We play a little thought game sometimes, my husband and I.
It’s simple really.
We take what we know about the people we meet, and we speculate on what their life would have been like if they had been able to access the same resources we had when we were young.
There’s a woman we know who takes every thing that comes her way and turns it into a business opportunity. She ran a grocery delivery service to families living outside of town. Every time she cooks dinner she sells a few extra plates to the men in her village who would rather not cook for themselves. She buys clothing at a discount and sells it at a profit. She’s always taking care of people too
Her parents both died when she was in 4th grade. That’s the highest level of education she ever completed. After that there was no money for school.
We think she’d be the CEO of a major corporation by now if she had been able to finish public school and go to college like we did.
Another woman turned around and taught everything we ever taught her to her neighbors and friends. She taught the women in the labor ward with her about how to have a more comfortable labor, while she was giving birth to her own daughter. When I met her she couldn’t even read or write in her own language. She’d never gone to school. I imagine her in a school in North America, loving learning, at the top of all her classes, and going on to be a school teacher when she graduates. She’s already a gifted teacher. Think of what she could have done with a standard public school education.
She calls everyone around her to be better, to rise above where they are.
Another friend speaks 4 different languages, reads one fluently and a little bit in at least 2 others, and taught herself almost everything she knows while on the job. She grew up in a country village. One of her first jobs was in a clothing store. She paid attention to the owners and learned how to talk, how to dress, to speak Thai. Soon people thought she owned the store, instead of just working there. She makes the most out of every opportunity in her life. She is a shrewd manager and a good judge of people and their character. I trust her opinion in pretty much everything. She has half the education I have. She’s one of those people who could have chosen anything as a career path, but would have almost certainly ended up using her skills to help others. She’s constantly learning, and turning what she learns toward helping others. She’s an advocate for women and children.
There’s a man on our family support team who did go to school, and completed quite a high level. But instead of going to university he got a job in a coffee shop, because he needed to earn money to take care of his mother. He speaks 3 languages and reads 2 fluently. I love watching his mind wake up and acquire new information. I don’t know if he realizes how intelligent he is. His life long goal has been to make enough money to take care of his mom, and his future family. He’s personable, outgoing, humble, smart. He’s spent most of his adult life working for $10/day or less to take care of his mom, and now his wife.
I have a friend who’s mind just ticks away, always thinking, always storing information. She’s the first to think outside the box when it comes to problem solving, to look at something from another perspective and find a solution. She aggressively practices English with me, using everything she knows. She takes initiative in critical moments. She’s always stylishly dressed, even with a very limited income. She has an eye for colors and cuts. She used to own a clothing shop before she had to leave Burma, and lost it because the land was sold. It’s easy to see her owning and managing a chain of retail stores. When I, in my mind’s eye, try to place her in a North American context, she’s always in some bright corner office or conference room. She’s got an MBA or a law degree. She’s turned all of her quiet competence and problem solving into a lucrative career.
I know a woman who grew up dirt poor, constantly transient. Everyone looked down on her, and treated her badly, like a modern Cinderella. She had the worst jobs. Even poor people bossed her around. She was below them. Her whole life has been hard work, and toil, and fear.
I wish you could have seen her when she took a series of self defense classes. One day the instructors asked Aaron to play the bad guy, put on pads and attack, so the women in the class could practice defending themselves. She almost knocked him out with the first hit. She knew it too, so she didn’t hit him a second time in the same spot.
I wish you could see her start to stand up tall, teach people, and defend herself. To realize that she has rights, and that she doesn’t have to take shit from anybody. It’s like a light has turned on inside of her.
Someone attacked her recently. She punched him the stomach and he walked away limping. She’s learning to read and write. She’s learning new languages. She’s learning to be an advocate for herself, her children, and her community. She’s changing her life. She’s discovering how strong she is. Imagine if she had gone to school as a child, and had people who support her.
When I look at how amazing some of these people are, and then realize that they’ve done all that they’ve done with less than half of the opportunities I took for granted in my life time, it’s incredibly humbling.
There isn’t much difference between me and the woman cooking dinner outside a one room hut while filthy children whine beside her. I may like to think there is sometimes. But what if she also was born in Canada, in a country with free world class public education, free healthcare, clean drinking water, and social programs to help those with lower incomes?
What if I were born in a hut in the middle of the jungle to parents who were working hard just to survive, haunted by war and threats of violence?
I’m not special. Mostly I’m just #blessed. Call it luck if you like. But it’s not something I deserve.
I can’t imagine trying to raise my children and live my life without the knowledge I have, and the resources I have access too.
I see people here doing it every day, doing their best with the little they have and doing it with strength. I spend my time working to give them even more knowledge and better tools so that these strong and resourceful women have the ability to change their future, regardless of their past, and give their families the opportunities that will change their lives forever.