When doing my research in the slums of Manizales, Colombia, I attended a meeting of the Central Nacional Pro-Vivienda, a national organization seeking housing for the poor. The meeting was held in the Communist Labor Federation building. The organization had close ties to the communist party in Colombia. I was told the meeting would start at 8 p.m. and arrived at that time. The building was in one of the poor barrios of the city of 250,000 population. Guarding the entrance were two six-foot tall members of the mounted police carrying assault rifles. They were there to 'keep the peace' (read: intimidate those who would attend the meeting.)
When I entered the room I found that the meeting had already started. Seated on narrow benches without any backs were about 300 of the poorest of the poor to be found in that city. The weather, at 7,000 ft. altitude, was not only chilly, it was downright cold and yet many of the attendees had only ragged cotton shirts or blouses and no poncho, coat or sweater. All benches were full and many persons were standing in the rear of the room. I stood behind them but since I am fairly tall I was quickly noticed by the chairperson who stopped the meeting and announced "Please welcome our guest this evening, Dr. Drake, from the United States who is here representing the people of that great nation, not the government. Dr. Drake, please come forward and join us up front." I had not expected that and was quite embarrassed as I went to the front of the room to the sound of a loud applause. There I tried to hide behind a file cabinet so I was not so conspicuous.
The gathering was an assembly of representatives from each of the barrio committees, each of which had their own community projects. I listened as a representative from one of the barrios told of their community health project. She and her friends made empanadas (bits of dough folded over a bit of vegetable or a bit of meat and fried) which they sold to persons walking in the city parks on Sundays when the poor people were out walking and enjoying a day off from their jobs and activities. The woman reported that after several weeks they had made enough money to purchase a small bottle of aspirin which was now the proud possession of the barrio health committee. If someone in the barrio got sick they could go the the community health committee and get a free aspirin! The audience gave her an applause for her report.
Sr. Elias Oliveros, President of the organization, then pulled a fast one on me. He announced "Dr. Drake will now make a presentation." Everyone applauded as he turned to me and asked me to come forward and speak to the assembly. I was aghast! I had no speech ready. I wasn't forewarned that I would be called on to address the group. What could I possibly have to say on behalf of the citizens of the United States to this assembly of some of the poorest citizens of the city?
What would you say?
Think about that for a bit. What would you, an American citizen speaking on behalf of the people (not the government) of the United States, have to offer this assembly?
I will tell you what I ended up saying two days from now. Meanwhile here is your chance to think about what you would say to those poor folks who are dreaming of having a house of their own, even it it is not much larger than 100 square feet in size, if that. You can say it in English and I will interpret for you. That is your homework assignment. ;- )