Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday sewing machine update

With the donations that I’ve received so far, we’ve been able to purchase two new machines for Umuregwa, or Mama Joyce, as she’s known in the market.  
My professor from the 2012 trip abroad recently returned to Rwanda and was kind enough to bring the money recently raised with her.  She gave it to our tour guide, Yván, and he visited Musanze and Mama Joyce on November 16th.  I appreciate beyond words how helpful and trustworthy Yván is because I’ve not received such a complete update on what has been happening there for her in a while.  Communication is difficult being such a distance apart, speaking different languages.  Here’s what he had to report.
Last spring Mama Joyce’s daughter was sick and in the hospital for two months, which kept her from the market.  The cooperative that was started soon after I was in Rwanda fell apart and the second woman I bought the machine for, who was her partner, went back to working in the market place independently.  It sounds like it was a stressful and disappointing time for these women.  Mama Joyce told Yván that she didn’t trust other women in the market place because they had been on their own so long, it is hard for them to comprehend working collectively.  She told my trusted tour guide that what she would like to do is bring in women with no experience with sewing to avoid these problems in the future.  Going forward, Mama Joyce will be training new partners to sew and they will grow together – being more loyal to their cooperative because it’s where they gotten their start.  After buying two more machines together, Yván left her in charge of finding the women and implementing the cooperative.  He is planning monthly visits to keep abreast of what is happening and will then be in contact with me about their progress. 
I feel confident that with this new start, their cooperative is going to take off.  Interaction between here and there will be easier now that Yván is involved again as a translator. 

Thank you to everyone who donated thus far.  Tell your friends about this endeavor and have a blessed Thanksgiving and Hanukkah week.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Helping vs. Being in Service

Recently I came across this article, which talks about the difference between helping and being in service of life.  I thought I'd share it.  Tell me what you think.

                                                 In the Service of Life
                                              by Rachel Naomi Remen

In recent years the question how can I help? has become meaningful to many people.  But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider.  Perhaps the real question is not how can I help? but how can I serve?

Serving is different from helping.  Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals.  When you help, you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength.  If I'm attentive to what's going on inside of me when I'm helping, I find that I'm always helping someone who's not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am.  People feel this inequality.  When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.  When I help, I am very aware of my own strength.  But we don't serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves.  We draw from all of our experiences.  Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve.  The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life.  The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me.  Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt.  When you help someone, they owe you one.  But serving, like healing, is mutual.  There is no debt.  I am as served as the person I am serving.  When I help, I have a feeling of satisfaction.  When I serve, I have a feeling of gratitude.  These are very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing.  When I fix a person, I perceive them as broken, and their brokenness requires me to act.  When I fix, I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them.  When I serve, I see and trust that wholeness.  It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing.  Fixing is a form of judgement.  All judgement creates distance, a disconnection, and experience of difference.  In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance.  We cannot serve at a distance.  We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch.  This is Mother Teresa's basic message.  We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise.  Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe.  A fixer has the illusion of being causal.  A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown.  Fixing and helping are very personal; they are very particular, concrete and specific.  We fix and help many different things in our lifetimes, but when we serve we are always serving the same things.  Everyone who has ever served through the history of time serves the same thing.  We are servers of the wholeness and mystery in life.

The bottom line, of course, is that we can fix without serving.  And we can help without serving.  And we can serve without fixing or helping.  I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.  They may look similar if you're watching from the outside, but the inner experience if different.  The outcome is often different, too.

Our service serves us as well as others.  That which uses us strengthens us.  Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting.  Over time we burn out.  Service is renewing.  When we serve, our work itself will sustain us.

Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose.  When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose.  Fundamentally, helping, fixing and service are ways of seeing life.  When you help, you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken.  When you serve, you see life as whole.  From the perspective of service, we are all connected:  All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy.  The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.

Lastly, fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing.  In 40 years of chronic illness, I have been helped by many people and fixed by a great many others who did not recognize my wholeness.  All that fixing and helping left me wounded in some important and fundamental ways.  Only service heals.

Reprinted from Noetic Sciences Review, Spring 1996