Friday, July 2, 2010

On the Dignity and Value of Work

The butterflies and bees are playing among my zucchini plants in the garden, which are in full golden-orange bloom. I’ve already harvested carrots and green beans, and by next week I will have spinach and onions. The broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes, and rape will be coming in after that, and there are herbs, as well.

So when did I develop such a green thumb? I didn’t. It’s all due to Moses. And it has led me to reflect upon the dignity and importance of work.

After settling into my half of the duplex where I live on the MEF campus, I noticed that my neighbor, Jenny, had a worker who came a few hours a week to water and keep her yard neat. My side was quite overgrown, so I figured I should also find someone for a similar arrangement. Jenny told me that after an initial cleanup, about six hours a week would maintain my part of the yard, which was mostly grass, trees and bushes.

The very next day, Moses knocked on my back door, “slasher” in hand, offering to clean up my yard. We negotiated the price, and then he said if I liked his work would I consider keeping him on to maintain the yard. I let him know what I was prepared to pay and how many hours a week he should plan to work and suggested that he could have flexible hours to fit with whatever other work he was doing. He explained that he had been unemployed for some time, just doing “piece work” (day labor) since he had been let go by the mines in a retrenchment.

It took a week of full days to get the yard clean and neat, but I noticed that the next week Moses came in the morning and stayed all day, raking the dirt, chatting with passersby, and preparing a garden bed in one corner. He asked what I would like to plant, noting that he thought there had been sweet potatoes in the past. I reminded him of our agreement, that I was paying for only a few hours a week, and he agreed that he understood. Yet he came every day.

I finally understood that he needed to be working, that it was a source of pride for him to have a job. He guarded my house when I was out, and reported any visitors or children running around. He suggested planting more of the yard in garden beds, pointing out that then I wouldn’t have to buy vegetables in the market. So I gave him money for seeds and chicken manure. He used our compost pile to enrich the soil. He said that he had learned about agriculture in school.

As he prepared the garden, raked leaves, and trimmed the border hedges, people began to comment on what a nice yard I had. Moses glowed.

Unemployment in Zambia is 40%. This is true for all levels of education, so I fear for the future of my social work graduates. The needs are there for human services, for road repair, for environmental cleanup, for health care, for smaller classes and more schools…but the money is not.

Moses and I have come to terms on appropriate compensation, and I have a huge vegetable garden now. I must admit that eating veggies fresh picked is a delight, and soon I will be sharing produce with hungry people who come to my door. And I have a deeper appreciation of the value of work to the human spirit.

1 comment:

  1. Very moving and inspiring Ann thank you for all you do