To See The World

I came across an article the other day that made my skin crawl. Kylie Jenner, member of the Kardashian group of socialites and celebrities, is $100 million dollars away from being the youngest celebrity billionaire. Whatever, I thought to myself, until I read further and realized that someone was trying to publicly source funds for that missing $100 million to make her a billionaire.

Yes. That’s right. There’s a charity to make Kylie Jenner a billionaire.

I read it and I almost heaved. I couldn’t care less that it was a stupid joke, someone had gone out of their way to set up a charity for making a rich person even richer. Not only that, but people actually donated to this most stupid, insulting of causes. $1000 so far, from what I remember, or approximately 50,000 pesos.

50,000 pesos. Enough money for a low-income Filipino family to enjoy three meals a day for about two years, if I remember my NEDA reports and Development Studies classes correctly. Two whole years.

Two whole years of a families’ survival, donated like that, to someone already appallingly rich, for reasons no better than “I love Kylie Jenner,” or “This’ll make a great joke.” Two whole years. That was hardly the most harrowing comparison made out of the whole fricassee. Shared, for example, alongside a screencap of the GoFundMe page was a story of a man who died of disease because he was $50 short of the life-saving operation he needed. What about cancer research? said another tweet. Or poverty?

Joke or not, it appalls me that such a thing could happen. What I wonder at, however, is why it could happen in the first place. I have my theories. Maybe it’s because she’s a reality TV celebrity. Maybe it’s because the media feeds us her daily life so incessantly as to make people think they really know, really care about her, are this glossy rich person’s best friend, that they’d do whatever it takes for this woman to achieve her goals. Or it could just be that modern culture has become so ridiculous, so stupid, so meme-like that people really can, in their right minds, donate actual money to the uber-rich as some kind of joke that I will just never, in my own right mind, understand.

As for the disparity of it all, I think I understand.

I understand, because I know how it worked for me. A younger me would see causes online and GoFundMe pages for cancer research and whatever else and a part of me would feel moved, sure, but never enough for me to commit wholeheartedly to respond to what I saw. WWF posts of burning rainforests or TIME covers featuring starving children crawling across the African savanna, they moved me enough to read on, to have a working understanding of the problem and a stance that I stood by. But it was never enough to make me donate, to commit myself to a cause, to act beyond the superficial support I touted in the way I talked or carried myself online.

And then I met people.

Courtesy of my course and the organizations I wound up in in College, I found myself in the communities — the urban and rural poor, the indigenous living in the mountains of the Philippines. I met them first hand, I got to know them, I saw their plight and the happiness and hope and perseverance of the people who suffered through them, and in those instances these people were real to me. They weren’t just faces on a poster or plastered across the screen of a computer, no, these were real people who I came to love and care for, and I wouldn’t stand any injustice against them. Their issues were more than just the subjects of GoFundMe pages, devoid of any intimate understanding of what I was being asked to donate to. They were real people. I wanted to help them. I now care even less about the Kylie Jenners of the world and how much shiny whatevers line the interiors of their plastic homes and pointless wallets. There are things far more important to me.

To see the world, things dangerous to come to. To see behind walls, draw closer and to feel. That is the purpose of life. Such is the quote in the wallet of Walter Mitty before he set off on a journey to meet the world and the unassuming people who live and suffer and travail within it. I know that there are many out there who haven’t had the privilege of getting to know the most marginalized. Perhaps to them, celebrities really do mean something. I can’t say. I don’t really get people half the time anyways. As someone who’s meet the people out there in the field, the faces behind these causes, who smile and laugh and play beneath the crushing weight of this unfair world, I see no other option than for me to stand by them and to laugh and play and smile along with them, to tell their stories and shout it to a world in the hopes that someone, anyone, and hopefully everyone will tear their eyes away from the pointlessly and ridiculously rich long enough to see what I see, and that they be moved hard enough to stand alongside me. That’s what I hope for. That people see the world, and not just what’s on TV.

Environmentalist, culture conservationist, essayist. Development studies graduate. A collector of stories.