February 19, 2012

Kumbata is an 11-year old who lives in a small, fenced in village outside of Kampala, Uganda, where he was placed at age 3 after graduating from the orphanage where he was first taken care of. He lives, as all the “watoto” which is Ugandan for ‘Children” live and that is with 7 “siblings,’ also orphans, and a house mother. In his modest village, there are open fields of grass, an elementary school and a new high school is being built week by week by different volunteers from all over the planet. Kumbata’s eyes are large and bright, his smile radiant, his energy level high. He loves to sing and sings every day at school or with his family. There is water in their house, a coal pot for heating food, bunk beds, kitchen table and chairs and a couch. The cement walls are painted neatly and a few pictures drawn with crayons adorn the room where the bunk beds hold all 8 kids. What is noticeable about Kumbata to the visiting crews of volunteers: this child is joyful, happy, carefree. He loves his school, his teachers, his friends, his family, his housemother and God. He has yet to see a computer, though his older sister tells of such things that are in a small room in the high school library. He’s familiar with buses and cars that come from the big city. He says he loves the stars and wants to visit them someday when he is older. He is content.

Serena is also an 11-year old child in the outskirts of New York City in nearby Connecticut. She lives in a 5,000 square-foot home complete with an entertainment room with a wall for a viewing screen, a kinect video game console, three p.c.’s, two printers, two lap tops, three itouches and the newest member of the family: a “baby” ipad. Joyful as well, she romps around from machine to machine and seems to be a bit frustrated today because the power is out and she can’t Skype her friend who lost her cell phone privileges to tell her that perhaps they can come up with an alternative plan for communicating. She has 10 minutes between her cello lesson and competitive diving practice and is really worried that there won’t be enough macaroni and cheese by the time she gets home because her little brother eats it all whenever it’s part of dinner. She’s wearing a Harvard hoodie and hopes she can swing that when she’s older so she can be the third generation to attend.

There’s nothing surprising to us about either of these stories. In one respect, this is the epitome of the contrast available to us on the planet if we look at the end of our fingertips and search the web under “living conditions in Uganda or the United States.” What’s striking for me to behold are the contexts for each story, each child in terms of their sense of “enoughness” in their worlds. IN one, you have the child thrilled to pieces with acres and acres of wide open space to play soccer, run, play stick ball, explore, rest; in the other, a child engaged in the technology of their world perhaps wondering what the next “level” of the next game is going to be….or what the next time saving or entertaining product will show up on the shelves at Frys or Best Buy. You could say that in the Kumata’s world, all his life he has been fed three meals by his house mother who has been provided with a job to raise the children and perhaps a side job making clothing, and is paid enough to buy the food and clothing for all the kids in her care. He knows that his “mother” and her God are going to provide him with whatever he needs and until he’s older he doesn’t have to think about how to do this for himself just yet. For Serena, she too has a knowing that some never ending source of stuff is going to continue to magically appear. That all the surrounding accoutrements and comforts of life have some correlation to the jobs her parents spend most of their waking hours working at and that also for the foreseeable future it’s all going to keep coming.

Behind the scenes of Kumbata’ life are dozens of workers, hundreds of volunteers, an intermittent flow of funding and donated resources and labor that have built this, and three others like it, village. Through not only funds and direct resources, but the collaboration of natives, agency workers and volunteers came together to create a vision that young orphaned people in the outskirts of Kampala, cast offs from war or AIDS ravaged parents, could be loved, fed, provided clothing, family and education and could be prepared to someday be tomorrow’s leaders. A life of love, education and learning how to interdependently live amidst the greater society from which they were originally rejected. These kids get lessons early and often of what sufficiency is all about.

Behind the scenes for this particular child, Serena, are two very ambitious, driven, achievement oriented, loving parents intent on providing the best possible life for their kids. They are happily involved in working as long as it takes to make certain that the kids live in a spacious house with multi-faceted rooms and wide driveways and a huge yard. They get excited about the possibility of both more affordable and roomy cars for each member of the family and are always looking forward to one of their three annual family vacations to destinations to entice the experience of the kids for places foreign and lush, striking and rich. They are constantly setting aside funds for tuition for universities yet unapplied to but dreamed of year after year. They are bent on promotions and steps up the economic ladder to ensure the continuing provision of as much as possible for as long as possible. At times, there is concern about whether there will be enough money for all the dreams and so tireless hours of work ensue. These kids get lessons early and often about what both abundance and scarcity are all about.

So why look at this contrast? Why flaunt these juiced up exaggerations of the human experience? Actually, there is no inherent need to look at this. We could continue to do that which we do so well in the face of crumbling financial, political and social chaos: ignore it either until it goes away or until the “real crisis” point comes and we don’t have any choice but to make radical change. Whether it is the environmental issues of the ozone, water supply, crop issues, rhino horn poaching—or the political uprisings of long-term religious frustrations and conflict, exports and imports, nuclear build ups or scamperings of OCCUPY you-name-it, we CAN consider hitting the universal pause button as a culture and redefine for ourselves, as a STILL comparatively young culture here in the U.S. what, if any, role there is for sufficiency. Should we run ads on face book, Yahoo and twitter screens all over the country? Shall we create yet another t-shirt donning now “Got sufficiency?” Shall we make it a high school graduation requirement that students take one semester spent completely looking at the Wikipedia version of “today’s sufficiency?” Send out the big guns of Anthony Robbins, Barak Obama, Oprah and Martin Sheen with a “campaign for sufficiency?” Hit up all the women’s leagues, Rotaries, men’s groups, spiritual circles, religious institutions, meet-up groups and virtual neighborhoods and place the item of “sufficiency” on the top of the agenda’s for 2012? Why not? What could it hurt? While you contemplate that option, I’d like you to consider the approach of Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, and that is taking one personal action, take one step in your own life around this mega theme of sufficiency. Recently I watched a movie by Hollywood writer, director and now a self proclaimed minimalist Tom Shadyac called “I AM,” where he interviewed the likes of Desmond Tutu, Lynn McTaggart, Howard Zinn, Coleman Barks and other spiritual leaders, teachers, poets, authors, quantum physics scientists and asked them two questions: “What is wrong with the world,” and “What can we do about it?” What he discovered through the process of producing the film was that in fact there is more right with the world than we imagined; that sufficiency is available to all of us, and that the answer to the first question, “What is wrong with the world” is the same answer as the question “What is right with the world,” and that is “I AM.” As to the second question, “what can we do about it?” we are reminded AGAIN of the all-pervasive, transformative power on the planet: LOVE. So I’ll leave you with an inquiry to take out into your lives as you leave this room: how much sufficiency can you take?


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