In a recent commentary, Christine Jeske explains how she and her husband learned from poor villagers Nicaragua. I include an excerpt:
One special influence to us was a man who quit grad school to move to El Salvador, where he lived through a civil war. He challenged us, “Don’t go somewhere thinking you have the answers. Go somewhere to learn from the poor.”
So we lived for a year in a Nicaraguan village, with no running water or electricity. Many nights I would sit on a rock at Carla’s house. She would rest her large frame on a bucket, her only furniture, and rock her little boy on her lap while she told stories of poverty. Always she was thankful—that her husband narrowly escaped death in a hurricane, that her daughter could go to high school, and that we had come.
Also there was Rodolfo, father of 10, who spent a year learning to write his name, and Naya, the anemic mother who begged me to teach her to crochet, and Neno the village president struggling to make ends meet.
We returned to America with a hunger to connect the world of these poor to that of North America. We studied economic development in grad school and worked in China, but many of our influences continued to be ordinary people with questioning and generous hearts, among them friends in Oshkosh.
Even now I feel my work is as much for America as it is for Africa. I want my children to know they are akin to every nation we might set foot in, and for the people there to know the same.
That line by the unnamed man moved me. “Don’t go somewhere thinking you have the answers. Go somewhere to learn from the poor.” How wise!
Christine Jeske connects the situation in the United States to that in the so-called third-world. We have both similarities and differences. For example, the U.S. has shockingly high poverty rates, as one in 8 U.S. citizens lives below the poverty line, but U.S. poverty has a different nature. Nonetheless, as a global community we can best eliminate poverty by seeing the world as a single intricate community rather than a bunch of unconnectedly individual nations – whether we divide those nations by race, region, or religion. We cannot afford separatism. None of us can.