Ciocia Kasia: Champion of Solidarity

Never have I witnessed such a beautiful display of solidarity than when I was at Zmiaca.  Ciocia Kasia is not only the woman who owns and manages the orphanage, but also a woman who devotes every day of her life to improving the lives of those in need.  Despite the difficulties that would lie ahead, Ciocia Kasia and her husband decided to open Zmiaca in 1980.  As explained to our team in a meeting, private orphanages do not receive much government funding, so it is a continuous struggle to find benefactors who will support the mission of the orphanage.  Despite the inherent obstacles of operating a private orphanage, including the possibility of closing if benefactors decided to withdraw their support, Ciocia Kasia chooses to dedicate her life to running Zmiaca.

 

Every time a child is brought to Zmiaca, Ciocia Kasia does not know how long he or she will stay.  It has therefore become the mission of the orphanage to provide every child with an experience where they can interact with adults in a positive, constructive, and healthy way.  While I was at Zmiaca, Ciocia Kasia’s boundless love and dedication was evident in every interaction she had with one of the kids.  Ciocia Kasia has the gift that Greg Boyle speaks about in his book, Tattoos on the Heart—she manages to show the children that they are deserving of love and the kids are “able to feel their worth”.   Although there were moments when Ciocia Kasia was yelling demands to unruly children over the microphone during evening performances, every action truly was one derived from love.  Ciocia Kasia extended an incredible amount of compassion in every smile she flashed at a kid, every warm embrace, and even every piece of potato that she shoveled into the kids’ mouth at dinnertime.  It truly was an inspiration to witness Ciocia Kasia at work because she has so much to teach the world about living in solidarity with the marginalized.

Home, but not quite family

“Even the best orphanage can never be a family”.  This is what Ciocia Kasia, owner and head of Zmiaca, said to our entire team in a meeting where she gave a history of the orphanage.  Of all of the information she shared with us, this sentence is what lingers in my head the most.  Whether it was hearing stories from other team members about how the kids in their families were struggling or witnessing the hardship of the little ones in my family, many moments tore at my heart throughout our stay.  That said, no experience encapsulated the injustice that the children of Zmiaca face every day of their lives as much as that one sentence Ciocia Kasia shared.

 

Although Zmiaca is a beautiful place with brightly colored walls, loving caregivers, community living, and beautiful surroundings, it does not compensate for the experiences that have led to the children ending up at Zmiaca.  In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle writes, “part of the sprit dies a little each time it’s asked to carry more than its weight in terror, violence, and betrayal.”  For such little bodies, the children of Zmiaca have certainly endured much more than anyone should ever experience.  Scarring experiences are not easily erased, and the kids of Zmiaca are daily confronted with the injustice of bearing those moments of terror, violence, and betrayal.

 

Ciocia Kasia’s words helped me understand the injustice—that the beautiful, funny, and loving children did not have parents.  Though it was (and continues to be) easy to get disheartened when thinking about the kids’ pasts and wondering what is in store once they “age out” of Zmiaca, I was offered a glimpse of hope that triumphs over injustice.  Zosia and Kasper, a brother-sister duo in my family, were eligible for adoption, and the couple looking to adopt came to visit one day.  While our entire family was watching a movie, I was mesmerizing to see Zosia, Kasper, and the couple together.  They all looked so in love.  The women wrapped her arms around Zosia’s waist as she sat on her lap, and the man would look down at Kasper with a twinkle in his eye every few minutes.  Not all of the children at Zmiaca (perhaps even Zosia and Kasper included) will have the fortune of being adopted, but witnessing this tangible love was the first step towards realizing that there is the hope for the injustice to cease.

Lens-less Life

I do not consider myself a flashy, high maintenance person.  Most days, I walk out of the house with jeans and a t-shirt or some other minimalistic outfit, and my phone is my least favorite (and least used) accessory.  Understanding that I am a minimalistic gal, I thought it would be very easy to maintain this simplistic lifestyle during my trip to Zmiaca, Poland.  However, this call towards simplicity was not as easy as I originally believed.

