Prior to living in Nicaragua, ‘privilege’ was not really a part of my everyday vocabulary. Unless you consider those flippant ‘it’s a first world problem’ type of comments made when the coffee shop was out of almond milk! But now it has a very different meaning. A word that invokes passion and emotion. A word that is usually preceded by an F-bomb, and ends in tears. Let me give you some examples.
When we were in the process of building El Coco Loco we received a shipment of composting toilets. That evening a local lady came to our gate. She had seen the delivery truck and was wondering what we planned to do with the packaging boxes. Of course they were garbage. She asked if she could have them as she’d like to build an addition on her lean-to home…….. If you’ve driven through a subdivision of one of our cities lately then you know that we are fu#*ing privileged.
On Coco’s first day at school at the local elementary school, I remained in her classroom to help her settle in. I watched the teacher lay out old paper on the floor for the students to sit on while she read them a story. I then saw her pull out a small plastic car with no wheels, a doll missing an arm and a plastic frying pan for the class of 10 to play with. ……..If you have ever peeked into a preschool room in a developed country then you know that we are fu#*ing privileged.
In a parenting group on Facebook, a mother recently wrote a post soliciting other parents’ advice about siblings sharing a bedroom. I read the first 4 comments and they were unanimous in their opinion that this is unacceptable. Children (even toddlers), they said, need their own space and it is disrespecting this human right to force them to share. Of course, I am paraphrasing here…. But if you have every pondered this ‘dilemma’ then you know that we are fu#*ing privileged.
At a parents-teachers meeting at our local elementary school, I sat frustrated while the teacher read out a long technical document published by the Ministry of Education. I sighed and thought how it would be much more effective and efficient if we could just take a copy home and read it at our leisure (or in my case copy it into Google translate!). This ingenious plan of mine was flawed because it was dependent on the other parents being literate, and this was not the case. ….If you are reading this post on your computer screen or electronic device then you know that we are fu#*ing privileged.
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I wasn’t raised in a palace. I didn’t attend private school. I don’t own a closet full of designer clothes. I don’t drive a fancy car. In fact, a glance at my bank balance may raise eyebrows for reasons other than wealth! But still, I am so fu#*ing privileged.
I am privileged because I was born in a country where access to high quality education and healthcare is free. I am privileged because I was raised by a family who were able to nourish and nurture me, and impart essential life skills. I am privileged because of the colour of my skin. I am privileged because of my physical abilities. I could go on, but you get the picture. Privilege is so much more than financial wealth. It is not something that one earns but rather is just a function of who you happen to be. Privileged means that on the sliding scale of disadvantaged to advantaged you reside at the top.
When I set out to write this post I did not have any real purpose. I guess I just felt like ranting and saying something about inequality! I certainly do not want anyone to feel ashamed or guilty of what they have. To the contrary, celebrate it all, but do it mindfully. Do it humbly, recognizing that others (even individuals living in your neighbourhood) may not have the same advantages. Grab the opportunities you’ve been afforded with both hands and make the most of them. But do not pretend that you are not a person of privilege. Living in Canada and the UK, I didn’t even consider this. Instead I would covet what others had, always wanting more …. A larger house, a holiday to an exotic destination, a professional qualification, a new pair of boots! Now that I truly recognize how privileged I am, I appreciate what I have so much more and have a deeper sense of gratitude for each experience and opportunity.
The disparities we see around us are great and ubiquitous. The complexity of the problem is immense. This can lead us to feel helpless. Just because it is too big to tackle alone doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! I believe that it starts with awareness and acknowledgement. Once you recognize the benefits you’ve had and the hardships others face, your perspective starts to shift; then you just can’t help but want to champion change.
The lady with the cardboard boxes came back to El Coco Loco and asked for a job. Almost 7 years later she is still employed at the hotel. Thanks to a Waves of Hope initiative and the collective support of the surrounding community, a 2-roomed house made of brick and wood was constructed for her family. If you walked past her home and saw her sat outside, you might not think much about it. After all, her house is still pretty humble by our standards, but in reality her life is very different now. There is enough food for everyone, there is plentiful clean water from a tap, they stay dry when it rains, her younger children attend the local elementary school or the new high school, and some of her older children are also employed at El Coco Loco. This positive change is due to the monetary donations of ‘westerners’, the labour of volunteers, but also their own motivation for a better life.
Perhaps equality for all is a pipe dream but we can still make an impact.
Please take a moment to read about “Buy a Brick”, Waves of Hope’s current fundraising campaign with the goal of building 4 new classrooms on to the existing high school. This is a true success story. Following the opening of the first high school in the area back in 2014, the demand for secondary education has exceeded expectations and the school needs to expand!