Fine Work? Extraordinary?

We were both told again on Friday what fine work we do for FEDICE in Ecuador. Both Marilyn and I have written before about wondering if we really make that much of a difference. It’s hard to explain why we wonder about this because it’s not due to a lack of confidence. Marilyn claims I have a huge ego (which I insist is merely self-esteem). But we do both view ourselves as ordinary.

We were both told again on Friday what fine work we do for FEDICE in Ecuador. Both Marilyn and I have written before about wondering if we really make that much of a difference. It’s hard to explain why we wonder about this because it’s not due to a lack of confidence. Marilyn claims I have a huge ego (which I insist is merely self-esteem). But we do both view ourselves as ordinary.

Fine work? We don't feel like we work that hard. In fact, I often feel slightly guilty for not putting up more blog posts, especially about FEDICE. I retired 10 years ago because I DIDN'T want to work hard any longer. We feel like we're just enjoying our lives. But the compliments keep coming. It's enough to make heads swell.

We do volunteer work for FEDICE, sometimes lots of work. Still, it almost feels as if we do it in our spare time because our work with FEDICE is usually in a fun atmosphere. Blanca and the staff see to that.

Marilyn enjoys teaching English to preschoolers. At two and three years old, it's more like exposing them to the sounds of English pronunciation. The hope is that they'll enjoy it more when they study English in school later. During a group’s free time from working on a project with people in this area, Marilyn guides them to touristic sites. Both Marilyn and I welcome people to our home and try to help them feel comfortable.

I work to improve FEDICE's presence on the web because it is an organization well worth knowing about (and donating to). The fact that we in FEDICE work with people to improve their economic and social well-being in ways that they themselves want is special. Wait. The fact that communities have become economically self-sufficient and socially cohesive through the loans, training, and education provided by FEDICE is what is truly special. But, in all honesty, I do my part of this work "between" the selfish things I want to do, like writing this blog, reading, and watching fútbol americano.

I also realize that I am a role model for the capabilities of persons with disabilities. A few years ago, Ecuador's vice-president was in an accident and became physically disabled. Since then, attitudes have begun to shift. The government has undertaken initiatives to improve accessibility and hasten the change from negative attitudes towards people with disabilities to positive attitudes. Ecuador feels like the U.S. did about 40 years ago, when I was part of a burgeoning movement for the rights of people with disabilities. I'm not politically active, but I hope that seeing me do things that disabled people are not “supposed” to do will cause people to think about their preconceptions. Sometimes it does, as in the case of those who decide they want to get to know me better. Sometimes it doesn't, as in the case when, two weeks ago, the hot spring-fed pool rapidly emptied when I entered it. No matter their reaction to me, I try to always smile at strangers. Most of the time, I say, "Hola" or "Buenos días" as well. Again, however, this is not "work", volunteer or otherwise. It's simply the way I have chosen, and been fortunate enough, to live my life.

At breakfast the other day, Marilyn and I were telling Bethany, Kelsey, and Aaron about the birth accident that caused me to have cerebral palsy. (These are three young people staying with us for varying lengths of time while volunteering with FEDICE.) Marilyn commented that I was normal before that accident. I playfully shot back, "I'm still normal!" Bethany assured us that I wasn't normal - I was extraordinary. Extraordinary? Because I try to live my life the best I know how, and because I try to have as much fun as I can? Really? Okay, if you say so.

I'm not going to contradict people who say Marilyn and I do fine work in Ecuador. I'm not going to contradict people who tell me I'm extraordinary. We'll just soak it up. We’ll gladly and gracefully accept such comments in the spirit in which they are intended. And we’ll continue to wonder at the mystery of why these compliments are bestowed upon ordinary people like us.

Glenn Hebert and Marilyn Cooper work as volunteer missionaries with FEDICE (Ecumenical Foundation for Holistic Development, Training, and Education), which is based in Quito, Ecuador. We are also under the auspices of Global Ministries, the missionary arm of both the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denominations. Global Ministries lends support to grassroots organizations such as FEDICE worldwide.