 

Since the whole team was dedicated to living simply, we included a “pact” in our team covenant in which we would not take pictures until we had spent three days at Zmiaca.  I was especially excited to keep my camera tucked away in my backpack, as I did not want technology to detract from my time with the kids.  That being said, I intensely wanted to abandon this vow of simplicity when a picture-perfect moment presented itself our second day at the orphanage.

 

There is a beautiful orchard in front of Zmiaca with many fruit trees and bushes that is open for the children and volunteers at all hours of the day.  In anticipation of the kids who want to pick berries and fruit, there is a bin of containers and baskets near the house.  Our family decided to go to the orchard so each of the kids meticulously picked out a basket or Tupperware container and headed towards the hilly orchard.  As we marched towards the plum trees, two of the girls were helping each other carry a long basket.  Although it was such a simple gesture, I yearned to grab my camera and capture this moment of friendship and teamwork.

 

Instead, I did something that was much more meaningful, and that was taking a moment to paint a picture of the scene in my memory.  Especially in our society of instant gratification, it is easy to want to turn to our technology to mark our experiences.  However, Greg Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart calls us to “put first things recognizably first,” and this was an opportunity to do exactly that: understand the importance of acknowledging the humanity and simplicity of this kind act of friendship rather than scrambling towards technology to “bottle” a memory.  So not having my camera in this moment framed the rest of my trip.  Rather than turning to my camera to mark memories, I was intentional about living in the moment, recognizing special moments, and letting the experience sink into my heart rather than into a memory card.  These little shared experiences, like friends carrying a basket together or kicking a stone back and forth during a long walk, became far more memorable and meaningful because it was not seen through a lens, but rather through an open heart.

Sweating, Simplicity, & I

There are two types of people in the world: those who prefer the summer and those who prefer winter. I am the type of person to sleep with her windows open on a cold, winter night. If I am out in the sun for a long time that means I will sweat and sweating makes me uncomfortable. El Salvador’s weather made me extremely uncomfortable which impacted me throughout the trip and helped me understand what “first things recognizably first” means.

Sweating for me is a huge self-esteem factor, it makes me extremely insecure and that is what I faced every day at El Salvador. I wanted to be in an air conditioned room all the time, I wanted to stop sweating, I wanted to stop being uncomfortable and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I looked to everyone with a waterfall in my face. According to Neafsey, “People in extreme circumstances are sometimes better able to appreciate the things that are most important” 175. Unfortunately, I was not appreciating the things that are most important and instead focusing on how uncomfortable I was with the weather. I wasn’t being simplistic and I wasn’t appreciating the things that are most important. However, I am thankful for Daphne being on the trip because she helped me put things into perspective as well as focusing on simplicity.

Daphne was my go-to person at the trip; at the end of the day, Daphne and I would have “recaps” after our reflections. For me, these “recaps” were definitely sessions where I could vent about anything that really bothered me, what I learned, and what I need to realize.  In our “recaps” I never failed to mention how uncomfortable I was because of my sweat. Daphne gave me a really good talk about simplicity and made me realize that I was putting my needs before the trip and that is not what we were there for. Daphne perfectly embodied the simplicity cornerstone value and she helped me realize how much I lacked simplicity at the start of the trip.  According to our cornerstone value, simplicity, “Simple living is paring down our wants so that we can focus on what is really important…Embracing simplicity allows us to value relationships over things; to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters, the voice of our own inner-self, and the voice of God. The end result of simplicity is freedom.” I must say that after my deep talk with Daphne, there was definitely a freedom aspect I felt. For once, I didn’t worry about what others thought about the huge puddles of water in face. Daphne helped me to be present at our trip and I am so grateful for her making me realize that I wasn’t being simplistic. She definitely helped me dive deep into the relationships I made at El Salvador and my relationship with God –all which was essential to how I talk about my experience today.

Who wants to go Shopping?!?!

