October 15, 2008

Mary Beth Danielson: Meet Your Ancestors - at the Racine Public Library

Mary Beth Danielson with a young girl in Guatemala.

By Mary Beth Danielson

I had only been in Guatemala a few days on my first tour to visit MayaWorks weavers in their homes and communities, when I began to understand a powerful reality.

When you visit what is often referred to as “the Developing World”, “the Third World”, “the Emerging Nations” -- the journey you are on is not distance-covering, but time-travel.

If you want to celebrate those European, Asian, African, or New World slave cultures from which most of our great-grandparents emigrated – go to a poor country today. But don’t go for the great beaches, cheap shopping, bird watching, or digital camera vista-gathering. Instead, seek out ways to respectfully encounter the ordinary people who live in these money-poor countries.

This is why. If you do this, you will meet the people you come from. You will learn something about who your people were, and why earth’s poorest human beings today are, in fact, your next-of-kin.

This is also true. In most instances you will not feel pity nearly as much as you will be astonished at how smart, energetic, uncomplaining, funny, generous, and inventive people are when they have no one to lean on but themselves, their families, friends, and close community.

You will be, I guarantee, jealous of their bright-eyed children who help without whining, giggle constantly, who pour themselves into every opportunity to attend school and advance their lives. You will be stunned at the skinny 14-year old who will work in a field all morning alongside his father and grandfather, come home for a lunch heavy on tortillas and devoid of meat, who will then wash his arms and face in a basin of water, then go to school all afternoon.

Children of MayaWorks artisans at a school event. Without the modest but reliable income their mothers earn working for a Fair Trade organization, many children would would have to stay home to help the family instead of attending school.

You will visit homes so crude you might mistakenly call them shacks. Except you meet the hard-working, big-dreaming people who cook, eat, and sleep in these rudimentary shelters, and you realize that what makes a home beautiful might be something you need to rethink.

The past few weeks we have been nerve-wracked by the rollercoaster of our First World.

What’s not making the front page is this. While we are losing security and spending power -- third world nations are being hit with inflation running at 25-40%.

In other, much poorer nations, right now, people who could feed their families last year -- can’t feed them now.

We are making more economical culinary choices. More meals at home. Chicken instead of pork chops. Hamburger instead of roasts.

If you were already eating rice, tortillas, and broth – where do you cut back?

So here is an invitation to all of us -- You are invited to two evenings at the Racine Public Library.

The library, with input from the MayaWorks organization as well as our Racine’s new Fair Trade HOPES Center, is hosting PBS’s Frontline Social Entrepreneurship series. This is a series of seventeen 11-15 minute programs portraying successful entrepreneurial enterprises in poor nations.

Come and learn how local solutions to local problems are working all over the world. These low-budget, high-impact endeavors are fascinating models showing how people can and do make their lives more secure.

Come and watch the spirit of your ancestors played out in modern times.

Wednesday October 29, 6-8 p.m. Take a video tour of Guatemala, Uganda, Nepal, India and Cambodia. Discussion will follow, moderated by Racine’s newest social justice entrepreneur, Ann Pratt, OP, Director of HOPES Center.

On Wednesday evening, November 12, 6-8 p.m. we will welcome MayaWork’s new executive director, Jeannie Balanda as well as Board Member Phyllis Nickel. Come to hear how Fair Trade impacts the lives of hundreds of Maya weavers and their families in Guatemala today. Guatemalan refreshments will be offered at this celebration.

And in case you are someone who misses Mary Beth Danielson’s column in The Journal Times, she will be at both events. Door prizes will be given both nights featuring new writing, by her, for you.

Marta is a weaver for MayaWorks. She is at a loom in the courtyard of her home, which allows her to monitor her children while she works. Without Fair Trade standards, most women in the developing world must go to low paying work in factories, leaving their children at home, unsupervised.

You are warmly welcomed to these two friendly local evenings in the Racine Public Library – as we consider the global economy from the point of view of people in difficult places who are building justice, stability, and hope.

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