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Helpers like Betty Londergan and Susan Puckett Everywhere

Posted Dec 15 2012 6:45am
It's hard to write today, after the mass shootings in an elementary school yesterday here in the United States. I am tempted to just throw up my annual photo of the "Peace" candles (the one with the oranges, for long-time readers of this blog) and call it a day (that's coming tomorrow). 

But then I saw a quote from Mr. Rogers flying around on Facebook, saying that his mom told him when things were scary on the news that he should look for the helpers, that there are always helpers. And that reminded me of how much good there is in the world, and how so many people with good intentions are doing such helpful things every day. At the precise moment of yesterday's tragedies, I was walking with one of those world helpers. Meet (yet again) my friend Betty Londergan , who is now home from her final trip to 12 countries in 12 months, where she has been shining a light on the life-changing work of Heifer International through her blog Heifer 12x12 .  

Her accomplishment is truly remarkable. She visited the poorest places in Guatemala, Haiti, Peru, China, Nepal, Cameroon, Romania, Appalachia, Rwanda, Armenia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malawi, and Ecuador. She took heart-stoppingly beautiful photos of people whose human spirit defies the odds and who are using the gifts of goats or pigs or snails, for goodness sake, to change the entire future trajectory of their communities. And she told their stories with grace, wit, enthusiasm, and intelligence. Welcome home, Betty.  The world is better because of you. (May I also mention her excellent blog from the year before, What Gives 365 , when she gave away $100 every single day to a worthy cause and wrote about it?)
One of the places Betty visited was the deeply-impoverished Arkansas Delta, along the mighty Mississippi River, where industrial agriculture has wiped out communities and destroyed livelihoods, and where Heifer is helping to revive the value and values of a disappearing culture. For the last three years or so, another woman I know, Susan Puckett, a renowned food journalist with Atlanta Journal Constitution food editor and Atlanta magazine columnist credentials, plus a number of published books under her wings (and we've been working together on Farmer D's book ), has been diligently covering the other side of the river in the also-impoverished Mississippi Delta. Her just-released book, Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler's Journey through the Soul of the South , celebrates the distinct sense of place, spirit, and strength of one of our nation's most prominent and enduring regional food cultures. 

When you talk with Susan about this book, you hear something spilling out of her that can only be called love. She says the Delta is like nothing else, and that she feels drawn to go there for a fix as often as possible for the feeling of community and the celebration of life in all its grit and authenticity. Part cookbook, part travel guide, part photo essay, Eat Drink Delta is a simply-told story-based deep dive into a complicated and fascinating crossroads of culture-- from the civil rights movement to the birth of the Blues to immigrant influences and, ultimately, cultural pride and revival as those who left are now "coming home." What's more, there will soon be more stories flooding out (so to speak) from this region. Susan has accepted the offer of an adjunct teaching position in the journalism department of her alma mater, Ole' Miss, where she will equip her students with the journalism skills needed to tell the distinct stories of their region. Their textbook? Eat Drink Delta.

I've never been to any of the places about which Betty and Susan have written in Heifer 12x12 and Eat Drink Delta (although I came close to joining Betty in Appalachia ). Yet the collective impact of their stories about people all over the world and deep in the Delta showcase some basic truths about humanity to me:
* There is much good; 
* People are strong and will persevere;
* Community matters;
* Positive change is always possible; 
*And yes, there are helpers everywhere.  Many, many helpers. 
Mr. Rogers said that he thought of the words of his mother for the rest of his life, about noticing the helpers whenever anything bad happened. I find comfort in those words today as well. There is so much good in the world, and so many people like Betty and Susan shining positive lights on it. And we need the generous gifts of their choices and voices (and yours) as reminders.

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