Looking back at my time in Jamaica, I realize that us Americans buy food for the long haul. Where Jamaicans buy just what they need. There are multiple factors as to why exactly but this is where simplicity in my life rolls into effect. Back when we were in Braes River we met Ms.Schernette, she was the leader of an afterschool program. She wanted to throw a community wide party/celebration. So that calls for a trip to buy groceries. We left and came back later to find all these vegetables on the counter that were going into dinner and found Fitzroy in the kitchen preparing the chicken already.

Now the point I am trying to get at is far beyond one simple shop. Those vegetables came from a farmer somewhere local. When Ms. Schernette went shopping and bought those vegetables she was thinking about how this money will help provide for his family that night. Buying what we need versus what we want also makes us more human. What I mean by that is we as humans strive for connections, communication, and emotions/feelings. Buying what we need helps us make those connections and find a greater appreciation for those human beings who provide for THEM.

Greg Boyles once said” Putting first things recognizably first” versus the saying I know “Putting first things first.” The difference in one word between these two sayings is very important. Recognizably. Recognizing and appreciating. For example when you go to the super market do you think about where the item came from? How many people worked hard to get the product to you? I know I am guilty. How many people worked hard to give you the food on your dinner table? Not just the dairy famers or produce farmers but truck drivers and butchers. How many people are you helping?

Hiding Behind The Camera

In today’s day and age most of our lives are dictated by our technology.  We often let our cell phones take precedence to the conversations we have before us, or a television program that you just can’t miss, either way majority of our lives are controlled by technology, or even the media. Society often tries to tell us what we should make a priority. It should not be this way, we should be the leader of our own lives, we should be present in the moment and as difficult as we may find this I believe our immersion trips helped us do this.

It was our first day at the community center in Brae’s River and we were all inside getting acquainted because it was raining outside.  Prior to going in our leaders had suggested that maybe today we should focus more on the conversation and less on the photograph and we all agreed, today just wasn’t the day to stick a camera in a strangers face.  We get inside and everyone is a little nervous you can just feel it, that, is until Suga starts playing some Taylor Swift.  Soon the whole room is dancing silly and everyone is comfortable, except for one thing.  Our adult team members began taking photos even after we had previously discussed not to.  I think I find it sort of sad that we were all capable of connecting, but they just felt more comfortable and connected to their camera than the people around them.

Neafsey speaks of an “agonized consciousness of the awaken” which I believe means that people who are aware and “awake” are bothered by the troubles of the world.  People with an “agonized conscious” feel responsible for things, but in the case presented above the leaders behind the cameras were unfortunately stuck in a trance.  They were in a state of complacency where everything was okay and they were simply their to observe rather than experience.

****Disclaimer: Their souls were eventually awakened and they began to interact more once they became more comfortable.

Jamaica: Simplicity is not Simple

Simplicity is not simple.

As an American born and raised in the twenty-first century, I have grown accustomed to things.  I never really thought of myself as a person who put a lot of value in materialism, but after seeing how it frustrates me when some material possession gets ruined, I might have to rethink my original assumption. Just the other day, I nearly broke into tears after I dropped my already damaged laptop on the floor and it broke a tinge more. We were told not to cry over spilt milk, but what about broken electronics.

While in Jamaica, my regard for my material possessions was quite the opposite. I left on the trip with one bag filled to the lid, and while there, didn’t think twice about getting every article of clothing I brought ruined.

One day while on the farm, we all traveled to one of the muddy cassava fields to help plant and learn about the crops from our friendly pal, Chalice. When I say that the ground was muddy, I mean that it was lose-your-sneaker muddy and for some reason, I just didn’t care. The challenge of standing in the sinking land made the task of planting this new-to-me plant even more fun. That day I learned all about how cassava is grown and the delicious end product it produces. If I had focused instead on how ruined my shoes were going to be at the end of the day, I would have never received the opportunity to experience this.

During her Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice Speech, Sister Peggy O’Neill also talked about how possessions are not what is important and life. She used the analogy of never seeing a Uhaul truck behind a hearse to show that the things you own are not the things you take with you when you leave. Instead, you take with you the memories and relationships you leave behind. If people continue to live gluttonously, concerning themselves to much of what is going to be inside that Uhaul, they are never truly going to make the connections needed to actually leave their mark on this world. Simplicity is where we find the means to make an impact.

