I was having a bad day. Not a terrible one – the sky was still intact, so that was something – but just your run-of-the-mill, subpar, woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed kind of day.
So in an effort to ward off that sinking feeling a bad day can put in the pit of your stomach, I threw myself into the work at hand: trench digging and pipe installation for our most recent water system in the community of San Pablo/La Grecia. “One shovel full at a time,” I coached myself, “just keep digging.”
As I attempted to lull myself into a work-induced coma, a tap from behind snapped me back to the present moment. “…Ehem, excuse me,” a small voice said, “but you’re not doing that right.” I swung around to see who had interrupted my wallowing, only to realize I’d set my sights a little too high; I dropped my gaze and there he was, a 3-foot-tall, baseball hat clad little boy staring me quite assertively right in the eye.
“What’s your name?” I asked, suppressing my smile to avoid offending how very, very seriously he appeared to be taking this interaction. “Luis Felipe,” he replied, “but you can call me The Boss.”
For the next several hours, I trailed The Boss (a six-year-old going on 30) up and down the line where we were digging. As he walked, he offered feedback, direction, and critiques to the over 100 volunteers – all at least twice his size and triple his age – hard at work that afternoon:
“Let’s pick up the pace here, we need to get more work done.”
“Everyone over here should take a break, you look tired.”
“The talking over here is much too noisy, let’s keep the volume down, ok?”
(And my personal favorite, the frequent command of) “Back to work!”
As the afternoon wore on, more and more features of Felipe’s personality (besides the general tendency to be just the tiniest bit bossy) began to shine through. He had an irresistible thirst for understanding, for example, asking question disguised as commands (“Tell me how deep this should be,” and then, when I answered him, “Ah yes, that’s what I thought.”) “This kid could be an engineer one day,” I thought.
“But then again, he’d make a great teacher,” I reflected when he stopped all work so he could deliver a mini-seminar on the importance of potable water to a crowd of wide-eyed, admiring volunteers, occasionally removing or doffing his tiny white baseball cap to emphasize his point. “Or maybe a priest, even,” I corrected myself when he almost brought another group to tears with an explanation of the hope God gives for a better future.
“In any case, he’ll make a great leader one day,” I concluded as the day drew to a close. And then it struck me: he would make a great leader, but a few years ago he may never have stood a chance. Because, in a community like San Pablo/La Grecia, if the preventable diseases like parasites and diarrhea don’t get you, then the crushing burden of poverty will.
But now, once that clean water system is finished and his family’s Modern Bathroom is built, Felipe will never again face the risk of premature death by diarrhea and parasites that kills so many kids his age. Our Education Team will make sure he has the chance to study and excel now, through high school, and beyond. And through the support of our Economic Development team, his family will access opportunities to earn enough money to ensure his health, education, and development for the rest of his life.
In short, he’ll have the opportunity to become everything he might be, and absolutely anything he wants to be. And thinking about that, I saw more clearly than ever before a vision of what it means to do “holistic community development,” and why the nine goals of our 7 Year Vision are so very, very important.
I saw that by focusing not on fixing just one or two “problems,” but rather on bringing healing to the complex combination of factors that make up the reality of families in rural Nicaragua, we can enable someone like Felipe to be everything he could ever hope to be.
So all that to say, when Felipe gets elected President of Nicaragua in 2055, you can say you heard it here first.