Thoughts : Poverty : To Alla in Ukraine – with Love…

Hmmm… Interesting heading yah? The first thing that will come to people’s minds when they see such a heading would be that I’ve fallen for a gal in Ukraine by the name of Alla :) Ha…Well, not quite!

Our relationship started (yes, ‘relationship’ in a general way!) on the 28th of April 2003. It was a Monday – the Monday after my mid-session break. I studied and read a lot during this week – mainly Development books, as I wanted to prepare for a development essay. I guessed I over-exerted myself too much that I fell sick from Saturday to Wednesday. On the evening of that Monday at 7:52pm (according to me ICQ history records), I received this ICQ message from her:

Hello, excuse me that i write to you, but i have no other way. I live in poor country, our government not give us any chance to survival, so i’m forced by life that to ask you about help. Could you help me please with some money ?

My natural response was a mere “Who are you?” I found out that this person (Alla) was from Ukraine and she’s one year younger than me. She needed US$326 to pay for her due rent. She had been unemployed for a year and so couldn’t pay her rent. But she has a job now and was talking to me from her work. She works 5 and a half days a week – weekdays 8am to 9:30pm. Her pay is about US$53 per month and she pays about US$25 of rent per month. So she just has enough money left to eat, and can’t save enough of course to pay her debts from unpaid rent.

I asked her why doesn’t she ask her friends for help and reminded her that I didn’t know her. I couldn’t know if she was telling the truth or not. I also asked her why doesn’t she sell away her computer – she told me she was using her computer at work. And told me that she had no choice but to ask someone outside of her country because everyone she knows inside is poor like her.

By the way, the above message by her was translated from a program that’s why it’s broken English. She doesn’t speak English but uses a translation program. She told me she had only two days to pay and if she doesn’t pay her rent by then, she would have to forfeit not only her living apartment but also probably her job and even her life in the city. She needs a registration to live in the city – her parents do not live in the city. And if she fails to pay up her debts, she’ll probably lose everything – apartment, job, stay in the city.

So I talked to her for quite some time and inside me I knew she was genuine and wasn’t out to cheat me of my money. I had two friends on line and one told me to go by faith, the other told me not to help this person. I faced quite a bit of struggle. I had known this person quite well having talked to her for a few hours. I slept all day as I was sick so I was up and awake and had time on the Net. My initial problem was that I needed to know if she was genuine or a fraud. I’d received so many of those fake emails from people from Nigeria…etc, about an inheritance available to those who would help them…etc. That came to my mind. But eventually I was about 90% sure she was truly in need of help. Not 100%. But it was good enough. Perhaps I really didn’t want to be that sure. Because I know that if I were that sure she is genuine and that she really does face a big problem, I know I would be inclined to do something about it. Now that I knew she was really in need of help, I had to face the question of whether I should help her. No, the question wasn’t one of whether I “should” help her. To me, it was clear. I should! The question was rather whether I “would”, whether I was going to do so. I knew that the amount was big, yet I know it wasn’t that big for me. To digress a bit, another reason why I refused to go to the church camp last year was because it cost over A$200. Now, to me that wasn’t a really huge sum I couldn’t afford to fork out. I could quite easily had I wanted to. But I didn’t because I couldn’t understand why Christians had to fork out so much to enjoy themselves and learn God’s Word. Obviously they thought it was quite a godly and right thing to do – to attend a Church camp, study God’s Word and become more like Christ! But for me, I didn’t understand why all these activities couldn’t be done in Sydney and with a cheaper budget. I think God would be much more pleased if we were to sacrifice a bit of our pleasure, stay in Sydney rather than going to somewhere more luxurious. We could study God’s Word still and have a nice church camp. Then the money could be spent on helping those in the Third World so much less fortunate than us! Now that, I thought, would be a better thing to do! So I refused to spend so much on the Church camp.

So back to the story! I’m quite careful how I spend my money – except when it comes to books! J But till that time, I’ve hardly bought any clothes since I arrived – except those they sell in the political rallies J In fact, I should have bought more clothes coz I’m wearing exactly the same things I wore last year 1st session! Wait, “should”? Nah, that’s the wrong use of the Word. After all, my clothes are still usable!

Anyway, truth is I had much more money than the amount Alla needed. But still it was a big sum. I struggled hard. I knew that I had to face the consequences if I refused to help this person. I had gotten to know her personally. I had spent a few hours online with her. I heard her story. She may have been thousands of miles away from me, but her life was connected to mine through the Internet. And I had the power to help her, which means I’m responsible in a way.

