Author: Cynthia Ip
Once before I read an article about the difference between sympathy and empathy. After visiting some sponsored students of Living Compassion , I guess I grabbed some idea about it. When we know someone is in trouble, we always feel sorry for them and we may offer them help. For example, I used to sponsor some educational program. The way we sponsor is to donate money or raise some monetary donation. Then we feel good because we believe when poor students receive these donations, their problem would be resolved. We did it because we sympathize with these less privileged students. Until I had the opportunity to visit these students in person, I realize our sympathy is way too superficial.
Students we visited could be orphans or single parented. Their parents could no longer take care of them due to extreme poverty, sickness or death. Every poor family had their story to share, explaining why have these students been put in such disadvantageous situation.
On March 24th and 25th, in one and a half day, we traveled from door to door visiting 9 households , 2 schools. We met with 17 students , 2 teachers and some parents and grandparents. These two teachers were the ones who referred some needy students to Living Compassion. They were not liable to do it but they really care about their students and tried to seek help for them.
First family we visited had 7 children. The eldest one was a 16 year old boy, very uncomfortable to talk with outsiders. The youngest one was about 4 or 5. While single parent father working at the farm, they stayed home with nothing much to do. Literally nothing much was found inside their house. Beds without bedding, tables without enough chairs, kitchen without cooking wares nor any food to cook. Just a empty house with four sides of wall. That was it.
There was one family with 5 children. Mother passed away because of sickness. 2 older sisters quit their high school and started working away from home. Volunteer took some effort to convince father to stay home to take care of the younger sister and 2 sons. With sponsorship , the third sister may be able to continue her education. Otherwise, daughters would usually give up education for the sake of allowing sons to go on.
A 15 year old young girl we visited had her right arm badly injured by rice grinding machine while helping her mother in the farm. For her treatment, family resources were exhausted. Living Compassion supported the family with enough money for medical expenses. In addition, volunteer kept going back to visit her and advised her to practice using her left arm. We need to be careful in talking with her. She was very miserable and depressed. Indeed, she needed a lot of courage to face her future.
There was a 5 year old boy. His mother disappeared some time ago and father passed away. His grandfather, in his mid-seventies, was still working to support his family. His grandmother was too sick to get out from bed. Though this little guy seemed to be joyful when we met him, we all worried about him as his grandfather was getting old.
A few students we met were very talented in art. Unfortunately, none of them ever had any formal lesson in drawing. Recently, a volunteer managed to find them a free of charge drawing teacher. Nevertheless, lessons could only be given via internet. The last student we met was a 16 year old high school girl. Her mother went away. Her father passed away recently due to sickness. Left behind for this girl and her younger sister was heavy debt incurred from her late father’s medical expenses. She was exempted from paying her tuition because she had excellent school result. Yet, she needs sponsorship to settle her food cost and accommodation fee.
The above-mentioned are only a few cases we encountered. No matter how rich or modern this world has become, these students may not have any chance to enjoy it. Their faces look blank. They do not even know what is going on. They do not know that they have got so little when compared with other students. They may have shelter but without necessities to lead a decent life. They may have some food but not to provide them with enough nutrients. People may say these families should be taken care by national welfare. China is very rich now. China is also very big in area. She may be a bit too big. Like many other developed countries, there are always some remote dark corners where people are deserted and forgotten.
Empathy is somewhat a different kind of sympathy. Besides monetary assistance, most of these poor students are dying for some one to care about them. We understand education is probably the only way for them to turn around from their poverty inherited from their parents and grandparents. Emotionally and psychologically they need someone to guide them as well. And not only them, their parents and grandparents also need guidance. How much and how deep can we help. There is no clear solid answer unless we are willing to be with them and listen carefully. Sometimes, their body language tells their story in a better way. This is what I understand about empathy. Simply donating money to cover their school expenses is not sufficient. We need to spend time with them. We have to standby when they need someone to lean on.
How many of us are ready to make this commitment? I know there are at least a couple of volunteers of Living Compassion do have this kind of empathy. They have been practicing their metta, with the blessing of our venerable.
Living Compassion is a charity program established by International Buddhist Temple in early 2017. Functions are mainly poverty alleviation, educational support and emergency crisis resolution. Currently works are carried out mainly in the deprived regions located at the west side of China; like remote villages of Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan. But it will not be limited to these areas as time goes by. The program is now run by volunteers. Dedicated personnel from all walks of life with strength in various aspects and a wish to practice their metta are most welcome to join in.