In a world with social media and 24 hour news cycles, it’s all too easy to switch channels or scroll away from the topics or photos that bother us. What I noticed is that I was becoming uncomfortable by how apathetic I was to images of poverty and despair – as if it was something we should just “learn to live with” now.
In this moment, I realized that I needed to do something to reconnect with humanity and its struggles. That’s when Cisco’s Time2Give initiative came to mind. I had the opportunity to do exactly that!
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Along with four other girlfriends I planned a trip to Bangladesh –one of the most densely-populated and poorest nations in the world.
Preparing for a week of giving back here was both exciting and scary at the same time. I would be leaving my family behind, and would be working in areas that could be a risk to my health as well as dangerous. However, it was also a chance to do something more than clicking ‘donate’ on a charity website. It was a chance to walk to the edge of something I wanted to change in this world, look poverty straight in the eye and hope to make a difference.
The first day was spent at a school for orphans and slum dwellers, where 2000 children study in shifts. At any given time 500 children study Math, English and Science in makeshift classrooms in the open air. I was so inspired by how ambitious these children were, despite many of them being homeless. They wanted to be doctors, teachers and engineers.
The ‘Acid Survivors foundation’ is where we spent our second day of giving back in Bangladesh. This is an organization that treats and rehabilitates women who have been victims of acid violence (it’s hard to imagine that this is a “thing” that happens.) Though it was harrowing meeting the survivors and hearing about their experiences, I was again inspired by their resilience and strength. Each of them were in the process of trying to rebuild their lives when just looking in the mirror continues to be daily struggle. The two main reasons for attacks are money-related and the refusal of marriage or sexual advance.
The final day we partnered with a Water charity. Here the focus was to improve water provision, sanitation and hygiene in slum areas. The lack of which is the single biggest killer in many parts of the world. We spoke to groups of women about good hygiene practice and how to deal with menstrual hygiene which continues to be a taboo topic, and also painted a communal toilet used by 150 people to demonstrate the need to keep such areas clean and tidy.
During the night, temperatures fell to 5-6 degrees! With thousands sleeping on the streets, we distributed blankets and covered people while they slept to do our best to add warmth.
By the end of the week I was mentally and physically exhausted. What I had seen and heard will remain with me forever, from seeing children eat ice cream for the first time to hearing survivor stories. As work through 2018, I am astounded that such levels of poverty still exist and that the divide between the have and have-nots is bigger than ever.
I returned home with a deep sense of gratitude and perspective. I am so grateful to Cisco and my leaders for supporting me on this journey, and encouraging me to find new ways to help give back to what I am most passionate about. Yes, Time2give inspired me to take action, and we distributed $20,000 in donations while on this trip. But what I got back in return was so much, much more. This is one of the many reasons I love where I work.