I didn’t expect to be inspired when I visited an orphanage; I thought I’d be weeding a vegetable garden with little time for human interaction. Thankfully, conversation was the norm despite the language barrier. Soccer balls and Frisbees induced communication whenever a translator couldn’t be found. I learned that my education is not confined to any classroom, but occurs even when I think I am in the teaching position. It was a healthy dose of humility to realize that I’ve received more from the people I labeled as “needy” than I have given them. For example, a thin orphan with cigarette burns on his arms helped me know my worth in a time of my own adolescent insecurity, and that gift is worth more than any donation I ever sent him. This young man labored through the confines of human language with me for over an hour as we talked about our dreams. One week later, I flew home to air conditioning, clean water, and my thoughts…
â–º Semi Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Since 2008, I’ve participated in three trips with the organization called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters), which operates homes, medical clinics, and schools in nine countries. On two of the trips, I was surrounded by friends from my church as we observed the grim reality of poverty, but the most recent was with a local high school’s immersion program; I wasn’t familiar with any of the participants. Once we arrived, I sought out my godson (when families sponsor a child he becomes their godchild) and spent the vast majority of my time with him and his friends. English became foreign to my ears and I had plenty of time to myself to ponder what I was seeing.
My exposure to poverty has tangibly changed me. Since I became acquainted with hunger, wastefulness has been physically painful for me to witness. My mom laughs at the absurd meals I pack for lunch, but she appreciates that I clean out the fridge of otherwise unwanted food. Instead of spending my weekly allowance on snacks, I purchase art supplies and stationery in bulk. Every Christmas and Easter, my classmates and I decorate greeting cards for hundreds of orphans who would otherwise receive no gifts. The project’s dual purpose is to raise awareness in my community while reaching out to youth so that they might not feel forgotten.
Woven through my travels is a dream that has come to define who I am. We matter. That’s what I want my life to express – this indelible fact that we, though materially flesh and bone, are so much more than the sum of our parts. Traveling in Mexico and Guatemala, as well as within my hometown of Phoenix, has expanded my sense of solidarity and strengthened my desire for justice.Since my sense of responsibility was awakened, I’ve been seeking a balance between idealism and practicality. I’ll always be a sponge for knowledge, but I also want my passions to be fruitful for others. The three weeks I spent in these homes have deeply impacted my future. My friends joke that I’m the whitest Latina they’ve ever met because of my love for the Spanish language and soccer. Others say I’m a saint because I spend time with orphans, but that’s a serious misconception- I’m nowhere near as awesome as Mother Teresa. I’m just a young woman who has been blessed to see the beauty amidst the rubble of this world, and it has given me the courage to find hope in any situation.
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