What is the value of $2?
Is it 1/3rd of a fancy cup of Starbucks coffee? Half a Big Mac in Los Angeles or 1/5th of a Big Mac in Zurich? Is it 200 pennies that one person will step over from time to time or 200 pennies that others will fight to find and save? Is it the dregs of my wallet when I haven’t been to the ATM in two weeks, or the last hope I have to feed my children tonight before they go to sleep?
I think this is a hugely important question, the kind that we should help our students to struggle with. Ask any group of educators what they hope for their students and nearly all will include the word “empathy”. Half the people in the world live on less than $2 a day. How can we possibly become empathetic if we can’t see those $2 through the eyes of three-and-a-half billion people?
This is the theme of our trip to the Philippines and the one take-away I hope for the 14 students in our charge this year. Does it mean that they will give up their Friday night movies and lattes and donate their last pennies to help stave off suffering? Will they dress in sackcloth for the rest of their lives so that others can have shoes? No; at least that is not my hope. But empathy starts somewhere, and I hope that by the end of two weeks, a short glimpse into $2 through the eyes of others will be a start. We start today, going to market with the wages of an average Filipino laborer in hand to buy food for a family for a week. Meat or fish? Rice or beans? The food I like or the food I can afford? Soap or toothpaste or cooking oil? Their money will run out; they will not be able to buy all they need; they will be forced into choices and may struggle, even just a bit, over pennies that have never meant anything to them before. I think that struggle is the start of empathy.