Last night I finished reading Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’dell. The first time I heard this book was when my third grade teacher read it aloud to the class after recess. I still remember being fascinated by the main character, a young girl’s, life alone on an island for nearly fifteen years. I remember crying when her enemy-turned-constant-companion, Rontu the dog, died. I was surprised at how much of the book I remember, and when I read I could heard my teacher’s voice in my head from over twenty years ago.  Yikes, seeing that typed out makes me feel old!  Anyway it was a delightful reread and I’m curious to read more of my childhood favorite books again.

One thing that I did not know or remember from the first time was that this remarkable was based on a true event! So after I read the last page and the epilogue, which explains the bare details of the real event, I did what I always do after reading or watching a true story, I googled it.

There is little that is actually know about the Lone Woman of San Nicolas but here’s the basic story. San Nicolas is an island about 75 miles off the California coast. For centuries a tribe of Native Americans lived there, undistributed for the most part. When the seal, aka soft gold, traders moved in from the North this tribe was almost completely massacred. A mission in California decided to rescue the remaining 20 or so women, children, and elderly from the island and further attack. They sent a ship. After all had boarded and the ship was departing a woman, in the book named Karana, in real life later christened Juana Maria, realized that her infant, or baby brother depending on the version, was still on the island. Juana Maria jumped overboard and swam back to the island for her baby/brother only to find that he had been killed by wild dogs. The shipped could not return due to bad weather. Then for various reasons it did not return for her when the weather was better. So for fifteen to eighteen years Juana Maria lived on the island, making weapons to protect herself, nets to catch food, and even a house from whale bone. She sewed her clothes, tamed some of the wild dogs that had killed her baby/brother and seemed to live quite happily.

Eventually well meaning people, having heard of this woman, decided to help her. Several half-hearted rescue attempts were made but the woman was not found. Finally a ship of seal hunters found and befriended her. She traveled on their ship to a mission in California. Only after arriving at the mission did she discover that all her remaining tribe had died from various diseases shortly after they had arrived and that there was not a single living person who spoke her language.

A mere seven weeks after being rescued from the island this woman died. The causes are debatable but most think it was from dysentery.

Now, just think, this woman had lived through pacific storms, wild dogs, hunger, disease, and loneliness, maybe even earthquakes for nearly twenty years of her life. But within weeks of being helped by good meaning people she was dead, as were all her people. This sad story makes me think of the many instance when we rich (by the world’s standards) and well meaning people decide to help others. So many times our intentions are great, pure even, but the results are harmful to those we are trying to help.

In the next couple posts we (my genius husband and I) would like to discuss the idea of helping others in a way that does not end up hurting. Please join us in this discussion.

Can you think of times when well meaning people have helped others (locally or internationally) but really just hurt them?



One thought on “Helping or Harming? Part 1

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