This post was originally posted on Everyday Ambassador’s blog. The “Wednesday Wisdom” blog is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador partnerships director Meg VanDeusen. Every Wednesday, they feature updates from their partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with their latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom or #wordstoliveby on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.
When poverty is given a face, it often detached from its origin: pictures of children labelled with only the name of a continent or a statistic that dehumanizes, disallowing someone to connect with the people in the picture.
As we rolled into the coastal town of Nuevos Bracitos, two interns and two Semilla Nueva employees, our jeep bounced and shook like a space ship taking off due to roads with a higher ratio of pot hole to flat pavement. For miles we passed ears of corn, and sugarcane as the air became sticky, sweet, and fresher than I have ever smelled. Riding beside us were men with wrinkled faces, the sweat of a long day on their backs, and two children, holding onto a bike handlebars too large for hands too small.
Within minutes of our first community visit I was stunned by the level of poverty. Women wearing thread-bearing clothing, a dog with ribs more pronounced than vocab in an English lesson, and animal feces in the open-air dining area were just a few things that caught me off guard. The living situation seemed drastically different even compared to Xela, the Guatemalan city I have been living for a month before my internship, that it was difficult to connect with these families as they sat down and waited for their children to be measured. I watched in disillusion, as they made jokes amongst themselves, smiling and holding their kids in the dirty lawn chairs, flies and mosquitoes making temporary homes on their skin before being swatted off.
As more families trotted in, each would greet us with big smiles, kissing our sweaty foreign faces, and wishing us good day as they gave up their time to make our jobs easier. It wasn’t until the interview with Alvira that everything started to make sense. The struggle of long days was written across her lips as she answered the questions we asked. “…here we are in a lot of poverty, at least now, we are in poverty, there is no work to provide for your family,” she said, looking straight into our eyes. “There’s not enough money for school…. There’s no work…”
When you grow up in the United States, you spend your whole life being told about choices, about a the land of opportunity that rises and crumbles beneath your feet; those who do badly do so because they did not achieve what was set out in front of them, and those who did, did so through hard work.
In 2005, Thomas Friedman dubbed the world as flat. He said “The playing field is being leveled,” and although he was right in some senses, he was wrong in one. The people of many of these areas never have, and never will have the opportunities that my fellow first world country dwellers and I have had. From the genocide that happened only thirty years ago, to the political corruption, and lack of education, the playing field will never be the same for these families living in muddy sitting areas, and concrete walls.
It occurred to me that this was one of the biggest mistakes of the judgment I had made. How do the opportunities someone was born with predetermine their worth? Instead, it is through hard work and overcoming oppression that they are where they are today.
The culture of oppression within communities creates a ladder of abuse: no one is equal. It’s important to realize the kids in the pictures we feel detached from do need our help. They do not need our pity. They just need to be given a level playing field. If nothing else, this is what I hope my work helps create.
Patricia Bowen spent 3 months this summer interning with Semilla Nueva. Patricia worked with the Semilla Nueva team to write articles about the lives of Guatemalan women, and the new technologies being developed by Semilla Nueva. Patricia is a sophomore at Boise State University studying Creative Writing and Graphic Design.