If This Doesn’t Hit You Like a Rock, I Don’t Know What Will

First of all, if you are reading this — realize you are extremely, extremely privileged . If you can’t agree with that statement, well, I really feel sorry for you. If you want to continue your current perspective, go right ahead. However, I hope reading this post (if you choose to) at least makes you question some of your priorities in life. If even one person is moved enough to improve the life of someone else or do something for the greater good, this post is a success in my book.

The utterly fantastic thing about blogging is that it encourages transparency. Blogging exposes the ins and outs of life and the world — unfiltered by the media. I’ve said before that part of what motivates me to blog is to bring awareness to issues that don’t get enough exposure in the traditional media, which is exactly why I’m sharing this story.

My good friends know that I’m passionate about micro-finance and its ability to empower those living below the poverty line. One of my best friends is also passionate about micro-finance and made the tough decision to work abroad for a year. A month ago, she moved to the Dominican Republic and is working for Esperanza International, an organization founded by Dave Valle, the Mariner’s catcher from 1984-1993. Esperanza’s mission is “to free children and their families from poverty through initiatives that generate income, education and health, restoring self-worth and dignity to those who have lost hope.” Esperanze works with Kiva (who you know I’m a huge fan of) as one source of micro-funding, and part of my friend’s job is to coordinate Esperanza’s relationship with Kiva. Additionally, she is interviewing local entrepreneurs who have received loans and putting their stories online at Kiva. Anyway, last night around 9:30 pm, I got an e-mail from my friend detailing her experiences during the 1st month working in the Dominican. It was an e-mail that put a knot in my stomach — I can truthfully say that it made me question a lot of things about my life and the way people in America live and think. Here’s an excerpt from her e-mail (and yes, I got her permission to re-post it):

Saturday through Friday we spent from 7:30-6:00pm cleaning teeth, doing fillings, and extracting teeth. In all, this group served at least 605 children, adolescents, and adults. And of those 605 patients, at least 296 had their teeth cleaned, 391 cavities were filled, 563 teeth were pulled, and 7 people received major cosmetic reconstruction. On Monday alone we pulled 183 teeth! What surprised me most too was that over 75% of the teeth we pulled weren’t even teeth anymore—but were rather rotten chards of teeth and roots…I can’t even begin to imagine the acute pain those people must have felt on a daily basis.

There were so many touching experiences I couldn’t do justice if I tried to explain them, and then there were also some pretty sobering ones. Some of the neatest work I thought was when some young people would come in with their two front teeth rotten away to nearly nothing, but somehow the dentists managed to save enough that they could create new ones. You should have seen how happy and proud they were when they left—a new smile, a new confidence, a new start in some ways— There is a picture of one of the girls in the album below–she was just 22(looks more like 32 though!)

Of the sobering experiences there were two that really stand out. One, is that for the first time in my life I came face-to-face with people with AIDS, and many more with hepatitis. I realized that never once in my entire life had I ever met, or personally known, someone with AIDS.It was interesting to acknowledge my reactions to those people; I felt fear first, then compassion, then fear, then division—then sadness…

The second thing, and something that really shook me up was on Wednesday. It was REALLY hot, and there was a line of about 70 people waiting to get seen—I noticed a girl about ten years old just sitting by herself away from everyone under a tree; you looked at her face and saw hardship, sadness, exhaustion, hunger, desperation…and she was only 10. I went over and asked her if she wanted to be seen and she wouldn’t talk to me. I spent the next 15 minutes or so asking her different questions, and what was wrong—she looked and acted like she had been abused. As I was about to leave I gave her hug and asked her one last time what was wrong—it was almost at the same time that I hugged her that I felt her little shoulders start to shake under my arms, and she barely managed to whisper “Porque yo soy asi”…meaning, because I am like this. That little girl in my arms, and every hardship and struggle she lives with every day absolutely shook me, and recounting that memory right now brings tears to my eyes again. It really makes you wonder why you were born into your life…how I can have such a healthy family, unlimited opportunity really—and how that little girl can have literally nothing. Another feeling that comes is fear—really allowing yourself to connect to a reality like hers makes me wonder what I would do if that were me. If I couldn’t go home, and I lived in a shack with 7 other people, had one meal a day, was expected to have children at 17, was not worth more than the time I spent cooking…what kind of person would I be? It’s rather strange that you can be right in the middle of extreme poverty, and that you can let yourself love the people you meet, but it is still just never quite real.

A census about two years ago found that nearly 40% of the population in this country lives in conditions like those—another 40% hovers just above the poverty line…that means nearly 80% of the population in this country lives like this! The people I met this past week lived on an average of $1.50-$3.00 a day—for an entire family of anywhere from 6-10 people usually. Again, I am here working with these people, and it still seems unreal.

I hope stories like this make people stop and think about their values and what they are doing with their lives. Often times, people need to hear a real life story that they cannot ignore in order to change. This e-mail was something I couldn’t ignore. Granted, it hits me harder because it’s from a best friend, but I think the story brings up several questions you should seriously ask yourself:

  • Why were you born into your life?
  • What are you doing to improve the lives of others?

While traveling Europe 2 years ago, my perception about life changed for the better. I no longer pay much attention to the material possessions I own. I don’t care if I have a trick stereo in my car, a HDTV, or a brand new computer — there’s much more to life than that. All the materialistic bullshit in America is pathetic. Regardless, your true friends and family shouldn’t care what material possessions you have. Though I haven’t taken a vacation in awhile, I now save my money for travel. I realize I’m only 25 and have strayed outside the US borders just once (though I did hit 13 countries during my 2 month trip), but if you haven’t traveled the world — please do so and get some perspective outside the confines of your “safe” zone. It’s the best thing you can possibly do. It helps you realize the “necessities” such as shoes and electricity are NOT necessities, but extreme LUXURIES to much of the world’s population.

I’m going to the Dominican Republic in late November, both to visit my friend as well as to get some 1st hand experience with micro-finance, so I’ll definitely share my experiences along with some photos after (or maybe during) my trip. I think there is a huge need to catapult all the great things micro-lenders around the world (and non-profits like Kiva) are doing into the national spotlight. If you’re passionate about micro-finance and bringing people out of poverty, please either leave a comment or e-mail me — maybe we can collaborate and figure out a way to bring more attention to these stories and issues.

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