For many years, local resident Michael Ewens dreamed of doing something truly worthwhile and leaving the world a better place.
For the last three years, that has meant spending nearly six months of the year working with impoverished families among the poorest villages of Guatemala to bring them agriculture and fresh water.
This weekend, Ewens, 53, and his non-profit grass-roots organization, “The Ripple Effect Inc.,” held its third-annual plant sale at the to raise funds and stimulate more interest for the cause.
“We’ve been working with Ixil people, an indigenous group of Mayan Indians in Northern Guatemala,” Ewens said. “This is a group of people who were oppressed in the 1980s and victims of genocide.”
The Ripple Effect’s emphasis has been water-system development and farm-animal and sustenance programs for the many widows and their families who have no other help available.
“What we’re doing now is a recent healing from having their crops burned and destroyed,” he said.
A non-recovering hippie who unashamedly admits to being in mid-life crisis, Ewens said The Ripple Effect’s main goal is to give the impoverished villagers tools that will help sustain their families.
While taking shape in his imagination over years, the project really only bloomed after the, when his military vehicle drove over an improvised explosive device in an ambush.
Seed money for the charitable project came from his son’s widow, who gave $10,000 to Ewens from her husband’s life-insurance policy. The Morning Rotary Club of Gig Harbor also has contributed $5,000, which was matched by the regional Rotary Club International.
“When Forrest died, I already had been planning to go to Guatemala that winter. It really rocked our family, but I couldn’t just drop this vision,” he said. “I took the money down there and started a program of buying cows for them.
“That money is still producing cows for other families. This year it will have spread to 50 families.”
Ewens said The Ripple Effect philosophy is simple:
“You can’t go through life without affecting the lives of others and changing people. You can be a minimalist, but you’re going to still have an effect,” he said. “We in America are not minimalist by any means, so let’s be smart and good in what we do.”
Ewens said he consciously strives to make each of his charitable decisions accomplish the most good.
“When I’m staring death in the face, if I can look back and say those are good ripples, good actions, that will mean something,” he added. “I want to feel like this thing really counted and that I’m not just taking from the people but giving.”
Using micro-loans, farming co-ops and collectives consisting of widowed villagers, Ewens has been able to dramatically increase the yearly income of families with financial investments of only $100 to $250.
“Combined with their own physical labor, these initial gifts keep giving,” he said. “Because we are a volunteer organization, 100 percent of your donations are used directly in Guatemala.”
Ewens’ wife, Carol, said she truly admires the work her husband is doing in Guatemala. At the same time, it has produced additional strains at home, she added.
“I think he’s taken on a huge task. Fortunately, he has more energy than most people I’ve ever met,” she said. “It's been amazing what he has accomplished.”
At the same time, there is the reality of having to earn a living at home. Over the last three years, her husband -- a carpenter by trade -- has made seven trips to Guatemala, each spanning two to three months.
Except for the last trip, Carol Ewens has stayed home worked full-time to meet the family’s financial obligations.
“We have financial constraints, and I keep thinking I shouldn’t have to work so hard to support him while he’s giving away all his money,” she said, half smiling. “But we’re trying to make that work.
Carol Ewens, a registered nurse who works for a hospice house in University Place, said she wasn’t happy initially when her husband decided he actually was going through with his plan.
“We had just lost our son,” she recalled. “But I knew he had to do it. It was his way of making something good come out of something terrible.”
As for Michael Ewens, he believes every person has the ability to make a difference in other people’s lives, whether it’s locally or internationally.
“That ripple is a real thing,” Carol Ewens added. “It came from a children’s song I used to sing to my kids:
“Drop a pebble in the water, watch the ripple grow. That way, when you love each other, everyone will know....”
For more information or to make a charitable contribution, visit www.therippleeffectinc.org.