"Experiencing Vicarious Empathy"
Ettore Rossetti, Director, Internet Communications & Marketing
August 8, 2011
I work for Save the Children in the Westport, CT office. The situation caused by the droughts in East Africa is dire for children especially. Though I serve the mission of children professionally, I thought to myself ‘what can
I do personally to help even more.’ So last month during the heat wave here in the U.S., I was voluntarily working through lunch and I started to feel a late afternoon hunger pain. So, I walked downstairs to the lunchroom at about 2:45 pm in the afternoon. The door was closed, so I missed a meal. I pulled a dollar out of my pocket and tried to buy a snack from the vending machine…but it only takes exact change and I did not have 90¢, so I skipped a snack. Feeling thirsty, I walked back upstairs to the nearest coffee station but the coffee ran out, so I settled for water. I settled for water.
That’s how easy it is in Westport, CT or Washington D.C. or in much of America to find food when we are hungry or water when we are thirsty: Walking a few yards inside an air-conditioned building. But these children in East Africa walk for miles under the desert sun to get to food or water.
Every week, six year-old Sofia, carries her two-year old sister, Suada, on her back for miles to a Save the Children feeding center in Kenya. I am a parent like many of you and even if you are not a parent, we were all children once.
Imagine a child having to endure this…imagine if Sofia was your child? It is unimaginable. And in that moment I realized that there is something I could do about it. I could voluntarily fast to feel empathy. We could all fast to feel empathy and then tell our friends about it. We can be sympathetic to the plight of those children but we cannot feel empathy unless we experience some of their pain. The hunger pain around the lunch hour is a very small glimpse of their pain. And so Save the Children’s Fast-A-Thon was born in that moment of inspiration.
Some of my colleagues in the field can experience empathy directly. But through the power of the Internet, we can all experience empathy vicariously. And it is this vicarious empathy that connects us all. As I was just about to close my laptop at about 3 a.m. last night, I received a chat message on Facebook from a woman in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia thanking me for all we were doing for her country.
Some people say that social networking demonstrates the theory of “six degrees of separation” — the idea that everyone is on average six steps away from any other person on Earth. I believe that these friend-to-friend networks do not separate us but rather connect us. Perhaps we should rename this theory to the “six degrees of connection." If we all ask 10 of our friends to donate $10 – the price of a meal – that’s $100. $100 can help us feed 1 child for 100 days, until the rains come back. That’s the power of social networking.
Thank you to all of you who are participating in Fast-A-Thon by fasting, friendraising or fundraising. But most importantly, I would like to recognize those children in East Africa who are fasting involuntarily.
About Fast-A-Thon: Fast-A-Thon is a voluntary, 24-hour fasting marathon organized by Save the Children to show solidarity and to demonstrate empathy for the millions of children suffering from hunger and thirst in East Africa due to the food crisis.
About Save the Children: Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.