We live in a world that is continuously getting more and more connected, we are no longer confined to our own local community; our communities now transcend geographical boundaries. There is a global economy and culture, a global neighborhood. Events in one part of the world can have ripple effects across continents, emphasizing the interconnected nature of environmental, economic, political, and social systems. As a result, our actions and decisions have repercussions that go beyond our local community, they can have a global impact. We all have a responsibility to address shared challenges and build a sustainable future. There are various ways to approach this responsibility. Profugo’s focus is building a network of global neighbors working together to strengthen this shared community.
As we go into the new year, I have been reflecting on my own experience working at Profugo’s Center of Development in Wayanad, Kerala. The other night, after the kids were in bed, my husband and I decided to play a game that promotes conversation in the hope that maybe there are some stories we haven’t shared with each other after a decade of knowing one another. Each card had a different prompt. One card I picked up asked what was a risk I took that changed my life. I knew instantly what my answer was. It was my decision to move to India for a couple years working with Profugo. I had done a lot of traveling before going to India, but I had never lived anywhere, never had immersed myself into a new and unfamiliar community. I had never become a true global neighbor.
Upon arrival, I remember how different and foreign everything seemed, the architecture, food, language, customs, smells. My senses were in overdrive, it was wonderful yet overwhelming. I was certainly not in Pennsylvania anymore.
One of the first things I did after arriving was to go clothes shopping. My jeans and t-shirt were not suitable attire in the community. For me to be approachable and accepted, I had to be more attuned to the local culture and customs. With my new colorful clothes on, I traveled up and around the majestic ghats to my new home. My new home had different ways of cooking, bathing, washing clothes. Walking into the market, I discovered new vegetables, fruits, spices. There were new ways of greeting people, with a little head waggle.
Slowly, slowly I became accustomed to and embraced all these new and different things. After living in Wayanad for a few months, it started to feel like home. After hearing the people in the communities’ stories, I realized despite all the differences, there was one fundamental similarity; we all have the same basic emotions, filled with ups and downs. The human condition, at the very core, is ultimately the same around the world.
As global neighbors, we may look different, eat differently, speak differently, but we all want the same basic things. We want to be loved, we want our children to be safe and happy. We want them to have access to an education. We want to be healthy and have access to healthcare. We want to wake up in the morning with purpose, to be respected in our community, to go to bed at night with a clear conscience.
This is what Profugo’s idea of a global neighborhood is, reaching across perceived boundaries and share our resources, voices, knowledge, love to provide access to education, healthcare, a respectable livelihood so that more people can live a life to be proud of.
The Dalai Lama said, “Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law, or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness.” To be a global citizen, we must focus on this interconnectedness, you never know what friends you may find. For me, I had two years of new experiences that were uncomfortable at times, but it paled in comparison to how much I grew as a person. I was welcomed into a community, into people’s homes to share meals together, to hear their stories, to laugh with them, and sometimes cry. Although we didn’t speak the same language, we found a way to communicate. I had the privilege of working with some of the strongest women I have ever met. I like to think some of their strength passed on to me and I carry it with me back here in the United States.
As the world continues to become more and more linked, people need to be willing to come out of their comfort zones and reach across lines, to become familiar with the unfamiliar because underneath the differences there is so much we can learn from each other and strengthen the global neighborhood.