Travelling to Peru has reminded me that we as North Americans take many things for granted. Important things like fresh air, clean water, nutritious food and good education. Access to health care, cutting edge drugs and technologically advanced procedures are not as appreciated as they should be. We often complain because we have to wait for treatment… sometimes hours, sometimes days, in the worst cases weeks or months… but eventually, in most instances, we get the care that we need.
I remember having a toothache over a long weekend and having to wait until Monday to see a dentist. I could have paid extra and seen one on an emergency basis but I chose to tough-it-out and suffer for the savings. When I see so many people in Peru with missing teeth I wonder how long they had to wait… or if they had a friend or family member pull the tooth for them.
I have visited many schools in this country. Most had sparse furnishings, little or no books, shortage of staff and no luxuries like libraries, gymnasiums or art studios. There were no fitness programs, no football teams, chess clubs, yearbook or student council. Lucky schools have soccer fields. Now I can understand why soccer (usually called football) is so popular in many developing countries; you don’t need special equipment, just a relatively flat open area and a ball. I watched some children playing beside their classroom and an image from a film I had seen years ago came to mind. Boys playing soccer in a Kurdish slum, the ball went out of bounds and a brave child went to retrieve it despite passionate pleas to leave it by the others… apparently it was in a minefield. Neither child nor ball returned.
I had witnessed just recently the pleasure that was given when a group of volunteers from Australia, (Reach Out Volunteers) visited a small school high up in the Andes. They passed out colored pencils and fancy pens, toys and toothbrushes, clothing and books. Some of the children sat quietly staring at their rich rewards while others clamored for more, stretching their hands high into the air and waving frantically as they called out. It was like a Christmas that they had never had. A few of the children guarded their booty close to their chests while some, who recognizing that they had received more than others, re-distributed portions of their new found wealth to those who had less.
One thing for certain was, they were all grateful. Grateful for toothpaste and pencils! The teacher gathered some of the books and placed them on an empty shelf, there were tears in her eyes. I turned away and choked back my own. I felt selfish and dirty. I had so much and they had so little. What was their crime to serve a lifetime in poverty? I looked into the eyes of these beautiful children and saw more than hope, they were as proud as kings. They were oblivious to their situation. They sang a song for us in the native language of Quechua. They were only in first grade but they managed to sing in unison and acted out the motions with their hands.
When the song was finished they asked us to sing. We were all lost for a response… standing like idiots with our arms at our sides fearing a performance for 5 and 6 year olds. After a few moments of their chanting and pleading I suggested Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star since I guessed it was a tune we all knew well. The group agreed and we returned the favor with a less then enthusiastic rendition. Most of the volunteers were overcome with emotion. The few that could sing tried to fill in the gaps and hold the tune for the first verse at least. Despite our catastrophic performance the children were delighted. They cheered and clapped then each one rose and presented us with a paper flower that they had made. I looked at my purple crepe paper creation and acknowledged that it was probably made with the last scraps of their art supplies. They were priceless gifts. Compared to the ones we had offered, the ones bought with disposable income, the paper flowers seemed like treasures.
Today is December 28th. Just 3 days since Christmas. I think about my own 9 grandchildren and wonder what gifts they received this year. Did they appreciate them as much as these children did? They’re so privileged yet they are innocently ignorant to their status. North American children compare themselves to the other children of their neighborhoods and the children on television and in movies. They dream of owning sports cars, mansions and racehorses. The children of Misminay dream of owning a herd of sheep, a comfortable bed or plot of land to plant potatoes.
I had time to reflect on these things this morning because I was missing something else we have easy access to, the internet. Unlimited, immediate, communication ability! I admit freely that I’m a junkie! I am an information addict. I always want instant answers to everything. I seek the truth and dig for facts.
The stats can be manipulated but my judgment is unbiased, these people are poor. The county is rich in resources but that wealth is being swallowed up into the bellies of big business and corrupt government. The fertile soil is being contaminated by mining and logging operations. These companies, (Many are Canadian owned) have devastated the landscape leaving nothing but toxic waste and hardship for the people.
We’re all guilty. We buy the products. We demand the products. We stand in line for iPhones and gadgetry. Our appetite gobbles up more than we are entitled to and the people in third and forth world countries are the ones who suffer from hunger as a result. Where they once had plantations for bananas and corn, they now have contaminated sludge. The wood they once burned to cook their food and heat their homes now ships to China to be fabricated into fine furniture. The lands stripped bare and left untended. There are no replanting programs here. No regulations for toxic spills or disposal of hazardous chemicals. Unbeknown to many, we are systematically poisoning and starving these people. Our greed leaves their bellies empty. Our over-consumption causes their death by mercury poisoning. Our lust for gold and precious minerals outweighs any hopes for the future of these children.
This problem isn’t limited to Peru. It’s a universal disease. An epidemic of uncontrolled proportions, a disease called greed which leaves its scar upon many countries: Brazil for trees, Ecuador for minerals, Thailand for shrimp, Malaysia for palm oil, Ghana for precious metals, and Canada for petroleum. Yes, my own country is suffering from this deadly disease. Where once stood pristine forests now sits tailing ponds of poisonous liquid which seeps into the water table and flows into the lands. Our Indigenous people are paying the price for cheap oil; herds of elk, schools of fish and flocks of birds eradicated by the toxins… just so that we can drive our fancy SUVs and heat our humungous houses.
If you feel guilty while reading this, I’m happy. I’ve struck a nerve and made my point. We need to start taking responsibility for our actions. We need to curb our appetite for trinkets and bobbles. Technology is good and I’m not saying that we don’t deserve it, but do you really need to rush out and buy the latest version of that new Smartphone? Do you need a bigger TV? Do you need a new dining room table? Isn’t the old one just fine? Can’t you wait until you absolutely and trulyneed something? Why are we so driven to consume so much?
