This I Believe

Tina - 33183, Florida
Entered on October 4, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe in the homogeny of humanity.

And by that, I mean that I believe that in stripping away all of our differences we are all very much the same. My four years of biology classes tells me that we are all made of up the same 20 amino acids. My experiences of leaving this beautiful country have taught me that beyond our borders, struggle is the norm. More than that, we all think, feel, love, hurt, and yearn.

I was just like you three years ago. My homepage was the New York Times. I kept up in politics. I spearheaded community service projects. But I never really understood.

I had been desensitized by opulence. And by opulence, I mean being able to say that in 21 years of life, I have never experienced a day of hunger. I always had clothes to wear (be it hand-me-downs) and I’ve been going to school every year since age five—for free. Little did I know that an 1800 mile trip would instantaneously rearrange everything I had ever known.

We had spent months collecting donations of medicines and gifts for the friends we had yet to meet in the orphanage in Loja, Ecuador. The night before leaving, my friends and I scurried around, sorting and packing for almost 12 hours—delighted by the generosity of people who would never meet the angels we were going to meet. There were eight of us, which meant space for 1000 pounds of gifts in 16 bags. I passed out from exhaustion during the plane ride hoping to wake up in a different country but feeling as though I had awakened in a different universe.

As soon as we left the gates of the airport in Guayaquil, barefoot children in the streets were immediately drawn to us. It was everything you see in the commercials on TV and read in books except I could feel the tips of their fingers nudge my backside as they held their palms open.

When we arrived at the orphanage, I was overwhelmed with a sense of love. I can’t explain it, but to be so automatically embraced by these huge souls in these little bodies, it didn’t feel right. I knew at that moment that there was nothing that we could have filled our 16 suitcases with that could have given these kids what they really needed—and deserved. We played games incessantly during our time there. We sang songs. We danced to reggaeton. We swam under waterfalls and went into town for dinner. We tried to take them on as many excursions as possible. Though this orphanage was an amazing institution, they just weren’t staffed enough to allow these kids to catch a glimpse beyond the facilities that they lived in.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I may have gotten more out of my experience than the kids have. I know that I have. I try to tell myself that going back and creating a self-sustainable project will make things better, but in my heart, I know that it won’t. Sometimes I find myself unsympathetic to the concerns of others. I can’t help it when I think of the four orphaned siblings that I held who were found beaten in a park just three months before we crossed paths.

I was changed—no, transformed. How do we help others to find compassion for those they will never meet? Where did I find it? I found it in the realization that all kids dance. They all cry. They get cranky, and they love attention. If we strip away our sombreros, our slanted eyes, our dark skin, our religion, our culture, what are we left with? A heart and soul that thinks, feels, loves, and wants to survive. I believe it is the realization that we are all the same that helps us to find compassion for those we will never meet, to understand the struggle of others. I always say that beyond every human being, there is much more than a ‘being’; there is life.