I am currently enrolled in the 18 month "Fighting with the Poor" program at the Richmond Vale Academy. Before coming to the Caribbean, I had worked 8 years for the same company and felt that I wanted a change in my life. The office job was making me unhappy and left me lacking a sense of meaning. I didn't feel like I was contributing anything to the community or the world and the days by the computer were rather monotone and exhausting.
The atmosphere in my home country, Finland, was becoming more and more hostile towards immigrants and the news were full of stories about the worsening refugee crisis. A lot of people seemed to blame the refugees for being greedy and only after easy money. Some even threw burning bottles full of gasoline to a house full of asylum-seeking women and children. Many were encouraging men to rape women defending the human rights of the refugees. There weren't many news about what it is that makes other people live comfortably in their homes and forces others to move and seek a new life thousands of miles away from their homes and families. We seem to understand war as a legitimate reason to leave a country, but what are the other factors behind mass movements and refugee flows?
I have always felt that there is something that isn't explained or told in the news about the world. That there is only one side and that side is interested in preserving its hegemonic position. I have also felt that there is something not right about the way we live and how the world is organized. We have money to finance endless wars and make expeditions to Mars but we can't eradicate poverty or hunger. We keep focusing all our political efforts into creating economic growth but ignore the impact this mindset of eternal growth has on the environment and seem to think that it's an impossible task to get food, shelter and a decent income to all the people of the world. The way we live and consume is destroying our planet, but we just keep shutting our eyes and hoping that all bad will just disappear if we don't pay attention to it.
Having had this feeling of unease for a while about the biased news, the catastrophic state of the environment and the inequality that is so clearly seen inside our developed societies and even more clearly among different nations, I wanted to start looking for alternatives. I wanted to find out what I can do, first, to understand what is going on in the world and, secondly, to change it.
Richmond Vale Academy seemed to suit my goals nicely, since it offered a program with a combination of theoretical studies about poverty and forces that run the world and practical work with communities that are considered the losers of our economic system. We spent the first 6 months studying basic skills needed at the project and reading about what makes this world unjust and the next 6 months working as volunteers in Ecuador and Belize. The last 6 months we are back at the school planning how we can share what we have learned with others and how we can use our knowledge to make a difference.
I now have a more profound understanding of "the other side" of the news. What is the downside of capitalism and consumerism, that is destroying the environment ,dividing the people and forcing some to move thousands of miles from their homes while risking their lives. We as Westerners only see our increased welfare and think that neoliberal economic policies are the way to happiness but fail to see what it is causing to most of the humanity.
Now when I see cheap clothes in a store of a multinational fashion chain, I see the child or underpaid woman on the other side of the world making these items under horrible working conditions with no basic rights. Or the polluted air, rivers and land around these factories. Or the huge areas of forests and other vegetation cut out to make room for cotton fields. When I see a plastic bag, I see the whale dying because of all the plastic in its stomach that it thought was food. When I buy cheap American milk at a Vincy supermarket, I see the local milk market crashing because of the policies of IMF and World Bank. When I see cheap food at huge supermarkets, I see the farmer working full day without any real compensation for their hard work. And the owners of small shops going out of business because they can't compete with the prices of big players. When I buy chocolate, I see the child working long days on the field to help his family make money to keep alive and missing the chance to go to school and rise out of poverty. When I see resorts and fancy tourist areas, I see the slums around these gated communities where the workers live in poverty while the managers and owners of the fancy buildings get rich. When I see news about just military interventions, I see manipulation from the big corporations and central banks seeking more money and fearing for their loss of power. When I see politicians talking about economic growth, I see money taking priority over human life and the future of the planet.
We as consumers, citizen and humans have a responsibility to act so that we don't kill our wildlife, poison our oceans and lands and enslave other humans so that we can enjoy our comfortable lives. So I would encourage everyone to choose wisely, educate themselves and others and act!