Buy, buy, and buy more!
We have been corrupted by the media into thinking that we are entitled to a disposable lifestyle. Plastic is replacing long-lasting items like glass and metal. When we’re done with it, we simply throw it away. It’s just junk. We buy junk everyday. Bottled water, plastic bags, disposable razors… Are they really better than what they are replacing?
I watched in amazement as a shoemaker re-built a pair of running shoes. A pair so easily discarded in North America is made new at the hands of a craftsman here. All the scraps are carefully guarded for use later. An electric kettle gets a new heater coil in minutes, a rip in a backpack sewn in seconds; items that would have been sent to the landfill in privileged communities are regenerated for a second life by the poor.
It’s been an education just doing my laundry. You can’t imagine how careful one becomes when we have to wash our clothes by hand. Each drop of water is a precious commodity, first step the washing, then using the discarded water to flush the toilet. Second step rinsing, then the water is used to clean floors or for the flowers and plants. Finally, the clothes are hung to dry in the sun. My bath towel is a 12 x 12 inch microfiber cloth… it’s used for washing and drying my body and I’m just as clean as I am after a 5 minute shower. Each night the water in our apartment in Lima shuts down to restore the pressure. You think twice before flushing the toilet and develop a habit to prepare for bed long before the taps run dry.
North Americans would be shocked at the lack of water or electricity in many foreign countries. In Lima, the capital city of Peru, we had no power in the apartment for almost 2 days (just before Christmas). No one complained; no one went crazy and demanded restoration in time to cook festive dinners. There was a calm acceptance that almost made me forget what we were lacking. We sat around the glow of a cell phone and chatted for the evening. I wasn’t sure about offering up the battery in my own phone at first, but later discovered I had a wonderful application called Torch that utilized the camera flash and illuminated the room beautifully. I was happy to bring some light into a dim situation.
We have alternatives, we have a choice. Each choice we make affects others. That is the point I want to drive home. We have such an unearned sense of entitlement and at what expense? Do you ever stop to think, who is paying the price? There are over 7 Billion people on this planet yet 80% of its resources are consumed by only 20% of the people. Our actions directly affect the lives of others. Each drop of oil we burn pollutes those who have none, each plastic bottle we throw away leaves someone else to deal with the garbage, each steak we BBQ leaves another belly empty.
People tell me in defense of themselves, I work hard! I deserve these luxuries. I don’t dispute that. I just want you to understand that there is someone else, somewhere else in the world that gets up at dawn and toils all day but returns home to a meager existence. They breathe the air that we polluted, they drink the water that we contaminated and their crops are failing because we created global warming.
Who is to blame? We are. We vote for crooked politicians, we invested in big business; we buy products made in sweat shops so we can save a dime. We take more than our fair share. It’s time to learn from that child who redistributed his gifts. We need to share what we have with those who have less. Poverty is a disease that we have been perpetuating.
Stop Reset Go!
- Stop over consuming and polluting
- Reset our mindset to be mindful of others and our environment. Eradicate greed!
- Go make a difference! The responsibility is ours.
I know it may seem simple when you look at it like that, but in fact it’s a complex problem with a long history. I don’t like to point fingers or oversimplify things but I am compelled to do so because of the urgency of the situation. People are dying because of our habits. Children are starving because of our consumption. Thereare solutions, there is enough for everyone.
Education is the starting point. Well educated people become positive contributors.
Let’s start by admitting our fault and taking responsibility. You can help in so many ways. Check out the STOPRESETGO.org website for information, facts and potential solutions.
Support the Peruvian Heartache documentary which will educate and inform others about the issues. Try to make one small change in your life today:
- Meatless Mondays is a great way to help curb world hunger. Consumption of meat not only contributes to higher CO2 emissions but stresses our land by using space for growing feed for the cattle and making room for the raising and processing of livestock. If every person in the world stopped eating meat, we would see an immediate drop in CO2 and surplus of grains. Even stopping for one day a week can make a huge difference.
- Pledge to stop using single serving water and beverages containers. The plastics we use are a byproduct of the oil and gas industry. Food grade plastics are huge resource drains and are causing massive pollution and besides the consumption of resources. Use a metal, refillable container and significantly reduce your carbon footprint.
- Be a water hog! Sure, maybe you live in a place that has lots of fresh clean water. But we are running out. Water is not a renewable resource. When we use it, it is gone! Processing and delivery are also contributors to pollution and resource reduction. Use water wisely. We can’t live without it.
- Use public transportation or walk (ride, rollerblade, run) whenever possible. We have become so dependant on personal cars that even our cities are now built to accommodate them. Where we once had small roads or footpaths between houses and services like markets, schools and churches; we now have massive super highways. Asphalt and concrete are not conducive to a healthy environment. Green space is diminishing and so are the resources to build these mega roadways. Get healthy and walk those 5 or 6 blocks to the store.
- Support education and business in developing countries. If we don’t protect the resources in other countries it affects us too. The Amazon rainforest is responsible for creating much of the oxygen we breathe. If the indigenous people there aren’t able to protect those lands, we eventually pay the price as well. Well educated people become good contributors to society and that creates global harmony.
- Share knowledge, share resources, share food, and share your wealth. Sharing is the key that will lead to a global healing for everyone. Compassion, love and tolerance are bred from sharing. Instead of taking more than your fair share, give to someone who has less. Let a small child in the Andes be your example. There’s plenty for everyone!
- Read more at http://PeruvianHeartache.wordpress.com
- Donate or share funding campaign
- Comment below with your ideas and suggestions. Contribute to the conversation which can start healing our planet and its inhabitants.