(First of all, this same blog post was written for my local magazine, so if you see any duplicates it’s mine! Just letting everyone know! I just wanted to share about my May term over the summer!)
There are many reasons why people travel and most of the reasons are to either have fun or see a different part of the world, but have you ever traveled to learn about or see another place, and instead found that you learned more about yourself and how to live your life? This past May I had the honor of venturing into another country for a college class and I visited some countries in southern Africa. At first I went on this trip only expecting to see a different part of the world and to learn about another culture, but instead I learned more about bettering myself than anything else.
The group that I traveled with went to 3 countries in a span of 2 weeks (Zambia, Swaziland, and South Africa); it was exhausting, but it was the most rewarding trip that I have ever been on.
There were so many different sites to see and so many things to take part in such as seeing Victoria Falls and bungee jumping off of the bridge to just enjoying the beautiful beaches in Cape Town. Although I had the pleasure of enjoying these excursions and many others, the best part of my trip was going to an orphanage and planting fruit trees for children.
The orphanage that my class volunteered with was called the “Ekuzukekeni Orphan Day Centre” and the children were mostly orphans because of the ever present AIDS epidemic that had taken the lives of many of their family members. We were told that over 60% of the children at this day center had also been infected with AIDS, yet you would not be able to tell that they were suffering because almost every single child had a smile painted on their faces. There were many instances where I was amazed at the response the children gave to certain situations because I know that if the same situation was posed in our culture, children would behave differently. For example, we gave cupcakes to the children but there was not enough, so we started to give out bread in place of the cupcakes. I was ready to hear complaints or whining, yet none of the children were disappointed or sad, they were grateful with the bread that they had received. The children were also given balloons to play with and when the balloons fell on the grass they would sometimes pop, I was ready to hear the cries of the unfortunate children but there was only laughter heard from their mouths.
This got me wondering about the many things that I have been taking for granted and complaining about that I shouldn’t be. These children lost some of their family members, did not have a lot of food, and did not have a lot of things in general, yet they were bursting with happiness. How many times a day do I go around complaining about the clothes I am wearing, the job where I am working, or the place where I am living? How many times a day do I think about how grateful I am to have these things to complain about or to even be alive?
They also showed so much respect for our culture at the orphanage. For example, I realized that the classroom walls were covered with English words and not the native language. I wondered to myself, why do they feel like it is mandatory to learn our language, when we have the CHOICE to learn other languages? Not only at this orphanage but in other places that we visited, I quickly realized that they treasured Americans and put us in high regards. We had the honor of going to the house of one of the Elders which is something that most people are not allowed to do but because we were special guests he allowed our group to enter. He told us that he was honored to even have our feet entering his household and that he hoped that we would go back to America and remember the children and him.
Our class going to this orphanage and helping these children showed me how great it feels to help others, and it also made me think of other ways that I could help those that our less fortunate. All this time I looked at commercials, like the “Save the Children” commercials, and never really felt as much of an impact as I did with seeing children like this up close, it really changed my outlook on life and other people. Now, there are three things that I will always remember to do:
- Travel and see other places not just for a vacation but also to learn
- Help others by volunteering in a service project
- Be grateful for everything and every moment because there are people that are less fortunate than I am
I learned these three things from one experience, just imagine what I could learn from other places? In the end, I am honored to have walked into the Elder’s house and it will be hard to forget the memories and the lessons I learned in South Africa. I probably will always remember the children and him because their joyful spirit is something that we all need to strive for in our lives.