In 1991, I volunteered my services in Ecuador, which is an extremely rich agricultural country but also an impoverished country in terms of the workers working in the agricultural fields.
The people living in the hills of Duran in Ecuador made about 20 cents a day in 1991. To this day, many are living in sugarcane huts with no electricity or indoor plumbing, and they wash with rainwater. They eat what they can gather for that day because they have no way of preserving their food.
Water must be boiled before using it to prevent an outbreak of cholera, a common ailment in that country that can kill you. I went there with other volunteers to build sugarcane huts. When I returned to the United States, I was grateful for what I had, and the little inconveniences were just that little inconveniences compared to how the poor live in various parts of the world.
When I look at life in terms of my experiences, I realize how our beliefs are a major part of who we are in terms of how we relate to others. I also realize, more so now than before, how the people living in those impoverished conditions in Ecuador rely on their community for survival. The individual cannot put themselves over the welfare of their community because it is the welfare of the community that is vital to their survival. In America, we rely on our rugged individualism, and there is no such concept in Ecuador in the hills of Duran, where I lived for three months.
The people in Ecuador looked at me with such curiosity, and they were the most loving people. I washed my clothes and ate with them, and we had to communicate through body language because I could not speak their language. There was one thing that they loved to do, and that was laugh. They were unaware of what they did not have in terms of technology because they were pretty much isolated from the rest of the world. They were content living in their community because their community was their family, and they could rely on each other in times of need.
The agricultural workers there were the most loving people, and they invited me into their lives with a warm embrace. They made me and the other volunteers feel quite special. In their minds, we were there not just physically but spiritually. They believe that everyone they come in contact with is for a deep spiritual reason. That was reflected in how they treated us, with an affectionate and loving acceptance.
I have learned over the years that a great deal of my understanding came from books. What I have read in those books helped me acquire a lot of knowledge, but now I recognize that I am learning much more about myself from my reflections on my past. Writing is also a way of expressing myself, and I suppose that is one reason why I submitted this article. It is a way of sharing a part of who I am with the reader.
I truly believe deep down in my soul that it is not the material accumulation of objects that count in life, but rather it is all the unrecognized, undetected, and unremembered acts of loving-kindness that one bestows on others that are the most significant achievements in a person’s life.
What we give to humanity, we give to ourselves, and what we change in ourselves, we change in humanity. If we want to live in a better world, we must change for the better. If we want to see a world of loving and joyous people, we must be loving and joyous towards the people in our own lives. That potential is part of our humanity. When we reach out to touch others, we touch a part of the humanity that is within us. When we change the life of another for the better, we change our own lives for the better.
The people I met in Ecuador profoundly changed me for the better, not monetarily but emotionally, through their loving affection. How they live their lives, profoundly impacted how I now perceive the world around me.
To have a profound effect on others and to change and enhance the quality of others' lives is not achieved by imposing our will or our beliefs on others. But rather, it is achieved by living our life as we would want others to live their lives in doing so, others will emulate our way of life.
Life is simply a quest with greater self-awareness as the means to greater spiritual growth within us and in all that we touch because the afterglow of an extraordinary life is ultimately love.
- Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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