Study after study by psychologists has shown that there is no correlation between wealth and happiness. The only exception is in cases of real poverty, when extra income does relieve suffering and brings security. But once our basic material needs are satisfied, our level of income makes little difference to our level of happiness. Research has shown, for example, that extremely rich people such as billionaires are not significantly happier than people with an average income, and suffer from higher levels of depression.
This is just one short paragraph from one single link, in the plethora of knowledge about the causes and ills of materialism. I like it because it implies the difference that those of us with disposable income can make if we were to replace the all-too-common act of “retail therapy” with “philanthropic therapy”. So many of us are suspicious of others’ need for help, believe that we can’t make a difference or think that by offering help we could make ourselves vulnerable to charlatans. Our suspicions are – in the main – completely wrong. Katharine Hepburn, in the quote below, speaks for me in this regard.
This week alone I have been involved with five different families suffering from an inability due purely to lack of finance, to access the health care that their children, elderly or vulnerable need. This is not a small problem that people recover from, but a profound and overwhelming problem which leaves families indebted and reveals itself in the premature life expectancy rates of an entire nation’s population. Functioning health systems rely on good governance, reliable information, adequate financing and other elements which are either absent or inadequate in countries fraught with poverty, political instability, lawlessness and systemic disarray. Sadly these descriptions reflect the current day Cambodian experience despite so many good people doing what they can to improve matters, which continue to progress in small steps.
I know a vibrant young Cambodian woman who is waiting to die from the manifestations of Rheumatic Heart Disease. One of the obvious “diseases of poverty”, Rheumatic Fever was a leading cause of death in America, Australia and Europe until less than 100 years ago. Improved living conditions reduced our risk of exposure to the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes which can cause an autoimmune response leading to various symptoms, the most serious being scarring of heart valves which results in heart failure and ultimately death. At the same time, Penicillin was discovered and we learned that it could treat Rheumatic Fever to effectively prevent the heart damage before it manifests. As such, rates of Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease plummeted in the wealthy world. Our health systems also improved dramatically with significant advances in surgery and medicine meaning that cardiac surgeons can now cure Rheumatic Heart Disease when it occurs by repairing or replacing damaged heart valves.
Today the highest recorded rates of Rheumatic Heart Disease in the world occur in Central Australia’s indigenous population. Just one of the many diseases of poverty our indigenous people live with and die from, this is a travesty. Yet we have a health system which can count and record the diseases prevalent in our population, who do have access to Penicillin and cardiology services. Places like Cambodia on the other hand, likely have even higher rates of these diseases, but without the resources or systems in place, people suffer and die silently and invisibly, often without any explanation of the cause of death.
With no cardiac surgery services available in Cambodia’s public health sector, the only option available to this young woman is to find the funds needed for surgery at a private hospital. Her desperate husband and family have started a GoFundMe page (link below). As poor rural villagers, they don’t know people who can contribute in any significant way, as you’ll see by the contributions made. My hope is that some reading this will think about our ability to engage in retail therapy at whim and take a chance at substituting a trip to the shops with offering something towards helping to save a young life. Even if we don’t make it to our goal, small contributions will show her that she is cared about. If only 600 people donate $10 each, our goal will be reached. Be one of those 600!