Changing the World in Baby Steps

I wish I were changing the world in a big way, I really do. For those of you out on the front lines – teaching in underfunded classrooms, feeding and clothing the poor, battling social injustice for the disenfranchised, curing diseases and patching wounds, indeed fighting battles for good on any front – I salute you from the bottom of my heart.

For the rest of us, it’s just baby steps in how we change our little part of the world. But the older I am, the more I see how heroic of an effort that really is.

En Vía volunteers and loan recipients in San Miguel del Valle, Feb. 2015

En Vía volunteers and borrowers in San Miguel del Valle, Feb. 2015

En Vía staff and volunteers, 2013

En Vía staff and volunteers, 2013

We should give ourselves more credit for the teeny, tiny steps we take every day to make the world a better place, the efforts so small that they’re like a mosaic piece in a Magic Eye picture where you can’t see the whole unless you take a long step back. And then boom, there’s the big picture. (Well, to some — I never can see them at all.)

Sometimes world-changing isn’t even about direct action; it’s about setting an example in a way that others notice, making them want to change.

With En Vía borrower and weaver Crispina, 2012

With En Vía weaver Crispina, 2012

Here’s how I’m doing my part to change the world:

I’ve learned another language relatively late in life, not a feat in and of itself but a monumental factor in how I view human communication and interaction. We all have a desperate need to make ourselves heard and understood, hard enough in your native tongue and incredibly challenging in another one. It gives me deeper empathy and understanding of all attempts at communication, in all areas of my life.

Speaking to Oaxacan college students about writing and community college, 2013

Speaking to Oaxacan college students about writing and community college education in the U.S., 2013

I love being a writer and sharing my passion for the written word. Again not something that on its own that’s a world changer, but it’s what I have that I can share and be excited about. Almost every job I’ve ever had (with the exception of holiday work as a retail clerk in Dallas and in a Yellowstone National Park souvenir store) has been based on writing. No matter how Micky-Mouse the work – and certainly some of it was – I’ve always been happy if I’m able to put words to paper. It’s not something I take for granted; lots of people don’t have that. Sharing your passion does indeed change lives. Mostly yours.

At an En Vía loan meetings in Teotitlán del Valle, 2010.

At an En Vía loan meeting in Teotitlán, 2010.

I carve out volunteer time for something I believe in. We all need to feel like we make a difference, and volunteering often gives back more to the server than to the recipient. For more than five years, I’ve volunteered for Fundación En Vía, a women’s microfinance organization that funds its loans through responsible tourism. I met Emily, one of its co-founders, the first week I came to Oaxaca and would tag along to the meetings where the women paid back their loans. The women were full of questions: how could I have so few children (only two)? How old was I? (old enough to have grown sons.) How could I support myself as a single woman? (a marvel to them and I have to admit, sometimes to me as well.)

For three and a half years, I taught beginning English to teens and adults in Teotitlan, and for the last year and a half I’ve been serving as a volunteer translator tour guide.

Teaching English to beginning adults in Teotitlán, 2012

Teaching beginning English in Teotitlán, 2012

It’s just one afternoon a week, but I get to be in a place where the rubber meets the road introducing tour participants to loan recipients and allowing both to share their worlds.

I keep refining my world view through travel. Granted, these days it’s more around Mexico than the world at large. But through any travel — near or far — I’m constantly editing what I believe about the world and its people. Sometimes I get to squash stereotypes about Americans, which is also a good thing.

Girlfriend trip to Chiapas, 2014, at Palenque ruins

Girlfriend trip to Chiapas, 2014, at Palenque ruins

I really am reducing my carbon footprint on the planet. A lifetime ago, I lived in a big house in a suburb of a big American city. We had a compost heap and drove to the city recycling facility before curbside recycling was initiated, but I still didn’t get it. I couldn’t have. I’ve moved to smaller and smaller places and of necessity had to scale way back on expenses, seriously considering what I really need. It’s amazingly small. I still can’t say I know very well how the rest of the world lives, but I have a bit of a better idea now and I’m humbled by it.

Granddaughter Millie at three months

Granddaughter Millie

I have two sons and a granddaughter. Having children may be the biggest expression of hope and potential world-changing that any human can do, as well as one of the scariest. How does it affect my actions now that I have a personal stake in the future? My granddaughter Millie, born at the end of 2013, may well see the beginning of a new century. What will she change?

I’ve created community and family of choice. Not having the huge larger family I always wanted but was shorted at birth, I’ve had to learn to cobble it together. Living abroad seems to create tight community, and I love that. There is so much loneliness and isolation that it’s a good thing to have to reach out to each other.

With En Vía co-founder Emily and one of its women borrowers, 2010.

With En Vía co-founder Emily on a tour, 2010.

Sometimes it’s a hard hand to have been dealt that the relationships are so short, though it doesn’t limit their depth. I think of myself as a greeter in the bus station, welcoming incoming weary travelers to share a cup of coffee and some conversation before they move on. Sometimes they come back through the station, often not. I’ve gotten a little taste of what it would have been like to have daughters. Emily. Kelly. Mica. Erica. Jodi. You know you are. (And rest in peace, dear, sweet Naomi.)

Although I once went to an orientation session for the Peace Corps (aggressively looking for “mature volunteers with life experience,” which I definitely qualified for), I was put off by the disconnect of not placing volunteers with a language they already spoke – which was then French, another lifetime ago. I hear that’s changed now.

I missed being a hippie by virtue of the fact that I was born about five years too late, and in a white-bread suburb of Dallas, Texas, to boot. But I always felt that there was a wilder tribe that I belonged to out there, if only I would leave the comfortable behind and go looking for it.

I wonder if there’s a Writers without Borders.

— Susan Bean Aycock, embracingthechaos.org

Kelly with baby daughter Natalia and mother-in-law

Kelly with daughter Natalia as a baby and husband Abraham’s mom, returned to Oaxaca with Abraham and new son Ismael just recently to open a Montessori school

Erica, back in California's Klamuth Valley championing water rights

Erica, back in California’s Klamuth River area championing water rights for wildlife and indigenous people. She was a student of my friend Francine, who taught English around the world for years.

Super fellow tour guide Jodi, now back in New Zealand

Super fellow tour guide Jodi, now back in her native New Zealand and working as a project manager

With Guanajuato travel friend Mica, En Vía program director in Oaxaca as of July, 2015

With Guanajuato 2009 language school buddy and adopted daughter Mica, who is a  Fundacion En Vía program director in Oaxaca as of July, 2015. Sometimes the buses do pull back into the station.

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