My first lesson in the realities of poverty and global inequality came on a trip to Guatemala when I was four years old. My father, a doctor, had volunteered for a rural medical project, and brought his young family along.
The country was a riot of unfamiliar colors, smells, and sounds for a child”s senses. The joyfully clattering melodies of the marimba. The bustling marketplaces, where meat came not wrapped in cellophane, but on two or four legs. The destinations called out in sing-song voices by boys hanging precariously from brightly painted buses. “Gua-te, Gua-te, Gua-te-ma-la!’ they”d shout, as they departed for the capital. I had no idea that these children, only a few years older than I, worked to help their families survive, at the price of a missed education.
One day, in the dirt schoolyard of a rural village, I struck up a friendship with a Guatemalan boy about my age. Somehow we managed to communicate as we played with his small handful of marbles. When we finished our game, he insisted on giving me half of his horde – quite likely, my parents later said, among his only possessions. Which of my friends back home would have so freely shared their mountains of toys?
Moved by his kindness, my parents visited a local shop and bought a little spring-powered car for my new friend, explaining to me that he had been generous. (They bought me a matching car – I guess they figured you could only take a moral object lesson so far with a four-year-old!)
I still have that toy car today; it is one of the treasures of my childhood. Mine is a battered beige. My playmate”s was olive green – I remember that much. I have long since forgotten his name, but the memory of his kindness stays with me.
On one recent trip to Guatemala some colleagues and I visited the highland community of La Estanzuela, where CARE works to ensure girls equal access to schooling. As always when traveling for CARE, I was deeply touched by the kindness and hospitality we were offered. Guatemala remained a place of great beauty, deep poverty, and generosity of spirit.
Meeting with the female students at the school in La Estanzuela. Â©2005 RickPerera/CARE
Then, in the central square, I heard a sound that transported me back decades. Idling in the central plaza was a brightly painted old school bus, probably retired from years of serving a U.S. suburb. As it lurched into motion, a voice came trailing over the blue exhaust, “Gua-te! Gua-te-mala!’
That voice took me back to another village, and another time. And it brought back the face of a small boy whose big heart taught me the lesson of a lifetime. I wonder where he is today, and if he still has that little car.
I”d like to think he”d be as happy as I am to know about CARE”s work, recognizing the common humanity that unites us all on this small planet.