Solidarity in Jamaica

I think going into these trips everyone knew that solidarity would be one of the most difficult of the cornerstone values to experience, but the point is we all went to our destinations with open minds and hearts willing to try.  It may have taken some of us longer than others, but as Brene Brown discusses vulnerability is not easily achieved.  She explains that we as humans are very hesitant to showing our whole self, imperfections and all, but the pay off is worth it.  I was witness to this very phenomenon in Jamaica.  Sister Grace a very highly respected nun in the community exemplified solidarity toward the other natives of Jamaica, specifically one of her drivers, Fitzroy.  Fitzroy had not come from much and he was vulnerable in the form of shame and feelings of not worthy of love, but Sister Grace had made changed his mind.  She gave Fitzroy purpose, responsibility and a sense of being.  This helped him turn his shame into a sense of identity and pride.  It was evident when he spoke that he was very proud of who he was and to be working for Sister Grace.

Untouchability in India and other ailings of the world

I googled “Solidarity” to put into words what I thought it means and I found out that it comes from the latin word solidus which means “solid” and it basically means to be in unity with a particular group or community based on interests and standards.

 I then went back to my chosen topic of writing about my stance with all of the illed of the world using untouchability in India as an example and tried to apply my newly learnt definition of solidarity in writing about my stance with all of them. And then something struck me. The definition states that its being in unity with a group based on one’s interest and standard. Then I asked myself why it should only be with a group with whom one in interested in? What about the rest of the people in the world with bouts of injustices and other unfair ailings coming at them daily? Do we not stand with them because we deem their cause not worthy of our interest? Solidarity shouldn’t be about privileged people’s interests and standards. If it’s wrong, it has to be spoken about, and it has to be fought for. The dictionary definition of Solidarity isn’t at all what I had in mind.

I see Solidarity not as being in unity with people based on my interest but as being one with everyone based on nothing  and regardless of nothing.Untouchability in India is just one of the many terrible ailings souls have to endure in the world. Edouard Boubat writes that “you cannot live when you are untouchable.Life is a vulnerability.” Life shouldn’t be a vulnerability. It should be about kinship, about belonging to one another and letting souls feel their worth as Greg Boyle writes. Deprivation of allowing these souls to feel their worth, is what Mother Teresa diagnosed as the ills of the world. To that end, in moving forward in life, I will stand with all the people in the world facing oppression. I will stand with all of the people in the world not feeling their souls worth, I will stand with all of the people in the world facing poverty, facing abuse, facing starvation, facing instability and facing all of the ills of the world . My interests and standards don’t, and shouldn’t matter.

Solidarity: Kids will be Kids

Human instinct makes us judge. We seek to sort and organize people and things so that we can better understand them. As systematically fine this may seem, it leads to a lot of injustices and is something that is really hard to correct. Stereotypes have rose from things like this, and the ideology that, “…some lives matter less than other lives,” that Greg Boyle writes about in his book Tattoos on the Heart. In my opinion, this is simply wrong. We all should be striving to feel compassion for each other as equals as we learn to understand that our own humanity depends on everyone else’s humanity. We should all be pushing for solidarity with one another.

During my time at the Santa Cruz school that we visited, I received a small glimpse of the often difficult concept of solidarity. While in the backyard of the school we were helping tidy, I was busy picking up sticks and raking trash when I received one of my fondest memories from our trip. Young children of the village were playing around us as we worked, and were excited to put their hand in to help. As I raked and they brought the filled containers over to the fire, we were all working in a system that was highly dependant on eachother. Everyone’s role in the cleaning was important.

As we spruced up the backyard, I quickly got to know the kids. We talked for probably 2 hours about random, frivolous things such as silly puns like saying ICUP outloud and the good ole’ “Look under there!”…”Underwear” one. If I was in a poverty stricken town in Jamaica, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. The kids I was joking with were simply kids and to me, this was one of my closest encounters of Solidarity.