Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: PEG (Proyecto para las Escuelas Guatemaltecas)

About a week and a half ago, I went to what will probably be the final live David LaMotte concert I will ever see. As I announced last year, LaMotte is retiring from full-time singing/songwriting to devote his life to peacemaking work. He has received a fellowship from Rotary International to study in Australia and get his master's degree, and so he, his wife Deanna, and soon-to-be-born son will be moving there in just a few months to live for at least the next two years.

(Before I continue, I have to confess that, despite my efforts and intentions, the fact that David was out here in Southern California ultimately had nothing to do with me at all. I just lucked out in that a "house concert" group in Agoura Hills had managed to arrange for him to come to the area. The concert was literally in someone's living room, with only some 40-or-so people in attendance. Still, I knew I couldn't miss this last opportunity.)

Part of the reason LaMotte won the fellowship to study in Australia is due to something that happened during David and Deanna's honeymoon in Guatemala, where they had planned to study Spanish in an immersion program. While visiting a local school there, David had a conversation with the principal, who took him on a "grand tour" of the meager surroundings. David was shown the well from which students and teachers drew water, and the bathrooms in another part of the campus. The principal commented that it was a dream of his to someday be able to connect plumbing from the well to the bathroom, so that it would have running water. As the conversation continued, it became clear that the cost to set this up would be just $125. As David told us during the concert. "$125? I'm a songwriter, and I can do that!" But for this school, where the only part of running the school paid for by the government was the teachers' salaries, such a sum had to be raised from within the community. This meant that if the school wanted to provide food, add on to (or repair!) their building (a working kitchen was another deeply felt need), or even buy textbooks, that money had to raised by the school itself. For this reason, many Guatemalan schools have no textbooks at all. While $125 may have been the kind of sum that a songwriter could just write a check for and be done with it, it quickly became apparent that the needs outweighed what LaMotte could actually contribute to responsibly.

So, after the LaMottes returned from their honeymoon, David had a few concerts, and he told his audiences about what he discovered in Guatemala. They contributed pocket change, and before long, the school David had been at was able to provide running water, a working kitchen, and basic textbooks. Some of that story can be found here. The generosity of those first few post-honeymoon concerts grew into a non-profit specifically for helping Guatemalan schools: Proyecto para las Escuelas Guatemaltecas (or PEG, for short).

As David told us during that concert, "This idea that the problems are too big... That we can't make a difference? I don't buy that!" We can make a difference. Project by project, bit by bit, to be sure. But the lives of hundreds of Guatemalan children have been greatly improved just because one person decided to do what he could about a situation he became aware of. He and his wife were just going there to learn some Spanish. They had no idea that they'd be starting a non-profit. Sometimes life just works like that.

So, anyway, I took advantage of my last opportunity to talk with David by buying a box set of his CDs (most of which I had already, but some only on audio cassette) and getting his autograph one last time. I'll miss hearing new songs of his, but I can hardly complain. Eighteen years is quite the career, and his new calling is most definitely a worthy one. I wish him well. You can donate to PEG at their web site, and follow the new endeavors of David LaMotte via his blog: "World Changing 101."

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