Looking after our own in a global village

From my opinion column written for the Egremont 2Day newspaper.

My heart sank when I saw the chatter on Facebook. While it might have been morning for me, for all my friends living in Bangladesh it was now afternoon. During the six years we lived abroad we had felt many tremors. We knew our charity organisation was situated over a fault-line running through Bangladesh and India; it was only time before a major earthquake would happen.

So I felt a terrible dread when I read from Bangladeshi friends how they’d just felt the worst tremor they’d ever known. The dread deepened as friends in India – nearly 1,000 miles away felt the tremor too. The hunt began to trace every single person I knew to make sure they were safe – not easy when you know more the 400!

Then we heard the official news: the epicentre was in Nepal. I’ve never been to Nepal but we often took rest in Darjeeling in India, just over the border from where we worked in Bangladesh. It’s close by and very similar to Nepal geographically and culturally. But by that point I’d located most of my friends and was fairly certain there were no major disasters in Bangladesh. Quite honestly, I felt relieved.

What a strange thing to feel! As the news poured in of collapsed buildings and bodies dragged from the rubble I thanked God my own people, the ones I care about, were safe. At the time of writing over 7,000 are dead and 14,000 are injured. I. Yet I felt almost an academic interest in the news rather than an emotional one.

Had the death toll been in Bangladesh I would have been weeping – much as I did when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed killing 1200 – but I didn’t shed a tear for Nepal despite sympathising with their plight. Isn’t it odd how our reactions change when something doesn’t affect us directly? I wonder how you voted in the recent elections. Did you vote for the party which would be best for you, your family, your business? Or did you vote for the good of the country even if you didn’t benefit directly?

The internet has irreversibly connected the whole world making us truly one global village. What happens in Asia affects us and vice versa. Friends from childhood suddenly come back into our lives through Facebook and are with us 24/7 in our pockets even if they live on the other side of the planet. Can we afford, really, to consider world events in a detached, disconnected manner? Or do we need to broaden who we consider ‘our people’ to be? I believe our children will grow up with hearts much bigger than ours and will consider the whole world their playground. I hope so; it’s a fantastic, albeit terribly fragile, place.

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