My first exposure to a radically-different culture came when I was 20 and spent 6 weeks visiting my sister, who was at the time teaching in rural Tanzania. During the trip I reached two conclusions:
1. The implications of material poverty and global inequality can be truly devastating for entire communities. Not a particularly surprising conclusion to reach, I realise, but still one that no amount of advertising by aid agencies or academic learning had really convinced me of until that trip.
2. Regardless of our material situation, we can all learn something from each other.
The penny dropped most forcefully for me in relation to this point on a bus trip. I use term bus loosely, as the vehicle was, in fact, a flatbed truck for which I and an implausible large number of other prospective passengers waited to board one morning. As I stood there a Tanzanian lady with a baby in her arms and a young child by her side silently lifted the baby into my arms and then strode ahead to secure her place on the bus. Much later, after I had boarded the bus with her baby and held it while the journey progressed, she retrieved her infant without a word or gesture of thanks. She hadn't asked for my assistance because she had taken it for granted. In her culture it was the norm for childcare to be shared.
I left Tanzania with a heightened sense of social conscience and went on to contribute to and volunteer and work for national and international charities. I also prided myself on not getting overly hung up on consumerist aspirations (nice car, expensive clothes etc.).
Of course it's easy to be idealistic and embrace values such as sharing and cooperation when one has few responsibilities. When my first child (who has PWS) was born, this forced a re-evaluation of priorities. While I could still appreciate that many people had needs far more immediate than those of my son, I wondered whether the right thing to do was in fact to save more and more of my resources to secure his long-term needs. After all, where I live there are no guarantees about what services the state will provide for him. Or should I direct my resources to supporting people with PWS in the country in which I live and advocating for improved services for all in my country?
My son has recently turned 10 and so I am somewhat removed from the early shock of his diagnosis. While I try to save for my son's future and to contribute to improving services for people with PWS in my country, I remain convinced of the merits of cooperation between countries and cultures. Given the reality that there are huge differences in the levels of resources available to people in different parts of the world, I firmly believe that those of us who are materially well-off (by global standards) should donate money to support those who are not. I also believe that through cooperation we will all ultimately benefit. Increased awareness about how different cultures operate will, hopefully, enable us to identify the best bits of different ways of living and to integrate some of those elements into our own societies... I know I'd like a bit of the culture that suggests that those whose childcare needs are greatest can rely on their neighbours for help.
I support IPWSO's mission because it seeks to improve the life chances of people with PWS around the world and facilitates learning among cultures. It does this by providing free diagnosis services, information and advice where there is no expertise, and by linking peoples and communities. If you are reading this you are probably materially better off than most people in the world. Maybe you are intending to buy Easter eggs this year. If so, please also consider giving the cost of a couple of Easter eggs to IPWSO to help those who have less than you do.
(You can donate via iDonate on our webpage...)