Lucilia’s Story (and Our Own)

This morning I sat in the 10X20 foot, one-room home of Lucilia in the municipality of Apopa in the city of San Salvador, El Salvador. Lucilia is 40 years old, but could easily pass for 50 as the sun and stress of life has aged her face far too quickly. She lives in her small home with two daughters, 15 and 3. And although she never told us, the chickens and the scale in the home made it clear that she sells eggs to make her living and support her family.

In-between tears, Lucilia shared with me the heart-wrenching story of her 15-year old daughter, Rachelle. For the past 2 years, Rachelle has lived with a terminal disease that attacks her bones. It has left her body deformed and virtually useless. As a result of this terrible disease, in the near future, this beautiful teenager will lose her life far too early than she should. But today, the disease causes Rachelle pain that is both excruciating and unrelenting. Unfortunately, as her mother explained, there is simply not enough money to pay for the pain medication that would alleviate her pain during this final phase of her life. And if you looked close enough, you could almost see the daughter’s pain on the weathered face of her mother too. Like any mother, she desperately longed to bear the burden for her.

During our conversation, a scene began to unfold on the floor of the dark and dirty home that has forever been etched in my mind. Lucilia’s three-year old daughter briefly left the room and returned with one small bag of used crayons and one coloring book. As the father of a young daughter, I was deeply intrigued. The young girl sat down on the tile floor, pulled two crayons from the bag, and opened her coloring book to the first page… it was already colored. She flipped to the next page… it was also colored. So was the next… and the next… and the next… and the next… and the next…. all colored. My heart again broke for this family – the third time during our short conversation. Oh, how I desperately longed to run to my daughter’s closet and grab just one of her coloring books to give to this incredibly precious little girl. Oh, I longed to see her smile and have a page to color.

The impact of poverty evidenced this morning was among the greatest I have ever witnessed.

While this scene unfolded and the gravity of Rachelle’s situation sunk deep into my soul, my mind raced to a familiar story of the ancient Israelites. The story is told that as the Israelites left Egypt in search of their new home, they found themselves hungry and without food in the Middle-Eastern desert. As the story continues, God provides bread from heaven each morning with only one instruction: Each member of the wandering nation was too “gather only as much as was needed for their family.” And when they did, no one gathered too much and no one gathered too little. But there was equality.

It became very clear to me this morning that this world desperately longs for equality. We need more people who gather “only what is needed.” Because maybe then, others could “gather what is needed.” Nobody will gather too much… and nobody will gather too little.

Now, I am not naïve enough to think that the cycle of poverty around the world will be broken by simply choosing to gather less and give more… there are far greater factors at play here. But when you sit in the home of a dying 15-year old girl and her mother who can’t afford the pain medication available across the street, you feel called to action. You long for the day when people will gather only what is needed. You begin to plead for the privilege of sharing with others. And you begin to realize that Lucilia’s story is far too closely tied to ours.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Stories like this just break my heart and make me realise how selfish Western society is. I am also reminded in Luke 12:48 that to whom much has been given, much is expected. And, in my mind, that is us! The majority of Westerners have so much more than we could ever need. I know that there are so many issues involved in breaking the cycle of poverty, but if we could all use our excess for good – what a difference we would make.

  2. says

    A touching story, Joshua. It becomes more evident daily that our desire to consume more than we need is a particular kind of mental illness our culture has developed and continues to propagate through the media and advertisements and entertainment. I hope people like you and us can continue to help others understand the need for small changes in our lives.

    Take care,

    Joshua Millburn

  3. Freddy Panes says

    there is so much in this world that is just wasted instead of being channeled to help others. In Africa governments purposely prevent the delivery of these much needed medication to punish those that are not aligned with them. Food, medicines and water has become political tools and the free world stands not doing enough to address this. Even here in the U.S. poverty has deeply sunk into the lives of moist Americans and the clowns and stooges on Capitol Hill spend their days debating, talking and loving paper on their desks.

