“What difference you think you can make, one single man, in all this madness?

tim13Dear Ezra and Lian,

“What difference you think you can make, one single man, in all this madness?” I felt like Sean Penn from the movie “Thin Red Line” had asked me that question. This wealthy man at a party in Aizawl, Mizoram, India asked me why I was trying help the poor people in Mizoram. They were suffering from a famine called Mautam. He couldn’t understand why I would do it. I told him a version of “The Starfish Story”.

“A young man is walking along the ocean and

Sees a beach on which thousands and thousands

Of starfish have washed ashore. Further along

He sees an old man, walking slowly and

Stooping often, picking up one starfish after

Another and tossing each one gently into the

Ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the

Ocean?” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out

And if I don’t throw them further in they will

Die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles

And miles of beach and starfish all along it!

You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even

Save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you

Work all day, your efforts won’t make any

Difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent

Down to pick up another starfish and threw it

Into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.””

Lian, every day when I draw you a starfish, I think about this story and Mizoram. Your dad told that man at the party, I know about these starfish and I see them dying. I’m helping them simply because I can. I’m not going to wait for somebody else to save them all. If I save the life of one, that’s enough difference to make it worthwhile.

Everyone at that party (why did I ever go?) was 20-100 times richer or more powerful than me. They lived 100 miles away from people starving to death, while I lived 7500 miles away. If anyone in the future ever thanks you for what your dad did for them, say “You’re welcome!” Inside, though, remember he didn’t do anything amazing. He simply did what he could. What was truly amazing, was all the people who could have done something really significant and yet did nothing.

This is why I’m telling you this story. When you are my age now, you will be 20-100 times richer or more powerful than me (at least). By that time, you will have stood on a beach with tens of thousands of starfish dying in the sun. You will have a choice; you can start putting starfish in the sea or you can run away. You can stuff as many things in your life as you can…to try and forget what you’ve seen and know to be true. You can say the starfish deserve to die or that they should have got themselves back into the water. You can pretend that you can’t make a difference or that the starfish will be ok. You can give the excuse that because you can’t save them all or most, it’s not worth saving even one. You can do all that.

The one thing you can never do, is avoid that beach and those starfish. They are real. Your destiny is to stand there amongst them. At least one person is going to ask for your help. I wish you never had to face that decision, but you will. If you decide to put a starfish back in the ocean, I promise you, that you won’t be alone. I will be there beside you.

Humanitarian

 

tim47Dear Ezra and Lian,

Sometimes it’s the little things that break us. Sometimes that’s because we are petty. I know I have been. Sometimes doing the little things can make such a big difference. Just doing a good job or saying a simple, “Thank you” can be enough to keep someone from giving up. You don’t know what the people around you are going through. Please be nice to them.

I had gone through a lot when I got back to Canada from India in 2008. I won’t go into details, but you can read my company’s internal posting at the bottom to get a glimpse of that. I was still in the midst of trying to get desperately needed food through Indian Customs and delivered. However, my “vacation” was over and I had to go back to work.

When I got back to work, I found out my locker had been given away. My lock had been cut off and all its contents thrown out. Where I work, especially in 2008, lockers are a big deal. There were more employees than lockers. So, there was a constant effort to take lockers from those who had left the company or no longer needed them. There was a whole elaborate procedure to follow. This was supposed to protect guys like me. You had to receive 30 days notice of pending loss of a locker. A copy was supposed to be sent to your manager. A union representative was supposed to present when the lock was cut off and the locker opened. None of that happened in my case.

I was gone for 5 weeks. I emailed the manager in charge. I told him he never followed the procedure. I copied the message below. I said, “Do you even read the internal website? It told everyone who works here, I was out of the country. Obviously I couldn’t respond to the paper notice on my locker. You didn’t even follow the procedure.” I never got apology of any kind or an acknowledgement that they had made an error. Not even, “I’m sorry.”

This little thing just added to my despair. It was just one more reason to give up trying to make a difference. It wasn’t the final reason. It wasn’t the main reason, but it was a factor. In some small way it lead to the second biggest mistake of my life.

This notice appeared on my employer’s internal website. I’ve edited this notice to remove both the name of the company I work for and the charity I used to volunteer with. Designated with X and Y. If both organizations choose to publicly associate with me, they are free to do so.

X Applauds Tim Morgan’s Global Humanitarian Effort
Submitted by: Public Affairs
Thursday May 15, 2008

Tim Morgan, humanitarian and Nuclear Operator, is representing X’s commitment to strengthen local communities – only he is doing it half-way across the world.

Situated deep within the bamboo jungles in one of the North Easternmost regions of India, sits Mizoram—a remote and mountainous region nestled between Bangladesh and Myanmar (previously known as Burma). Virtually cut off from the world, including the rest of India, Mizoram has been ravaged by a famine, which began in 2006 and is currently affecting about three million people.

Tim Morgan has spent many years donating his time and volunteering to have food and supplies shipped from Canada to India. Morgan serves as the Director of the Mizoram Project for Y which is a non-profit organization that has two objectives: “justice education in the Global North and transformational development in the Global South.” The Mizoram Project delivers essential food and supplies to areas most in need, educates people about new and beneficial farming practices, introduces HIV/AIDS awareness programs and creates much needed Malaria detection clinics. As part of the Mizoram Project, Morgan will be working with a team of students from Wilfred Laurier University and members of local Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), to help the Mizo people. Traveling to India, the Mizoram Project team will spend about three weeks this May assisting in the distribution of food rations to the famine affected areas.

The famine in Mizoram, also known as “mautam” meaning “bamboo death,” is currently the number one issue facing the local population. Approximately every 48-50 years, the dominant bamboo species flower simultaneously. Although this display may be beautiful, it can become deadly: the bamboo flowers produce fruit which leads to an explosion in the population of rats. Once the fruit is eaten, the rats turn to eating up the food stores of the local people and a famine ensues.

The last time Mautam occurred (1958-1961) 10,000 people died from sickness and starvation. Afterwards, government response led to an armed insurgency which ended in 1986. Today, the current Mautam, which began in 2006, is affecting nearly three million people and although the famine has been occurring for over a year, this story has only begun to grab world headlines recently.

This month, Morgan and the story of the Mizo people will be featured in a CBC television report about the Mizoram famine on Sunday, May 18 at 10 a.m.