A few years ago, as I read through my morning group of incoming emails, I came upon a simple, yet unusual inquiry from a man in Guatemala. His name was Roland and he was from Sweden. He was seeking potential assistance from our organization, The Love Foundation, for a Mayan village that had been relocated because of a very destructive hurricane. He was endeavoring to help them with their basic needs as they settled near another village. I was intrigued; not just by the curious fact that a man from Sweden was in Guatemala trying to help some indigenous Mayans, there was something about the genuine tone and straightforward plea that captured my attention. I responded to Roland, and over the coming years, he would prove to be no ordinary man.
Even though we are a nonprofit, Roland’s request was outside our scope and mission to provide direct financial assistance. Nevertheless, I felt an immediate sense of gratitude for this man’s willingness to help these people and a heartfelt connection to his authentic presentation. I decided I would offer whatever other assistance I could. His subsequent reply began a journey of correspondence that continues today. In the wake of these ongoing emails between us, I have learned more about the plight – and the beauty – of this indigenous Mayan culture than I could have ever imagined. Roland is truly their guardian angel and at the same time, an amazing teacher and friend to me.
In that initial email proposal, Roland described the challenges a little village named Pacutama Dos, had endured. Clinging to the side of a mountain in Guatemala, this village was literally washed away as a hurricane-induced mudslide took what few resources these people had and sent them cascading down to the bottom of the ravine. Not only were their homes destroyed, the livestock, gardens and meager possessions were all lost. This village was economically poor before this happened and now they had nothing. They had to relocate to higher ground and this is where Roland magically entered their world.
Through his eyes, camera lens, and firsthand experience, he would share with me how these incredible Mayan villagers started to rebuild their community and their lives. Starting from scratch, they were determined to begin again and Roland was there to help in any way he could. His next email inquiry to me was also the source and catalyst of our new found collaboration and budding friendship – would I be willing to edit his proposals so that he could send them out to potential sources for funding? He felt his English, although good, was still grammatically out of order for western audiences and wanted to make sure he was understood. Naturally and joyfully I agreed.
So, with little more than an internet café and new friend in America, he began to unfold his encounters with the Mayans of Guatemala seeking aid for their benefit. With each new email there came a large assortment of digital pictures attached. Roland was capturing the very essence of these people just as they were. Perhaps this is what endeared me more than anything else to him. His requests were always one of pure compassion and never that of sympathy or pity. He conveyed things as they were, without an attempt to make it an emotional appeal. He let the circumstances and the photos tell the story as it was, without a sense of duty, obligation or guilt. This was unconditional love in action.
He educated me, and those that would eventually receive these email requests, with the villagers’ immediate needs like basic shelter, kitchens and saunas (traditional Mayan bathing huts). He explained each necessity and why it was important to provide them as it related to their culture. Roland also described how they required warmer clothing and medication as their new home was much higher in altitude, and hence colder, than their previous location and how this was adversely affecting their health, especially the children. These were practical issues and Roland was determined to solve each one as best he could.
Within just a few weeks, he began to find funding for these basic needs and with each new email he asked me to edit, I saw how the involvement of one man could change the lives of many. He did what others were unable or unwilling to do; he honored the dignity in these indigenous people and worked to help alleviate their challenges. One by one, he found solutions to each predicament. He wanted nothing more and nothing less than to see them happy and healthy. This was his reward.
Of course, as he worked with this particular village, he also encountered Mayans from other locations, and the needs began to multiply. Roland shared how, like many nations, the indigenous people have been displaced from their native ways and forced into extreme impoverished minority groups. The government offers very little assistance to the Mayans in relationship to the larger Spanish population and as a result, not much is known about these once proud and wise people. Even their native language, along with the many dialects, has become a barrier to them since only the (new) Spanish language is officially recognized.
From his initial help with this first village, Roland’s journey has evolved and brought him into many new circumstances as he has helped countless lives. Whether scholarships to help children get essential education, to finding doctors for extreme and critical health issues, he has moved every obstacle until he could bring them the help they required. His courage and determination has led to incredible results like getting the funding to create a lifelike artificial glass eye for a young girl who lost her sight in an unexpected household accident. Traveling sometimes for hours by bus, he has escorted patients and their families to the larger cities so that medical and dental procedures could be performed. He has obtained wheelchairs, had prosthesis made, brought food, clothing and gifts to the many villages. He even helped co-author and completely and beautifully illustrate a bi-lingual text book to help teach the Mayan children the equivalent Spanish language.
Over the years, with each proposal I edit, Roland also unknowingly provides me a window into a world filled with a rich culture and wondrous heritage. Without our mutual connection, the email text and narratives, and the countless pictures (many hundreds at this point) I would never have had the privilege to learn and comprehend the Mayan culture as I do today.
I have not asked Roland what brought him to Guatemala in the first place – the question always seems pointless. What is important is that he is there and the world is better for it. Unconditional kindness knows no borders or boundaries; it simply comes from the heart and lifts the spirit of others as it is expressed. I know I am a better person for having interacted with Roland, the man from Sweden. I can only tell you that when I see the eyes and smiles in the pictures he takes of his Mayan friends, they are happy he is in their life too.
Harold W. Becker is Founder and President of the internationally recognized nonprofit, The Love Foundation, is the author of various books including, Unconditional Love - An Unlimited Way of Being and Internal Power, Seven Doorways to Self Discovery along with hosting his own PBS special on unconditional love. Contact him at www.thelovefoundation.com