I’ve been putting off this blog post for a couple of weeks now. I’m having such a hard time figuring out what to say. On October 3, I returned from Mexico City where I spent a week with 44 other travelers, mostly volunteers working on behalf of ELCA World Hunger. We were attending the annual ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering, and though the Gathering happens every year, it has never before been held in Mexico.  It was a packed week, and so I keep thinking that writing about it shouldn’t be difficult; there’s certainly plenty of material to draw from! But at the same time, it all seems too big, too personal, too intense to adequately or comfortably blog about. It’s hard to know where to start. Or stop.  So I’ve decided to start small and see what happens. Here’s one small anecdote.
On the Tuesday of our trip, we went to Lomas de San Isidro. Lomas is a community built on the steep side of  a mountain-sized pile of debris from an old mine. Built without the benefit of city planning – or any official approval – the streets are narrow, unpaved, and pitted. Infrastructure like a sewage system is lacking. Is it home to about 5800 people, and we were told the average male head-of-household earns about 300 pesos a week. That’s roughly $24. Most of the folks who live there have had little education.
Elena (seated) with Stephanie (Amextra staff)

Elena (seated) with Stephanie (Amextra staff)

One of the people we met in Lomas de San Isidro was a woman named Elena. Through a translator, she explained to us that during the spring swine flu outbreak, she and a group of women hand-sewed 5000 face masks in the space of a few days. Then they went door to door through the community handing them out, and providing information about the flu and how to prevent it. Collectively, it required hundreds of hours of work for which she and the other women received no pay. But in Lomas, no one got sick with the flu.

When asked why she did it, Elena said she wanted to help her neighbors. And she understood that success takes teamwork, and she wanted to be a model of how to do that. She wanted to encourage others to work for the community, too. She said the women’s strategy is to work together, even though it is not always easy, and some have to be convinced that it’s worth their time. But Elena believes that, together, they can improve life for everyone.

We visited Lomas because it is a community supported by Amextra, one of ELCA World Hunger’s long-standing partner organizations. It was ELCA World Hunger funds that provided the materials for the masks that Elena and her neighbors sewed, and that support the Amextra-sponsored community center where classes on health and disease prevention are taught. It was gratifying to see a first-hand example of the impact my donations are having, the good ways the money is being used, and to recognize my part in that greater whole.

But for me, far more profound was the example being set by Elena and the others we met. Relative to those living in Lomas, I am rich beyond imagination. I have lots of comforts and plenty to eat. But unlike Elena, I can’t tell you the names of the people who live three houses away from me. I’d like to say I’d stay up all night to make them face masks, but if the flu hits my neighborhood, I’m not so sure I’ll see those nameless, unknown people as my priority. Elena and the residents of Lomas de San Isidro have very little money, but they have a wealth of human connection and support that many of us Americans, for all our money, can’t buy and desperately want. In the community that the residents of Lomas de San Isidro have created, I saw God. And I felt hope.

There are lots of places in the world like Lomas de San Isidro (including here in the U.S.!), where people struggle daily to eat. To acquire needed healthcare services. To obtain information. To offer their children a hopeful future. And there are lots of places where people accomplish amazing things in the face of adversity every day. Our trip to Mexico gave a small group of us a renewed sense of hope and urgency in the fight to end hunger. May we find ways to sustain that sense of urgency and pass it on to others!

-Nancy Michaelis