When you really begin doing charity work, you start to realize something that just about anyone who has ever given philanthropically will come to realize: it is never enough. There is always more to do, or a more effective way of doing it. There is always a bigger issue or someone in more need or someone less selfish to do the giving. The problems are always deeper than originally thought, much more complicated, and require huge thinking shifts to occur to be properly solved. What can I do? Who am I to be helping? Is this good or is this just making the problem worse?
You will ask yourself those questions if you are giving with purpose. You will realize that you are so small compared to the problems of the world. You will grapple with the social responsibility of your actions. You will wonder if what you are doing is worth it.
I’m on a trip to Thailand and India currently. I will be gone for almost one month to teach self-portraiture and self-expression workshops to survivors of human trafficking. That sentence alone will bring me praise. Someone will read this and write to me and tell me how amazing the work I’m doing is, and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t make me feel good. What needs to happen though is checks and balances, a true and honest look into the work we, and I, do to try and make the world better.
I have struggled on this trip, more than before, with the question of if what I am doing is truly helping others, or if it is self-serving. I know that it is both, logically, as most actions we partake in are. What are the long-term effects? Are there meant to be long-term effects? I am not solving the world hunger issue, stopping animal abuse, or truly rescuing someone from being trafficked. I am trying to heal with the love and self-awareness I have.
Part of my struggle is learning how much deeper the problem is. I returned from Thailand a couple of days ago and felt both uplifted and downtrodden from the trip. It was incredible – beautiful, adventurous, hard-working, emotional. It was also eye-opening. One of my great passions is animal welfare. If you know me you know that this is something I am unwavering on and I live a lifestyle fully committed to ending the use of animals for our personal gain. Being in Chiang Mai, a region that largely makes it’s money on elephant tourism, showed me the depth of the struggle. You see a “sanctuary” and learn it isn’t a sanctuary at all. You see elephants chained and made to blow into sound-making machines for entertainment and realize that it is better than other tour companies letting their tourists ride in baskets on their backs. You see their ears torn up from hooks digging into their skin and realize that the tradition goes too far back to stop it right now.
Why do I bring this up, if I am there to help young women and not elephants? Because being a philanthropist does not mean doing work in the area of your expertise and turning a blind eye to anything that doesn’t fall directly under your jurisdiction. If we see injustice, shouldn’t we speak about it?
I met the most inspiring person while visiting the Mae Wong region outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her name is Alexa. She went to Thailand to help at-risk girls from being trafficked. She opened a small resort and uses the money she makes from tourists staying at her establishment to pay for housing, food, and education for rescued girls. She speaks out against those who would mistreat any living being. She puts her life on the line for what she believes in. Certainly we won’t all go to the lengths Alexa has to stop the injustice we see, but what can we do?
It is too easy to see all of the corruption and say that there is nothing we can do, or nothing effective enough, or nothing long-lasting enough. I called my husband when I was feeling really sad about the elephants and all the people who still need help in Thailand and I said: “Maybe I should just come home. Maybe I’m not doing enough good here.” He told me what I already knew in my heart. He told me that all I can do is try, and that trying is so much more than what too many do, which is to turn a blind eye.
I’m back in India now. Today I begin a workshop for women who have aged out of the sex-trafficking trade. I have never worked in this capacity before and I am nervous. I am nervous that I won’t say anything useful, that I won’t be able to relate, that they will be uninterested. I am scared. I am hesitant. But this is what I have learned:
You can never know the impact you have on someone, so you might as well try.
You can never know how lives will be changed because of your actions, so do.
You can never know how the inspiration of doing will inspire others to try.
The cycle is a beautiful one. All we can do is try. All we can do is find our unique gift and give it freely. It might not help everyone. It might not solve the world’s problems. I may not be able to free the elephants or rescue all of those in need. I may not have a gift that everyone needs to receive. But I will still give it. I will still give it. No, the actions we take are rarely enough. I will continue to question these experiences. It will never be enough, but it is something and I would take something over nothing any day.
How can you help Alexa? Purchase gifts from Daughter’s Rising, her organization that aids trafficked or at-risk girls.