I’ve been traveling to and from Oaxaca, Mexico for 15 years.
My first trip was on a college whim. A pastor came to my campus wanting to organize a service trip to a children’s home.
I’d never heard of Oaxaca, I’d never been on a service trip, and I’d never spent any time in a children’s home, so I went. I thought it would be a great experience.
That first trip, I met dozens of children that have changed my life, one in particular, named Gabriela.
Yes - Gaby and I have known each other for 15 years.
One year into my volunteer trips, I met another volunteer named Bryan...
You all know the story.
Gaby, Bryan and I have essentially grown into adults, together.
Bryan, as you may know, is the President and Founder of Simply Smiles.
Gaby is now the Program Manager of Oaxacan Operations for Simply Smiles.
The three of us just spent a week providing a health clinic for people living in the southernmost region of Oaxaca, Mexico, in a town called Santa Maria Tepexipana.
2,504 people stood in line waiting for us to administer a life-changing and life-saving drug to cure intestinal parasites. You can read all of the science, and facts, here. Bryan did a great job breaking everything down so that you can understand the process as well as the ‘why’ behind the process.
The process is important, and so are the facts:
- 2,504 people were treated
- 12 tons of food were distributed
- information on college scholarships was passed out to each family
- educational pamphlets on how to prevent infection were given and explained to each family
- plans were made to build over a dozen new latrines
The facts are wonderful.
In addition to sharing the facts, I want to try and describe what this all feels like.
While standing behind the medication table, and looking into the trusting eyes of countless children and families, I realized that what Simply Smiles is doing is creating opportunity.
Some of these children will take it, and some won’t.
Some of these parents will take it, and some won’t.
Our job isn’t to make sure that everyone takes every opportunity.
Our job is to make sure that opportunity is always there for those that want it.
This village may be the birthplace of the next Steve Jobs, or of the next Bob Dylan, or of the next Nelson Mandela. We’ll never know, until we can assure that they are provided with opportunity.
I’ve always known that everyone’s path is different.
What I’m learning as I get older is, this difference is a good thing.
These children won’t all go to college. They won’t all go through high school. In fact, the majority of them won’t even make it to middle school.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve the opportunity to go.
They deserve opportunity as much as they deserve to be healthy, and as much as they deserve to have enough food to eat.
When standing in front of thousands of desperate parents who simply can’t feed their children, your heart breaks from the weight of fear and anxious uncertainty.
Your heart breaks for the grandmother who walked for six hours in the sweltering heat, just to make sure that her sick granddaughter would have a chance to see the doctor.
Your heart breaks for the child who understands that this is her last year of school, because once she’s 10, she’ll have to work in the coffee fields with her family.
Your heart breaks for the father who tried to get help for his sick child, traveling for a day, just to wait for three hours outside of an administrative office of a non-profit, and then be turned away.
These stories. These people. They’ll break your heart.
In the crowd there’s a little boy.
I met Rigoberto 7 years ago when Bryan and I first visited this village. He was pretty freaked out by us (we were the first white people he’d ever seen) and he was incredibly shy. He was born with no right arm, and at the time that we met him he was suffering from malnutrition and severe intestinal parasitic infection.
We saw him in line, just two days ago, with a huge smile on his face, waiting to greet us. He plays soccer at school, is incredibly fast and strong, and looks for Bryan every time we visit.
Seeing him made me realize, these stories are real too. And they’re just as true.
You're inspired by the illiterate parents who have heard Gaby’s story, and then ask how they can help assure that their child goes to college.
You're inspired by the mother who walks 9 hours round trip to sell bananas in the town square to ensure that her children have the proper school uniforms.
You're inspired by the 8 year old girl who helps translate conversations into Spanish for me when a family arrives that only speaks Zapotec…she hangs around the medical table all day because one day she’d like to be a doctor.
These stories. These people. They’ll make your heart soar.
The world is so small.
It’s amazing to me that I can be in this village by nighttime if I leave that morning from New York City.
It’s also amazing to me that I could have just as easily been born a child in Santa Maria Tepexipana.
These two thoughts are present in my mind and heart often.
Because the world is so small and so connected, these people are my neighbors.
Because the world is so small and so connected, I have the good fortune of calling many of the folks of Santa Maria Tepexipana my friends.
And because they’re my friends, I’ll do all that I can to help them.
Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.
This paraphrase of what Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963, sadly, I believe is true. Dr. King wrote these words so many years ago, and they’re just as relevant now as they were then.
For my optimistic brain, this idea that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, is a little much for me to handle.
I get bogged down in the thought that I’ll never be able to do enough.
But a few years ago, while thinking through this idea, I realized that if that’s true, then the opposite must also be true.
Justice anywhere is justice everywhere.
Yes, justice anywhere is justice everywhere.
What Simply Smiles did this week, and what I got to witness and be a part of, was contribute to a just world.
Justice in the form of healthcare to over 2,500 people.
Justice in the form of food to hundreds upon hundreds of families.
Justice in the form of scholarships to children seeking out opportunities.
That is justice.
And I truly believe that the justice in this corner of the planet made our entire world a little more just.
15 years worth of fighting for justice.
And every little bit of justice brings us closer the world that we want to see.