Over spring break, I had the privilege of working in Guatemala on a philanthropic project. For a week, I worked in the town of Santiago Atitlan in Central Guatemala, and I was working with an organization, called ADISA, which is an education and work organization to help those with mental and physical disabilities to live better lives. One part of ADISA is an artisan workshop, where some people with disabilities work with recycled newspaper to make jewelry and pottery to be sold at the local market, and it is ran by a man name Jose.
Jose is 45 and has been wheelchair-bound since he was 16 years old. During a protest against the military presence in Santiago Atitlan in the early 90s, 12 people were gunned down by the armed soldiers and many more were wounded, Jose amongst them. Jose then found himself waiting 15+ hours before he was finally in an operating room with a surgeon saving his life, and shortly afterward Jose was informed that the bullet had clipped his spinal cord and that he would never walk again. However, Jose has not let this one event define and control his life. He has found himself employment in the workshop, he wakes up each day with a smile on his face, and, in his words, “while he may not be able to walk with his legs, he is able to walk with his mind.” Simply put, he did not let this act of a violence, a momentary performance of waste, dictate whether or not he would waste the rest of his life over it.
The story of Jose is but one of the many that came out of Santiago Atitlan in the wake of the shooting, and many of them are much like Jose’s in that they did not let the shooting stop them in their mission. In the months that came after the shooting, the people of the town rallied together and petitioned the government to keep the military out of their town, and an agreement was reached. Since 1992, the military has not been allowed within the limits of the town, and they have been able to bounce back from the oppression that they were subjected to by the soldiers previously stationed there.
I cannot help but find many similarities to the ways in which the people of New Orleans have been able to recover in the years following Katrina. While there was much suffering in each situation, the people of the town did not let the tragedy dictate their actions after it, and each community has worked together to overcome the event. In both Santiago Atitlan and New Orleans, members of the community came together to form support groups, open their homes to those who needed help, and aid the physical recovery of other members of the community. They were each tenacious in their drive to build themselves back up, and I find that this commonality speaks to a certain fact about human nature.
We find ourselves unable to abide by the card we are dealt, and within each of us is a desire to better ourselves and our communities. Naturally, there are exceptions to this, but, by and large, it is a human desire to be better off, and it is that drive that can allow us to make sure that past or present performances of waste cannot waste future performances.