I’ve been greatly influenced by Peter Singer’s thinking – see entry on Encountering Peter Singer. He believes that we’re not only responsible for those we directly hurt, but also for those we hurt or harm indirectly by refusing to help. I know this may be debatable in philosophy. I’m not a philosophy student, but to me, what he says is absolutely logical. If I can help, but I don’t, I am responsible, eventhough it was not my fault directly that this person was harmed. And if I refuse to help when I could, it says a lot about me. That’s why I believe we all – every single one of us who is able to help but don’t – are responsible for the deaths of the people who die in Africa each day. The fact that we choose not to give to NGOs or charity organizations, the fact that we choose to keep our money to spend it on our studies, nice clothes, books, cars, whatever – that means we have chosen indirectly NOT to help the dying. There may be some philosophical distinctions here but for me it’s almost nearly as good as saying we caused the deaths of these people.

So that’s how I felt. I felt responsible. Yet I also felt blessed. Blessed so much and in every way for I’m living, I’m studying, I have a comfortable life and I have absolutely no needs unmet whatsoever. US$300 plus is a lot of money, yet when taken into perspective, it’s not much for me. It was pretty straightforward. I had to help. God has blessed me so much – how could I not help? That has always been my philosophy since I was challenged by Peter Singer. Not only should I help, but why not the next one? Why not the next person who approached me that I don’t know who asked genuinely for $300 or $2000? I am alive. I have a pretty good future ahead of me – at least I’m not going to die of starvation, I’m not going to face problems that affect your whole life like losing your job or apartment or your right to live in the city. Others aren’t so fortunate.

Eventually, I went to the nearest Western Union Transfer to transfer the money. It managed to reach her on the day of her deadline. I was happy to be able to help. She was happy that I helped.

I wrote this email to her before I transferred the money:

Dear Alla, hi. I just wanted to write you an email before sending you the money. I prayed to God and told him that if He really wants me to give you the money, that everything will go according to plan and the money will reach you.

It’s certainly unusual to receive an ICQ message from you. I don’t know if you ever thought someone would actually agree to give you the money. Before, if someone had told me of such a situation and asked if I think they should give a person like you (whom they don’t know at all) money, I would probably say “no.” Just as most of the friends I asked replied as I told them of this current situation.

I’m going to be honest with you Alla. I decided yesterday to give you the money because of various reasons and I want to share them with you here. As I talked to you, I was struggling to know what to do. I know, as a few of my friends told me, that you could be someone who’s out to cheat my money. The situation you described to me could very well be false. In making the decision to give you the money, I’m very aware of the risks involved.

If you’re not Alla and this whole thing is just something to cheat me of my money, I’d like to tell you something. The reason I gave you the money isn’t because I’m truly gullible – though perhaps a bit. It’s because I’ve come to a stage in my life when all I want to do is help people less fortunate than me. If this means that I’m an open target for cheaters, so let it be.

People may tell me not to be so trusting of others – especially of someone I hardly know. They may tell me I should have been more streetwise. And the fact that if I were to be swindled of my money it would only serve me right. Like I said, I know where they are coming from. Indeed, if it were not me but someone else in such a situation, I would have advised that person not to give any money to someone they don’t know. But the reality is that I’m the one in this situation. And I have to make a choice: to give or not to give. To ignore your so-called plight, or to do something to help you get out of it.

Faced with such a difficult scenario, I had to know that if I ignored your plea for help, you may indeed be forced to lose your job and your residence like you told me. Of course others will say that I don’t have to believe what you say. That’s true. But I also had to realize that if indeed your situation is as you said it to be, then I would be in a way responsible for what happens if I do not help you. And that’s why I gave you the money. I don’t want to see the situation you described to me happen to you.

Some would tell me that I shouldn’t try to act as a hero to save the whole world. That I should be a bit wiser in who I decide to help. There are so many people I can help, so why help you when I don’t even know you and when there’s a chance that what you said is just to cheat me of my money? Well, in response I have to say that that’s just me: I may not be able to save all, but I can save some. That’s good enough for me because everyone has to play a part. I played mine. And I had to play mine in such a situation. For I couldn’t allow the situation you describe to happen to you.

Maybe I’m doing this also because I know most people will never do such a thing. They will never give money to a stranger. And even if your story is truly genuine, they know they are not obliged to do so. Well, perhaps I’m doing what I’m doing because I hate the way the world thinks. I hate the way the world works. I hate the way most people think. Most people will just keep the money they have for themselves. To me that’s selfish. That’s unthinkable. When people are suffering elsewhere and need our help, what right do we have to ignore them? To think that there’s so much need in this world yet most in the developed world live in such abundance is a thought so gross that a bit more reflection upon such inequalities should wake us up. But it never does. Because deep down inside we’re selfish. We’re evil. That’s truly a sad thought and I don’t want to have anything to do with such evilness if I can help it.

