Stone World

Toothless Smiles

December 16, 2008


The construction market stinks. The stock market brings constant pain. The financial bailouts grow more insane by the day. Manufacturers are struggling. Nonprofits are laying off staff. Retailers are filing for bankruptcy.

On top of all that, my roof is leaking, my car heater is broken, and my 401k savings looks more like a 4k.

To all of this I want complain loudly and shout, “Bah humbug.”

But I can’t.

You see, I just returned from Quito, Ecuador, where I spent a week with 71 others from North America and hundreds of local residents. We were there to help throw Christmas parties for some of the poorest people you’ll ever meet.

Many of these people were dirty and wore secondhand clothes. Some didn’t smell so great. A few were drunk. Most suffer from low self-esteem and struggled to look us in the eye. Almost all live in poverty 24/7. Sadly, they are people who have no dreams. They don’t know how to dream.

Our biggest party took place in Quito’s Zambiza Dump. We cut off admittance at 4,000 and turned away another 1,000 who were still lined up to enter. Many remained outside the gates wishing to participate.

Over the next few hours we played carnival games, took photos with Santa, painted nails and faces, and helped people do crafts. Local volunteers performed music, dramas and dances.

The party ended a bit early because the attendees started lining up prematurely to receive their lunch (apple, drink, cheese sandwich), food staples (corn meal, flour, dried beans) and gift bags for the children. Food was simply more important than entertainment.

In North America, we line up for the release of video games, iPhones, or Harry Potter books. But in Quito, and in countless places around the world, people line up to get a little food that might last a few days if they are lucky.

As the people in the Zambiza Dump left to return to their incredibly humble dwellings, many volunteers lined up to shake their hands, hug them and wish them “Feliz Navidad.” Attendees beamed with appreciation and hope. Some flashed toothless smiles.

It was the highlight of my year.

If you’d like to see a sampling of what took place in Quito, go to www.youtube.com/user/extremeresponseorg or visit www.extremeresponse.org. I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.