My Friend, Beto
I first met him in the summer of 2007, in Dominican Republic. He was taking in some shade under the only tree that was close to where he worked: in the garbage dump. We would often sit there and chatter, me in my terrible Spanish and him rattling off in Creole and Spanish and smiling away as if I understood everything he said. It was the beginning of a friendship that has come to mean so much to me and many others.I always liked his eyes. Though they were now clouded with a deteriorating disease, they are sharp and kind. Eyes that you want to seek out in a crowd of people. He has a small, wiry frame, and his hands are deeply weathered from years and years of hard labour in the hot sun. I remembered him for many reasons. He was one of the ‘bosses’ at the dump and he was always the first to step forward and help us learn how to help them. And one day, as we were using the pump on the water jug, his hand reached out to help add leverage to the pump, and I noticed what was on his wrist. It was a Make Poverty History bracelet. It was a jarring moment for me, as I tried to soak it all in. This man, whom I had come to love and respect, was wearing this symbol of something I had given my life to. The only difference was, for him it was from the depths of poverty that he was working out of. Along with the 60-80 people that work there at that garbage dump, Beto lives day by day. Living on sometimes less than a dollar a day, they work to try to survive and to give their family a future. Many of them, like Beto, have even taken in orphaned children from their village, working to try to give them a future as well.Beto has taught me so much about serving others from where you are at. He has shown us and those around him how to be a leader without any title or pay grade to go with it. He has modeled compassion to many of us by taking in orphans and giving them a place to call home and a place to belong. He has opened up his world to us because he realizes that we don’t come to their place of work and into their village to observe or ogle. We come because they are our friends and friends enjoy spending time together.One of those days that summer, he and I had a conversation that has never left me. He told me why their community enjoyed spending time with our Hero Holiday groups. It was easiest for him to express it in Creole, through our translator.“Everyone here knows that you are working to help us and we appreciate that. You don’t come here and make us sing or do anything for you and you don’t come here and stare at us with pity. You come here and join us as friends. You make us feel valuable.”Isn’t that what friends do? Friendship is about recognizing when someone could use your help and reaching out with what you have. It is built on respect and trust and it isn’t dependent on social, cultural or economic boundaries. Friendship is what moves us from being an observer of someone’s life to becoming a part of the picture of who they are. And I am glad to call Beto my friend.