Carry Water, Change the World

I was in Haiti for Levo this past month.  While there, I reflected a lot on the Eastern wisdom that teaches before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  In Haiti, this is not a metaphor.  It is life. 

In rural Haiti, water means walking.  This is not, because Haiti doesn’t have a sufficient water table to provide for the population, it is because there is not the basic infrastructure to provide ready access to the water.  So, they walk.  Many walk miles each day for their water.

With so much of the world’s resources, it is not so much that we lack what we need, we lack a system to distribute what everyone needs.  There is enough food.  The food America wastes could feed hundreds of millions of people on the brink of starvation.  The United States is the ultimate consumer culture, ironically, Haiti has never been a culture based on consumption.  So, the U.S. consumes without thought sucking up the resources that might allow others to simply live.  That isn’t justice. 

This isn’t a government thing, this is a change our hearts and minds.  To consider our actions and to what they are contributing.  Little things do matter.  On Sunday I had lunch with Christie Gabhart of Many Hands for Haiti.  Christie is a missionary, living full-time in Pignon, who does remarkable work caring for everyone she possibly can touch.  While we were eating a man came into the restaurant (on one leg, with no crutches or other means of support) to speak with Christie.  Christie offered him a seat at the table, bought him a drink and pushed her plate of food to the man.  He protested, but she insisted she was done.  That is justice.

Partly because we are developing the theme at Holy Family Retreat Center for next year, as Christie and I made our way into town I asked her about her philosophy as she goes about her work.  She simply wants people to know that they matter.  Little things matter.  Christie knows that helping one person understand that they matter is not world changing in itself, but it does change the world for that person, in that moment.  If we can string enough of those moments together, we will change the world.

A few houses down from where we had lunch, we stopped on our way out of town at the home of a woman who lost her leg to diabetes.  I watched as Christie, bandaged a wound on the woman’s remaining foot, because the hospital sent the woman away until it is time to amputate the other leg.  Disclaiming that she is “no nurse,” Christie demonstrates something far more important than medical training.  She shows compassion and solidarity.  That woman knows that she matters.

Levo’s work requires patience, because it is development, not relief.  The hardest thing about development is looking at the need for relief.  We have spent the past few years testing and developing, experimenting and refining as we watch the relief needs continue to unfold around the world, surrounding our efforts in Haiti and in our own backyard in Hartford.  I take immense satisfaction in our recent results – with our most recent protocols 100% of the plants yielded production.  This recent harvest won’t change the world all by itself, but each of our systems can change the trajectory for one family and if we can string enough of them together, we will change the world.

If you have ever felt like the things you can do don’t matter, you were wrong.  Little things matter.  You matter.  And you can help change the world, by helping others to know that they matter.

Bill Heiden