I believe people change and become stronger due to encounters and tough situations they have faced. When I first began my journey on the road to maturity, I thought I had faced it all. I thought that I had overcome tough situations and hardships. I had survived a serious, intense, heart-wrenching break up with my boyfriend of three months. I had to survive on a very modest allowance in one of the most affluent places in the United States. My parents did not believe in designer clothes or providing their children with a brand new car on their sixteenth birthday. So, when my history class was going to show this documentary on the poverty, child soldiers, and the AIDS epidemic in Africa, called Invisible Children, I was relieved not having to take notes that day. Screech! Halt! Epiphany! What a reality check. So, props to Public Education.
Later that day, I ran home from Summer School and told my mother I was off to Africa. Through a course of serendipitous events, my church was sending a small team to Johannesburg, South Africa to work at an AIDS orphanage. Bingo! So, after multiple garage sales, babysitting, bake sales, kid’s carnival, car washes, and sponsors supporting our mission, raising the money seemed like a cake walk (literally). My biggest challenge was getting my Principal to sign off for my three week adventure!
I knew I was going to be around children that had lost everything, so I was prepared for the worst. I was expecting children who were mourning the loss of family members, depressed with poverty, with no hope for a life.
When I first arrived at the orphanage I was overwhelmed with smiling, joyful children. The happiness expressed throughout their faces was constant. Why were these children who had lost everything to the AIDS epidemic and who are suffering themselves so cheerful? When we visited Fine Town, where people live in shacks made of cardboard and tin, we came across a schoolhouse where we were greeted as if we were celebrities. Their hospitality was overwhelming. They served us food and drinks that were most likely their ration of food for the next few days. Their kindness and generosity confirmed the saying, “The Joy belongs to the Giver!” As the wonderful trip came to an end we realized who would be leading all of us into the future. It was time for “Operation Let the Youth Rise.” The youth will be the new upcoming generation, the new leaders of our countries, the scientists discovering new cures, and the activists standing up for what they believe in! Their musical ability, creative thinking, joy for life, and determination to succeed is going to let these children sore on wings of eagles! With all the suffering, poverty, and illnesses diminishing their talents, they need help. They are calling out for help! Somebody reach out and give them a hand! I went to South Africa hoping to change lives, but instead, they changed mine.
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