  4. says

    Your story brings to mind a letter from C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves. In that 1917 letter, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Nobody who gets enough food and clothing in a world where most are hungry and cold has any business to talk about ‘misery.’” Consider for a few moments the positive impact that would result if everyone on the face of this planet applied just a single month’s Internet bill to the poor, homeless and hungry who we too often try to pretend just aren’t there.

  5. says

    This is a truly heart-breaking story. I propose, however, that it is people pursuing their own self-interest that has led to the incredible economic growth and technological advances that today allow us to help the less fortunate. If everybody suddenly took only what they needed, it doesn’t follow that those without would suddenly be better off. We’ve tried this “take only what you need” approach before; it’s called the Middle Ages.

    • Karen T. says

      Sorry, Todd. I don’t understand your comment. During the Middle Ages, the rich and privileged took what they wanted and remained wealthy and powerful, the growing middle class struggled to get their share of the pie, and the poor (the vast majority) remained poor, with no hope or opportunity of changing their status. How is that “everybody suddenly [taking] only what they [need]? It sounds very much like modern society to me.

      Joshua, thank you for sharing this story. “Give us this day our daily bread” doesn’t mean “Lord, show me your favor by giving me everything I want and more,” and I need to remember that every day.

      • says

        Yes, Karen, it may be a bad example. The point I wanted to make is that it has been the excesses–improvements in technology and efficiency leading to the accumulation of surpluses so people could move beyond subsistence living–that have led to our current, unevenly distributed wealth that allows us to share with others. I brought up the Middle Ages simply because it was a time of local, inefficient economies that so many self-sufficiency fetishists seem to worship. Buying local can mean you either pay too much for things or you don’t even have the opportunity to buy the things you want or need in the first place. It’s great that we have options to choose now, but it certainly isn’t romantic to be forced into a “buy local” system.

        Similarly, the “take only what you need” mantra, if it had been practiced throughout history, would have kept us in a Middle Ages-like state. Without incentives to get more stuff and make life easier, there is no incentive for innovation; we would not have seen the incredible historic economic transformations that led to improved living conditions and life expectancy for so many people.

        I try to live with less as a matter of choice; however, I don’t think that if everybody made the same choice it would mean a perfect and harmonious redistribution of wealth resulting in everybody having exactly what they need to be happy and healthy. So, the very things that most minimalists despise are the very things that allow them to be generous.

  6. says

    Very moving story. And very frustrating too. When you are involved with a person facing such deep pain you feel helpless sometimes, I cannot stop myself from thinking I will hepl this person but what about the others in the same situation. Don’t you sometimes wish you can alleviate the misery of every person in this world.

  7. says

    When I was in high school, I participated in building a “house” for a family in Mexico. By house, I mean maybe 150 sq. ft. with four sturdy walls and a roof. No electricity or running water. But it was still much more than they had. It’s amazing how our family is considered poor by US standards, but even the poorest here are able to have much more than the poor in most other countries. I truly hope more people can see these circumstances for themselves-in person- in order to actually start enacting change.

  8. Anita says

    However, in another passage of scripture we find the story of the workers who went out to work for the foreman at different times of the day yet all received the same wage at the end of the day. It doesn’t appear that Jesus’ concern was equality.
    God’s provision for me does not depend on another splitting his wealth with me but in His provision which can come in ways that are far above me and my understanding. If I’m counting on man or I set myself up to be that man then I make an idol of man.
    If God prompts our hearts to give of what we have, then we give – and quietly.

    • AJ says

      Yes, I would also like to send some money via paypal and/or some coloring books/crayons. Please advise if you can on a good way to do this.

      Thanks.

    • says

      I’m in, too.

      I once spent a few weeks in Zimbabwe, and what I saw there was humbling. The men would work long, hard days in the sun for $1 a day. I saw huts made from circles of branches stuck in the dirt, with a thatched roof. When I left, I was going to throw away some old clothes that I’d spilled paint on, and was told that someone would be glad to have them. It was all quite a life-changing experience.

