When you are committed to helping others there is no limit to where and what you can do; everyone needs help with something no matter who or where you are in the world. There are varying degrees of aid, and having spent time in foreign countries, I don’t think it’s fair to say that people abroad need more than we as Americans do. I think that misconception exists because the general standard of living we are capable of achieving is much higher here than in other parts of the world. A good example of how everyone can use help comes from my time spent living in Brazil. When I lived in Brazil I was there to help the most impoverished population, but what I didn’t know was how I needed their help too.
In Brazil I worked in an emergency food program (EFP) which served the women and children living in a rural favela, or slum, outside of Montenegro in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil. During this time I was tasked with helping these women generate income by making crafts out of items that could be found or reused. Being a highly educated woman from the United States, suffice it to say my crochet and rug making lessons were somewhat obtuse, but I tried! After our lessons we would distribute food to those women, and they would walk back into the favela to their hovels and shacks. The feeling of giving someone food, knowing that they cannot and may never be able to provide for themselves or their family is heartbreaking. I could help, but what could I really do to change their lives? Little did I know that it was what they would do for me in return that would change my life and lead me to where I am today.
On one particular occasion I was asked to read to the group as we were going around taking turns. I was particularly nervous about my Portuguese but everyone was very generous saying that I did a great job. It wasn’t until I passed the book to the next woman who graciously declined, because she couldn’t read, that I realized how lucky I have been. Portuguese is my fourth language and I was nervous to read out loud, but it was her first and only language and she was complimenting me on how well I did and thanking me for reading to her. It was a moment I will never forget, showing me the power that we have to help each other. I gave her food, and she gave me reassurance and purpose. I knew I was there to help these women, but what I didn’t anticipate is how they would also help me become who I am today; it doesn’t take much, but a simple word of encouragement can be enough to change someone’s life.
So what can we learn from this? What I learned is that you don’t have to go far to be supportive to someone in need, no matter what those needs are. Most people don’t realize that there are still hundreds of thousands of people in the United States that don’t have access to clean water, nutritious food or a place to live, and there are even more who work full time and still can’t afford those things. It’s these people that we can and should aim to serve. It’s easier than we think; donate to a worthy cause, volunteer your time somewhere, read to someone, or even just smile or say hello as you pass people on the street. You never know what that could mean to someone who just needs a little support.
We all have the means to help those around us and for me it was never a question of if I could give up some food, salary, or time to help — it was how. Just because we have rights and privileges that other countries are not as lucky to be afforded, doesn’t mean that our country is better; it’s what we do for our own that truly reflects on how we live.
Valerie Torrez is the Quality Assurance and Purchasing Manager at Roadrunner Food Bank.