Areceli and Antonio during visit Feb 2023
Reports from charitable organizations like Atzin are most often chronicles of good news and promising advances; but if truth be told, the reality can sometimes be the complete opposite.
Village conditions took a rapid nose dive in early 2020 and worsened during 2021. Bewildered women struggled to feed their children with no income. Too many men hung around in the streets, doing nothing useful, having lost their work as street sellers, some drinking 95% proof mixed with pop or openly using drugs, numbing emotional pain or gaining false strength in numbers. Children missed two full years of education, many never to return to class, giving up on literacy in order to earn money. Municipal government services limped along using WhatsApp, in effect almost disappearing for two years. And, to the extent the environment reflects the state of our inner world – the place where life is really lived - then the garbage carelessly strewn everywhere was a sorry statement of people’s emotional health.
In 2022, re-gaining any momentum in our education and health programs was like overcoming inertia, almost like starting over again, but this time, with the odds of success more complicated and riskier than ever. More than once, I had to ask myself whether the last twenty-some years of work by so many were actually for naught. Of course, our work had helped different individuals at different times, but overall, the villagers were descending further into a deep hole – of debt and poverty, of insecurity and violence, of toxicity, depression and anxiety, of illness and addiction – driven largely by negative external forces beyond their control. Over three years, we had lost hard-won ground. In moments of reckoning, I was more than discouraged, disheartened even.
Then one day in early 2023, we visited Antonio in his simple home that was made of sticks and concrete blocks with a dirt floor. A year ago, bandits forced this innocent young man and his brother to kneel, hands clasped behind their necks, and shot them. Paralyzed from the waist down, and his brother killed, Antonio’s life with all its potential and possibilities had been abruptly altered by others, and through no fault of his own. And yet… he greeted us warmly, pleased to have visitors. Areceli, a health promoter in our Special Needs Program, returned his smile as he demonstrated his exercises and discussed the transport for his upcoming fitting for leg braces and arm crutches (a surprise donation from a generous couple).
Antonio had every reason to be angry, bitter or resentful toward everyone and everything but instead, his eager smile was genuine and he was visibly grateful for our time and attention. Lying on an old, grubby mattress in the poorest of houses, Antonio was drawing on a remarkable personal reservoir of resilience, rebuilding after a terrible loss - living proof that while painful events do leave scars, he was “touching the miracle of being alive” (quote from Thich Nhat Hanh).
Against this backdrop of anguish and injustice, watching Antonio and Areceli talk, I felt a tangible shift, a re-gaining of core strength that had slowly eroded. Such is the effect of caring human interaction.
Taking our cue from Antonio, inspired by his vulnerability and courage, we dare to press on, recognizing the absolute value of heart-felt connections and accompaniment, and cognizant of the everyday miracles.