Until the age of sixteen I had no inkling that I was a spoiled American teenager, who took basic necessities for granted. One who thought that a computer was a necessity, who thought that life would be miserable without a cell phone, who thought wasting water wasn’t a disaster, and who thought that my life was demanding. Little did I know that would all transform, the week I went to Haiti.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Although I was aware that Haiti was a third world country, nothing could have prepared me for the desolation I witnessed. Death. Destruction. Devastation. And even more decimation. Enormous wild pigs the size of grizzly bears found refuge within the mounds of garbage lining the streets. The buildings looked like they had no alternative but to topple like a Lincoln Log house trampled on by a pesky child. Different stenches assailed my nose for days, the smell of rotting garbage, open sewers, and death. Children were scampering through the streets barefoot and with little or no clothes on their backs. Yet in the middle of such a dismal picture I spotted genuine smiles. In tent cities where people suffocate and suffer through the heat while sleeping on dirt, smiles were present on every face. Watching the pain and hurt evaporate from the children’s eyes as we shared our time with them made me realize what unconditional joy is. Knowing these kids had absolutely nothing compared to me, but witnessing how grateful they were to have survived, made me realize what unconditional hope is. Most importantly, holding Niel, an innocent, one year old, in my arms made me realize what selfishness was.
The precious angel clutching my arm may never know how it feels to lay on a soft, fluffy bed with a pillow to lay her head on. She may never know how it feels to have a cooling breeze flowing through her house, something we call air-conditioning. For all I know Niel may never even know what it feels like to live in a home. Instead she will grow up in a tent, which is hardly protection from the sun. Her daily life will consist of walking miles for a simple water-source, more than likely brown and unsanitary, taking care of her family, living without any type of electricity, and working long hours as a street vendor. What will happen to this little girl if she contracts an illness or disease? Will she be placed in a castle to distract her from the excruciating pain? In fact, she will be placed in a pediatrics tent as chaotic as a three-ring circus missing a ringleader for guidance. There will be a lack of doctors to tend to her needs, no ventilation in the tent, and no intensive care unit if she takes a turn for the worst. Her bed will be beside the miniscule, premature babies that are no bigger than my hand. Unlike staying in a Sanford castle, Niel will only receive meals if her family or friends provide food for her; if not, she will wither away to nothing. If she contracts tuberculosis, she will be ostracized by those closest to her. Yet when I struggle with even the slightest cold, I complain how miserable I feel. I complain of shots, medicine, and other medical procedures that people in Haiti would do anything to receive. Could I really be so selfish that I am not thankful for even the most basic care I can receive?
As I held this little one year old in my arms I couldn’t help but think about her future, her constant battle for survival. I stood there contemplating my own stupidity and selfishness, when Niel looked up at me with her deep, chocolate eyes, furrowed her eyebrows, smiled, and snuggled into my shoulder. At that moment a wave of realization washed over me. I am blessed to have basic comforts like a roof over my head, purified water that at any given time I can obtain from a sink, air-conditioning, a clean environment, and so many more things that seem insignificant in my American culture.
I went to Haiti to transform lives. However, it was the Haitians who transformed me. I learned what hope truly means to those who need to find it most, I learned what true joy in the midst of struggle was, and I also learned to be grateful for everything in my life, including the struggles. Interestingly, all the credit goes to Niel, a one-year old girl with deep, chocolate eyes, furrowed eyebrows, and an enchanting smile.
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