succumb to this dispassionate method of giving.  After all, I don’t have the means to travel overseas to the places where help is needed most and personally deliver assistance.  However, I am beginning to tire of the vacuum of emotion in the process of charitable giving.  I feel I want to do more.  I would like to pretend that the reason is inexplicable, but the truth is I know why I don’t feel totally satisfied.

It should always be more about just money

The first reason is that by seeing or meeting others less fortunate than myself, I want to be reminded of my good fortune.  This exposure would, I believe, keep me rooted in gratitude and humility.  I would hope that I could not forget Allah’s favours upon me if I had the opportunity to regularly meet those in destitution.  My inflated ego might be kept in check. 

Yet more importantly, I have recently become restless with the desire to do more than congratulate myself over a simple bank transfer.  My own opinion of meaningful charity is the type which comes at a price to myself.  Not just in terms of money, but the type which causes slight inconvenience since this is where the challenge really lies.  Charity is often narrowly viewed as donations of money.   We know, however, that it can encompass a myriad of things such as donations of food, clothes, mentoring and even just our time.  This is the kind of charity I have always wanted to get involved with ever since I can remember.  My life’s ambition was to be part of an NGO out in the field where I can see results coming into effect. 

Although I have worked for a large charity in an office setting, my heart always yearned to be personally involved in the places where the recipients are most in need.  It is not that I want to massage my own ego or to be told I am doing a great thing.  I have simply wanted to empathise directly with others and to be witness to their successes.

Cynics would say that kind of experience would become more about me than the recipients.  However, I would argue that the kind of help I would like to be part of is not a short-term, ephemeral fix.  I would like to be part of long-term grassroots projects which give people dignity and independence.  Placing a bag of rice in the hands of a poor person is admirable but sometimes it is the intangible gifts we give that elevate others which are so much more meaningful.

I have hope that I will be able to do such work soon insha’Allah.  As my time becomes more my own, I pray I can make my dream a reality.  Of course, how much of my life remains is an unknown but this should be more reason to push on rather than give up.  Like many women, I have surrendered a large chunk of my life to being a wife and mother.  Though the first role no longer exists, the second, more important one, remains and always will. 

Last year, I made a vow to myself to step out of my comfort zone and BE the change that I wanted to see in this world.  I started with this blog – my lifeline to sanity, my soliloquy on a very public stage.  It has brought me more healing than I care to imagine.  I also started a new job in teaching where I see my work underpinned by the concept of humanity.  This is the kind of sadaqa (charity) which I can do from my own home.  The human and personal transactions are absolutely core.  

Be The Change' Mahatma Gandhi Motivational Quote Poster
Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you

Whilst right now I cannot be out in the field pursuing my dreams of educating children in far-off places, or building a shelter, or helping women become masters of their own financial well-being, I know all hope is not lost.  I can incorporate charitable deeds in my daily interactions right now, right here.  Those deeds are not limited to humans. They involve animals and even plants.  Online transactions often lack the presence of all aspects of our being.  Long after the bank transfer has been made, the compassion needs to live on.

One of my greatest wishes is to have my sons accompany me should I have the opportunity to see a project through.  I am sure it will make an indelible imprint on their young minds.  We have already experienced hardships when we lived out in Western Africa and, for that, I have no regrets.  Whether they acknowledge it or not, it has definitely shaped their personality to some extent today. 

My utmost belief is that travelling is the best education as it gives us exposure to things we could only ever had read about from a safe and detached distance.  Having seen and lived amongst some of the poorest people in the world, I am grateful to them for teaching me what to value in life. 

The truth is, I have come to learn that the poorest people are, in fact, often some of the richest.  I will let the reader figure that one out for themselves…

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