The Quechua people of South America have a wonderful philosophy/practice based on mutual help. It’s called Ayni, which loosely translated, means ‘Today for you, Tomorrow for me.”
There are a number of ways you can think about this. Looking after your own self interest, you can take it to mean that if you help others now, they will help you later. So it’s a good investment for you. Or you could look at it more karmically, which is to say, what goes around comes around. If you sew seeds of kindness, you will reap kindness in reward.
I prefer to look at it more simply: think of others before yourself. Forget about the second half of it, about what you might get in return. Instead, just do the right thing. Help other people. Do what’s best for the other person. How great would the world be if we all practiced that? Of course, while it’s simple in concept, it’s not so simple in execution. I’d like to think I practice this regularly, though if I put my daily actions under a microscope, I wonder if I might fail miserably. I could probably reconstruct my day in a million ways that could have been more helpful to others.
Yet, if you look hard enough, you can find people who manage to live by this simple philosophy.
One such person is Jessica, who is principal of 2 schools in a small Andes mountain community above the Sacred Valley in Peru. Jessica is the kind of person who embodies Ayni. She dedicates her life to educating the indigenous children of her community, so that they will not suffer the discrimination that is rampant against the indigenous and the poor in Peru. Even when she was battling two bouts of bone cancer, Jessica insisted on recovering out of the hospital, in a nearby church instead so she could cater to the poor while recuperating herself. She is only happy when she is improving the life of others.
Another such person is Vittoria, an 80 year old woman (who looks like she’s 180, to be honest) with the fighting spirit of a teenager. She’s been running an organization in Cuzco for nearly 20 years that fights to protect girls who become domestic workers as early as age 10. She believes rich and poor, Quechuan-speaking or Spanish-speaking, all children should be raised as equals amongst each other, and only then will the next generation be free of discrimination against the poor and indigenous.
I met with both women last week on the GO Campaign/Adventure Yoga Retreat trip to Peru. The visit to Jessica’s school was part of a follow up on the grant we recently gave her for the Girls Academy program that provides leadership and health training to the older girls in the community. The girls are terribly shy and it often leads to them being taken advantage of, so the Girls Academy works to educate and empower them, to give them a voice. Adventure Yoga Retreat’s Ted McDonald took the opportunity to teach the girls to Om to get them to open up their throat chakra. It was a fun exercise, full of giggling, and a great precursor to the subsequent lecture the girls heard on speaking up for your rights. I was particularly moved when the parents of the community presented me with a hand-woven poncho that they had all saved up and contributed toward – a precious and beautiful gift that signified how much they value their children and the opportunities that GO Campaign is trying to give each of them through education.
Unlike the visit with Jessica with whom GO has worked for years, the visit to Vittoria was an exploratory visit. I was there to investigate whether her organization and her work might qualify for GO grant, and after hearing about all the impressive work she is doing for these rural girls who come to the city, I left thinking about her “wish list” and wondering which donors might want to fund her remarkable work.
The week long service/yoga/adventure retreat was so magical and so much fun that we already have people signing up to do it next year. It was just the right amount of service work/tourism/hiking/yoga/luxury train rides and luxury hotel stays, with a vibrant, interesting, adventurous and sociable group of like-minded travelers. We had a lot of laughs and shared in many a collective sigh at the breathtaking beauty of Peru. We also had spirited conversations about the best ways to support the Local Heroes in the community and how to give back something in return to this rich land for all it had given us.
I encourage any who can afford it to sign up for next year’s trip now. Today for you. Tomorrow for me. Next year for all of us?