I’ve realized through these events that love involves risks. By that I mean that to truly love, one needs to be vulnerable. Alla, I want you to know that the greatest reason why I decided to give you the money is because of Jesus. Jesus loved you and me and the whole world enough to die for all of us. And His love for all of us was a love that involved risk.

God has blessed me so much. Forking out the money to give to you is no small decision on my part. I’m not rich. Yet I’m not poor either. If I could give that amount of money to you and it would bless your life, then I’d be glad to do it. If it indeed is true that you’re cheating me, then I have no regrets too. I want you to know that I did such a stupid and risky thing because what I do isn’t dictated by the standards or reasons of this world. The greatest inspiration for what I did is God’s love for me and all of us.

Alla, what happens on this earth doesn’t mean that much to me. God has already reserved a place for me due to my faith in His Son Jesus Christ. My sins are forgiven, I’m free. It’s because of this future life I have that in a sense I don’t really care what happens in this earthly life. I’m not here to make big bucks. I’m here to show love and to care for as many people as I can. I’m here to tell as many people that there is another better life. I’m not sure about your relationship with God or the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe, but I hope you have found true rest in Christ. Or if not, may you find it soon. I’ll be praying for you.

Like I said, if I’ve been cheated, I have no regrets. You have cheated a person who did much to show you that he loved you with God’s love. I hope you’ll realize this. If I’ve not been cheated, I celebrate. I believe my judgement is right. I believe your situation is real. And though it costs me, I’m glad to help you my friend.

Last but not least, I have to say, in the spirit of the book and film “Pay It Forward”, there’s no need to pay back for anything, but spread the love and pay it forward. Do good deeds to others to show your love for them, to express God’s love towards them. Only this way will the world become a better place and will the world know that God is true and God is love. Whenever you have the opportunity to help someone, may you do so for others, as I have done for you and as God has done for all of us.

God bless

It so happened that once I transferred the money, she didn’t run away. She’s still there. I still chat with her occasionally. I’ve learnt so much from chatting with her. Just having her in my life keeps me on my feet.

She may not be a person in Africa who is starving to death, but she’s still very poor. And I actually have a friend who’s very poor. You know, I don’t know what to talk to her coz she’s different. I can ask my other friends, “What are your hopes for the future”. Most sadly don’t have any dreams. It’s the same for her. But the difference is she has no choice.

She does not have a University degree because she was too poor to attend one. I asked her what she hopes to do in future and she said she doesn’t think about the future. Her future is working in her job. No wishes for promotion, no wishes to study in future. She has no choice. Her great hope is to survive.

What do I ask her everyday when I see her? “How’s life” “Anything interesting happened to you lately?” One of her replies:

Hi —–, i’m fine. Just working. Nothing interesting is not happen, I just live my life. Sometimes it’s really boring.

That’s reality for her. When you live in such poverty, that’s what life is about. I think she’s thankful she has a job. The World Bank’s yardstick for those in absolute poverty is those who earn less than US$1 a day. And another standard they use is those who earn less than US$2. Alla earns less than US$2 a day. Over 2 billion people are in such a situation.

I told her about my 40 hour fasting because of the World Vision thing to raise money. What she said shocked me. She actually goes without food for a few days every so often:

Look, i have been not eating anything, near 2 days, i can say that it’s not so scarry as people paint it. You just feel urges from your belly, and your head is little feel twirl. That’s all. More hard it’s when you not eating a month, when your body is spent most resources, and you need or eat something or you going to die very soon. It’s what a real people feel. 2 days of starving it’s “baby game” it’s will not show you real thing. Believe me… Right now, the situation over here more good, and thanks to Lord, the people not starve by 30-50 days. Maybe 1, 2 days, but only when you live between your salary having. Because sometimes salary pay not in time, and you already have eaten all you have, and have no money anymore. I had such problems when i were jobless and was living on unemployment benefit. It’s were hardly enough for food.

I guess she lives in a whole different world. Yes, of course people in Africa are much worse, but I guess this affects me too because she’s someone I actually know.

When I talked with her yesterday, I asked about the countries around her. She said she hasn’t been abroad. I asked her what she has heard of those countries. She said she does not have a TV and doesn’t listen to news because it’s mostly political stuff. I asked her if she had the money, would she like to go abroad. She said maybe. I asked her where. She said she’d love to travel the world round to see a bit of the whole world.

When I was asking her, I was thinking to myself, “If in future I could pay for her ticket abroad, I’d love to.” And I really hope to one day when I earn enough money. I’d like to see her travel outside her country if possible. She has a boyfriend. One day if I’m still in contact with her, what I’d really want to do is buy a ticket for both of them to travel the world. Well, maybe not the world coz it may be too expensive. But I’d really love to see them get out of their country to see the world.

Of course I may not do that coz the money would be better spent in Africa!

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