I haven’t been in Ireland long enough to make a total fool of myself talking about local issues. The other day I started a piece about unintended consequences and let it evolve into a view of a political system that closely resembles the one I’m used to seeing in America. ( http://www.jpmaney.com/choose-carefully/ )
So instead of writing a piece I want to write but can’t do right now, I’m turning the space over to another blogger, Vera Dulce Hyatt. I met Vera and her partner, Juan, in Guatemala earlier this year. Since then I’ve followed her two blogs and gone back to read some of her earlier posts.
After spending a couple of weeks traveling the gringo trail through Guatemala: Antigua, Lago Atitlan, Semuc Champey, Flores, Tikal – we find a hostel in Guatemala City for the night, near the Tica Bus station in which we will catch the 5:30 bus back to Managua the next morning. The proprietors of the hostel are a couple in their early forties – an American fellow, Andy, his Guate wife, and their two young children. Once a professional chef in New York City, Andy decided to move to Guatemala ten years prior, to escape the tenuous schedule of the American working man.
We ran out of quetzales and didn’t want to change more money, nor brave the streets of the city, so we negotiated for him to cook us dinner in exchange for painting one of the upstairs rooms. As we painted, bright green with orange trim, he told us stories of previous guests.
“A few months ago, a couple of American women stayed at the hostel on their way back to the States. In a country that is world famous for creating beautiful textiles, the women were dismayed by the level of poverty they saw during their travels. They decided they wanted to help. Five years ago, they started an NGO in the Guatemalan Highlands. Their non-profit organization set up a trade agreement with the women making beautiful textiles: it would export the textiles to first-world western countries, charge first-world western prices, and sent first-world western wages back to the women making the textiles.”
“What a great idea!” We all agreed. “What a cool thing to do, to help the people of Guatemala!”
Andy continued the story.
“The American women were on their way back to the states to meet with the board of the NGO, to determine a plan for how best to dissolve it.”
“Why?!” We exclaimed in confusion.
“The textiles were so beautiful and sold so well, that the women making the textiles had to work over-time to keep up with the demand. They were taken away from their homes, away from their children and their families. The dynamics of the home changed due to the women’s absence. The men and the children were struggling to adapt to take over the work that the women once did to make the house a home. What’s more, the women now had all this money that they didn’t have before. They had more money than they knew what to do with, more money than they needed. They had an amount of money disproportionate to the needs of the lifestyle of their local community.
The communities began to split. Families began turning against each other. The families with working women were snubbed by those not working, and vice versa. People stopped helping each other. There were the families that had money. Then there were the families that didn’t have money.”
Andy continued ranting about all the negative impacts the NGO had on the communities, and the larger problem of developed western nations imposing their views on what it means to live well in other nations. He was angry. An angry ex-New Yorker.
I’m sure there are other sides to the story and we didn’t get all the information and details. But the story had an impact on me. It changed my perception of what it means to “help”.
Though it’s what I was trained to believe and is the American Way – you can’t just go into a place and throw money and something and think that is going to fix whatever it is you think is broken.
Want to read the rest of this piece? Or more of Vera’s thoughts? Check out her blog at http://www.shesgotthatwanderlust.com/
Vera’s also the co-author of another wonderful blog: http://www.thespiritualgps.com/
You can find them online or on Facebook. I enjoy her writing – and think you will too.