During outside lectures and while watching the documentaries each week, I try to find at least one applicable aspect of each event that I can use to better my understanding of different cultures and beliefs while in South Africa. With that in mind, listening to Muhammad Yunus proved to be a really interesting experience. Muhammad Yunus is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, famous for the impact he has had in Bangladesh. During his presentation, he recounted his story to us, explaining how he went from an economics professor to a Nobel peace prize recipient. As he chronicled his journey, I found myself relating many things he had felt and experienced to aspects of this course, particularly, our service projects.
Feelings of uselessness. As Muhammad Yunus stated, this was one of the main reasons for him becoming involved in helping the people of Bangladesh. He explained how he would be in the classroom,
“trying to teach students about the beauty of theories and how these theories can solve anything and then you walk outside the classroom and see people who look like skeletons, dying…”
I think this was an influential experience for Muhammad Yunus as he explains how this experience made him feel useless. And, as a result, he was determined to get involved, in some way, to become useful. He decided that even if he could make himself useful to one person, for just one day, he could make a difference. As a result, he began helping out in the local village … hence his journey began…
During this lecture, Dr. Yunus explained his experience in the villages of Bangladesh and how this impacted his feelings towards opportunities. He explained, as an outsider looking in you have a “birds eye view.” As an outsider in the community, he was given the chance to look at things from a distance, allowing him to form a perspective on the situation. However, by becoming involved, he also got a “worms eye view.”
The worms eye view, ultimately made a big difference in his life, as through his involvement he was able to see things very clearly due to his proximity to the situation, in comparison to the birds eye view, where he was only getting the big picture. Seeing the big picture can often be very intimidating he explained, as it is hard to identify where you can make a difference — in other words, the problems seem so big and you seem so small. However, by being involved and getting a clear image, you don’t get scared because you can see opportunities rather than obstacles. I thought this advice was very applicable to our service projects.
Right now, I am an outsider looking in — I have a birds eye view. I see all the problems and things we want to accomplish before we go to South Africa and I feel overwhelmed. I feel impossibly small and rather useless. It is a frustrating feeling as I so desperately want to be useful to the children in South Africa by bringing them technology that could make such an immense difference in their lives. His words however gave me hope. I am hopeful, that the more I get involved, the more I will understand the areas where I can truly enact change. Even if it is just a small change, effecting one person for one day, as Muhammad Yunus stated, is a start.
The other applicable piece of information I gained from this lecture was the power of taking action. Muhammad Yunus explained how loan sharks were detrimental in the villages of Bangladesh. He found it unfathomable that human beings could exploit others the way that the loan sharks did to these villagers. This became his mission, to help the villagers get out of debt. He did so with a whopping 27 dollars as he stated, “over 27 dollars [I] became an angel.”
While I do not plan on handing out money in South Africa, it makes me think of the small actions I can take, that could possibly make a big difference. Therefore, even if we are not successful in achieving our goal of bringing the Worldreaders to South Africa, I am confident that I will be able to enact some change through just putting the effort forth to do so. Actively searching out problems and possibilities to fix problems, will lead me to something. I think sometimes we overestimate what we need to do, in order to make a change in people’s lives. In Bangladesh, 27 dollars changed 42 people’s lives dramatically. If I apply this mindset to our service projects in South Africa, I am confident that through action, I will be able to make a difference, as even a small action can enact a change.
As he continued, I discovered that action in itself, is not enough. Determination is necessary to make a change, as we live in a world controlled by money and greed. After Muhammad Yunus realized the impact his small act of generosity had on the community, he began to think “if I can make this many people happy with this small amount of money, why don’t I do more?” This was when he tried to get the banks involved in his cause. Naturally, the bank refused as he explains,
“we were in two different worlds, they couldn’t understand what I was saying, and I couldn’t understand what they were saying.”
However, the more the bank refused, the more stubborn and determined he became. Ultimately, by offering to personally pay back the bank for anyone who didn’t, he was able to set up a flourishing system that benefited innumerable people in Bangladesh. Had he given up after the bank refused him, this banking system would never have been possible. With this in mind, even if corporations refuse to give us donations for our service projects and even if the Worldreaders program does not accept us, with determination we will find a way to make a change.
Finally, Muhammad Yunus offered his thoughts on the current world and what he believes to be the innate problems in our culture. We live, in what Muhammad Yunus calls, a “money centric” world — all we can do in life is go into business and make money or go work for someone and make money. We live in a world where happiness is determined by the amount of money in our bank account- namely, the more money you make, the more happy you are.
It is our only incentive in life.
He even went as far as to compare human beings to robots who are only able to serve one role — make money. Money making has become our obsession… it becomes an addiction.
Maybe if our culture emphasized selflessness rather than selfishness, money would not seem as important to our happiness. If more people asked themselves “why am I here and what am I supposed to do?”, then perhaps we would live in a world where poverty and starvation did not exist. Money would not be the ultimate goal in life, but rather a tool used to equalize life conditions.
In comparing the poor to bonsai trees, Muhammad Yunus explained how people are bound by the ties in the system… there is nothing wrong with the individual. For example, if you plant the best seed but don’t give it enough room to grow, it will be stunted and small regardless of the fact that it had the potential to grow into a large and beautiful tree. The seed itself is fine. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with the poor people, they were just never given the opportunity to grow. Perhaps we should consider the number of people we are inhibiting from reaching their potential due to the barriers our nations obsession with money has put on others.