Luke, The Motivational Speaker
Have you ever met someone who leaves you feeling like your life is much richer because you have met them? Someone who unknowingly inspires you to dream bigger and to look at life from a different angle? I had seen him around the garbage dump for the past 2 years, but not thought much of it. There are a lot of faces that I see here every day that I come out to this place – this place that that has come to be a place of understanding, compassion, and friendship. His face, however, is hard to forget: there is a scar that runs from the outer corner of his left eye, down past his jaw. I can almost envision the machete that probably caused it and wonder how many times he has looked at his face and wished it wasn’t there. That day, I saw past his scars on his face, past the sweat and grime, and heard the voice of Luke, the man who has impacted my life.We pulled into the garbage dump with our Hero Holiday team and were blown away by how much smoke there was; they were burning it off (no points for environmental friendliness there!) and wouldn’t officially allow any workers in. The dump here is huge and covers many acres of land. Normally there are about 50-60 workers picking bottles, scrounging for food and clothes, and just trying to survive. They are stateless, without identity papers, and without any other means with which to provide for themselves and their families. However, today, there were quietly about 7 men working behind one of the hills when we finally found them. Luke looked up from his work of trying to find some food for his family and waved when he saw me. He walked over and kissed me on the cheek. I asked him what was going on and he told me they were the only ones working today, as the rest were too scared to come for fear of the police being upset with them for being there and thus resulting in their deportation.Luke explained to us what that could look like for them: being immediately taken to the border and dumped off without anything to get you anywhere. The reality for them is that because they are without papers, they are without official identity. In short, they do not really “exist”. Luke himself has been here in Dominican Republic for 25 years, but because he is stateless, he has no protection for him or his family, no hope of a better future for his children without those papers. But standing there, listening to Luke that day, we recognized something: the world can deny his existence, but after this, we know the truth.Luke was a wealth of understanding for us as we sat on that hill and allowed understanding to direct our compassion, and that day, in the middle of the stench of the garbage and the buzzing of the flies, Luke was our motivational speaker and we were his audience he had captivated with his honesty, truthfulness, and sincerity. He spoke to us of what it is like to dream of educating your children, of being able to provide for your family, of feeling like you belong. He spoke to us of dreaming about the ability to afford simple necessities and of being treated as an equal. And then, Luke spoke to our hearts, as he told us that there is something different about the Hero Holiday groups that come out to this desolate garbage dump: they work alongside of them, and they make them feel valuable. He turned to me and told me that the workers at this garbage dump have come to value what we do to help them, and they trust us and want to welcome us into their world. Without knowing it, Luke spoke to the deep place in us that can often wonder if we are doing enough or if we are making any difference for them, and he reminded us that we have allowed them to know that they matter. Though the world may not know they exist, in our hearts and memories they are now a face, a smile, a hand stretched out to be embraced, and a dream to be cherished with hope for a better future.Luke, the 34 year old stateless Haitian man at the garbage dump has become my newest favorite motivational speaker. As we work alongside of him and the other 50+ people from his village at this garbage dump, I can only hope to make a difference. Luke taught me that it starts with this simple kindness.Thank you, Luke. I don’t know if you can even read or write, and I know you will never have the chance to read this brief tribute to who you are, but you have touched my life and sharpened my focus. You have allowed me the privilege to hear your story, and every day that I see you when I bring out the teams, I see your shy smile and am reminded of the depth of character that lies beneath. You are a man of perseverance, hope, and influence; you are a man who deserves an opportunity to leave your mark on the world.I, too, believe in your dreams for a better tomorrow, and like you, I hope to see you succeed in all that you put your hands to. Your dreams deserve to be heard because you exist in our world, and we want to hear your voice.Millions of children are born into statelessness each year around the globe. They are the children who are unaccounted for, and they are often left with gross limitations regarding education, health care, vulnerability to exploitation, and general welfare. Without our intervention, this number will continue to grow exponentially. Through our Hero Holiday program, LiveDifferent (formerly Absolute) helps to bring education, safety, and hope to some of the world’s stateless communities. In Dominican Republic, in 2009, we are hoping to finish another school for a community that is largely comprised of stateless Haitian families. This school will help to change the course of many children that have been unable to go to a school before this time.