Dima’s Backpack

“Now we’re going to do a little exercise,” Ariel stands in the center of the small room, we sit shoulder to shoulder in a tight circle, the second day of on-boarding for the 11 new Vida Plena community facilitators.

“Imagine you are about to head out on a long trip, one which you may never get go home again. You’re packing your backpack, what are you going to bring with you? Now this is a magical backpack, so you can put not just the physical items you will need, but also all the people and special things you wish you could bring.”

I consider myself an experienced traveler, so I quickly and confidently start jotting down my highly practical list – legal documents, photos, chargers, sunblock, bug spray, Advil, extra cash and a journal and pen – and continue on until I proudly think I’ve written the most critical items I would be likely to need.

“Next take you list and fold it into 4 parts.” We follow along attentively. “Now rip up your list along the folds and randomly throw away three of the four parts.”  Dismay ripples across the group.  We want to resist and clutch onto our carefully drafted lists.

 “This is precisely what is what happens to people who are refugees – they pack their bags for their trip bringing with them all that they think they will need – and far too often then they are robbed, tricked, and circumstances force them to leave behind so much of what is most valuable.” We are all silent as that reality sinks in.

I look down at the corner of my paper to see what I have left. The only thing written there is one word, “pen.” Seems I didn’t make out too well in our little hypothetical scenario.

Next to me is Dima. Quietly I hear her say, “this is exactly how it is,” her voice choking with emotion. Herself a Venezuelan refugee, she doesn’t need a hypothetical exercise. Gently, Ariel asks her to read the list of what she is able to bring with her:

  • my son
  • my documents
  • my cell phone
  • my sense of humor

Fighting back tears, she then reads the list of things she had to leave behind:

  • fresh coconuts
  • sunsets over the Caribbean Ocean
  • my childhood friends
  • my mother
  • my daughter
  • my courage

The reason I’m telling you this story is because it captures the essence of Vida Plena – we come alongside people who are hurting, connect them with a supportive group of people to help them process and overcome that pain, and ultimately turn that experience into their source of strength to care for others.

Dynamic and strong, it is not an exaggeration to say that Dima is one of the most committed and talented of our facilitators, and a significant part of that is because she understands firsthand the realities of the people we serve.  I ended the on-boarding weekend with this quote from C.S. Lewis:

Many times, the challenges of life prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

Hearing Dima’s story, I know that to be true.

– Joy
October, 2022