  9. says

    I read this just today in Duane Elgin’s book, Voluntary Simplicity:

    “The UN Human Development Report of 1998 reported that expenditures for pet food, perfume, and ice cream in developed nations vastly exceeded the total resources needed to eliminate world hunger, immunize every child, provide clean drinking water and sanitation for all, and offer universal education. If we live moderately, we have the material means to establish a decent standard of living for everyone.”

    • says

      This is sad, yet so true. Was having a conversation with a friend who owns a hardware store. He was telling about the 100′s of dollars people will spend to feed the birds in their yards, and then the money they will spend to keep the squirrels out of the bird food.
      Not that there is anything inherently wrong with feeding the birds, however….

    • laura says

      I’ve been keeping up with the famine in N. Africa on the news. Americans and Europeans can barely afford raising one child. Most Africans have many children that they can’t support/feed. This is unsustainable. Clinics need to be set up for family planning and volunteers to run it, and others can teach them how to grow a garden, etc. People should have children only if they are able to support them, otherwise don’t. Over population and millions without clean water and enough to eat should be a wake up call in these deprived countries.

      • Rebecca says

        You say this about family planning and volunteers–but would you be willing to do this–go there and educate men and women–many who can’t read or write, who don’t have enough food for themselves or clean water, don’t have basic health care available, and don’t have any opportunity to better themselves? If not, then your opinions on the matter really don’t matter b/c you actually want someone else to take care of the problem. Clinics need money and volunteers–both of which Western rich countries rarely like to give to third world developing countries.

  10. Earin says

    Hi,
    After reading this I got remembered of a similiar moment I once had.

    I was In Kenya (several times actually). Doing safari, enjoying the animals an so on.
    When visiting Kenya you see alot of poverty on every corner, you nearly get used to it…
    But there was one moment that was a real eye-opener.
    We were driving in our jeep direction Mombasa. It had rained a few hours earlier, the roads (unpaved) were more difficult to drive then usual when we entered Mombasa. Alot of traffic jam.
    As I was sitting there in the jeep, exhausted because of the temperature, with a nicely cooled plastic bottle of fresh and clean water in my hands. We passed a child. Something between 6 and 10 years old. It came on the edge of the road, got to it’s knees, reached his hand down, cupped water from the road and drank it. I got to see how dirty the water was. Full of sand, motor-oil, and what not else…
    A few seconds later the moment was gone, we turned around a corner.

    I was so ashamed and disgusted of myself. And I still am now when I think of it…

    That moment changed my life…

    But we forget so easily during our daily routines…

    (if you find any spelling errors, keep them – english is not my native language)

  11. says

    Proverbs 30:7….”give me neither poverty nor wealth, but give me only my daily bread”

    I had similar experiences last year in Peru on a trip I took with Compassion International. When you sit and fellowship with those living in dire poverty, simple living takes on a whole new meaning. It is stories like these and my own desire to like Christ that fuels me on this journey.

  12. Duncan says

    Heartbreaking.
    Incredible how the affluent, me included, for the most part block these realities out of our everyday life.
    -> ‘expenditures for pet food, perfume, and ice cream in developed nations vastly exceeded the total resources needed to eliminate world hunger, immunize every child, provide clean drinking water and sanitation for all, and offer universal education’
    That’s perspective. The World and Humankind can be wonderful, but are also sick and twisted. It’s so sad.
    Religion is mentioned. If all the ‘religious’ in the World acted in accordance with their scriptures, their wealth, numbers, resource, influence, etc would eliminate poverty in no time at all. Not decrying the amazing work a (miniscule) minority do.
    The World is in desperate need of a new model. Maybe ‘minimalism’ might contribute even a little to a new answer.

  13. says

    Profoundly moving. People’s lives we have no knowledge off and that seem so far away from our own level of understanding are a privilege to learn from. We can all take so much from this story, thank you for sharing. Let’s all work together.

  14. says

    Joshua, I’d like to hear how I can help as well. I’ve read all the comments with interest and am sitting here shaking my head in agreement with them all. My favorite quote, that inspired my journey toward a simpler life, came to mind: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

  15. Sharon says

    I am a reader from Singapore. Can you please tell me how I can send some money and colouring books to this family? Please email me the details if you have them and thank you so much for sharing this post.

  16. says

    Joshua,
    Our church works directly with a group of missionaries in Romania that serve the gypsies. Gypsies are the poorest of the poor and treated like outcasts. The people will not hire or buy from gypsies, so it is very difficult for them to provide for themselves. It is heartbreaking to hear and read these stories, however, may they remain in our hearts and spur us to do something to make a difference.
    And let me just say that while there is definite poverty outside the US, there is actually quite a bit of poverty here close to home. We have served several summers in Appalachia in Kentucky and it is a sad situation there as well.
    Bernice

  17. Tiffany says

    This is such a sad story. I had a life-changing experience myself in the Dominican Republic. We were visiting a tiny school in a very poor area. The area served as a dumping ground for the local factories (banana republic, gap) and all the kids were wearing scraps of fabric around their wrists, heads, ankles, wherever they could tie them…like jewelery. Some had fashioned them into clothes.

    Their toys were medical waste from the local hospital (or maybe shipped from other countries, who knows?) They were playing with dirty needles the way kids play with straws…blowing bubbles, making funny noises…it was absolutely heartbreaking.

    As we left a family was begging us to take their 2 year old daughter back to America with us to give her milk. They had no milk and barely any food.

    I had a hard time coming back to the US. It seems that the world would rather forget people like this. At times I forget, too.

    Thank you for this reminder. I was just debating donating my wedding dress to charity (married in June!) and now my mind is made up.

    I think it is so important for people to get in touch with this side of life. Maybe then our society can stop worrying about the size of Jessica Simpson’s waist and start caring about things that matter!

  18. Melissa says

    I have so much to say about this that I don’t even know where to begin.

    After recently returning to the States after two years of living in Nicaragua (with my husband and two young kids), this story really hits home. The poverty in most of Central America is shocking, and the dysfunctional governments are doing very, very little to alleviate it. What disgusted me the most was the attitude of the (tiny) upper class toward its fellow citizens. Not only do the wealthy not want to help to alleviate the enormous gap between the rich and poor, they do their best to make sure that others don’t get ahead, which would ruin the status quo-a huge servant population being paid pennies to ensure that the wealthy continue to live the good life. A wealthy local actually criticized my family (and other American expats) for paying our maid more than the minimum wage of $130 per MONTH. She complained that it would drive up wages and “ruin it for the rest of us.” The wealthy witness dire poverty every time they exit the gates of their fancy properties, yet are not moved to help. Their shoes, jeans, or a meal out a fancy restaurant cost more than what they pay their nannies, maids, drivers, or gardeners in a month. Your average middle-class American, living paycheck-to-paycheck, who has never witnessed such poverty feels more empathy and obligation to do what they can to make people’s lives easier, healthier, or happier.

    Those two years were life changing for me. Never before had I been given such an opportunity to give. It is an incredible feeling to change someone’s life with a $20 bill…otc remedies for intestinal parasites for a child, multivitamins with iron, cough medication, school supplies etc, etc…Giving was addictive and wonderful. I wish I could go back and do more.

    Thank you for sharing Lucilia’s story. She and her family will be in my thoughts.

    • Julie says

      My sister is in Nicaragua right now volunteering for a year as a nurse in a small village clinic. We were thinking of taking the family down, IE husband, me, and two kiddos 6 and 3. Any information that you can share about how to make this a valuable “life lesson” trip for my family would be great. We are hoping that this will start a long life of giving and serving in our children and in us. Is there particular toys that would be good to take to share with the kids of the village, something that would last a long time?

