Monday, September 27, 2010

The First Stitches: A Lunchtime Conversation

I came from farm country – land of big combines and even bigger fields. My father often comments that he’d love to watch what would transpire if he could just take one farmer from our village and one farmer from our hometown and have them switch places for the day. They’d both be astonished. Here the corn is harvested, shucked, stripped, and dried by hand. The work is long and arduous. Their hands are dry and cracked.

It is hard work.

I wish each person who gets a heart for Scarlet Threads could spend a day in our village. I’d show you the process for harvesting corn. I’d take you for noodles at a table next to the farmers. I’d show you their homes and the bathroom they use that’s down the street. We’d sit and have hot cups of tea in their courtyards, and I’d watch your face as it suddenly dawned on you that you have far more in common with them than you have different. I’d watch as you came to appreciate their strength and their dignity and their hard work… as you grew to understand all the things you think you’ve earned and deserved are as much a product of the environment you were born into as they are your own hard work.

One day over a bowl of noodles, I asked my friends how we could help the poorest families in our village. I said, if I knew they didn’t have enough rice… which would be better: Give them a bag of rice without them asking for it? Or wait for them to ask for help and respond to the need? (It might seem like a funny question in a western world, but in Asian cultures “face” is very important, and to cause someone to “lose face” by acknowledging that you see their problem can be very humiliating.)

My friends thought for a moment and responded… For the most part, you can’t give them a bag of rice without them asking for it, because then they’d be mortified that you think they are poor (loss of face). And, they’ll never actually ask you for a bag of rice, because that would also cause them to loose face, so you can’t exactly wait, either.

So what do you do?

Give them a job, they said. Give them work to do that can help them earn an income so they can buy their own rice. Pay them fairly. Treat them well. Help them help themselves.

It’s something that we’ve all heard; but mostly in a theoretical sense. When you’re sitting at a table eating a bowl of noodles in a village where you know there are people who probably need rice, it suddenly has a lot more traction.

It was one of the first stitches that started Scarlet Threads…

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