We’re all about conserving resources today. Don’t waste gas, money, electricity, bandwith, time, food, water. Yet, the world seems perfectly content wasting about 80% of the world’s greatest resource: human potential.
This was brought vividly and painfully to mind recently when I read an amazing book – meaning a book with an amazing story about an amazing person. We throw around the word “amazing” pretty casually these days. It has been devalued as much as it’s alliterative cousin, awesome. But this book literally (another word stripped of its meaning) amazed me.
The book is “The Queen of Katwe” by Tim Crothers. It tells the story of a young girl living in a Ugandan slum who eventually and improbably becomes the best chess player in Africa and competitive with the best chess players in the world.
The description on the book’s cover tells the tale:
To be African is to be an underdog in the world.
To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa.
To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda.
To be a girl is to be an underdog in Katwe.
Yet this girl, given the opportunity to play chess, with limited training, turned out to have the perfect aptitude. It sounds trite to say that somewhere out there, maybe in a cement shack in Haiti or a thatch-roofed hut in Sudan, is a person who could cure cancer or find a solution to the world’s energy woes.
Trite doesn’t make it any less probable. In fact, given the odds, it’s more than likely that many of the most brilliant minds in the world will never be used. Their entire capacity will be taken up by the urgent needs to survive day to day. The next Einstein, Salk, or Edison will waste her life trying to simply survive. Given the opposition she faces, chances are she won’t be very successful even at that.
Aside: There’s always some wise guy out there who objects, “Yeah, but the next Hitler is kept from the world, too.” Unfortunately, the Hitlers always seem to come out of those environments anyway. Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Joseph Kony – the list goes on. For better or worse, those types always seem to reach their “potential”. Perhaps one of them might have been a research scientist, or at least not a maniacal killer, had the circumstances been different.
What to do? Nothing obvious and effective comes to mind. Living with the status quo is the easiest option for those of us in the US who won the birth lottery, so that’s what we do.
If, however, you’re one of those girls eking out a meager existence and trying to avoid becoming a mother in your early teens as the result of rape in a slum like Katwe or Cite Soleil, choices are a luxury.
But as a follower of Jesus, I must do something. Maybe it’s to help or give to an organization that is working effectively in those countries. PIH, SFH, and World Vision come to mind. Being cognizant of the products we buy, caring more about the slaves who make those products than the fifty cents we’ll save wouldn’t hurt. And you just might sleep better at night.
I’m open to other ideas. Any ideas. A few billion more lives are wasting away even as you read this.