Sunday morning I found myself in a coffee shop on North Cayuga street. My notes for an art history exam laid on the table. My iPhone 6s was charging and I checked it periodically to scroll through Instagram or check my email. I sat with my earphones in and some soft tunes playing. The contrast of this outside representation of being calm, cool and collected made me want to laugh, for my mind was raging.
Earlier that morning, I read an article in The New York Times about how the world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. Over four countries, more than 20 million people face starvation and famine. Over 18 million people in Yemen need aid (two-thirds of the entire population) and more than seven million people are hungry and have no idea where their next meal will come from. Over six million people in Somalia are in need of food assistance. The U.N. is now pleading with the world to come to the rescue of Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria. Lack of rule of law, under-development, continuous fighting and poor governance are just a few reasons why aid seems to be held up. And it’s not just food insecurity; drought and disease are also affecting these countries.
I can’t seem to comprehend the immense suffering that these millions of people are going through. I read articles and look at pictures, I research what’s happening and listen to the news. But everything I think of doing seems so trivial. I want to talk to these people and hear their stories. I want to offer them everything that they should already be getting. And I think about the abundance of goods we have here in the United States and it makes me want to scream. We have our own issues with food insecurity in this country, but the extent to which it is affecting human lives abroad is so terribly severe and life-threatening. And then I feel sick to my stomach when I think of all the people who are still fleeing their homes and how many families are being torn apart.
I look at the students and couples and townies sitting across from me. Bent heads, headphones plugged in, drinking coffee and doing work in this small, cozy coffee shop. My eyes stray from one person to the next, finding some humor in the sort of automatism in front of me. But if I were to look at myself from across the shop, I would be part of it too.
But there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing. We go on with our lives and do what’s expected of us, whether that’s finishing our homework to get good grades in class or working on a project for a job. We’re fulfilling some set of conventional norms laid out for us. When we get so entranced with what we think we’re supposed to do, we start to lose a sense of reality with the world. At school, we get wrapped up with exams and papers, parties and plans. When we’re older, there are jobs to worry about and families to care about. It always seems like there’s a next “stage” laid out for us, whether we want to admit it or not, that comes with a new set of experiences and responsibilities that keeps us busy and worrying and active. Maybe it’s because I’m a college student in a small city, but I feel as if world issues are so detached from me, and that anything I do will only help minimally. That mentality is inherently destructive, for it leaves me actionless and unmotivated. After the election, I felt the same type of hopelessness; whatever I said or did from this point on wouldn’t matter because so many marginalized groups would suffer because of the seemingly endless presence of bigotry and ignorance.
Here in Ithaca, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees is a non-profit organization run by volunteers that provides resettlement assistance and aid to refugees and offer many volunteer positions for people who want to get involved. The more I find a fuel in me to do something, the more local organizations I find that make an impact. On a broader level, BBC has just responded to the crisis by posting an article, “Humanitarian crisis: What can I do to help?” that lists volunteering opportunities at home and abroad, as well as charities that people can donate to.
For Cornell students, the next prelim or midterm paper seems like the largest worry at the moment. Even the reveal of the Slope Day artists affected people so much that a cry-in event on Facebook was created. I have pride in the fact that the students here on campus are worried about the future and are aware of what’s going on in the world. But our actions are equally as important as our awareness. It’s still difficult for me to find ways to do something meaningful and carry through with it. With the small things we deal with everyday, finding the desire and willpower to act outside the realm in which we usually function can be challenging. With news outlets constantly focusing on President Trump’s decisions or, just recently, the snowstorm hitting the Northeast, the next time we complain about walking up the slope after already having our classes canceled due to snow, we might reflect on what others are going through and realize how trivial our worries may be.
Gaby Leung is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Serendipitous Musings runs every other Thursday this semester.