Years ago, I spent a week of high school summer on a work trip to Gettysburg, PA. We worked on houses that, like too many of their owners, deserved far more attention and love than you’d imagine possible in a city so revered in American history. I was assigned to a group that worked with a sweet old couple: Gertude, pictured here, and her husband, who she called Pappy.
Pappy was wheelchair-bound, barely spoke, and liked nothing more than to be wheeled onto the porch so he could watch the world go by. We rebuilt the porch (which was made of what looked like hand-split logs, presumably years ago, as it was collapsing when we arrived), added a wheelchair ramp to a side door, and re-shingled part of the roof.
Lacking the time, skills, and money to address other much-needed repairs (like the 3-inch gap between floor and door, or the lack of plumbing and insulation), we finished by painting the living room because it made her happy.
Gertrude was raising her grandson, whom she called Baby. She told sad, somewhat confused or confusing tales of the abuse and struggle in her own life. If we sent letters, she said, her daughter-in-law would come and read them to her. Her son showed up just once, walking past us into the woods behind the outhouse and producing a four-wheeler. He rode around for a half hour, re-parked his quad, and left without a word.
Everything that week was stronger than life back home. I’d never known anyone living in such poverty, or who took it so matter-of-factly. Hatred bubbled up at the son for being so selfish in the face of his mother’s needs.
But the good things were strong, too, and the week buzzed with that hyper-social-churchy energy of youth events. By the end of the week, you’re convinced you’ve made lifelong friends, which of course you probably haven’t, but it is amazing how quickly we bond in situations like that.
I recently reconnected (as much as Facebook friending can be considered reconnecting) with Shereef, a guy I met on that trip. I’m not sure why my brain held on to him for all these years (really, nearly a decade?), but I’m glad it did. Shereef is still cool – he’s up to good stuff and has been working as a Fellow for Kiva in Peru. And I can’t help but wonder if that work camp trip planted some of the seeds for where he’s headed today.
I’ve read of microfinance on and off for the past few years, but hearing from someone directly involved piqued my interest considerably. So a couple months ago, when I searched “volunteer editing” and Kiva came up (6th, no less- a good ranking), it seemed too perfect to pass on.
I applied and passed the editing test, so now I’m officially a Kiva Volunteer Editor, helping clean up and clarify loan descriptions as they come in from field partners!
It’s not hard work (last night I edited while watching CSI), but it feels good to use my workin’ skillz to a charitable end.
And what’s more, my first edited loan to go live is for a woman named Yaa, from Ghana. She seems like a nice woman and the loan is already filling.
When I started this post, “Hammer and Nail” by the Indigo Girls popped into my head for the obvious “working on a house” reasons. But I pulled up the lyrics (also a good decade back in my brain) and found that it’s even more appropriate than I thought. Here’s the last verse:
My life is part of the global life
I’d found myself becoming more immobile
When I’d think a little girl in the world can’t do anything.
A distant nation my community
A street person my responsibility
If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring.