I’ve been reflecting often lately on the concept of building community. I’m intrigued by it, really: The foundation community provides. The promise it offers. The idea that community is truly boundless. At Elevate97, we have always talked about this one planet we live on and why we need to care for it. I see, more clearly now than ever, that Planet Earth is, in its entirety, our shared community.
JUST THINK ABOUT SALT FOR A MINUTE.
Yes, salt! My family recently returned from the unforgettable experience of traveling to South America. We started our travels in Peru, and our first highlight was to be Machu Picchu, an Incan settlement in the Andes Mountains. It was built in the 15th century, at the height of the Incan Empire. You can reach Machu Picchu by foot or by train, but whichever you choose, you will pass through the Sacred Valley, the heart of the Incan Empire, on your journey. The view is exquisite, as we imagined it would be. But what we didn’t expect—and what has perhaps stayed foremost in my mind—is the experience of a side excursion to the local community’s salt mine, one of the three largest salt mines in the world.
The only reference for salt mines I knew before that day was the saying “back to the salt mines,” taken from the practice of sending prisoners to work in the salt mines of Siberia. Needless to say, my expectations of a salt mine were low. The reality made an imprint on my mind.
Flowing out of the mountain near the salt mine comes a small river of salt water. The water tastes like salt, coming right out of the mountain. The river runs and is directed down over a series of flat areas, or pads, that each in turn fill with the salt water. The water settling on the pads eventually evaporates, and what remains is the salt. Families from the local community own individual pads, and they pass the ownership of these down from generation to generation. They farm the salt, gathering it, cleaning it and selling it. And it’s foundational for them. It is a promise, of enough. This technology, if you will, that is thousands of years old, for a product still needed today, provides a livelihood for this community. It is the salt of the earth, fulfilling a basic need—a need that transcends where and how you live. Salt is in your tears, in the ocean, in the food all of us eat. It is indeed foundational.
Little do most know, it is beautiful.
LISTEN FOR THE SOUNDS OF COMMUNITY.
After Machi Picchu, we headed on toward Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I have stories here to tell for another day, about the color and beauty—and perhaps about a particular marine iguana. But today, let me bring you to a small village on the Amazon River. The travelers from our boat visited a school in the village for grades 1 through 8. We knew we would be visiting, so we brought the children crayons and paper, bags and flip flops. The children were lovely as they sang songs and learned our names in English, as their teachers instructed them to. Eventually the schoolchildren gravitated toward our children, and as they played, it was then that I noticed the sound of hammering. There, behind the grade school, were the men of the village, building what I learned would be a preschool and kindergarten.
Quite simply, the people of the local community saw a need for a preschool and kindergarten, so they gathered in the soccer field behind the grade school, and together, they began building one. Their focus on the foundation of learning in early childhood was the only thing driving them. I looked at them and realized that if they didn’t pick up a hammer and build what was needed in their community, it simply wouldn’t exist. To go one step further, it registered with me that this is really true of any community. Here, at home, we have organizations that will lead efforts. But in the end, it is up to each of us to hold a hammer and do our part in creating for the greater good. The giving of self, the idea of getting it done, is foundational for everyone. The sound of our working together is community.
ARE YOU UP FOR A CHALLENGE?
At Elevate97, we challenge one another regularly. It’s one of our values, because we believe that challenge is what creates the impetus for improvement. Having read this, I consider you part of our family, part of our team. And so my challenge to you is this:
Look beyond the ordinary. Tell me what you see. What is foundational? What is beautiful? What is, at its very essence, a symbol of community?