What is your name, the guy in the street asked?
"Seryo? Serco? Sercho? Serch? Doc Salsa?"
He constantly smiles, showing his teeth as his most beloved belongings. After some minutes trying to explain the correct way how to pronounce my name I just give up and smile back. My name and my country are strange for him; I love the way Leonians confuse Guatemala with “Watermelon”. One kid even told me once that I´m very lucky to live in a big fruit. The ones who understand that Guatemala is a small country in the middle of The Americas get very surprised and curious of what I´m doing here in Africa. They wonder why I would want to come here. And they wonder what I can offer. I mean Guatemala is an undeveloped country too. So, what are you doing here? Is not supposed to be that people from undeveloped countries should receive help instead of give it?
My first thought is that “I Iike the idea that the world is just one.”
But their question really gets me thinking. From very early in my life I listened my teachers, friends or even family saying that we have to study hard to get a nice profession and then be able to reach a good position in the society. Iistened as they taught me to get money and enough stuff, reach “the dream”. I must confess that I believed it for a while. And as I set out to reach “the dream” I find out something not so good is happening: I find out that my deepest relationships were changing, I had fewer profound conversations and more talks about the weather or the last party rumors, or even worst, I had less conversations period. I understood that most of the people around were very busy trying to reach the dream so they didn´t have time for anything else. I saw that life was like an endless selfish race. After crisis hit my own family and dad lost money we had to readjust, I started to see the amount of material things in my life decreasing. At the beginning I got nervous and I even suffered watching as new things became old, and old things were not being replaced. But as the time was passing I marveled that having less amount stuff somehow took me closer to meaningful relationships. I began to experience wonder and I began to meet “crazy” people, people that think as much about others as they do about themselves. Somehow my eyes opened to Guatemalans and foreigners alike who believed that it wasn’t worth sacrificing the joy of relationships for “the dream”.
During a time in Guatemala I participated in several humanitarian projects as volunteer, I saw how small things we do could change lives; children stop crying and people having hope again. Sometimes the ones we were supposed to help finally helped us giving us learn big lessons of humility, perseverance, and a constant dosage of pure affection. I must say that learning this changed my way of thinking. After I finished the construction of a clinic that provides free medical attention to rural and poor Guatemalans I decided travel and see other nations, other traditions, social systems and human lives. I must say that I met incredible people. Also I realized, and this was a surprise for me, that even in the developed countries the race to achieve the “dream” was the same as it was in Guatemala. In fact, I saw that this dream was having the same or even worse side effects. I met people in wealthy nations with big depressions due to a lack of meaningful human relationships. “I don´t have money to pay a nice apartment,” and “The government is not good enough” or “I hate my nonsense job” are some complaints I heard. I thought hard about relativity, and how people in the wealthiest nations didn’t think of themselves as lucky; living in New York or Berlin with all that stuff didn’t seem to correlate at all with happiness. On the other hand I have seen many smiling people here in Sierra Leone, people dealing with terrible conditions in the poorest areas, places almost too hard to describe with words.
I have learned that happiness isn´t directly proportional to the amount of things we have. Not even close. And this learning isn’t theory. It is experienced. It is true in a real way.
And this made me think and think about a question:
If we can have the same problem in all the societies does it mean we all need help? Surely we always need help of the others- but not all the same kind of help. A kid in Africa may need biological basics such as food, warmth and shelter whilst a humanitarian volunteer may need a feeling of belonging, a deep need for meaningful human relationships, a sense of self-realization and so on. I believe that the man has the capacity to build infinitely better societies if we understand that symbiotic relationships are the key to human happiness. That is the beauty of having a carpenter when we need a chair, have a doctor when we get sick, have a priest when we need consolation. Therefore we must support the collective cause, respecting the diversity, understanding that we are equal as human beings but with different roots, traditions and needs. This is why I am a part of First Things Foundation: We connect people with different skills and needs creating symbiotic relationships to reach a true human development. My skill is in providing medical attention.
Finally there is the stereotype that says that just the western man can make a meaningful change and that others should sit and wait for help. No sir, this is simply not accurate. The change starts in ourselves, no matter how bad things look. There is always something we can offer.
So what is THE DREAM? Personally I haven’t a specific answer for that, the only thing I´m completely sure about is that THE DREAM is in everything that makes us truly happy, and that happiness gives content to our lives. Somebody told me this once, “Believe in something and live to serve. Live deliberately, face the essential facts of life and see if you can learn what life has to teach. And above all keep watch so you don’t discover before you die that you had not yet lived.”
I believe the work I´m doing with FTF is meaningful for me and for the people where we work. Meanwhile after a day seeing patients in the clinic at Waterloo I enjoy the luxury of not having electricity. That luxury lands me on the futbol pitch with the kids of my village, It puts me alongside an old local man, listening to his take on life. By days end it puts me under the stars with my new brothers, each moment a step toward a simple beauty.
This is FTF; this is what supporters like you are creating in souls like mine. Thank you! Visit us and learn more at www.first-things.org