Press for Progress

This is Chonda. The real deal. Not an actor paid to play the part. She is the heart and soul of a change that is gaining momentum in Bangladesh. Her face will tell you a story, if you take the time to let it capture you.

Nestled across the river from the Sundarbans, the world’s largest coastal mangrove forest and home to the Bengal Tiger, is the small village where Chonda and her husband Rabindranath have made their home. For years, Rabindranath caught larvae from the river and sold it in the market to support his family. If he caught enough, the family ate well. If not, they were hungry. When the Bangladesh Forest Department banned the taking of natural resources from the Sundarban as part of a conservation program, Rabindranath had no choice but to become a day laborer. Now, instead of being at the mercy of nature, he is at the mercy of local employers who may or may not need temporary help.

Chonda longed to do something to help. As a woman in a conservative Hindu village, she was not allowed to become a day laborer and no local shops would hire women either. She dreamed of starting a small business in her home but lacked the capital to do so. Then one day she heard about Hathay Bunano, which means handmade in Bangla. Hathay Bunano had started a work center near her, where other women gathered daily to knit and crochet  soft and colorful Pebble toys. Robindranath agreed that Chonda could take the training. During her training, she not only learned how to knit and crochet, she also learned the values of Fair Trade, as well as her value as a woman deserving of equal opportunity. For three years now, she has been working as an equal to her husband in providing for the family. They no longer worry about whether they will have enough to eat. They are able to send their daughter to school, which is significant in a country where schooling is not free and education is not mandatory. Chonda has opened a bank account and has been saving money, instead of living hand to mouth, dependent upon her husband’s earnings. She and her husband are now talking about starting their own business together someday. Chonda has become a powerful voice in her community, challenging other women to realize their value and equality, pressing them towards progress and being a living example of hope and change.


Monday Morning Donut

In a crazy rush to get boy #1 to school yesterday morning, I hit one of our city’s infamous potholes with my car, causing a tire to go flat within minutes. We inched slowly home to swap vehicles, only to discover that the van was on empty and I had no time to go back for my wallet. I decided to brave it and we made it to his school mere seconds before the tardy bell rang. I rushed home to get my other two sons out the door and hopefully some gas in the van. The next several hours were full of Austin trying to to figure out how to get gas out of a new gas can and getting gas all over his hands and then trying to wriggle the busted tire off the car so he could put the donut tire on. Meanwhile I was getting boy #2 to his college classes and sent boy #1 back to bed after a bout of severe diarrhea. By this time I was muttering some not-so-nice words because this was supposed to be my quiet hour at home to work out, before heading to work myself.

And yet…in spite of all this, by the time we dropped our donut-wheeled car off at the shop and headed to work with our gas-filled van, my blessings towered large in my mind and my complaints stopped.  We have not only one, but two vehicles, a luxury unknown to much of the world. Like kings and queens who feast in the famine while peasants starve, we forget or just don’t see how nice we have it. For instance, approximately 150 million people throughout the world have no home. In countries like Bangladesh, only 2% have their own vehicle. Globally, 1 out of 7 are desperately hungry.

As Americans, we are at the top of the top when it comes to luxuries and I’m thinking it’s time to redefine the American Dream.

Happiness is not about the things we have, but about our gratefulness for the things we do have. The happiest child I’ve ever met was a little boy who lived on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. His face was marked by Down’s Syndrome and a rather large cleft palate, which left him disfigured and made speech difficult for him. Held to the spot by a giant traffic jam, I sat in the back of a baby taxi alone, until he jumped in beside me and chattered unintelligibly, smiling the biggest smile ever, eyes shining with happiness. A little girl who knew him popped her head in and told me that his mother died of an overdose when he was a baby and he was being raised on the streets by his Grandma. He had nothing but a piece of plastic over his head at night and no one to love him but one elderly homeless woman.

No toys.

No video games.

No education.

Rice…and lentils if he was lucky.

No mother to read him stories and tuck him in at night.

No father to protect him from the cruelty that looked mockingly at his face every day.

No cell phone to scroll through when he was bored.

No hospital to bring normalcy to his face.

And yet, he was so happy that he radiated something tangible.

I want to take that tangible joy he had and squeeze it down my son’s throat when he complains because we are out of Ranch dressing or his video game privileges are temporarily suspended. I want to smack myself in the eyes with it when I complain of pot holes and flat tires and missed work-outs in a land of so much abundance, when the very reason I need to work out is because I have too much. I want to hit my people over the head with it when they are more concerned for their own well-being than with the needs of those who are other. I want to weave that tangible joy  tightly into the fabric of our existence until we slow down and let it sink in.

We. Have. More. Than. Enough.

Abundance surrounds us. It overflows into the thrift stores and peeks out of the garbage trucks. And still we want more. But what if we lived as if we had enough, right now? What if we gave thanks for the tiny things instead of complaining about the next big thing we lack? What if we saw a correlation between our own complaints and the narcissism of our generation? What if we discovered a new American Dream as a result of sharing generously with those in need even while we are still in need ourselves? What if we looked at what we hold in our hands and said, “Wow!”

Because wow! What we have is pretty amazing!