A couple of days ago I stood in the Bangladeshi sun surrounded as far as the eye could see with hills covered in makeshift shelters. Bright orange and blue tarps blanketed the scene, staggered with UNHCR tents and freshly cut roads, all evidence of the vigorous struggle to make room for nearly one million refugees in a matter of a few months. All around me the smell of cow manure and human septic, the sound of buzzing flies, children’s cries, and people making efforts to survive.
I was standing inside a large bamboo structure created as a child friendly space (you can’t call it ‘school’ because it seems no matter which country you’re in, the officials do not want you to ‘teach’ refugee children). I saw a little boy peeking through the reeds and his big brown eyes locked with mine. And a thought came to mind.
The history of how the Rohingya came to be an ethnic group rendered stateless by the Myanmar government can be traced to British colonization and the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy that persisted from 1700 to 1942. Knowing this, I wondered – could any of those British men involved then have imagined that some decades or centuries later a little boy with brown eyes and bare feet would still be bearing the brunt of their decisions?
It hit me then just how shortsighted we can be about the impact of our actions. Consequences have longevity we can hardly begin to imagine.
The next day, at a Buddhist temple in Ramu, I was captivated by a beautiful ancient tree. I marveled at its roots so gnarly and thick, almost indistinguishable from the sturdy, hearty trunk, and the soaring branches with bright green leaves shading me. I could have stayed there for hours. It turns out that a Chinese traveler planted that tree in the 7th century AD. Wow, I thought, a seed planted 1400 years ago continues to create such sweet joy and wonder for everyone who passes through.
And it made me reflect – how will my actions impact the planet, not just now but three hundred years from now? The plastic I use. The people I judge. The compassion I share.
Our actions matter. Not just for this moment, but indefinitely. And not just for us, but for people and places we’ll never meet or see. We’re not the only ones who reap what we sow, so let us sow wisely.