The following article originally appeared on July 21, 2014 in the ‘In The Voices for Justice’ blog by Ignatian Solidarity Network. It can be found at http://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/07/21/jesuit-volunteer-reflects-powerlessness/ . Many thanks to Katie Anderson and Colleen Kennedy from JVC for their support and efforts in the process.
There is no greater weight nor relief than knowing I am powerless. Lately these words repeat themselves in my mind. I spend time thinking about what I could be doing to create the most change, or dreaming of how the Peruvian government will open up their arms to embrace this marginalized population. I try to imagine what their lives would be like without their family’s desire for success measured in monetary standards, and how their self-esteem could be improved by alleviating the pressure of this achievement. Injustices like these have to be given up to God or to love or to hope, whatever that greater power is. Not in the complacent ways that says only God or time will fix this, but in the way that acknowledges that my arms are not long enough nor strong enough to carry this weight on my own.
For example, I eat lunch in the comedor, a large cafeteria in the Parish where over 300 kids aging from three to seventeen pile in daily for a hot lunch. Conversation topics that I have with the kids include how Brasil tied Mexico in the World Cup, ways of preparing cuy, and how different our cultures can be. Though I look forward to these moments with the kids, sometimes I cannot help but catch a glimpse of rotting teeth and become frustrated with the lack of infrastructure around health in this area. Or I will be in the classroom grading essays and the most basic Spanish words will have severe misspellings, a small manifestation of a blaring problem in the educational system. The lack of resources and opportunity stem from a violent institution that has racism and class-ism essentially written in its manifesto. These injustices have too much power in their grip over the individual in that moment, and I am caught powerless to change the reality. My eagerness to augment the injustice with laughter or silliness is challenged with the blunt, sheer reality that this community faces. In times like these, I find myself wishing my arms were longer to hold the truth or my students better or tighter.
In college, I fell in love with this quote from St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” While I am here to accompany my students, and often feel powerless against the injustices they face, I must remember that my arms still have some capacity to reach and to hold, to chat about the World Cup and to give high-fives, to correct a few spelling mistakes and to share the same food. Perhaps by delving into powerlessness, we discover our greatest powers.