To Have the Courage of Iveta

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Ernest Hemingway once described courage as “grace under pressure”. I like that. Especially because I think it describes Iveta’s life.IvetaThe first time Cole saw her, he was making his way through one of the nameless tent cities within Port Au Prince. When you are driving by them on the street they are only a blur of mud, smoke, tiny kids in threadbare clothing, and endless empty eyes. Every hour of every day is needed for survival, and if you stop to think about it too long, it can threaten to completely overwhelm you with hopelessness and grief. But compassion says to those who need it, ‘ I want to understand you. I want to see life from where you stand.’That’s why he got out of the car that day and because of that, his life collided with Iveta’s…She only looked me in the eye and pierced me with the intensity of her struggle. She didn’t ask for a single thing. Not once. I will never forget that.No tent, no dry tarp, only the relentless struggle to survive one more day.A tattered sheet covered her bed of sticks, rocks and gravel; a meager effort to stay above the puddles that would inevitably collect. She couldn’t wait in the food lines because of the constant, desperate struggles that would break out. She missed out on the tents and tarps because she couldn’t risk the jostling line ups with her baby. He was not well.At close to a year old, his emaciated skin hung from his thin, fragile frame. She had walked almost two miles for her baby to receive medical attention, yet there was nothing that anyone could do. Clearly, this child was dying and there was nothing more that could be done.As she stood there, gravely looking me in the eye, I realized that thousands around her had dry tents – and each other. All she could do was hope and believe that there could be something tomorrow.Each time we returned we brought supplies to her: food, toiletries, candles, dry tarps. And still, she asked for nothing from me. When I asked if I could take her picture, she graciously conceded.I can’t ever forget her face. She was more than a young mother without a home or any support – she was a woman with an unshakable resolve.Iveta was famous and didn’t even know it. Through a random series of events and the gift of social networking through Twitter, Cole’s photo of Evita ended up on the Ellen Degeneres Show, featured by Eva Langoria in an interview. Eva was talking about the plight of Haiti and found his photo. Despite all of the sincerity and compassion that was felt around the continent, it never had the chance to reach Iveta. This past week, Cole returned to Port Au Prince to find Iveta and see what could be done to help her further. It was too late. Poverty’s death grip had struck quietly again – unknown to the rest of the world. Her quiet struggle was over and there was nothing he could do to change it. Iveta died from lack of nutrition and health care.IvetaThis is the double edged sword of compassion. Compassion cannot exist without love, and love is the one thing that runs deeper than words. Philosophers, poets, and preachers from all over the world have tried to help us define love. It is deep, it is complex, and it can seem to be a dangerous place to live, when you consider it from the perspective of self preservation. Iveta had nothing in this world except the love that she had for that baby and in the end, from a limited perspective it might seem that not even that love was enough. But I cannot accept that: love and compassion are powerful. You don’t stop trying or believing because of loss or heartbreak. Instead, you keep on believing that it can get better. That you can be a part of making it better. That was what defined Iveta’s courage: she kept putting one foot in front of the other. I have never met her, but I cannot ever forget her. Her story is now part of my own.The world will miss your quiet voice, Iveta. Your story and your courage mattered to us. Because of your dignity and resolve, I type these words – in honour of your courage.HH HaitiIn the year ahead, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) will be returning to Haiti and Dominican Republic, experiencing the power and strength of compassion as we work with Haitian people. When you reach out to the unknown, it can be scary, but it is never without effect. Join us and find out for yourself!“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day, saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” ~ Mary Ann Radmacher

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: June 20th, 2010