One thing that is becoming very clear in the modern, interconnected global village is that the global village is no longer a philosophical concept but a practical reality.
I was talking to one of my granddaughters the other day and realized I had to explain that, years ago, when her father was overseas, the longer we spoke on the phone, the more it cost and that our annual phone bills were in four figures.
That's not a reality in her world: She can email or Skype with her grandmother in England for free and, while an actual phone call costs something, it isn't a significant budget item.
And here's something else: Most of my African readers will see this post more or less when I put it up, while those in California and New Zealand will come upon it when they awaken. For someone who used to get his copy of Punch a week and a half after it was published, that's pretty mind-blowing.
For my granddaughters, it is just how things are.
There is no major religion that does not include among its chief attributes the obligation to help those in need. It may be perverted by selfishness, racism or jingoism, but those counter-doctrinal distortions cannot change the fact that, at heart, we are universally called upon to this moral obligation.
And the question from Luke, "Who is my neighbor?" gains resonance in today's global village because now these people really are our neighbors: They are right there, across a picket fence but plainly in sight, and we know their names and we've watched their kids grow up and we've had coffee at their kitchen table, virtually if not in three dimensions.
When I was a kid, we collected pennies in Sunday school to "adopt" pagan babies in far off African missions. Not only were these unseen, pathetic waifs an abstraction based largely on Tarzan films, but we were secure in the assumption that what they needed, and wanted, was assistance in becoming just like us.
There are still among us plenty who expect that people who dress differently than we do and who do not live in the same sorts of houses that we do will fall on their faces in superstitious fear and wonder at the astonishing sight of a cigarette lighter.
But most of us, to begin with, don't carry cigarette lighters anymore anyway, and, in any case, are well aware of to how little an extent clothing and architecture reflect humanity.
And, thanks to better coverage and more responsible commentary, we're increasingly aware that sweeping into a disaster area with cigarette lighters and planeloads of rice is simply not the way to help a neighbor.
As Popa's cartoon indicates, that approach is how people become dependent on aid, and that should not, must not, cannot be the goal. It's not just insulting but actively counterproductive.
A friend in Niger is part of a family-based organization that assists local farmers in rediscovering the types of crops that will thrive in semi-desert and were the basis of local nutrition before colonializers switched everyone to cash crops that fail in drought years.
That's the long-term approach that can rebuild societies in places like the Sahiel that have been so badly damaged by colonialism, desertification and misguided aid policies. We need more of those programs everywhere.
But there are still earthquakes, tsunamis, wars and other disasters that require short-term assistance. The challenge is in keeping it from becoming long-term. People have to get back on their feet and be able to do so on their own terms, in their own clothes, in their own lives.
Real progress is being made. Check this out: