Sometimes it feels like there’s a heavy dust blocking my eyes. It feels like I just can’t see things clear enough.
Two nights ago, I was in the desert city of Ica. We were walking near the Plaza de Armas in the city center on a busy shopping evening. We had a mission – purchase school supplies for the 20 boys living in the Casa Girasoles. As we turned a corner amidst a phrenetic crowd of shoppers, a young man sitting on the sidewalk hunched against a wall caught my eye. Lying next to him was a boy. The boy, perhaps 8 years old, was sleeping on a dirty blanket. The man had a sign with scribbled words that read, “I am Venezuelan. I am alone with my son. I have nothing. Please help.” I stopped in my tracks. People ran into me as I made a human barrier in the middle of this busy sidewalk, but I didn’t care. Deep inside I felt a tremendous jolt. I looked right into his eyes. There was so much pain. I pulled out my wallet and fumbled through my bills, hoping to avoid glares. I walked up to the man and put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Eres importante (you are important).” I’m not sure why I said that, or what I hoped to accomplish – but I just needed to connect.
By the time I regrouped with my colleagues, now some two blocks ahead, they had already reached the store where we intended to purchase school supplies. The store was closed. We decided to back track through the crowded streets, retrieve the car and go to another store in a shopping mall some 15 minutes away. Walking past the man, we caught one another’s eyes. He raised his hand and gestured with a thumbs up. I was crushed. I did nothing. I wanted to do more. I hurt so deep inside – for him, with him.
When we got to the store it was late and we were all very tired. Hoping to expediate our shopping, we asked one of the clerks for help. She kindly sat down at a computer terminal and helped us sort through two pages of school supply needs. At one point she asked why we were purchasing so many supplies. We explained that we run a home for formerly abandoned boys and we had recently received a generous donation to purchase school uniforms and supplies. After listening intently, she asked if we could wait a few moments. She returned with the store manager.
The manager spent the better part of two hours helping to find the best prices, discounting items on the spot, and offer free “extras.” He went out of his way to assure the boys got the best supplies for the lowest prices. In the end, we left the store with over S/. 3,300 ($1003) worth of school supplies for only S/. 1,100 ($335). We were floored. He showed such kindness and compassion. He had no reason to go out of his way for us, yet that is exactly what he did.
The events that transpired on Tuesday night got me thinking. How do we care for one another more? How do we go out of our way to help in the face of overwhelming obstacles?
I am deeply pained by the plight of Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers. I am deeply concerned about the welfare of underserved people facing significant challenges to live the lives they deserve. And, I know for a fact I am not alone in my concern – there are caring people who are making a difference in so many ways. We just need to connect our efforts to create greater impact. But how do we do this?
We need a movement. A movement of compassion. A movement of service. I think it starts with connection. I connected with the man and his son on the busy streets of Ica. He is with me. He’s in my heart. I now have a responsibility to him. The manager at the supplies store went out of his way to help us. He connected.
We can connect. We can rise above this dust and find a new way. Join us!
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.