I believe that as human beings we are basically good in spite of the harm we do to one another.
I became directly aware of what it is like for people to be displaced from their land and homes and placed in a refugee camp because of the conditions of war, famine or drought. I visited such a camp. A man, Carlos (not his real name) saw us walking down a dirt road in the camp where he was living. Smiling and gesturing with his hands, he eagerly invited the group I was with into his home and to meet his wife and children.
The roof of their two room house was made of tin and its walls were constructed from cardboard. The rug beneath their feet was the earth. They had no running water or electricity. Food was scarce. They were made poor and traumatized by the war in their country and sought shelter in the camp after the rebels took their land and home. I cried seeing the conditions under which they were forced to live.
However, their dignity, politeness and hospitality brought different tears to my eyes. Then something I did not expect and amazing happened. It reminded me that a sense of belonging and community are powerful sources of strength and inspiration for each of us.
I handed the oldest of Carlos’ two little girls, who was about eight years old, a package of gum. Several children suddenly appeared in the house. I watched as all of them in an orderly fashion went outside and sat in a circle and passed the package of gum around until each of them had taken a piece. Carlos’ daughter, the oldest of the group of children, slowly brought her piece of gum toward her mouth. The other children followed her lead. She suddenly stopped short of putting the gum in her mouth and offered me the last and her only piece.
Her courtesy profoundly demonstrated to me that the impoverish conditions some people live in need not blind us to our common dignity and grace and our desire to connect with one another. I believe we have the capacity to share even the least we have with others.
This experience of visiting with these children reassured me that this kind of giving is what makes miracles possible. What we offer will somehow be sufficient if only for the moment. These children reaffirmed my belief that resilience and hope is in us all to share. Remembering them helps me to stay in touch with my own humanity and the dignity of those around us who are living in various situations of deprivation. Those limitations need not define or defile us.