To be with the people, rather than to do for the people. Those were the words we lived by for the week we spent in Duran, Ecuador.
Nine other Cabrini students, along with one professor and our campus minister, traveled to Ecuador the week before Christmas. There, we lived in community with one another and we lived in solidarity with the Ecuadorian people. Why?
Facts don’t mean anything. Numbers, statistics, percentages; I don’t care about those things. But faces, names and stories mean everything. Meeting a person and hearing their story is when those statistics become a reality.
Each person we spoke with reminded me of other people in my life, thinking that my sister, father or grandparents could just as easily be in these situations if they were born into different conditions.
I thought of my 10-year-old sister only being able to eat one meal a day, a meal that consisted of one piece of bread and one banana.
I saw my father in our neighbor Walter, a welder that will work until he dies because he doesn’t have the luxury of retiring. “This is my life and I will live this way so my children can have a good life,” he told us.
The faces of my grandparents were reflected in those we met with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, some of whom have been isolated from their families because of the negative connotation that labels this disease as contagious.
So why didn’t we give them food or build them a new home? If we weren’t doing anything for them, what was the point?
Well, while to some it may not seem true, we actually were doing something for them, something intangible. Everyone in Duran has a story and we were there to listen to them, bring back what we learned and act on it.
Although all of these people live in economic poverty, by no means are they poor in spirit. They are some of the liveliest, welcoming, most loving people I have ever met. At times we were jealous of them because of their simplistic lifestyles and value of relationships.
At times we did feel sad for them but we weren’t there to pity them; that’s not what they need. We went to be transformed in our mind and spirit and it was a transformational experience to say the least.
Feeling sad and angry is inevitable, but when those feelings turn into empowerment that is when change begins.
Dirt roads. Poor education. Parasite-infested water. These are all things I witnessed on a daily basis. However, I only lived that way for seven days, and still had more luxuries than they. We were protected by security guards, we weren’t forced to get a job and earn enough money to support our families and we didn’t all have to share one bed. How is that fair? Who can justify those conditions in their minds?
I personally have a responsibility to the people of Duran, Ecuador, but all of us have a responsibility to the world. At the same time, to me, Duran represents the poverty that exists all over the world. It’s no longer just a fact that one billion people around the globe live in extreme poverty. We need to ask why these ways have been set and how they can be changed.
I don’t have all the answers; I’m still trying to process the experience in my mind. All I know is that their lives are just as valuable as ours.