The world documented today is one of wealth. The images I see most regularly are of ordinary people decorating their homes, buying presents, hanging christmas lights…etc. For many of us in the West this is the only world we encounter and contemplate on a daily basis. It is life and reality as we know it. And an outsider would probably agree with our perception of the world, if they were observing it only through the lens of the media.
In obsessing over how far human knowledge has come these past 20 years, its easy to forget who’s benefited the most. Sure, some important progress has been made on tackling big diseases, and the most wealthy more than are twice as rich today as they were 5 years ago. But the real story of our generation – as it will be more truthfully known in years ahead – is actually more an narrative of persisting poverty and inequality, in spite of innovation and technology.
For 80% of people living out their lives on this planet today, they make do with less than $10 a day. The average person, pretty amazingly, makes life work on just $2.50 a day! That is over 3 billion humans, who exercise all the ingenuity and resourcefulness available to them to make ends met.
The normal person trudges to work each morning for a long day in the field, on the city streets selling knick-knacks, building roadsides, or cleaning offices. Some pick trash to earn a penny recycling or to find value in something tossed. The median person washes their clothes in a bucket on the street or in a field, using water they have carried from the nearest communal tap or river well.
The average person expects no more than 67 years from their life, and doesn’t presume to have access to health care when something goes wrong. The average person fights to survive each day, while at the same time still finding time to laugh with friends… to fall in love and to watch their children grow old, to drink a brew and enjoy the small moments in their day.
The true story of our era is one of grit and dirt, of determination and humanity. Of ingenuity and resourcefulness. Of community, and laughter and human connection. All of these things – together with hardship. It is this narrative that I see on the streets of Manila every day that inspires me to work and reminds me to feel guilty enough to share some of my privilege with passers-by.
The 80% are our legacy. It is their narrative we should document for our time. Not to valorise or stereotype, but to acknowledge these daily truths. Their story is Ours and we should know it as such. For all the hardships of this story, it is also filled with beauty and tenacity.