Nameless Sudanese Toddler: The Catalyst

10 years ago, after thoughtlessly going through my e-mails, I stumbled upon this disturbing photo of a Sudanese child struggling towards a UN food camp where a vulture patiently perched nearby.

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Photo credit: Kevin Carter

I can still clearly remember the sinking feeling I felt and I couldn’t understand why the photo had that effect on me. I had so many questions – did she make it to the food camp? did the photographer help her at least? was she safe? The only compensation I got was the statement issued by the Times that she made it to the food station but there was nothing else beyond that. More questions nagged me day in, day out and I walked in a trance for days. After a week, I finally decided on what I wanted to do. I was going to volunteer and had set my heart on doing so; specifically, I wanted to do it in Africa. Immediately, I started researching about where I can apply and how to go about the process but sadly, my applications were rejected. I was told that I was too young, too inexperienced, and in some, too idealistic. Of course, the rejections disheartened me and I buried my “volunteering in Africa” dream.

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Despite the disappointment, I never gave up on volunteering in general. I just couldn’t help myself. I wanted to help even in smaller projects. These projects were, of course, not as big as Africa but they were big enough to make a dent on people’s lives. Some people thought that my attempts at changing the world were silly and were a waste of time. Some of those days, I just shrugged off the comments but in most days, I heatedly responded by saying “Yeah, almost as wasted as the time I spent talking with people like you.” These people, are the same people whom I was writing about in my other article and yes, it was not the most mature reaction. These days, I am more subtle with my retorts.

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I don’t understand these people. If you’re the type who prefers not to do anything about it then okay, I respect your choices; but you shouldn’t discourage nor interrupt the person who is actually doing something about it. What is so wrong with lifting a finger to extend aid to those who are in dire need of it? Why is working for a cause without getting paid a laughable concept? When did making the world a better place become a cliché? Who made these people stop believing in miracles? I have always wondered.

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Through the years, I took part in feeding projects for the poor, teaching in public night schools, performing for children and women-related fundraising feats, and visiting orphanages. I only did these on the side because I couldn’t literally afford to do it full-time and I was supporting myself right after graduating from college.

But this changed a few months ago when I resurrected my ‘volunteering in Africa” dream. I thought, my life is pretty convenient now and I have been very blessed all these years — why not pay it forward? So I took the risk by searching for any updates about the Sudanese toddler in Kevin Carter’s photo. I thought, maybe she is married now; maybe she has kids of her own; maybe she escaped famine in Africa and migrated to Europe;  maybe, maybe. What I found out thereafter broke my heart. There was no update. No news other than the statement issued by Times in 1993. Tribal violence, genocide, war crimes, poverty, famine, and HIV AIDS are still rife.

I said, enough. I e-mailed some friends for affirmation and talked to God before I filled out my application to volunteer for an organization that is deploying teachers and education advocates to Africa. I asked Him to bless my decision and prayed that if it is His Will then everything will go smoothly. So far, everything is going as planned and I can’t help be amazed by how every detail was ironed out. What I thought that was impossible – happened and what I worried about for the past months were a complete waste of effort. My God is a rock star!!!

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That Sudanese toddler was my reason for volunteering; 10 years after, she is still my reason for volunteering and I am close to making my “volunteering in Africa” dream into realization.

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