My #firstworldproblems …


And What Love Can Do

By Tara Teng | Twitter: @misstarateng


Twitter hashtags are funny.

I recently discovered a new one that can bring hours of entertainment … #firstworldproblems. Go look it up. Seriously.

Here’s some from last night:

“i find a real challenge in trying to eat my blizzard while im driving #firstworldproblems

“i keep hearing my phone vibrating but i have no idea where it is. LMFAO i have too many #firstworldproblems.”

“I no longer like the nail polish I painstakingly applied a few hours ago. #firstworldproblems

“there’s nothing on tv fml. #firstworldproblems

Last Friday morning, I had a “#firstworldproblems” moment. I ran out of cream for my tea. My mornings at the office are best when started with a nice, sweet and creamy cup of Red Rose tea! I admi t… I am often equally guilty of exaggerating trivial matters on a regular basis. For example, I made it ever clear to my co-workers at the Dalit Freedom Network how tragic it was that there was no cream for my tea and I would have to do without! Ah, to be a first-world citizen …when tea without cream is the worst thing that could happen to me in the morning!

So I went back to my desk with my over-steeped, under- creamed tea and started to put together a photo slideshow of Dalit children in India for an upcoming awareness event. The beautiful faces of smiling children in the midst of poverty reminded me of the Vietnamese children I had met in the floating villages on the river slums of Cambodia recently.


It was by far the poorest place that I have visited to date. Their homes were small, thrown-together shanty houses that rested on the top of the river water. I could have easily fit an entire floating home inside my living room back in Canada–and I have a small, humble home by most Canadian standards! The river water the houses rested upon was appalling. If you had to use the bathroom, you leaned your bum out the side of the house and relieved yourself into the riverbed. If lack of plumbing wasn’t bad enough, the same water that served as your bathroom was also the source of your cooking, drinking and bathing water.

While sitting in the little riverboats that balanced upon the river, I was amazed to learn there are an estimated 1-2 million people who live in the floating village. There are entire families who, according to government records, don’t exist. Vietnam doesn’t take responsibility for them and Cambodia doesn’t take responsibility for them; they are unwanted people. They used to rely on fishing to supply them with nourishment and a source of income, but now the water is so toxic the fish are beginning to disappear.


Another thing clearly disappearing from the floating villages are all the daughters over the age of 11 or 12 years old. Without dependable fishing as a source of income, most families have resorted to selling at least one child to “aunties” in the city, in order to gain income to feed the remaining children back at home. It’s a sad and desperate situation, driven by extreme poverty and lack of government action.

I remember one family in particular we met with: a father, mother and four daughters … the oldest daughter had already left home for the city. The remaining daughters had musical Thai names that when translated into English meant “Pink”, “Flower” and “Beauty.” We asked the father what he dreamed up for his little girls and his answer was “to get a good education and be happy”…. Simple dreams any father would seek for his children, yet the reality they live with makes these simple dreams so far beyond their reach.

I left the floating village that day with a heavy heart for Third World problems. I don’t even know where to begin or what practical solutions I can give the villagers. I definitely left Cambodia and returned to Canada with more questions than answers. There is so much injustice in the world; so much that is not fair and not right. Why is my biggest problem not having enough cream for my tea while countless mothers don’t have enough to feed their children and therefore, are forced to sell one child so the others have a chance at life? I need to shift how I view my “necessities” and my entitlements, forcing myself to look ahead to hope of a brighter future.

These questions have been resting on my heart for the last few days. I can “be the change that I want to see in the world,” but that will never be enough if I’m trying to do it solely on my own.


I met with countless organizations during my time in South East Asia; I saw a variety of solutions, philosophies and ethics of care, bringing creative and practical solutions to the rampant problems of the Third World. Let me be the first to tell you: There is hope! I really appreciated one after-care worker’s honest statement: “We have no idea what we’re doing! Everyone around the world pretends to know how to fight human trafficking but really, we don’t have a clue. All we know how to do is love.”


“Love”. We may never see that four-letter word written down in an official government proposal, but I think she is on to something. Love is the only thing I can think of that is worth investing in. If love does not compel us, then we are moving forward with the wrong motivation.

So I may not have any solid answers to stand on, nothing I can write down in an official document and nothing I can submit in a government proposal. I have a lot to learn and a long way to go; yet I will choose to stand on love. I will choose to believe the promises that one day, the last in this world will be the first in the next. I will choose to believe that “He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the Lord’s and He has set the world in order.” (1 Samuel 2:8).

How I long for that day when the world is in order! When First World problems and Third World problems cease to exist and love shines as brightly as the noonday sun!

* The First World and the Third World collide: My dad and I with our new friends. Praying for the oldest sister … wherever she is right now.


  • What are some of your #firstworldproblems?
  • What stirs or strikes you in this piece?
  • How do you hold the tension of living in a world that is not yet without problems?

About Tara:

My name is Tara and I think the world needs to know they are wrong about beauty. If I were to describe myself in one word it would be “Oi Kwan”- that’s my Cantonese middle name and it means “loves groups of people.” I am of Singaporean, Scottish, Irish, Icelandic and English-decent but born and raised in Canada. I am the titleholder of Miss British Columbia 2010 and Miss Canada 2011, but that’s just what I do right now, not who I am. I may be small but I’m good at being loud, and I’m choosing to use my voice to stand for justice, mercy and freedom worldwide. I blog at and tweet @misstarateng.