community, creative nonfiction, family, guatemala, hope, inspiration, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, network, one dollar a day, poor, poverty, psychiatry, psychology, recovery, schizophrenia, writing
Yesterday afternoon my husband and I watched the documentary: Living on one Dollar. I was so moved by the film, I cried almost the whole way through it. The film is about a group of four college students who go to a very poor village in Guatemala and try to live on one dollar a day. They set up guidelines on how they will do this to best duplicate how the local people do it. For example, every day they pull a number between zero and nine out of a container and that is how much money they have for that day – this was supposed to replicate the villager’s day labor jobs that were not guaranteed and for which they never knew how much they would be paid.
What captured my heart about the film was there was often not enough for children to eat, and the villager’s explained that when children don’t eat enough they don’t grow. There was rarely enough money for emergencies in fact one family had to borrow the money from another family in order to save the mother of the family’s life – there simply wasn’t enough money to get her to a doctor or to pay for the medicine she needed.
One woman, Rosa, said she dreamed of becoming a nurse but had to drop out of school after sixth grade because her family couldn’t afford both food and education. This is a common scenario.
The people were so fun loving, and generous though. They shared in their community and they shared with the film makers. They were amazing in their ability to have so little but give so much.
The fact is, there are over one billion people living on our planet that live on somewhere close to a dollar a day. That kind of life constantly holds with it the reality of survival. (I understand that we have poor people in the United States, I understand that people struggle to make ends meet, and often can’t afford medical treatment or something else that they need, but the level of poverty shown in the film is not something often witnessed in the United States, because we have some safety nets for people like welfare, food stamps, Medicare, social security, disability, food banks, soup kitchens and charities – I understand these are not enough, but they help).
While watching the film, I started to think about mental health, and how it was treated in these villages. Do they have anxiety disorders in the poor villages of Guatemala? Do they have ADHD? Do people suffer from depression at the same rate as we do here? This made me think about an article I read recently that people in developing countries recover at higher rates from Schizophrenia than people in the West.
The study suggests this is from the large amount of stigma here and the better family support in other countries.
Have we, with our fierce love of independence, our desire to move away from our families, and no longer live in the same house and community as our extended family (our built in support network) made our lives better or worse?
For people with a severe mental illness, the studies seem to suggest their lives are more difficult and recovery less likely without this support.
Now, with our noses buried in our phones and our constant desire to communicate via social media we may be slipping further and further apart, making the healing support and connections that all ill people need, less and less likely.
I felt deeply for the people of Guatemala for their hard lives and their severe poverty, but they had something I envied that was just as distant to me as their hardship, and that is community, and family, and belonging.
I have never thought the richest people knew the best way to live. I have always wondered about the quality of their mental health and relationships.
I can buy a shirt that has some of Rosa’s weaving on it, and it will help her with her fund to go to nursing school. I can help her with that, that is easy for me, but do you think she can help me in return to live a simpler, less complicated, less technological life, one that puts people and their needs and their wants, and their stories, and their healing first? A life that rebuilds community, networks, and connections.
Rosa, I’m not sure if we need you, or you need us more. I’m guessing we need you. Teach us.