"blake, we have a problem" my host brother julio said to me as i left my room ready to start my monday. "we have a problem?" i replied, "or compassion?" "both" he told me.
"compassion" is one of the three sites where i assist. it’s a project set out to combat poverty in comas, where i live, by providing children 3 to 17 years-old with a daily meal, tutoring, and recreation. julio’s the director. but this day "compassion" would be closed due to a water shortage in the area; our home included.
a short side note, it was interesting observing how company’s run here. for example, nobody from the water company answered the phone at 9 am on a monday morning. it was met with an “oh well” kind of response from julio- vastly different than what it would be in the states for sure.
i suggested buying fruit and bottles of water with money from the budget and handing them out. we researched the idea and realized that wasn’t possible because it would lower the budget and in turn affect future meals. it’s an all or nothing system; they serve a full meal or nothing at all.
this morning i remembered a presentation given by conrado, the head of the joining hands network we partner with. conrado is a very knowledgeable elder in the history, culture, politics, and environment of peru. he gave us a presentation on how the water in huancayo, another town far south, affects the water here in lima; how it is all connected by nature, business, politics, and how a decision in one place will inevitably have an outcome in another.
sometimes after work at “compassion” we visit families in the area. their houses are a steep walk up these stairs and consist of plywood walls and political poster boards for windows (symbolic for how the politicians assist the poor). one day i had the pleasure of witnessing beds delivered to some youth in the program who were sleeping on dirt floors. i’m beginning to see poverty in a new way through these experiences. i used to think: poverty equals a lack of money and resources, so the solution is more money and more resources. while this is not untrue, it’s not what interests these families. every single house i’ve entered, literally every one, has a picture of their child’s graduation from either primary (elementary/middle) or secondary school. these families’ primary goal is not to get more resources. they’re surviving. they have limited resources and are pushing pennies, but they are surviving. what they are really after is a place where their children can have a choice of lifestyle opposed to a life predetermined by political systems and cycles of poverty.
"what can we do?" conrado asks and laughs simultaneously at the end of his presentation. he realizes a lack of clean water is a huge problem with a seemingly unattainable solution in a country deep in political corruption. i wonder the same as children today will go without meals. how does showing up at a place with my co-workers and praying, talking, and merely being present fill a child’s stomach on a day when there are no meals? the answer is it doesn’t. how does participating in recreation help out a pregnant 14 year-old whose father of the child, also 14, and her both experience serious poverty?
as conrado said, we are all connected. my work here will in no way result in a direct, tangible solution to the major problems faced here in comas, in lima, in peru. i must accept this. and yet, that’s not the point to why i’m here. that’s also not something i’m after. if i were here for concrete changes that can be measured and easily seen i’d inevitably be disappointed when i left and probably depressed. the point is being present. the point is saying, “we have no water, no meals, no classes today, but let’s go to work anyways and meet, and converse, and be with those who do show up.” our actions now may not have an obvious repercussion to them later, but they do have a repercussion. the good news to me is i personally don’t need to witness it. i trust the process. doing good has a positive effect just as much as mining factories polluting water in la oroya affects water elsewhere.
jeffrey sachs wrote an article (“the end of poverty, soon”) on the topic of ending poverty in this generation. he questioned, “are these errant dreams as the world barrels toward more confusion, conflict, and climate change, or is there something substantial in the recent wave of high-level interest in the (ending poverty) idea? the evidence is on the side of the optimists.”
we had no water today, and maybe will have no water tomorrow, and the day after. but i am still an optimist, hydrated or not.