9.10.2013

Fighting Poverty is like so 2012.


I'm sitting in Antigua, Guatemala and it's raining. Like it does.

It's totally weird for me to be here. It's weird to be in Central America, but not in my Central American home. Weird to speak Spanish (though I have managed to mostly avoid it, thankyaJesus!) Weird to be in a place like this again, so lush and green, where the sidewalks are filled with people, the streets are overflowing with vehicles, and the air smells of diesel and moss and sometimes farts. This place is so familiar to me, so similar to my beloved Costa Rica, I can't help but be reminded of how I fell in love with Latin America in the first place.

It makes me homesick. And sad.

The sadness makes me want to eat all the carbs. Give me all the rice and the crusty white bread and diced chayote with garlic and onions in the country. I will stifle my big feelings with empty calories and starchy goodness, and the crazed eating will make me bloated and my face will break out which will give me something else to think about, instead of feeling sad because, A.) Guatemala is not Costa Rica, and B.) much of this beautiful country is entrenched in disabling poverty.

I know this because I spent the day with it. I looked poverty right in the face. And you know what it did?
It played me a terrible song on a tiny violin. Then it took a bow.

photo by Matthew Paul Turner

...And it was so freakin' cute, I wanted to die.

Ok. So maybe this isn't the “face of poverty” we're used to seeing. We are better accustomed to dirty faces with drawn eyes and ill-fitting clothes, because that's what moves us. Those are the images we give to. Pretty sure it was Sally Struthers who taught us to fight poverty with pictures of gaunt babies with goopy eyes and empty bellies. But today I saw a different face. Today I saw what happens when poverty collides with Hope. Today I saw what happens when opportunity invades the space that poverty holds.

Ugh! I know, I know!! I totally know what you're thinking...

You're like, “Wait. Are we still talking about poverty? Fighting poverty is like so 2012.”

We have moved on. We're on to the next big thing in hipster activism and churchy heroism. All of our Toms® are worn out, and now we're wearing $120 lace up boots that don't help anybody, but we go to benefit concerts where all the proceeds go to, like, kids with terribly stiff bowel movements in Madagascar, or something. And we're crowd-sourcing documentaries and stuff. Because we need more childhood hemorrhoid awareness, people!

But, you guys. Poverty is still a thing.

And it's pretty much THE THING that drives all the other terrible things; trafficking, slavery, abuse, disease, malnutrition, hemorrhoids... Ok. Not that that last one... But, the point is, you can't talk about any of those things (minus the hemorrhoids) without talking about poverty. You just can't.

I'm not gonna lie. I'm sick of talking/hearing/reading about poverty, too. It's getting old and it feels like nothing is changing, almost like no good is coming of it. So this week, while I'm in Guatemala with World Vision, I'm not gonna talk about poverty. I'm gonna talk about Hope like the Hope I saw today.

This morning I listened to proud Mamas brag about how their kids are learning to play the violin. I sat alongside them and applauded happily with them after each awful, screechy, spine-tingling song. And when the kids tucked their little instruments under a bent arm and bowed, grinning from the thrill of playing to a crowd, we all clapped like crazy. These Mamas stood before us and talked of opportunity. Thank you, they said, to the World Vision staff and the patient instructors and the invisible donors who all made it possible. As they talked you could practically see their dreams for their children play out on their faces, dreams of a bright future, like a house filled with music. Dreams of something more than just subsistence. Dreams of abundance. And, today, Joy was abundant.

Photo by Matthew Paul Turner
This is Hope come alive.

Admittedly, World Vision is doing a whole bunch of cool things here in Guatemala that are way more practical than a music program. But this? These proud kids and their proud Moms, this was the thing that moved me. I know it's not gritty or gross. It's not appalling. It's certainly not the face of poverty we're used to.

But maybe it's time to give poverty a new face. And maybe it's time to change her name.

I think Hope has a nice ring to it, don't you?  

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You guys know I was kidding about the hemorrhoid thing, right? But, for real. Why do we move so easily from one cause to the next?