      • Melissa says

        Julie,
        Go for it! I can’t think of a better way to jump start a life of giving than taking advantage of the fact that your sister is there volunteering (btw, good for her!). My kids are the exact same age as yours, and we just returned from Nicaragua last summer.

        In rural areas, toys are hard to come by. Even in Managua, there are few stores that sell quality toys, and they are very expensive compared to the U.S. Most of what is sold in Nicaragua is cheaply made and junky. If you are a kid whose parents earn $2/day, then you can’t even afford to buy the junky stuff. The kids there would be thrilled with anything you brought. A doll or stuffed animal would be cherished. The little boys are always excited to get toy cars. I once brought a box of Legos-the larger sized ones-to a preschool classroom and dumped them onto the floor and the entire class of kids literally DOVE into the pile and started building. Legos and other types of blocks would be wonderful to bring down. Open ended, high quality, nothing with batteries (too expensive to replace)…Things you would want for your own kids.

        Children’s books are hard to find. I found that there’s a better selection of Spanish books for kids at Barnes and Noble than there is in any shop I ever visited in Nicaragua.

        School supplies are always needed and can be purchased inexpensively locally. Depending on how remote the village is, you may want to pick these things up while you’re in the city. Paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue,etc. are always greatly appreciated.

        Please don’t hesitate to email me with any other questions. I am really happy to help.
        :) Melissa
        mweinhaus@gmail.com

  19. Claire says

    Amazing post. Really inspiring. I am just at the beginning of my own journey into minimalism. I have always known of the personal benefits of adopting the principles (more space, time, creativity, less stress, etc), but I had not made the full mental leap to the humanitarian power it holds. WOW. It has always been there, tugging my heart in the direction of minimalism, but now it has all clicked into place.

    Thank you for the post. Now for some action. How can I help this family?

  20. says

    While in Haiti our group had that overwhelming sense of “We have to do something!” while we were grappling with thoughts of “This problem is just too big for ME” But it is so true, if everyone where to so SOMETHING it would make a difference.

    • says

      This brings up an interesting issue. While large organizations legitimately need donations, and can buy in bulk and therefore do things more efficiently, I think many people will respond more to individual stories. It’s very gratifying to see where maybe a well-applied $20 can eliminate a problem, whereas $10,000 thrown into the hopper of a large charitable organization still seems like a drop in the ocean. There is an organization called Modest Needs (www.modestneeds.org) that uses this idea to allow people to address specific lump-sum needs for individuals. They vet requests carefully, and it updates instantly so you can see exactly what is needed at this moment to fulfill a need. CNN ran a story on this one day, and I sat there amazed, watching things vanish one by one off the list. I can see pros and cons to this approach–the less “interesting” requests might not get fulfilled (although you can give money to be applied by the organization as they see fit), however I think it’s a novel approach that may spur giving that otherwise might not occur, both because it speaks to people’s hearts, and because some of these things don’t qualify for the kind of help that many charities provide.

      • says

        That sounds interesting I will have to look into it! When the earthquake happened in Haiti our church gave to an organization to help. Having gone there a year later and learning quite a bit more I wondered what some of these organizations are doing with the money. There are many organizations doing great things (some not so much) but smaller more personal entities seem to be moving mountains because they are not wrapped up in processes and regulations of things. They see a need and fill it. Our church is getting involved with more organizations like this. It becomes much more personal when you can go be apart of it or bring back stories and pictures of a village you helped and not just a spreadsheet of where your money “may have” gone.

  21. says

    Touching story, we jump out to help people when we see a need that connects on such a personal level, but this is happening all the time behind closed doors. How can we bring more exposure to these issues?

    I’m in too.

  22. says

    Josh
    I found your site this some on vacation (I’m a teacher) and have really enjoyed reading through the archives. I am no where near as minimalist as you are, but I am inspired. This article however, is one of your best. Timely post to me. My wife and I just had a heart-to-heart about our own finances this week. While we didn’t have the immediacy of your experience, something similar came to mind.

