Get off your butt and change the world

We are nearing the completion of our campaign to raise the visibility of The Organization for Youth Empowerment. While I was in Honduras doing the field portion, I remembered an editorial about humanitarian work that I read in the UK Guardian about eight years ago on a flight back from Nairobi, Kenya.

I was returning from my first NGO documentary assignment. What I saw there really knocked the wind out of me, and has affected my outlook on life ever since. I was shooting a short video piece about Daniel Nduati, the founder of The Emmanuel Boyz Center in Karen, Kenya…a suburb of Nairobi named after the Danish writer, Karen Blixen.  Daniel works mostly with street orphans, most of whom are addicted to glue-sniffing. In my subsequent travels, I came to discover that glue is the drug of choice for the world’s poor. It’s cheap, readily available, and extremely potent in its ability to curb hunger and relieve misery. Of course, it quickly causes irreversible brain damage as well. Many of the children at the center are orphaned by AIDS, or the parents are so sick that they can no longer care for their own children.

One morning we drove to a district called Dagoretti in western Nairobi. As we pulled the van into an open yard behind a meat packing plant, about 50 young boys appeared from under the buildings surrounding the yard. I’ll never forget the scene…at first there was no one visible, but suddenly the burlap bags under which the boys lived started to stir, and the yard was then full of kids clamoring and yelling at Daniel’s arrival.  Most of them carried bottles of glue. I noticed that many of the boys had pencils in their hands which they shook nervously. I came to find out that the pencils are used to stir the glue to release its vapor. But the worst was yet to come.

The reason that these street kids had picked this spot was its proximity to meat plant’s garbage pile, every inch of which was covered by huge storks feeding on the fetid refuse that had been deposited there. These kids would fight the storks for access to the pile.

I was emotionally exhausted by all of this on my flight back, when I came across a newspaper article that really helped put it all in perspective. The writer (sorry…I haven’t been able to locate the original piece and credit him) was actively involved in humanitarian work in Africa. His effete friends occasionally mocked him for what they saw as a futile exercise to address an insurmountable problem.

His response was memorable, and one that I have repeated often. If you have a neighbor with whom you can’t relate to at all, and that neighbor lives in squalor and dispair…sometimes the victim of  circumstances over which he has no control, and sometimes because of his own doing…and you see that neighbor’s child walking towards a cliff, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to save that kid from falling to his death?

While that may strike some as a rather self-serving approach to humanitarian sentiment, it nonetheless addresses an important moral point: is the neighbor’s kid going to fall off the cliff on your watch? It’s easy to become distracted by our own everyday problems and forget about our historical societal legacy. There are cultures who will be forever remembered for supporting the Inquisition, slavery, fascism, and segregation. One night, when I returning from dinner in El Progreso, Honduras, I saw a horse’s head that had been left in front a business, apparently as an extortion threat. Do you want to be the generation that let these kids here be exposed to that kind of thing without doing something to change it?

When we started this social media campaign, we asked for the world’s help to distribute information about this worthy and committed NGO that works tirelessly to change the circumstances of youth in an environment that provides little opportunity, but much exposure to gang and drug activity. Many of you responded magnanimously; allowing us to post in many mediated LinkedIn forums, re-tweeting on Twitter, sharing on Facebook, re-blogging, etc, etc, etc. We have had visibility on virtually every social media platform that exists.

Irregardless, I’m asking again. Please forward, share, and reblog this editorial, and consider donating something to OYE. If you can stand in line for 4 hours to get the new iPad, then you can spare 2 minutes using it to help change the world. Look out your window and get off your butts…your global neighbor’s kid is heading for a cliff.

-Richard Lakin

About Richard Lakin

Richard Lakin is the co-founder of 18 rabbits digital media. Named after the Mayan king (695-738 AD) who supported the arts during his reign in Central America, 18 rabbits digital media promotes social entrepreneurs, international development, educational institutions, NGOs, corporate social responsibility, non-profits, and community outreach projects through a strategic program of multimedia and internet distribution.
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4 Responses to Get off your butt and change the world

  1. Long-Distance Dad says:

    What a heartbreaking story and powerful call to action, Richard. I believe if each of us does what we can, especially when it comes to health, education and opportunity for young people, the world can change for the better. I share my experiences mentoring a South African teen at It’s changing both our lives, if not more. Mentoring youth makes a difference!

  2. Trish Ahern says:

    Thanks again, Richard for all that you’ve done through this social media project. It’s awesome!!!

  3. Thank you for this story. A fantastic and very important message for everyone. I also work in Nairobi and have seen the despair, but also the hope that comes from those working in the community towards development. Amani Kibera is a local NGO with whom I have connected and they are doing amazing work in the slums of Nairobi,including establishing a public library where kids can go study in a safe and conducive environment.

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