How a Service Trip Altered My Perspective on Life
Coming from an affluent community, I reside from a high school with a student population of over 4,000. I come from a community that has an average house size of over two-thousand square feet. I am lucky to have electricity, water, and food. But ultimately, I am sheltered to the rest of the world. I don’t realize my privilege. I am confined to my own oblivion.
But that all changed when I traveled to Ecuador with my peers for a service trip, seeking to explore and embrace a new culture — a culture incongruous to any in America.
It was a Saturday, meaning the moment came where I had to leave my family for nine days. I traded my family for fourteen strangers from my high school, no one that I knew personally. My passive exterior was shining bright; nine-days with peers I had never encountered or conversed with before — great I thought.
I would not allow my experience in Ecuador to be defined by the countless hours playing a game on my phone or watching the latest Netflix series. So, I shook my body, released the tension in my shoulders, and began to converse with new people — some older, some younger, but all strangers to me. For the next seven hours, I evolved from someone not knowing anyone to being friends with almost everyone. I would begin new conversations, share stories about me, but most importantly, I would carry an open mind everywhere I went. Everyone’s biggest excitement was the tantalizing reality of embracing a new culture drastically dissimilar to America—whether it is experiencing new food or seeing new fashion styles. But, none of us were expecting what would come nine-days later.
Following a first night’s sleep in Ecuador, I woke up energized and electrified to face a new culture and taste new food. It felt good to begin my summer break in another country, and continent. People warned me that the altitude would impact my health, but I was overwhelmed with the beauty of Ecuador that the altitude did not impact me. Opening the window shades when I woke up, I was flooded with a new landscape: one of soaring mountains and hills, a clear blue sky, and a city that seemed vastly different from Chicago. The next nine days would consist of waking up to the breathtaking, mountainous view of Ecuador and sleeping to Ecuador’s rich, yet peaceful, culture and society.
Throughout the trip, my peers and I witnessed locations in Ecuador so distinct from my hometown of Buffalo Grove in Illinois. And, as we underwent different scenery and landscape, we would be immersed in new life lessons and new perspectives on life…
On what would be the third day of the trip, my peers traveled through the Amazon Rainforest — off the grid with no WiFi by bus and boat, to get to our service site. I noticed there were myriads of families living in the poorest of conditions possible — but, what makes it worse is that one realizes, those families living in those conditions were born there, and never had the chance to get a formal education like you and I. Not only can’t the families in those conditions grant their children a formal education, but can’t access water, jobs, and really, what we consider to be fundamental rights. Again, that is all because they were naturally put into that position. After seeing those harsh and unimaginable living conditions in Ecuador, I couldn’t help but to feel inspired — and emotional — as I take so many resources and materials for granted, when there are people like those in the Amazon who are struggling to put food on the table.
We were privileged to be serving a community minutes from the Amazon Rainforest, but our time doing service would become some of the most poignant moments of the trip. There’s a certain feeling that I felt when observing the inconceivable living conditions in the Amazon, but an unmatched feeling arose when I had the opportunity to help the children in Los Rios. I, as well as my Stevenson and Peoria Academy friends, helped build a cafeteria, where children can sit for lunch — yes, SIT for lunch. We had different options for our service work: the first was wheelbarrowing the sand to the construction site (which was the hardest, as it is an arduous walk), the second was mixing and creating the cement for the bricks of the cafeteria, and last was building/weaving the rods to help support the cafeteria structure. The types of services I just mentioned are what the community of Los Rios have to do in order to provide children with a basic form of education — and they do it tirelessly and without complaining. Inserting myself in the shoes of the community members (during the humid 100-degree weather) was eye-opening and galvanizing. Further, seeing the way of life that children and adults have to endure day after day, just to get a basic education, helped “break the bubble” that I live in every day: so hung up on education, grades, and materialistic items. Being able to serve the people of Los Rios was such an unforgettable experience and honor — as I oftentimes find myself complaining about things that the community of Los Rios would dream to have.
In conjunction with serving the community of Los Rios the peak of my trip was highlighted by was the occasion to play with the children, and getting to know the people in the Los Rios community, even though I didn’t know anything but “Hola, mi Nombre Victor” and “Adios” in Spanish. As my peers and I danced and sang with the children in a game similar to “Ring-around-the-rosy,” and played soccer, I saw major and striking distinctions between the way of life in the United States compared to that of Ecuador. That is, in Ecuador, everyone seems so content with what they are given; children don’t care what others think of them; people give each other a kiss as a form of saying “hello” even if they aren’t familiar with one another; and everyone in the community works together [without any hesitation] to achieve a common goal, where in America, people are so attached to social media and negligible things, yet we do not seem to be fully happy in life; and like one of our teachers said, “people can’t even ask their neighbor for salt; they would rather drive to the grocery store.” Those variances that I noticed while getting to know the people of Los Rios altered and adjusted my outlook of life; making me ultimately realize that appreciating what I have and not caring about materialistic items is far more important than getting tied up in trivial matters and complaining.
We all, sometimes not recognizing it, take things for granted, and the biggest lesson that this service trip has taught me is to be aware of what I am doing and to NEVER waste. Somewhere in the world, families and children are fighting to get fundamental resources on the table. To anyone who may find this challenging, it’s as simple as taking 5-minute showers instead of 10-minute showers, or turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. These simple acts may seem insignificant, but they go a long way toward helping those who aren’t fortunate enough to have water. Lastly, as we greet one another, we don’t have to give kisses on the cheeks, but performing simple acts of benevolence like spending an hour at volunteer at Feed My Starving Children or donating as little as a penny to charity, can go such a long way in creating happiness and real change.