This is a story about a dear friend of mine named Sopi who lived in the small village of Masihulan, on Seram Island in Eastern Indonesia. The village is quite small - about 400 people and they live a very simple life. Up until 2005 there was no electricity, no running water and very little food. To support his family Sopi worked as a trapper providing birds to the illegal trade. He made very little money at this but he needed to feed his children.
We met him in 2003 when we were developing an eco-tourism program to combat trapping and to hire the local trappers as guides in the forest. Then local people embraced this idea and Sopi became one of our lead guides. He was proud of his new job to protect the birds and animals of the forest.
A year later we were camping deep in the forest one night and he admitted to me that not long before that his son got very, very sick and they had no money for medicine or food. He said he went into his garden and saw a cockatoo. He took it and sold it. He was crying as he spoke to me, he said "I know it was wrong, but when I looked into my wifes' eyes I knew I had to do it. I have not done it since."
We forgave him and sent him to Bali for training to be the first local man to work at our avian rehabilitation facility on the island. When Sopi arrived at the wild animal rescue center he stopped in front of a cage and began to weep. The birds in the cage were the very same birds he trapped. He recognized that they should be free - just as he was.
He came back a changed man. Sopi worked as our lead guide and caretaker at the facility. He began to have many serious health problems over the next few years and he spent time in the hospital - he had developed a rare form of cancer.
But he was always asking about the birds. In 2006 we were at the facility to do a first release of some of the very same parrots that he had trapped back into the wild. He was on his deathbed in the village with his family around him, waiting to hear about the birds going back to the forest. As soon as the birds left one of the men went running into the village to tell Sopi. When Sopi heard he smiled, and said "the birds are free again and so am I." And he passed at that moment.
His compassion for his family, his friends and the animals was abundant.
Bonnie, this is an amazing story. I can't help but think of the words of Maya Angelou... "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."
I really appreciate you sharing this experience.
Love your photos. Besides working on this awesome project I work with the indigenous cultures of Eastern Indonesia working at the grassroots level to combat trapping and smuggling of endangered species by providing other means of income for the local people ... organic farming, eco-tourism, etc.
Besides being one of the most misunderstood human beings on the planet and one of the most slandered by the media of many countries, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela is actually an intensely spiritual and compassionate human being.
One day, before his last election, he was in a truck slowly making his way through a section of Caracas where hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans has come to see and hear him. Perhaps you don't know... 70 per cent of Venezuela is below the poverty line. Probably 99 per cent of the people in the crowd that day were some of the most financially challenged. Every few minutes, I noticed that Hugo would lock eyes with someone in the crowd. At that moment, the person in the crowd was clearly elevated above and beyond the suffering of his daily life... above and beyond the devastating existential meaninglessness and despair of extreme poverty. In the next moment, Hugo would ask for a red bandana. As his assistant gave him one, he would press it hard to his eyes and hold it there for around 15 seconds... long enough for a certain genuineness to be really obvious in his gesture. Then he touched the bandana to his heart and reached out to give it to the person in the crowd. Just before the camera shifted its angle, I could see each time that the impact of receiving this bandana was enormous for each person. While they might not have intellectualized the moment in this way, I found it deeply moving to watch Hugo attempt to literally convey his dream, his vision for his people.... to as many of these individuals as he could... just by giving a simple red bandana. Watching this scene over and over again made it obvious that none of these people had simply received a souvenir from some political rally. They had received a red cloth (red is the color of the Chavista movement) that had literally been charged with Shakti, Love, Compassion, Empowerment, by a courageous leader who is trying every day to transform the decades of corruption and ignorance that is the original cause of the poverty that the person receiving the bandana is trapped in.
While I have seen this level of understanding about the energetic power of transmitting directly love, inspiration, and empowerment in the actions spiritual masters in India, I have rarely if ever seen this in a political leader. As I watched this exchange over and over again, it reaffirmed my knowing that now, more than ever before on Earth... Spirit, the essence of all ancient teachings (Love), and Compassion not only can but MUST become integrated into politics if we are to experience government that is truly BY the people and FOR the people in every country of the world and then finally step beyond the need for the forms of government that are present today.
I would like to express gratitude for the opportunity I have to work with you, Bonnie here in Sonoma county on the Parrot Project. In these few short months I have seen so much support and love for these birds from all around the world. The idea of helping the local people earn a living protecting them rather than harming them is one that will help us change the world. I know that my calling is to help the animals and knowing you (all) and doing my small part is making a difference. I am grateful to be making a difference (even a little one)
There are so so many non profits and volunteers worldwide, where do you start?
I can't do it all so I focus on The Prem Rawat Foundation and their programs for clean water and food where in need. I also act on the board of Music for Mankind, a concert based fundraiser for food in needed areas.