When I try to speak Spanish, my mind clouds and what spurts out is a kind of stilted gibberish. Luckily, communication is more than 90 percent body language, and so when I sat with last month’s mom of the month and watched her tear up when talking about her experience with HOOP, I understood her. She had changed, taking small lessons from HOOP’s programming to redirect her own behavior and thinking. Small lessons seemed now like real differences.
It’s easy to see problems when traveling and trip yourself up on thinking about how to change them. Why, for example, do people around the world litter? How easy it would be for them to just stop. Never mind that, in many countries, there isn’t a centralized trash service, or such services are often inhibited by lack of infrastructure, funds, or manpower. In Peru, in particular, I’ve learned the illegally-developing neighborhoods will have limited access to services because city planners won’t allocate them outside of the legally-defined limits.
Or we could try to find a solution for, say, traffic in developing countries and the emergency vehicles that get stuck in it. In that case, couldn’t we put more stop lights up, or use more traffic cops, or develop more stringent traffic laws? All of which might be doable with long-term planning and budget allocation – if it’s a priority, and if corruption in the government doesn’t impede headway.
The reality is, while big, sudden, changes are possible and have happened before (an applicable example for me is New York’s sanitation sweeps during the industrial revolution), they’re often difficult to enact with any form of sustainability. Additionally, we see in the United States how a great idea can be hindered by complex factors – imagine how it is so in other countries in other stages of development. And so, today I want to express some appreciation for the long con, the small changes we make that can hopefully have a lasting impact on the future.
I see it a lot at HOOP, an organization that has stayed and will stay with a community, so our initiatives will follow these kids and their mothers through various stages in their lives. HOOP’s most basic project is the English teaching, obviously designed to give students and their mothers the chance to catch new opportunities and offset some of the early disadvantages faced in the communities. On a daily basis, it’s small; a few words, a sentence, or a snippet of a conversation. From childhood to adolescence, a conversation a day adds up. Not to mention, coming into regular contact with foreigners from all over the world does a lot to break stereotypes, misconceptions, and limitations.
Similarly, HOOP holds workshops for the mothers on various life skills, including leadership and psychology. I sat in on self-esteem workshops with the mothers, in which they had their photos taken and captioned them with their favorite qualities about themselves.
It was a simple activity that revealed a lot of internal conflicts. Mothers lined up for photos, forcing themselves to smile, or sometimes not bothering to smile at all. The social work interns reminded everyone makeup was not a necessity, everyone was as beautiful as they were. Once they posted the photos on the wall and wrote what they liked about themselves, punctuated by painted handprints, I read through them. Most of the women wrote “patience,” “happiness,” and “kindness” as their best qualities – and what I felt at the time was a quiet acceptance that these stereotypically feminized qualities would manifest this way in this kind of a community.
The small thing for these women was having their pictures taken and naming something good about themselves – an uncommon assertion in places where women are supposed to be modest and humble (and, yes, this happens in the United States as well, often grandfathered in under the term “innocent”). It’s only a start, yes, but over time these women will have more confidence and feel more assertive – as the mother I mentioned earlier did.
My point with these small changes, these small victories, is that they must be a part of a larger plan. Strategize that they will accumulate and become something greater, something like the overall decrease in violence the western world has seen over the centuries, or the overall increase in equality between men and women. It’s what helps me when I get angry about the impossibilities on the planet – that the work I’m doing now will benefit future generations. That hope really does help. That planning for the now is effective and wonderful, but thinking about what happens next, and sticking with it, is sustaining.
I want to see a lot of change before I die. I plan on being a part of it. I also am keeping myself in context of what I can do at this moment in time – and though it seems minuscule, it’s actually a lot.
Words by Cecilia Smith, Communications Intern, adapted from her personal blog.