August 6, 2012
How many times have you thought of Burundi in the past month or even the past year? I confess I had not thought about it at all until last week when I received three applications for the East Side Institute’s International Class from citizens of that African country of nearly 9 million people. The applicants are passionate and dedicated people in health and mental health, working with rape and trauma victims, many of them refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, to end gender violence. They are seeking new approaches to inspire and activate people to create the tools they need, not merely to survive in the world as it is, but to change it. I very much would like to work with them and hope they can get through the hurdles of applying for and obtaining US visas.
But the thing that’s stayed with me for days since reading their applications is their existence—the 9 million. It got me thinking about the hard work it takes to stay grounded in humanity these days (maybe it always has)—even if you follow the world news, travel and have relationships to other countries than your own, and communicate with people from dozens of countries every day, as I do.
Sometimes I ask groups of people I’m doing a performance or a philosophy workshop with to imagine what other people are doing at this same moment. It slows the group down a bit—and, as they begin to let the world in, the group becomes more present with each other. They picture all kinds of people—their grandmother who lives a thousand miles away watching TV; women and men going to work in Sydney where it’s early the next day; a family celebrating a birthday in Santiago Chile; the teenage girl who was putting on makeup in the subway now at a job interview; babies being born in a hospital in Beijing, people killing each other, falling in love, falling out of love, picking crops, washing clothes, making clothes, making meals, making friends, making money, going hungry, dying.
My pictures now include my three new Burundi acquaintances helping women and girls (and the men in their lives) create new ways to relate to each other. I feel enriched by this—and bigger and smaller at the same time. As someone living in a (still) wealthy nation, being reminded of the extreme hardship and pain the majority of people alive today face is sobering. And meeting those who want my support to help their people heal and develop is a privilege.