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The great chasm
Posted 8:54AM on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 Pacific Time
In a few days I will join a team from Venice Arts, a Venice, CA youth arts organization, to embark on an exciting journey to Africa, our third since 2001, that also causes me some personal conflict. This time the long flight will put us in Maputo, Mozambique where the chasm between our world in the U.S and the African reality is as wide as the distance our aircraft will traverse. Maputo is a beautiful city situated along the Indian Ocean with wonderful and warm people and from what I hear astonishing sea food. Unfortunately it is a poor country with severe shortages, low life expectancy and nearly a half million children orphaned by AIDS.
The differences between the two worlds, at least priorities, may best be described by a call that I just received from a reporter at a Santa Monica, CA daily paper advising me that the story they were planning to do on our upcoming work with children orphaned by AIDS in Mozambique would have to be put on hold for a couple days as they needed the space for a breaking news story: Lindsay Lohan had just been arrested for drug possession and drunk driving in front of the Santa Monica, CA police station. Don't think for a minute that the priorities of this small Santa Monica daily newspaper are unique. They share the same view of what is an important story with the majority of print and electronic media. This encapsulates my personal conflicts about wanting to help the "least among us," while being a member of one of the richest and most warped cultures on earth.
The intention of the trip is to teach children orphaned by AIDS how to use cameras to document their world so that others can see what their lives are like. In some ways we serve as "bellringers" through photographs and words to inform the privileged that cruel and harsh conditions exist for hundreds of millions of human beings. Our group of about ten energetic and caring people are motivated by a variety of reasons ranging from "faith based" beliefs to humanist beliefs. Regardless, I am certain the group of kids that we meet will be filled with joy, as will we, when we first meet and and begin to work together. As the kids gain proficiency with the cameras, they will create a visual story that will depict children living in some of the cruelest conditions and circumstances in human history. While it is true that the nature of our effort does not ameliorate the wretched conditions they constantly endure, our ability to produce exhibits for the public, publish books of their photographs and stories, and sometimes interest media outlets in the continuance of public awareness that may, perhaps, mobilize more people to help the poor and suffering. Bottom line is that we value the possibility of a paradigm shift—of seeing more interest in the suffering of the world rather than the endless fascination with Hollywood stars and other escapist trivia.
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