Four Dollars and a Lot of Perspective
Today was our first day of adventures with the Hero Holiday group here in Thailand. After many hours of traveling and very little rest, our group of 13 Canadians had the opportunity to convene together over breakfast and begin the preparation for the next two weeks of exploring and learning!
After our arrival in Chiang Sen we had our very first Thai meal together overlooking the most breath-taking view of a small river and mountains. As we began to pack up and head to our hotel, our group leader and founder of LiveDifferent, paid for our meals and gave one of the young boys involved in the preparation and serving of the meal a small tip, only to have the boy show his gratefulness with a beautiful smile and his excited skip back to the restaurant. Tipping, which as a part-time server in North America, I am compensated with regularly, is considered pretty customary and almost mandatory nowadays. I have caught myself a few times feeling agitated when I return to a table I have served to find to my dismay, little or no tip. This was my first experience which reminded me of how privileged my life is as a Canadian. I took the time to reflect on the young boys reaction as we drove to our hotel, realizing that I do not always take the time to recognize how fortunate I am to not only have a job, but to be afforded the right to be paid at least minimum wage, while additionally regularly receiving extra financial incentives for the work I do.
It is incredible to think that at no time in my life have I ever not had the opportunity to be employed, (whether or not I enjoyed my various part-time jobs), but regardless, I have always had opportunity and choice of work placements as well. Accessibility to employment is not the norm everywhere in our world and I think it is important to acknowledge this to be able to process the struggles that our fellow human beings face every day, and perhaps to help us understand why some individuals are almost forced to make decisions that some North Americans view as despicable. Today, our group leader, Christal, told us that many of the children in the facility we will be visiting over the next two weeks have been sexually or commercially exploited. Some of the children have been sold by their families for less than 3 dollars, so parents could feed their families or fulfill their addictions. Many of us find it difficult to wrap our minds around the idea of selling another human being, let alone a family member. As Christal discussed this disheartening information with us, she made an incredibly powerful statement that stuck with me: we need to replace judgment with compassion. As individuals from a developed nation, many of us have not been, and never will be, in situations where we would be overcome by such severe desperation that would cause us to consider selling ourselves or a family member. I have never gone to bed hungry, I have never had several children to feed with little to no income, I have never been homeless, and I have never been stateless.
I have learned that statelessness is something all too familiar for millions of individuals around the world. As Canadians we seldom take the time to acknowledge how lucky we are to have the option to be born in hospitals, to receive a birth certificate, and to be afforded the right to be citizens of a nation. Someone knows we exist and our lives are protected by law. Millions of people around the world are not born in hospitals and do not have the ability to receive simple luxuries like birth certificates and citizenship due to the financial costs and other hurdles associated with obtaining such important documentation. Although this may not initially sound all that important, as I have always thought of my birth certificate as a little piece of paper, not being recognized by one’s state as a citizen has severe repercussions. If one is not considered to exist, that person is unable to go to school, unable to work, unable to exist enough to survive.
Our group also had the chance to receive Thai massages today on outdoor beds alongside a road overlooking Laos. After getting over my initial shock of my first Thai massage (which was rather invasive, as the woman crawled into the bed with me and used her weight, feet and everything else to relieve the tension in my achy and jet lagged body), I came to realize two things. First, as my leg was stretched over my head, I recognized I am not nearly as flexible as I thought I was and perhaps I need to start doing some yoga. And second, after paying 4 dollars for my hour long massage (and being able to consider 4 dollars an easily disposable amount of money), I realized that I am privileged and my life holds so much power. This power that each of our lives hold as Canadians gives us the ability to make change that is achievable if we all come together.
Today was our first day and I have already been so impacted by the things I have learned, without even meeting the children we will be getting to know over the next two weeks. I am so tremendously excited to meet the passionate and inspiring individuals who work at the children’s home, and to build relationships I will never forget with these children who have been though more than I could ever imagine. I am excited to see what our team can do and most importantly, I am inspired!
~Alli, LiveDifferent Hero Holiday Thailand