By Sr. Annie Klapheke
|Photo: Annie Klapheke|
I recently spent 10 days in Guatemala visiting Sister Sarah, a member of my community who ministers at Clinica Comunitaria Daniel Comboni in Mixco, Guatemala. The clinic offers a variety of health services and educational programs to indigenous people living in extreme poverty.
On the last day of my visit, we left the clinic at the end of the day to find a major back-up on the main road due to a protest. I looked up the hill, away from the direction of the protest, and as far as the eye could see, cars were at a stand-still. I remember feeling grateful that we were not at the back of that line, and that S. Sarah’s house was only about a mile away. But then Sarah spotted one of the clinic staff members standing on the side of the road, waiting for the bus to take her up the hill. With the protest, no buses would be able to get through. Without thinking twice, Sarah swung the car around, told our friend to hop in, and up the hill we went. As we climbed the steep road, we passed mile after mile of single-file, stand-still cars trying to go the other direction. I was sitting in the front seat and tentatively leaned over to Sarah and asked, ‘Is there another way home?’. She smiled slightly and gave the answer I was expecting, ‘Nope’. After dropping off our friend, we would join the line of cars trying to get back down the hill.
We ended up waiting in the line of cars for two hours. During this time, I remained attentive to what was going on around me, and wrestled with many thoughts and reactions. Many people were waiting on the side of the road to catch buses home, probably after an exhausting day of work. Their faces looked weary and hopeless. Many people were walking, a common form of transportation in Guatemala. I was particularly struck by the women, burdened with large baskets balanced on their heads and babies strapped on their backs. Their flimsy shoes surely did not provide much support or comfort for their fatigued feet. The air was hot and smelled and tasted like the black plumes of fumes spewing from the tail pipes of motorcycles and buses. I prayed for patience, but felt my irritation welling up inside of me as I longed for dinner and a bed waiting for me back at Sarah’s house. As I sat with my own discomfort, I thought, ‘This is the daily life experience for these people.’ As I reflected on their daily toiling, which they endure year after year, I felt embarrassed by my own impatience after just two hours.
Just as there was no other way for us to get home that night, for many people living in impoverished countries, there is no other way in life. During my time in Guatemala, I visited women with young babies in their simple homes of corrugated metal walls and dirt floors, who struggle daily to meet their basic needs for survival – food, shelter and safety. On top of this material poverty is the violence and political corruption that is prevalent through most of Central America. I looked at the young babies and sadly wondered, ‘What hope does this child have for a bright future? How could this child escape the extreme poverty and violence he/she is born into?’ As a Christian, I must take responsibility for the fact that these people are not strangers in a far off land, but my brothers and sisters in Christ, whom God calls me to love and care for. This challenges me with several questions: How will my life and actions bring hope to people in seemingly hopeless situations? How will I hold our national and world leaders accountable for providing the conditions for a dignified life for all? How will I treat immigrants who flee from dangerous situations? These questions appear daunting, and can easily paralyze a person from acting because they feel so overwhelming. But the point of these questions is not to take all the world’s problems on myself. Rather, the purpose of these questions to help re-orient my world view, and to seriously consider how God might be inviting me to do my small part in bringing about the Kingdom.
I would be remiss not to mention the signs of hope that I did witness during my time in Guatemala: the dedicated staff of the clinic, educational programs that empower women to care for themselves and their families, young people seeking an education and schools that provide the opportunity, generous hospitality from those who have so little to share, deep faith in God, and resilience.
Yes, there can be another way for people living in poverty. How will I, and how will you, help to create it?