February 9, 2010
How do you react to evidence of poverty when there is so much in the world?
Ecuador and Peru Travel Report # 12 and Visual Viewpoint: Shoeshine Boy in Plaza Begs for a Customer
Would your reaction to this shoeshine boy in a plaza in Quito be one of guilt because you have more than he has, for you can afford to stay in high class hotels while his home may be on the street or a shack? Or would you feel pity on him for his need to earn money in such a fashion? Or would it be annoyance that he bothers you with his request for a shine or money?
How would you feel if you didn’t want a shine but offered him fifty cents — they use U S dollars as currency, which makes it easy to evaluate the relative cost of things — just to take his picture. He wanted more. But our guide said that was generous and indicated more money would encourage other children in the area to assume we were an easy target. There are simply too many in need to be generous to all.
There was so much poverty in both Ecuador and Peru that we couldn’t have done any more than scratch the surface if we had given all our money to even a fraction of those who needed help. In the countryside we saw farmers in the high Andes working their land with crude implements no farmer in a more developed country would consider using, for these farmers had no money for gasoline to fuel standard machinery.
As I began writing this blog and chose this picture to illustrate our travels, I thought about the relationship between guilt and charity, between concern and generosity, between gratitude and compassion.
Do CEOs who take in million-dollar bonuses while laying off workers give to charity because they feel guilty, or because they see the other person as worthy of respect? I suspect more the former or they might resist that bonus in order to keep a few more workers in the plant.
As I examine my feelings about this situation, I didn’t give to the young boy because I felt guilty. Rather, I felt blessed to have resources with which I could travel, which is something this young man may never do unless he’s given a better education. And that’s not likely unless the government puts more of its resources into schools.
In Peru as we were driving across the highway that goes through the high Andes, almost everyone walked, including children, who I was told walk three hours a day to school! However, we did see some bicycles and were told that a couple years ago a group of tourists learned of the situation and collected money for ten bicycles. Now the children pick up their friends on the way to school. It’s a little different than our teenagers who give friends a ride in their new car.
I’ve just finished listening to Carolyn Myss‘ Invisible Acts of Power: Channeling Grace in Your Everyday Life, which I heartily recommend. She collected more than a thousand stories of people’s acts of kindness, generosity and compassion and noted that, “Every kind action we do for someone is a reanimation of our own life force–and the other person’s. . . . Each time you reach out to another person, whether you decide to do a small favor or because you feel compelled to help, you perform an invisible act of power that has profound healing effects for you both.”
I’m not sure whether this boy was grateful for what I gave him; He didn’t seem to be, but that doesn’t really matter. If he is able to buy food with it, his stomach will be grateful. And hopefully my contributions to the Global Fund for Children and their work on behalf of educating and the children of the world will prevent other children from needing to follow in his footsteps.