Seeing first hand how some people don’t have anything to call their own is one of the reasons I believe in the importance of giving back by doing community service. My family has never struggled before. There has always been food on the table and a roof over my head. I attended private school my entire life as well as camp over the summer. There was a car for me to drive when I got my license and a country club for me to swim at and play tennis at. In my free time one thing I enjoy doing is community service. Community service makes me feel like I am contributing to society for being so fortunate. I have been volunteering at a nursing home for years now talking to the residents and bringing smiles to their faces. Sophomore year of high school I got the opportunity of a lifetime to go on a community service trip to Tobati Paraguay where one of the Spanish teachers is from. Mr. Garcia has been offering this trip since 1998 to sophomores, juniors and seniors as an opportunity to witness something remarkable and unforgettable.
To begin let me provide you with a little background information on Tobatí. It is both a town and a provincial district within the department of Cordillera, Paraguay. Paraguay is one of the only two landlocked countries in South America and is bordered by the Paraguay River, Argentina to the south, Brazil to the east and Bolivia to the northwest. As of 2007, Paraguay is the second poorest country in South America. The population of the district of Tobatí is 21,315 of which 16,538 (75.5%) are under the age of 19. Over 33% of this population lives beneath the international poverty line while as high as 70% live in relative poverty. Most of the houses in the region don’t have any running water and electricity. Each year there are bins at school for people to put clothes in that they have out grown or don’t want anymore. The clothes get distributed to the people in rural Tobati who have six or seven young children who only have diapers to wear and maybe only one pair of pants. For at least three years students helped build the Macchi School and are now working on an athletic complex. I jumped at the chance to go because it would be a new experience and I had heard that this was a trip of a lifetime that I would never forget.
Going to Paraguay has given me a different perspective on life than I am used to. I became immersed in their culture by living and eating with a host family. I was able to participate in the Paraguayan festivities and celebrations. I taught the young children English and about dental hygiene. I played their favorite sport soccer with them and saw the unimaginable. I can remember handing out clothes to families who lived in shacks with one mattress for ten people and going to the hospital clinics. I also did plenty of manual labor. I helped make sidewalks, build a playground, paint and move dirty all day from one spot to another for the athletic complex. Although the weather was above 100 degrees and everyone was sweating and tired, it was definitely worth it. Although the complex is not completed yet, I hope to go back one day to see the finished product. I have never seen a smile so big as when I gave my dirty sneakers that I was going to throw away, to a boy who had none. He was so thankful that he put them on right away. He didn’t care that they were a few sizes to small he was just happy to have something on his feet.
The Paraguayans are the most appreciative people anyone will ever meet even though they have nothing. When I went to Paraguay I saw how generosity, kindness, hard work, and a little bit of love can change someone’s life. Being able to work with Team Tobati has been one of the most rewarding experiences. I realized that this trip isn’t like every other community service trip. Although it is about helping build schools and distributing supplies it’s also about making a connection with people who are the complete opposite of you. The Paraguayans gave just as much to us as we gave to them although they weren’t tangible. This trip taught me about caring beyond myself and that material possessions aren’t as important as generosity
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.