    Believe me I am not looking for traffic with this comment, but if anyone is interested, my latest post on A Certain Quality of Life revolves around just this issue.

  23. Kyla says

    I read the article below and was touched and inspired by this message. Your post today reminded me of it. The article is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/magazine-11950843

    And a great link is here: http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/about-us/

    Thanks for your blog. I appreciate your approach to spirituality, especially since faith is obviously a large part of your life (and career I believe). I like that you do not beat readers over the head with it, but remind us that we are all human and all called to help each other as best we can.

  24. Tere says

    Joshua, Please let me know how I can help Lucilia and her family. I cannot bear to think of this young girl in pain like that and her little sister not even having a page to color.

  25. Priscilla says

    My husband grew up in El Triunfo, El Salvador during their civil war. We visit his family there every year and it always breaks my heart to see how they live. The entire country suffers from many public health problems and few people are able to obtain proper medical care.

  26. says

    Perhaps Mother Teresa said it best:
    “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”
    and
    “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”

  27. says

    Your blog (and this post) is so inspiring! I hope you continue to write here. People that have not been exposed to poor countries or poverty sometimes lose sight of what is important. They may feel having 4 cars and a 3500 square foot house for 2 people is “necessary” and not a luxury. I have been to poor countries and it humbled me. It makes you realize how good we have it in America. Yet, somehow, these people seem happier still. Thanks you for sharing your story and doing your part. :)

  28. Kelly says

    Amen! Thank you for sharing! We have been on the road to becoming a more “minimalist” family over the last few years and one of the major reasons for this is to be able to give more. I see this as one of the largest blessings of minimalism. Becoming minimalists is not all about us, having less, to free up more for “ourselves” to enjoy our own life, ect. We can have less to be enabled to GIVE more of ourselves… and our time… and our money.

  29. Freddy Panes says

    the world as we know it “thrives” in getting everybody to spend. that’s because economists, bankers and big corporations knows the basic psychology which is “native” to every human brain. there is no difference as to liking an attractive thing from the mind of a person from papua or another person from avignon. they are all people and corporations have successful used images to bombard our minds to a point of exhaustion that as soon as people have money they go out and spend. i guess we all have to go back to the “notebook” approach. write every item you spend line by line and we can see our bank balance. before spending we can allocate funds to something useful and meaningful to our lives and for other useful purposes. then we can allocate a little extra as a “treat” mindful of the percentage we have to stach away as “savings.” that’s how i see becoming a minimalist is. then we discover that living minimally can really be meaningful to a point we can help others. then we teach these to our children, so they too can grow up without fear of being “consumed by this world.” a good sunday to everybody.

  30. says

    the world as we know it “thrives” in getting everybody to spend. that’s because economists, bankers and big corporations knows the basic psychology which is “native” to every human brain. there is no difference as to liking an attractive thing from the mind of a person from papua or another person from avignon. they are all people and corporations have successful used images to bombard our minds to a point of exhaustion that as soon as people have money they go out and spend. i guess we all have to go back to the “notebook” approach. write every item you spend line by line and we can see our bank balance. before spending we can allocate funds to something useful and meaningful to our lives and for other useful purposes. then we can allocate a little extra as a “treat” mindful of the percentage we have to stash away as “savings.” that’s how i see becoming a minimalist is. then we discover that living minimally can really be meaningful to a point we can help others. then we teach these to our children, so they too can grow up without fear of being “consumed by this world.” a good sunday to everybody.

  31. says

    Good you realized that a person in poverty isn’t necessarily someone who is lazy, or stupid and just didn’t make it.

    The connection between capitalism or atleast the point in which Capitalism has reached in the United States Empire today, most everything that we buy here in the US is at the expense of someone else.

    Get more conscience, warning the truth is painful:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_huey.html
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3812249801848706206
    thats a good start.

  32. says

    Wow, it’s a good lesson. We should all be helping more and be grateful for what we have…especially our health. Is there a way we can help her? Donate money, items etc?

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