by Gregory Giagnocavo Confidentially, I love marketing, advertising and the whole process of creating products and getting people to buy them. I even love TV commercials for their creativity. I did a lot of marketing in my prior business life.
But here in Guatemala, when we are up in the mountains in poverty-stricken villages, some of the marketing and advertising reminds me of the shallowness and consumerism that we all have come to accept as normal. The money we spend on needless "luxuries" could feed a nation, cure diseases, and certainly alleviate suffering. Here's my experience one day.
I had the radio on as I drove our old 4-wheel drive down from the mountain village of San Jose Yalu, 20 minutes off the paved road. We were going to the hospital in Guatemala City - a one and a half hour drive - to meet with a team of neurosurgeons from the USA. With me were a mom and dad with their two little children who couldn't walk (limp legs, severe club feet); their 19 mo. old boy was very malnourished.
Also with us was a father who I had never met until I was picking up that first family a few minutes earlier that morning. He came to the car and said "I also have a child who cannot walk. Can you please help me, can you please take me with you to the hospital?" His daughter was 11 years old and weighed all of 20 pounds. All bones.
Such a sad case, and I could see that there wouldn't be any help at the hospital. No surgery could help this little girl with cerebral palsy and who was also micro cephalic. But, I didn't want to turn him down cold, and he was begging for help, in words and in his very sad eyes. So I agreed to take him and his little girl along with us. At least the pediatric specialist at the hospital could explain it to him as a third party.
As I was driving along, slowly, on the bumpy road many neighbors were out along the road. The word had spread that I was taking them to see special doctors from the USA. They were waving and smiling to these families, and wishing them well, as if somehow success upon our return was assured --as though I was taking them to a magical place where their children could be "fixed". It was 7 am Sunday morning, the skies were clear, the sun was bright and everyone was full of hope.
The radio was tuned to a Spanish language station, but seemed full of advertisements for luxury items. Well-produced and sincere-sounding ads were promoting Rolex watches, special shampoo to make your hair soft, shiny and luscious, and hair coloring to get that perfect look, Volvos, nail salons, and the luxurious sleep of an Olympia mattress.
Suddenly it hit me. None of those things had any relevance to the lives of any of the people in my truck or in those villages. With no money or food to feed their children, living in shacks with dirt floors, unable to read or write, and no running water, I doubt that they will ever enjoy a luxurious Olympia mattress, impress their friends with a Rolex watch, or get that 'perfect look of luscious hair.' As for the Volvo, well, that would be 40 years of gross income.
I turned the radio off.
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