Monday, July 13, 2009

How a vacation changed my life

By Olivia H., Age 14

My heart was set for Mexico, not a mission trip in the Dominican Republic! I didn’t want to be spending my spring break with people that couldn’t afford to eat all three meals a day. On Spring Break, I’d prefer to be with friends that could afford to pay for hotels on the beach, the dinners and sun bathing, with me. Now my life was ruined. My hands were in fists, my cheeks were flaming red. I had just found out the most embarrassing news ever. My mother just gave up poolside waitresses and laying on the beach, to serve other people, instead of getting served.

Over two weeks my mind had started to drift differently. The thought that kept going through my mind several times was, “is this what I really want, maybe I do want it?” I went to meetings with the group of us going to the D.R. Everyone else there, except myself, is getting so pumped for this. I realized I was the only one being pessimistic about this whole thing. The leader of our group started to show us pictures of other missionaries down there with the children in their arms. That’s when I got so excited! I was ready for what was coming to me; I wanted to be one of those missionaries holding those children, because I love little ones. So, I finally came to a conclusion, yes I do want this, this is what He has planned for me; to serve this Spring Break so I can come home differently.

I will always remember that moment I stepped off the plane. I felt that warm breeze way different than Chicago, but the same as Mexico. My frown happened to turn into a grin, with a good heart inside all that anger which is now erased. This most definitely wasn’t the same as Mexico, but I could deal with it. I was ready for what was coming. I admitted to myself this place would do. So as the warm air turned into a hot air, all fifteen of us, dressed the same, teal shirts, and anxious, piled into the bus in the Dominican Republic.

On the bus ride to the town, Spanish was flying everywhere, teenagers and men were sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of the day playing cards, abandoned dogs were searching for just a scrap of food here and there.

The time was here, this was it and this was what all of us had been getting ready for. I couldn’t believe I was finally here! This place wasn’t any ordinary place. If you call walking on the sidewalk normal, they have no clue what a sidewalk is. It’s just a lot of dirt people have walked over and over on, simply making a path. There you think it’s normal for when dark skinned people ages three to seventy, hang over your fence, begging, and they called this the richer area of this town. There were babies that probably had just learned to walk, walking around by themselves with NO ONE watching over them. Here in this country, you’re on your own, you do everything by yourself, if you can’t do it by yourself, most likely you will die. You have no help from the government; all you can really rely on is the missionaries to help you.

Half of these children had not even a scrap of clothes on their body. We decided for that week to do the mission trip in a school with children at Palo Blanco Care Center. We brought over books for them for their library which was about as big as my closet. The books were most likely used, and were about learning your ABC’s or all the way up to Clifford picture books. It was the best experience watching these children open up a book, having someone read to them. The used books smelled very old and muggy, as if they had been sitting down in a basement for hundreds of years. I would sometimes just sit there and just watch their eyes get as bright as the headlights on a car. Their smile’s would stretch all the way to the moon and back. Sometimes in the U.S we take for granted what most people have. But no, in the D.R food, shelter, money and books are a lifetime treasure.

There was one child that always stood out to me at Palo Blanco Care Center. His name was Andrew, except when he pronounced it, he said it with a rich Dominican accent that I couldn’t even understand. I could never forget his dark, gloomy eyes that just stared back at me. Sometimes all I would do is just stand there with him and he would put his arm around me. Seemed like all he wanted was someone to love him, hold him tight, because he didn’t that to go home to. He was never one of the children that got into fights with another child. He just stepped back, stayed quiet and listened to me make an attempt at Spanish, as I threw in a couple of English word’s here and there. He always came to school hours early, for some reason. Everyday he wore the same shirt. It was dark blue and had a Cubs sign on it. His scent reminded me of horses. For him there was never a place for a shower. We asked the kids not to bath in the stream or to drink the water. It was known to be an “outhouse”, with lots of bacteria.

There was one time when we were all playing soccer and Andrew came across a penny; in their case it’s called a peso. Andrew was so thrilled! I felt terrible, because there was a time when I was walking through the downtown back in Chicago and I saw a penny laying on the ground. I simply put my nose up and walked away. I saw Andrew obsessing over a coin, then I realized he was happy because he could buy something to eat tonight for dinner. At that second my body started to get numb, I had no expression, my throat started to tighten, I couldn’t move. I stood there and looked at him as a tear began to trickle down my cheek and into my mouth.

During this game I also realized these kids don’t play soccer with anything fancy. They don’t have the proper clothing. They don’t have any cleats or shin guards. They even sometimes don’t have a real soccer ball. Back over in the States if we don’t have the proper materials to play, we would pitch a tantrum. Back home why were so many people so selfish? Why must we have everything and still want more?

For these children, life was beautiful, with or without anything. If you lived in a concrete house at least 12x12, you were considered a rich Dominican of this town. If you could feed your family at least once a day, you were considered blessed by God. Therefore, as an “Americano,” I was assumed blessed by God and rich in every area. God is very important in everyone’s life down there. They all had a smile on their face, all the time.

There’s that saying “you can have everything in the world, and still not be happy”. I truly do believe in that quote. Because, I have seen it happen. I live in a town of millionaires; I’ve seen them have everything in the world, everything going for them. But, for some reason they aren’t content. I have been around the world to see people going on in their life when they can’t even eat all three meals a day. Young Dominicans don’t need everything to make them happy, God, a soccer ball, one meal a day and family and friends, is what fulfills their life.

I don’t exactly know what touched me the most on that trip. Maybe it was seeing children with nothing, bringing their selves to school with a smile. Or, maybe it was the books, their houses, or the love they can still have toward each other despite all their problems. I just know ever since then my life has changed. I look at spending money differently. At first it was just normal and came along with my life, now it’s a privilege I have to earn. I don’t put my nose up anymore when I walk by a penny. Now, I take care of what I have. I thank God everyday for giving me another day of life with happiness in it. Every time I held a child there, I was finally content and the happiness of just one hug could last them a life time.