The Unpleasant Question

It’s a bit odd, when a disaster strikes, how many people are willing to help, and how far the help goes, yet, minus the disaster, we’re perfectly willing to let people suffer, starve, or far worse. What brought this to mind is the two new bursaries created by AU for victims of natural disasters. As the website says, “While inspired by the recent events in Fort McMurray, these awards will remain in place to help students who may be affected by natural disasters in the future.” I am hopeful that the creation of these awards isn’t being thought of as taking the place of AU’s special considerations that they have extended to students who are caught in natural disasters, but rather an extra bit of assistance to those who really need it.

The first of these awards is to provide one course worth of tuition to a student who wouldn’t otherwise be able to continue with their education following a natural disaster. This can be extended to a second course if the need is there.

The other bursary is to provide up to $1,000 to help a student affected by a natural disaster to attend convocation. And while not denying the value of that award at all, or the spirit in which it is intended, I find myself wondering what makes someone who’s suffered a natural disaster more worthy of being funded to attend convocation than someone who just doesn’t have the financial resources to do so? (And because I’m sure there are Councillors wishing they could get a word in here, I will point out that AUSU has travel bursaries for exactly that.) But that’s a dangerous line of thinking to take, because as soon as you start, it leads to the same question about post-secondary education as a whole, and from there to the wider aspects of society. If you lost your home and everything you had in a fire, that’s tragic, and horrible, and to see the outpouring of support both material and emotional is heart-warming.

Yet the food banks are still running out of food across the country. Is economic recession a natural disaster? When decent people are put out of work, and then out of their homes, because there’s no work to do, we don’t look at that as a natural disaster. There are few relief funds or bursaries set up for those who recently lost their jobs. Why is it that someone who loses everything from an act of nature we will rally behind, but one who loses everything through the actions of other men, of our society, are often vilified as being lazy or “welfare bums.”

And as I say this, I realize I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else. There is immense suffering due to poverty in this world, and it’s suffering that doesn’t need to be there, but no, I am not giving up my computer or any of the various luxuries I enjoy to abate it. When the tax-man comes, I’m right with you in wishing I could have kept a little more, even as I know that much of what I pay goes to support those who are worse off than myself. Does this make us bad people?

It’s not a pleasant question to consider. Maybe that’s why when these natural disasters happen, we find ourselves giving more than we do otherwise. It allows us to feel good about giving but the scope of the event means that the giving is going to be limited. There were only so many homes in Fort Mac, after all. So we can give for this event without feeling guilty about all that we haven’t given to the suffering that goes on every day. It’s a depressing line of thought.

Fortunately, The Voice Magazine this week is much less dour in tone. Whether it’s a student interview, a how-to guide to taking AU courses, news, reviews, advice, or just simple entertaining reading, it’s sure to keep you from having to dwell on this stuff too much. Enjoy the read!

P.S. If you didn’t already know, The Voice Magazine has a Facebook page and a twitter feed if You’re into that kind of thing!