My friend Mary called to invite me to a dinner party yesterday. The purpose was to introduce a Maasai warrior she befriended to people she thought would appreciate him and his ongoing project: to eliminate preventable deaths from malaria in his village and surrounding areas; to eradicate female circumcision from his culture; and to make male circumcision medically safe. With his own meager means, he had studied to become a licensed rural Health Practitioner, then he opened his health clinic, the Talek Community Health Centre, which is the only provider of medical assistance for miles around.
She said that Ole Njapit (aka Jackson or Action Jackson) had sold his car, cows, goats and other personal possessions to come to California in order to, are you ready? To become the first ever Maasai balloon pilot! This skill would allow him to offer fun aerial tours of the beautiful region where he lives, and provide the desperately needed funds to keep his clinic going.
I said I would love to meet him. I could relate to Jackson’s mission. My company, Lakaye Studio, has a relationship with the Matsés, an indigenous Peruvian group deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle. (They harvest the jagua fruit from which we make our all-natural black temporary tattoo product, the Earth Jagua Gel.) This tribe has been plagued with malaria for a long, long time. The Peruvian government doesn’t seem to care much about the problem. They make the necessary antibiotic available to members of the group, only they require that each and every person come to Iquitos to claim it. We’re talking about a five-day journey on a motorized canoe. Since they can’t afford the fuel, it translates to a 10 to 12-day trip. So, my husband and I spent $1500 and took care of this season’s malaria problem for the 200+ people in the village. Trust me, $1500 is a lot of money for us. We’re in the arts; need I say more?
This interchange led Mary to observe how, in her brief experience as fundraiser for Jackson’s project, she found that those with the least usually give the most. It’s tough raising money during a recession. The very rich are being hit up more than usual, and for the rest of us, it’s easy to feel that our small donations won’t really help in the bigger picture. Ask me, I come from Haiti.
Every time we give the Matsés extra money or supplies for the village, I can’t help feeling a pang of guilt for not giving it to someone in Haiti, land of devastated everything right now. I do what I can for Haiti too, but it never feels like it’s enough. And that’s a dangerous way to think.
My husband and partner, Pascal Giacomini, is getting ready to leave for his second trip to the Amazon next week. It’s been two years since his first visit there, and although everything has been going smoothly, he said he was feeling the need to reconnect with the Matsés in person. I think he just wants to go hang out with his new friends. There’s a mutual admiration party going on between them. They keep asking if he’s bringing his wife. I’d love to go but I just got back from Haiti. It was a tough trip but funnily enough, I may go back before the end of the year. I can’t wait.