So now what? Thank you all for your overwhelming responses to Sa’eedah’s story, both by email and in the comments section. I am blessed to have this little community of blog readers who take the time to really read and feel the stories. And care! It makes blogging a worthy use of my time.
A number of you out there asked how you could help. As I see it, single mothers like Sa’eeda and Nezha need both a short-term relief plan as well as a long-term life-transformative plan. The short-term plan is about survival. It’s about all the little things we take for granted. Nezha calls me about once or twice a month. Several times she’s mentioned that her feet get so cracked that she has a hard time walking. Now, I get the same problem in summer, it’s a small thing that can become very painful. I advised Nezha to rub olive oil on her feet and wear socks all the time. Her response? I’ll save up for some socks. She did not own any. You can be sure that the next time I saw her I took her three pairs of socks.
For Nezha and her kids, being poor means a diet that consists mainly of bread, olive oil and tea. My family’s morning omelets would seem an extravagant indulgence in protein to Nezha, who uses eggs as a rotation in her main meals, along with beans and the occasional bite of meat. Nezha buys food on a daily basis, just the amount needed for the day’s meals, a dirham(10 cents) of flour, 2 dirhams (20 cents) of sugar, a potato or two. Hot water is poured over used tea leaves to squeeze another pot out of them. There are no leftovers (nor any fridge to store them in).
Every now and then, donations will come in for Nezha. It is such a pleasure to deliver the treasures to her: 10 kg bags of flour and pasta. 20 cans of tuna. Yes, most American cats and dogs eat a much richer diet than this family. What would Nezha think of the cat food section at Costco? In my mind, it’s hard for me to accept that both realities exist at once. That what Nezha and her children need in a day (for everything, not just food) is the same as what an average American might spend on a latte and blueberry muffin (and maybe not even finish the whole thing). Ok, I know, it’s easy to pick on US consumer habits…so let me just look at my own life for a minute, because I’m as guilty as they come. There are enough inconsistencies and hypocrisies in my own spending habits, outings with the kids where we pay to eat, pay to play, pay for cheapy plastic stuff that I hate. Yes, it is only due to my amazing levels of cognitive dissonance that I am able to do this. (I can only hope that as I become more aware of others, I can eliminate more and more frivolous spending). It’s not about beating ourselves up for every cent we spend, but yeah, it’s about our shared responsibility on this earth.
We must never underestimate the power of giving, even if it is 10 cents, a dollar, 20 dollars. Of course there is always the debate over “aid versus trade” and does welfare make people lazy and are they going to buy drugs with it. The short answer, in the case of these single mothers, is no. As my father always says “if you err on the side of kindness and generosity, you won’t be wrong”. In fact we must see each opportunity to give as a blessing for ourselves…that is one less dollar that we might have wasted and now we’re relieved of the burden of spending it. Islamic teachings say that a good deed is rewarded tenfold, and sometimes it’s uncanny to give something away, only to receive a totally unexpected gift a few days later. Wealth does not decrease through charity. Giving away a portion of ones wealth only blesses and purifies the rest of it. Give freely, give from what you love, there is enough for us all.
More concretely, here are some of my ideas:
1-Short-term help for three single mothers (Nezha, Chaima’s mom and Sa’eeda). I believe there are a lot of people out there who would like to help with the immediate needs of these mothers. What an honor for me to be the medium that connects between you and these women. If you live in the US, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss how to make a bank transfer. I have a US account which facilitates things a lot, because I can withdraw the money from an ATM here. Even 5 dollars helps a lot. What would be great would be monthly pledges of 5, 10 or more dollars. Some amount that won’t really affect you, but WILL affect them in a huge way. If you live in Europe, I think it’s also fairly easy to transfer to a US account, but I’ll have to research this. I’d love to be able to offer something to these mothers similar to those “sponsor a child” programs, where the mother can count on a monthly contribution of 30-50 dollars for each child.
2-I will research what resources are currently available for women and girls in Marrakesh. I will be your eyes and ears on the ground and compile the information necessary to assess what is needed in terms of infrastructure.
3-For the long term, I am reaching out to all of you for your ideas, resources, connections, experience, dreams, prayers…anything that comes to you for our common vision. This is the MOST IMPORTANT PART. In this whole process, my motto is “start small, THINK BIG”. Even as we help someone survive day to day, we have to use these super-educated brains of ours to think creatively about poverty. Vision. Then planning and execution. Don’t be paralyzed by your fear of imperfection. So let our vision quest begin.