Saturday, May 24, 2008

Taking life for granted

Last Friday the electricity was off in most of Santa Rosa de Copán for almost 8 hours. Today I don't have water in my house. Since I moved into this house last July I have not had to worry about water. I think I just let the water tank get emptied. I took water for granted.

It is, of course, different in the countryside where many villages do not have electricity and where some villages don’t have access to water. In these villages women and girls do fetch water from distant sources. This, of course, makes life precarious for many.

But even here in Santa Rosa there are some communities without electricity. The Colonia Divina Providencia, near the kindergarten where I volunteer, does not yet have electricity though there is a project in process, financed by the Spanish government, I believe, to bring electricity to the community. the poles are up, but the people are still waiting. This community also did not have running water until about two or three years ago. The city would send in tanker trucks with water about once a week and the people would fill barrels with water for their weekly needs.

This past Tuesday, Bree Sullivan, who recently graduated from Iowa State University, came to help out for two months. She’ll be here until late July and then return back to Ames to get married in early August! Her willingness to help amazes me. She is living with the Spanish Franciscan sisters who live up the street from me. She will be helping the girls who live with the sisters with their English and math. She also is going to help each day at the Kindergarten in the Colonia Divina Providencia.

I took Bree to the kindergarten on Thursday where she met Matilde, the professor, as well as Sor Marissa, one of the sisters who helps out three days a week in the kindergarten. (Otherwise the teacher works alone with up to 65 kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students.) Sor Marissa is trying to get the classroom areas organized – since there is a little classroom which was just added this March where the smallest kids will go. But since there is no second teacher Marissa will be working with the little kids three days and week and Bree will help the other two.

But there weren’t enough chairs and neither the government nor a local group have come through. Some friends gave me some money for projects and so I went on Friday with Matilde and Sor Marissa to buy 30 plastic chairs – about $2.60 a piece. And, since there are not enough desks for the kids, the sisters are going to have the carpentry shop in the jail make some.

Bree had seen the presentation of the group from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames that came here for Holy Week and wanted to spend some time at Hogar San José, a home for malnourished kids under five years old. Since December I have tried to go there once a week; so I know many of the kids enjoy going to play with the kids or help feed some of the infants.

When we arrived on Friday I was surprised to see an emaciated child who was severely malnourished. The child, Carla, was laying on a mattress, so extremely thin that you could count her ribs. Her stomach was extended and the flesh on her arms looked like the flesh of an old person. I had never met a child who was so undernourished. You can read the statistics and see the photos on tv but it’s quite a different experience to see such a child in the flesh - and then feed her a little rice.

A little later I learned that she was 18 months old. (Except for the fact that she had teeth I would have guessed her as just a few months old.) One of the workers told me that she had come here even thinner – and had spent ten days in the hospital. The sight of that child haunts me.

There is so much I take for granted. Jon Sobrino, the Salvadoran Jesuit theologian, says that the difference between the poor and the rich is that the rich take life for granted, but each morning the poor have to consider what they will do to survive that day: Will there be work? Will there be water and food for them and their children? Will they survive?

And so, rich as I am, I am here. I am very glad to be here, happiest when I can help the poor and be with them. How this will work out in the long run I still don’t know, but becoming confident that God will show the way.

I have begun reading, in Spanish, a collection of writings of Carlo Carretto, who after years working in Catholic Action in Italy, left in his forties to become a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community inspired by Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who live and work among the poorest. One passage he wrote about his novitiate in the Algerian desert which I just read struck and inspired me –
I tried to find a place for myself. I had left my native land, urged on by the desire to give up everything in order to give myself to God among all this poverty; to search out among the poor the crucified face of Jesus, to do something for my wretched and despised brethren, so that, by loving them, I might deepen my union with God.
But what was I to do for them?
Carlo Carretto, Selected Writings (Orbis Books), p. 27.
My motives are not as clear and God-centered as Carlo Carretto’s were, nor is my situation one of the poverty he embraced, but I pray that God will open me to seek to love him and serve those most in need and so encounter there Christ, the poor one.

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