The Chinese Government has started a program called the West Plan which encourages and funds graduates to work one or two years in the country’s less developed west area. Since the campaign was launched in June, 2003, more than 40,000 graduates have been to more than 300 poor counties in China’s west as volunteers. Over the three years, 1,031 of them have worked in Ningxia. Projects they engaged in involve education, health care, agriculture, science and technology, culture, legal service, etc. One of the purposes of the program to encourage graduates to build their future in China’s west to boost the growth of the region to narrow the gap within the fastest-growing economy in the world.
Krishna (6), Leela (5) and Harish (2,5) are living under the stairs at my apartment building. I moved in here in a tiny apartment on ground level (the only one) at the corner end of a small parking lot under the building. When I look out of the front door, that makes me look out over the parking lot, I see Krishna, Leela and Harish playing outside. The space under the stairs is their bedroom, the parking lot their playground. On the top: a small room where mother retreats for the night (with Krishna & Harish), whereas father ‘watches over the building and his daughter Leela’ downstairs, all through the night.
They’re better off than Harry Potter, who also had to sleep under the stairs. Because Harry had to face his hostile family everyday, when coming out of the closet. Whereas Leela and her two brothers are always taken up in my little home, with my wife Jansi making oats and buns for the takers. And the threesome is always hungry. A watchman doesn’t make enough to prevent that. But boy are the kids proud of their ‘watchman’ father. I hope that my son, one good day, will be as proud of me. I am contemplating letting him sleep under the stairs a few good nights. There’s place for one more ‘watch boy’.
I am living on a parking lot. Along with the family of the watchman. He is from Nepal, I am from the Netherlands. He has a second home, 100 meters from the building where I live. I have only one. His home is bigger than mine. He has a job. I am looking for one. He always smiles. I try to too. I feel connected with him. I don’t know if he has the same feeling as I have about this. We are connected by an act of fate. Till we move out. And he stays behind. Because he is the watchman. Our building needs him. It doesn’t need me. As much as it needs him.
“The urgency of helping smallholder farmers seize economic opportunities cannot be understated. This help needs to be underpinned by a clear vision of the looming challenges of climate change and planetary limits to land, water and energy sources”—Devex
There is this theory of Altruism, telling us that there are people out there who help others without thinking of what benefit this would possibly bring for themselves. I disagree here, stating that (giving) help is always partly directed at a personal benefit: the benefit of ‘feeling good’.
Helping makes us feel good? Why? Well, that’s obvious to me. Unless you’re a psychopath, you strive for happiness. We say ‘seeing happiness makes you feel happy’. And that being true, it means that that feeling of our own happiness is exactly why we strive to make others happy. We’ve got this inbuilt yearning for being happy, which means: feeling good. As long as we can.
Prolonged happiness - unless the hours spend in a jacuzzi or sauna count - is hardly possible without making an attempt at regaining that feeling (of happiness) by repeated action. In other words: we need to continuous strive for this happiness, the result of which are varied levels of happiness depending on our physical, mental and emotional state of mind while we are creating contexts in which our acts become the facilitators towards a feeling of being happy. Such as ‘helping others’.
In my own enterprise - AMAIDI, a volunteering facilitating agency - you might say I am dealing in happiness. Or to say it differently: I enable people (most of them female, young and well-educated) to create a string of happy moments for themselves by letting them engage in volunteering actiivities, that is: engage in helping others. This is by far the best industry ‘feeling-wise’. Money-wise a big no-no, as the first obstacle to becoming rich from letting others engage in the happiness business, is that you should not ask any money (or at least not too much) for what you offer, as volunteers (well, a lot of them at least) do not appreciate when you (especially when you are an expat working in a developing country) are ‘earning thanks to other people’s poverty’. The exact thing that volunteers try to combat (and which makes them feel good about themselves because it enables them to help the poor to overcome poverty).
I have a message to all of you out there who are contemplating to start a volunteering agency like AMAIDI: don’t. Or at least: do it only as a hobby, as you will be held accountable by the very people that you are trying to make them happy, who will accuse you of trying to take advantage of them helping others (which makes them happy).
And when volunteers get angry on the people helping them, all hapiness that was involved in that first act (which is, of course, why I set up AMAIDI in the first place), will disappear. And in the end, it doesn’t matter how you intended it all to be, it is how people perceive your actual help that matters. That will make the difference between feeling happy. Or not.