Lake Titicaca family

[Bolivia]

My ambivalence about myself as a wealthy traveler emerges. It was late afternoon, and I was walking a huge windy expanse of tundra sitting above the lake. To one side the oddly metallic and bright lake, to the other the drama and magnificence of the Andes. A place of supreme, open beauty. I came across a extended family living exposed and within all of this.

They invited me into their compound, and for a couple hours I reveled in using my Spanish to learn about their lives. We focused on the kids, and the costs and process of getting them to school. Different kids got to go during the year depending on family finances. School supplies were the major impediment. The sums of money that were needed (and not available) were tiny by our standards – three dollars for this, a dollar for that….

In an impulsive gesture, I handed the father a $100 bill as I was leaving. It threw the entire family into a paroxysm of excitement and glee – this was an enormous amount of money and could fund all the kids being in school for a full year or more.

It made me feel great and sad. I had just returned from observing a CARE project that was magnificent in its creation of clean water and latrine systems for poor villages. The contrasts between charity and development were right in front of me as I left that family.

I still believe in pure charity, though. When the $100 is gone, it’s gone. And while many might debate me, I believe it’s better that I gave it to them than not.