Counting on change

When the sun touches the high line of hills to the west of the village of La Garrucha families gather for their suppers. Beans and tortillas made from the corn grown in their hand-cultivated fields provided the bulk of any meal.

When the sun touches the high line of hills to the west of the village of La Garrucha families gather for their suppers.

Beans and tortillas made from the corn grown in their hand-cultivated fields provided the bulk of any meal. Dried chilies spice the repetitive daily menu. In season house gardens tended by village women, offered greens and vegetables, like squash, to supplement their very basic diets.

Spring is a time of hunger as new plantings have yet to bare any fruit on the small plots of land hacked by machete out of the fringe of the shrinking Lacondona rainforest on the southernmost state of Chiapas, Mexico.

A recent statistic reported that a third of all indigenous children in Chiapas suffered from malnutrition. It is not surprising then that hunger-related causes are seen as the sixth leading cause of death for all ages there.

Power poles lined the road south. Wires had been strung, but no power flowed through them when I visited there. Oil lamps provided some light but life generally retreated to hammocks and sleep when night fell. After all the next day’s work would begin before the very first light the next morning with women grinding lime water soaked corn for their families daily ration of tortillas.

One evening as young men of this traditional Tzetzal community gathered for a pickup basketball game before the day’s light faded, an elder approached me as I watched. Until well after the cement court emptied he talked of the economic reality of his village and the larger national and international system that framed it.

This man, with maybe a few years of elementary school education, understood very well the impact macro-economic policies decided in far-off centres like Washington, DC, had on their lives. No formal schooling for their children, no medicines for their clinic and no electricity for their homes showed him just how little their lives counted.

The current global crises underline this fact. Right down to the fundamentals like how economic success is measured, the current system distorts reality. Peoples real needs are marginalized. Waste, disaster and war push-up indicators like GNP (Gross National Product).

“(GNP) does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of our education, or the joy of our play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, or the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our pubic officials. GNP measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile” as one martyred leader said more than four decades ago.

This excerpt from a speech by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968, presages the mounting planet-wide call for an end to our ‘growth at all costs’ economic system. We have to learn new ways of counting. Happiness, health and harmony should be what really matters in any new economic equations.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Namaste Notes

Saturday, March 21—The spiritual growth and renewal symbolized by the Spring Equinox is celebrated in many traditions. It is Naw Ruz, the New Year, for the Baha’i.

Saturday, March 21—International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recalls the day, in 1960, that police opened fire on peaceful anti-apartheid demonstrators in Sharpeville, South Africa.

Sunday, March 22—Fourth Sunday of Lent. A suggested reading is John 9: 1-41.

Sunday, March 22—World Water Day focuses this year on trans-boundary waters: “sharing water, sharing opportunities.”

Tuesday, March 24—Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was martyred in 1980 while celebrating the Eucharist.

Friday, March 27—Ugadi or the New Year is marked by Hindus in southern India with prayers for prosperity.

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