Diamond-Cut Life

How To Be Rich In What Matters

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When More Stuff Is Good Stuff

June 2nd, 2013 by Alison · 10 Comments · climate change (global warming), energy, health & well being

I write about living with more joy and less stuff. That’s because I live in the United States, where we live generally with a glut of stuff, but not always a lot of joy, because children playing and washing with water from pipestuff has lots of needs of its own, and sends many people into debt. And it tends to distract us from the things that do bring joy, like relationships, nature, community, right livelihood and connection to God.

But today I’m writing about different stuff, good stuff, badly needed stuff that does bring a lot of joy. 

I went to an interactive dinner last night put on by Green Empowerment. Green Empowerment is a non-profit organization that helps villagers in countries like Kenya, Nicaragua and the Philippines create water systems and solar-powered energy for their homes and villages.

The stuff that reliably brings more joy would be water and energy for people who’ve been living without electricity, and walking miles every day to fetch water because they have no piped water system.

Did you know that when a village gains electricity, its literacy rate goes up? That’s because light bulbs let people see to read and write after the sun goes down. And do you know how much water weighs? Eight pounds per gallon. Imagine carrying thirty-two pounds of water for miles every day. When piped water arrives at a village, it frees up hours of daily time and energy for the women and children who had been carrying it. Those hours can then be spent instead in school, or on earning income, or doing some of the fun, relaxing things in life that non-water-carriers like you and I take for granted.

If you go to these villages, though, you won’t hear people talking about Green Empowerment (GE), which is based here in Portland, Oregon. That’s because GE partners with local, in-country organizations that lead the water and energy initiatives, themselves. GE  works behind the scenes, building long-term relationships with people on the ground, knowing that local knowledge is the best and deepest knowledge.

The villagers with the new water and electricity systems practice self-governance. They figure out how much to use and how much to pay. The goal is that everyone will have enough. They generally don’t have metering systems, but they’ll decide, for example, that because Jose’s house has two light bulbs, he’ll pay one dollar a month for his share of the solar-powered electricity. Maria’s tamale business, which uses refrigeration plus three light bulbs, might be expected to pay three dollars per month.

Some people I know grow their joy by being involved with Green Empowerment. For example,  Dave and Susan Van’t Hoff are getting ready to move to Kenya for a year to work on water and energy projects there. They’re bringing their children with them. Dave has a law degree, used to be Governor Kulongoski’s sustainability advisor, and is the chair of Green Empowerment’s volunteer board.

Nay Shayan, another friend of ours, is one of many people who give to Green Empowerment. She told me excitedly last night about the week she spent in Nicaragua this past spring. Nay stayed in a village that had three houses outfitted with solar panels that GE partnerships had made possible.  “I took showers out of buckets, slept on a spare mattress and ate rice and beans for most of my meals. You can’t believe what a difference bringing in electricity makes. It was the most amazing trip I’ve ever taken,” she said, her beautiful face alight with passion.

My husband Thor and I donated last night to Green Empowerment. They staged the most meaningful event I’ve attended in years. We plan to have the Van’t Hoff family over for dinner soon to get a fuller picture of the work they’ll be doing in Kenya. In a similar vein, we give steadily to The Community Project: Ethiopia, a school-building initiative being led by Colleen Kaleda in partnership with Engineers Without Borders.

Thor is turning 60 next month, and we’re steadily addressing the question: What kind of legacy we want to create from our lives ? I’ve become clear after a recent blow to my vanity that I want to age with vitality (not vanity) and a focus on contributing to others. Thor is with me on this. While we’re both blessed with right livelihood (mine in rural public transit and Thor’s in progressive energy), someday in the future we’ll no longer need to work for money.

When that day comes, we don’t plan to buy fancy cars, boats or Botox treatments. That wouldn’t be responsible, and it wouldn’t be joyful. I plan to continue crafting and writing about the diamond-cut life. And Thor and I plan to help people in need gain access to good stuff, badly needed stuff that does bring a lot of joy. Like electricity that helps to build literacy, and water that doesn’t have to be carried for miles and miles.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Barbara

    A dear family friend works for Green Empowerment in Nicaragua. It’s definitely a worthy cause to support. Thanks for sharing about the good work they do.

    • Alison

      Very cool, Barbara. It’s one of those little non-profits with a big reach, so once again I’m struck by what small world it is. Actually, I think interconnected is a better world for it than small.

  • grnpwrguy

    A legacy of clean energy and the elimination of poverty seem like wonderful gifts to bestow on the planet that gave us life. That’s the same legacy that Ben Linder in whose memory Green Empowerment was formed created.

    • Alison

      Thanks for bringing Ben Linder up. Dana, another friend/reader/commenter, went to Nicaragua in ’84, just one year after Ben Linder was killed in the course of working to bring hydropower to villagers. He says visiting Nicaragua changed him forever, seeing the lies the U.S. government had told him about the contras and the Sandinistas. I like the fact that Green Empowerment has had an ongoing presence in Nicaragua, perhaps redeeming and counterbalancing the U.S.’s long support of the contras.

  • Colleen

    What a great organization, thanks for writing about it. I’d love to learn more. Thanks too for the mention of The Community Project: Ethiopia (http://communityproject.org)! Now that we are partnered with Engineers Without Borders, we will be implementing solar and other green and water-saving technologies/designs into the school (for 1,000 students!), community center and garden we are building.

    • Alison

      Sounds great, Colleen. I respect your patience and perseverance as you keep putting the project together, one piece at a time.

  • Anna

    Thank you for such a beautifully-written post, and for your kind words about Green Empowerment. We’re grateful that you came to the event and are spreading the word for others to get involved.

    All the best,

    Anna Garwood
    Executive Director
    Green Empowerment

    • Alison

      It’s a joy to write about Green Empowerment. Blessings on your work! I just got an invitation from your coworker Aaron to another event — I need to reply to him; probably a ‘yes’.

  • Nay Shayan

    Alison, this is a beautiful share. I always enjoy reading your words.

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