The Undeniable Reality August 9, 2011  by      

Chasing the Mad Lion producer Beth-Ann Kutchma received this inspiring reflection from a reader of Rye Barcott’s book It Happened on the Way to War – quite a heartfelt review:

“Reading your book was a moving experience for me in so many different ways.  Having been a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia from 1968-70, I could empathize with your willingness to reach out and make a difference in the lives of people whose life experiences were so foreign from your own.   Your initial fear and frustration about an outsider making a difference in Kibera reminded me of just how much I was shaken by the lonely feelings that gripped me in those first few months in Buno Bedelle, Ethiopia, nestled in the lush rainforests of southwestern Ethiopia.  I often wondered what I was doing there in the first place.  I knew that, for some reason, I was meant to be there, but I spent many restless nights trying to figure out just how I could make a difference in the lives of the children that I was teaching…in the lives of the people who would come to the clinic where I would occasionally work.

Most importantly, I was personally touched by the manner in which you managed to forge partnerships with heroes like Tabitha and Salim and, in the process, enable these community leaders to empower themselves to take ownership for the process of community building that both you and they understood was ultimately their responsibility.  At the same time, it was clear that Salim and Tabitha were far more than partners in community collaboration and participatory development.  Clearly, they became family and, when Tabitha whispered those words…”grass, flower and wind” to you right before she passed away, it was an undeniable reality that you felt as if you had lost a member of your family.  Indeed, when she fell asleep and you made your way out to the courtyard with the hibiscus tree, your tears reflected the deep and abiding realization that underscored, for me, the underlying message of your story, that being that all of us are truly bound together by the common bonds of our humanity.

Rye, your story about Kibera was inspirational and exhilarating, exhausting and heartbreaking, uplifting and encouraging, and I want to thank you for reinforcing my belief in certain fundamental values, those being the significance of service and selflessness, the power of courage and commitment, the value of consistently standing up and speaking out with the courage of your considerable convictions about the issues that matter and, finally the faith and fortitude that sustain us in moments when the clouds of adversity seem to block any hint of hope that there may be sunlight beyond the horizon.  Memories of my Peace Corps experiences came flooding back, as I read your book, Rye.  Vivid recollections of faces, friendships and families from Ethiopia washed over me in a river of memories that was overwhelming, leaving me breathless and emotionally spent.

Salim and Tabitha reminded me of some of the village leaders in Buno Bedelle, who were willing to put their reputations and, at times, their lives on the line in order to maintain the identity and integrity of their home.  But I must admit that it was your accounts of how the kids came forward to not only play soccer but to engage in the community trash clean up campaigns that resonated most deeply with me.  The courage of those youth leaders was, in my mind, a direct result of your believing in Tabitha, Salim and other adults in the Kibera community.  The young people of Kibera came to believe in their own ability to shape changes in their own lives and in the lives of their community because you had planted that seed, one that was cultivated by the commitment of everyone who came to believe in your cause.  It reminded me of the kids that I taught in Ethiopia, young people who had hopes for a better life and were willing to do anything in order to achieve their goals and realize their dreams.  After all, isn’t that what this is all about, Rye?  Isn’t your book, at its deepest core, simply about our working relentlessly and committing ourselves tirelessly to the cause of social justice in the world?

I believe that those who are fortunate enough to read your book will understand the undeniable reality that it is incumbent upon all of us to be genuinely committed to shaping genuinely positive changes in the lives of other people and, in the process, impacting our world in a significant and meaningful manner.

Thanks for a wonderful book.  I will be recommending it to my students, my teaching colleagues and my friends.”

–Peter McVeigh, Teacher of History

Germantown Academy, Fort Washington, PA

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