My name is Robin and I have been the director of COMEA and a member of this community for seven years. Living in Cheyenne has truly been a blessing to me and my family and I am grateful for the opportunities Wyoming has provided for us. Very recently, I had the life changing experience of traveling to Bolivia with my church to participate in a mission project. When I learned we would be serving the homeless, addicted, abused, and poverty stricken of Cochabamba, a city of 1.2 million people, I decided this was something I needed to experience.
Thirty hours of travel, including lay-overs, four different flights, and no sleep, brought me to a place I could never have imagined. My first thought was “oh how beautiful the landscape” which was quickly replaced with “oh what is that smell”? I was soon introduced to sub-standard plumbing and contaminated water, a lack of animal control, no traffic laws, cultural differences both good and bad and people not so different from folks back home. The first few days were filled with prep work and organization. But by day four, we were sitting with drug addicts under a bridge when I realized I could easily be under the bridge at Missile Drive and Lincolnway. Our day at the domestic abuse shelter reminded me of Safe House in Cheyenne and serving dinner to the homeless at City of Refuge felt like serving dinner at COMEA.
Not everything reminded me of home though. The severe poverty found at the “dump” in Kara Kara was worse than anything I had ever seen on TV or elsewhere. Families of 6-8 children, living in a one room shed with no floor, no water and no electricity was common. Families all sleeping in the same bed and never knowing if they would eat the next day seemed normal. Parents abandoning their children when they could no longer provide for them was nearly expected. I felt ashamed for all that I have and take for granted back home. There is no Housing Authority to help with section 8 housing, no food stamps to supplement food, and no utility assistance to keep the lights on. There is no Head Start, day care assistance or latchkey programs for children. Education is not a right and families must pay for their children to attend. One “sleep shelter” serves the entire city’s homeless population.
How can this be, I wondered? I felt hopeless and tired just watching from the sidelines. How do people survive this lifestyle? This is when the difference between them and us became obvious. “In Bolivia”, the missionary said, “the cultural attitude is every man for himself”. “The wealthy do not take care of the poor and the government does not provide programs for assistance”.
Later that night, back at the mission house, we were sharing our thoughts from the day. I didn’t feel pleased by the “good works” we had done that day nor did I feel proud of our efforts. I realized that broken is broken and poor is poor regardless of where you are. I realized that the problem of hurting people is bigger than me or anyone else. I thought again about home, in Cheyenne Wyoming and the work I do there every day. I thought about the men and women living under the bridge, in shelters and on the street. And then I remembered the biggest, most important difference. In Cheyenne, we take care of those less fortunate. We don’t carry the “every man for himself” attitude: those who “have”, give to those who “have not” . Because of this generous community, COMEA is able to provide important services to our city’s most vulnerable, broken and lost.
Traveling to Bolivia was an amazing experience and one I will never forget. I’ve been back to work at COMEA for a few weeks now and continue to think about the people I met and tragedy I witnessed. The resilience of the people is encouraging and inspiring…but at the end of the day, Cheyenne is where I have been called to serve and I’m good with that.
Thank you for giving so generously and for continuing to support the work of COMEA here at home. We could not continue without you.