To Start The Journey You Have To Remove A Lot Of Rocks

(excerpt from Gail’s journal)

This week we had a very special visitor to the Foundation. It was Azeem,  a volunteer who had been here almost four years ago.  His job, while he was here, was to help us with the construction of the prekinder building in honor of Beth Livingston. Beth had been a good friend of mine who had fallen to her death during a solo hike in the mountains of Escazu.  Her family had been kind enough to give us the funding to make this building which would serve the young children of the community that Beth had loved so much.

That was the idea, anyhow. The reality was that Azeem became the lone warrior in the battle of the rocks. Here he was, barely able to speak Spanish. So, construction was a good idea for him, right?  Every day, he went up to el Carmen and got out the pick and shovel You see, before we could begin the construction, we had to clear the land.  So, he took out his shovel and began to dig the foundation. He hit a rock. He removed it. He hit another rock. It was bigger. He removed it.  He hit another and another and another.  Finally, he got to a rock that was so big, it could only be removed by a greater number of people. So, we all went to El Carmen with Azeem and with group effort, the help of our physics training and the use of a lever, we removed the big rock.  Then there was another one.  We all laughed and cursed and got exhausted. 

Azeem’s time with us finished in August of that year.  When he left, there were a lot of rocks piled up around the construction site. That was all. He had been stung by bees, laughed at by some of the school kids, gone back to Santa Ana terribly frustrated and, finally, gone home very discouraged.  No matter that I told him to keep the faith. To believe that this classroom would be built.  Azeem went back to the States and helped his parents build a gazebo in their back yard.  Construction therapy.

Now, it is four years later. What a coincidence. Beth’sdaughter, Amy is here with us now.  She came here to work and help the Costa Ricans in some way, to thank them for what they did for her mom when she was missing.

Yesterday we went to El Carmen. Amy, Azeem and I.  It was exhilerating to see Azeem’s look of surprise and pleasure when he saw the beautiful little yellow classroom on the hill. Amy paused for a silent moment when she saw the plaque on the wall honoring her mother.  And a gentle breeze blew by us. I thought, as I always have, Beth is here with us.

Andnow we are working to build something perhaps even more powerful and meaningful. We are going to work with street kids and make their lives something worthwhile. Something they can count on. Something they can construct with joy and love.  But, since October, we’ve had to remove an awful lot of very heavy and big rocks. Their aggression. Their fear, their anxiety, their depression, their drug addiction, their low self image, their uncleanliness, their hunger, their hate, their racism, their low image of women, their need for immediate gratification without thought of the consequences, their selfishness and their hurt.

These rocks are so heavy. We have needed the combined efforts of so many. The volunteers who spent hours just sitting with them and patiently waiting for them to wake up in the morning. The many who helped clean and clean and clean. The house, the books, the yard.  The Costa Rican families who had them in their houses, who gave them jobs to do, who provided work for them. The special friends who spent hours talking to them, taking them on little trips, encouraging them to draw and color and paint their thoughts.  The financial backers who had enough faith in our project to provide us a stable financial situation from which to work.  The village of Ciudad Colon whose police, storekeepers, restaurant owners, pulperia owners did not denounce us and had the patience to let this process work itself out.  The neighbors who, although frightened to death to see the kids walking down their street were kind enough to talk to me about their fears and to let us stay. The owner of the house, who, when he first saw the destruction of the house was appalled but who, once again, was kind enough to let us complete our lease without asking us to leave unexpectedly.  And even the people who work at the justice department, the OIJ, the PANI, who although not sure about what this was about, gave us the time and space to try our experiment and to see what would happen.

There is a concept that it takes a village to raise a child. And we certainly have had that.  And as I sit here today, I am sure, that, just as that little kindergarten on the hill gave opportunity to hundreds of little children and their parents, our street kids project will continue to support street kids as they wake up from the nightmare of life on the street and become the shining humans they know they can be.

So, to all the Azeems of the world, just be strong, keep your faith and know that together we can change the world. Your part may not be obvious to you at the moment, but believe that you are part of  a greater whole. You see, in order to do anything, you have to remove the rocks first!

© Gail Nystrom 2007. All rights reserved.