Finding the Spark: How to Make Change Happen

Back in grad school, one of my professors asked us to define the spark that engenders change. What causes some stuck (people, projects, towns, cities, countries) to evolve, change, revitalize, or otherwise transform while others stay stuck? After much discussion, there was no definitive answer. The mystery of successfully effecting positive change – of figuring out the spark that finally ignites transformation – is something that I have been thinking about and trying to answer ever since.

Today I had a whole elaborate plan cooked up in my head to reveal the (honest-to-goodness-I-keep-lists-of-this-stuff) five elements that most characterize effective change. But, honestly, it’s reading like a research paper and I am, ironically, feeling stuck (and a tad bored) as I write it. So, instead, I am going to illustrate effective, BOLD change with an awesome, feel-good, hope-filled story.

So, here it is: last week the middle school students at the MAIA Impact School celebrated their promotion to high school!!!! This is HUGE. This is unprecedented! This is transforming lives and creating a path that’s never been trod before.

Remember from previous posts that MAIA is a secondary school designed specifically for rural, poor, indigenous Guatemalan girls. Any single one of those factors creates a challenging situation. All four combined seems insurmountable.

In Guatemala, the least equitable society in the Western hemisphere, Mayan girls are an after-thought. Families live hand-to-mouth, scraping by, tenuously surviving, with no opportunity for better – for generations, for the entire scope of their pasts and futures. Education, especially for girls, has historically been neither an option nor a priority.

By supporting their daughters to attend MAIA, these families have both courageously attempted something that is totally new to them while sacrificing someone to help out at home now for a better future for their child, their family, and, ultimately, their country later. When they completed sixth grade, these girls had already exceeded the cultural norms for their education. Now they have completed all of middle school and are off to high school! Grab your tissues and check out this highlight video from the graduation ceremony.

MAIA’s new school building in Solola opened just one year ago this month. Rob Jentsch of MassInsight, the behind-the-scenes education guru and co-architect of the school, observed: “Beyond the fields of the Esturctura de Elementos Esenciales at least once per trip I have a moment where I get a little overwhelmed by seeing how well you all are bringing to life what is at its core an extremely ambitious proposition. So ambitious in fact that literally no one I’m aware of has attempted it. I just had that moment. There are 150 indigenous girls, led by an indigenous staff of teachers, who are at school on a random Tuesday learning and growing at a depth and pace and in an environment that any parent in the world would wish for their child.”

The preschoolers who attend school in a space at the MAIA Impact School also graduated last week. Mostly I am including their pictures here because they are just so unbelievably adorable. But also, think about what they and their families are witnessing every day as a real possibility for their futures. The sign behind their heads reads “Bienvenidos a la Clasura Aula Magica,” which means, “Welcome to the Magical Classroom.” This truly is magical. And it’s also what hope looks like in action. A future of opportunity in the making. Ripples of change expanding ever wider, generation to generation.

My list of what it takes to create change and shift the status quo doesn’t mention the word ambitious, but I think I will add it. Fundamentally, change starts with a bold and audacious vision (anchored with proven best practices and measurable milestones). It demands courageous action, commitment, and perseverance, every single day. And it requires leadership that’s realistic, that recognizes the formidable odds and all the problems (and they are manifold), but doesn’t get quagmired in or paralyzed by dwelling on them. When you have all that, well, it’s a start. Usually change on this scale is incremental and takes an incredibly long time, a slow shift in the sands, a ton of work happening behind-the-scenes for years before a vision becomes reality. MAIA is all the more remarkable for asking themselves “how far can she go?” and then laying out a path for these girls to see just that. MAIA is transforming an ambitious vision into reality at an unprecedented pace within Guatemala and on the international stage (the photos below are from the United Nation’s Day of the Girl in October where MAIA presented a Girls Bill of Rights!).

In this often frantic time of year, step back from time to time, take a deep breath, and a good look around. The essence of human life – connection with others – happens before our very eyes in the Target parking lot, in the checkout counter at the grocery store, at a highway rest stop – if you let it. Flood your heart with hope – for the courageous MAIA students and their families in Guatemala and for positive change in your own life. Recognize with deep gratitude all the good in the life you have; the wonder and fundamental good in this world; and the potential of us all, and for our common humanity.

Smile. Connect. Hope. Gratitude.

Thank you for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

In this season of giving and gratitude, if you are so inclined to support the MAIA students as they chart a bold, new trajectory, please give at www.maiaimpact.org/donate

MAIA Logo“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, that will be sufficient.”  (German theologian and philosopher, Meister Eckhart)

In Honor of the Extraordinary W. S. Merwin

W.S. Merwin, United States Poet Laureate and winner of 2 Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry, author of The Wonder of the Imperfect (among many, many other poems), and founder of the Merwin Conservancy passed away on March 15, 2019.

I admit quite readily that I am no poetry expert, and I have only been to Hawai’i once. I cannot possibly honor the full depth and breadth of Mr. Merwin’s life and works, so today I am posting a collection of tributes and poems by those who knew him best.

What captured my attention and admiration was Mr. Merwin’s authentic, genuine approach to life. He lived his life his way, with a gentle, persistent faith in the renewal of a forest, and of humanity; with a constant striving and belief in his art, his work, the natural world, even or especially when it was contrary to the mindset of the day. He modeled for us what happens when you find your passion and you stick with it. He lived his values with integrity.

The most healing thing you can do for your mind and your soul is to become more aware of your surroundings, to take a deep breath and appreciate what’s around you, to care about the world we live in, and to be uniquely and passionately you. W.S. Merwin lived that ethos his entire life. Take some time to get to know him and the incredible legacy of  his poetry and his palm forest. Today, in his honor, let the antidote to the ridiculous pace of life, the absurdity of the political shenanigans we are subjected to daily – to whatever ails you – be gratitude and moments of joy for this life, for this day, for being authentically you, having hope, and following your passion.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Merwin. With sincere gratitude for your example and your teachings,

Meg

Garden photograph credit to Mr. Larry Cameron

https://merwinconservancy.org/2019/03/poem-of-the-week-for-the-anniversary-of-my-death/

https://merwinconservancy.org/2019/03/pulitzer-prize-winning-poet-w-s-merwin-passes-away-at-91/?fbclid=IwAR1tTYbgyRPbAD_GBhLdM5issWC1Jvri-lYsFXoasQgYFrtbbCgOQdKMmvU

http://time.com/5555727/poet-w-s-merwin-obituary-by-rita-dove/

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/03/18/poem-for-merwin/?fbclid=IwAR3uvgYWLxMaloO4kl6o-SVu5rvb7fUYGOFYDwDKjK90Ms0YnYWKX6Ynfag

 

Tell me, what is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

The poet Mary Oliver died today. My favorite poem of hers is The Summer Day, so I copied it here. I especially love the last three lines. It’s a great reminder to pay attention to the details, to find pleasure in the little things, and to remember that we get just one precious life. It is uniquely ours. And we are each unique. So, as Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Live authentically, with passion, and with love.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA

Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.
All rights reserved.