In the attached picture, you can see some people building a road together. These are Hmong people who live in a remote village. I included this picture because it illustrates how much can happen when people work together in community. Do you notice those smiles? I think the smiles come from contributing and belonging. Happiness in poverty is possible, but it helps to have a community and something to give to the community.
1. Are you experiencing this economic moment as a moral or spiritual crisis as well? My husband and I live in Laos, where he works for an organization that helps poor villages. Sometimes I feel detached from the economic crisis. We are so far from America, we have everything we need, and most people here haven’t really been affected by the economic situation in the west. That’s partly because Laos is so isolated - it was poor before and still is (actually it’s gotten slightly wealthier). The villages where my husband works mostly grow their own rice, so the increased cost of food hasn’t made a big difference. It’s easy for me to foolishly think I’m immune to the economic crisis because we’re doing okay right now.
On the other hand, I know many people in the U.S. who have lost their jobs and some who could lose their houses. The organization my husband works for is supported by people in North America. Although I feel distant from the problems, I know that we are just as susceptible to job loss as anyone in America. I wish people would see this as a time for generosity, but I’m concerned that they might become more focused on their own problems. Our organization has seen a decrease in donations and is preparing to continue work with a smaller budget. I hope Americans won’t forget about the rest of the world. That would be a moral crisis.
2. Do concepts of trust, of living in community, of what sustains you have relevance in new tangible ways as you face changed economic realities? I suppose my “changed economic realities” have more to do with where I live than with the economic crisis, but maybe some things I have learned here can be helpful for people in the U.S. I’ve learned that there are things worse than poverty. Poor people can keep enjoying life and each other. It would be harder for a Lao person to be without a family or community than to be without a job (partly because families take care of each other in times of crisis). Another thing I’ve learned is that cultures that are used to being poor are really good at frugality. In the U.S. people have forgotten how to eat and how to have fun without much money. I think that makes this crisis even harder – we don’t know how to deal with poverty. Maybe Americans could learn to cook like Indians and Southeast Asians – mostly rice and vegetables, a bit of meat, and lots of spice!
Seriously though, I know this is a hard situation for many people and I hope I haven’t made light of your difficulty. Sometimes we don’t know why life is so hard. Maybe the best thing to do is keep going and try to focus on the basic things: food, love, shelter, and faith.
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