I am not satisfied with procrastination or empty promises. I am not driven by ephemeral inspiration or futile idealism. I do not believe in improving the world through impersonal charity or mere rhetoric, but I believe that we have a moral obligation to improve our world through means that are both meaningful and plausible. This obligation should not be the result of man’s attempt to seek praise, for the virtue of solidarity goes beyond recognition. It lies in an understanding that we are irrevocably linked to one another, that we are not alone in our endeavors, and that we have a solemn responsibility to set forth conditions encouraging dignity and respect, an environment nurturing the ideals of social justice. This vision cannot be realized if it does not imply a commitment to those who are vulnerable or marginalized, and it cannot be realized if we cloud our judgment with hubris by believing that it will somehow materialize on its own. These are the beliefs that brought me to Tecpan, Guatemala, via a high school study abroad program, and it is this mindset that allows me to know that I will one day return.
By visiting a female agricultural cooperative that grows cash crops to support their families, I learned how the Kak’chikél farmers cope with their hardships. I discovered that it is their solidarity that holds their traditions and values together in the face of unlikely odds; their will has never broken. It is their ethic, their commonality of interests and concerns that allows them to maintain their cultural identity despite the potent forces of globalization. It is their support for one another, their sense of harmony that reinforces their existence.
At Escuela Rural Pueblo Viejo, one of the few schools in Guatemala that teaches the Kak’chikél language in addition to Spanish, I helped paint a run-down basketball court, befriended Enrique and Freddie, and taught English phrases to eager children. I played soccer with enthusiastic boys in a schoolyard consisting of fragmented concrete, dirt, and a small patch of grass. Unlike schools in the US, there was no running water or electric lighting and few students had notebooks. After witnessing a society that lacks the luxury and opportunity that many Americans cherish, I am now compelled to act, not out of pity, but out of a sense of humanity. I now plan to return and deliver school supplies because I believe that education is the premise for progress, opportunity, and development and because I will never forget the jubilant smiles I witnessed, the authentic happiness of Edwin shouting “foto,” or the flood of emotion that surfaced within me as the children chased after our van, begging us not to leave.
Few realize the significance and power of providing comfort and compassion; that through solidarity and support we can start countering the myriad problems we face. Some say American cultural hegemony is either directly or indirectly the cause of many of the world’s problems. Others proclaim that within the American spirit is a genuine care for the plight of others, but with the problems the world faces, caring and words are not nearly enough. We have become too consumed with the trivial matters of our everyday lives, valuing scores and grades over character, and material objects over the conditions of others. Somehow we lost sense of what is important, and only when we are reminded of the dreadful conditions some face do we feel compelled to make a difference. Unfortunately, even then, that fiery passion that once ignited all too often flickers then fades. This view is not one of pessimism but realism, and it is compassion, empathy, and solidarity that the world now requires.