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Service Programs

The Impact of One Child

Castries, St. Lucia - It was early, and my thoughts were whirling around in my head in the car on the way to the airport on August 2, headed for a Religious Youth Service project in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia. My dad's voice was a distant murmur. With each passing minute my heart pounded faster and faster. I was full of anxiety when we reached the New York airport. Maybe it would be best if I just went back. But there was no turning back.

Suddenly, my mom found a familiar face, and my dad was greeting the young people. As everyone was talking and laughing all I could do was attempt to smile and idly stand by.

The airplane ride was only about five hours. Through the window I could see the beautiful scenery of the Caribbean. As we exited the aircraft, the sunshine illuminated our faces, and we could see palm trees swaying in the warm breeze. The roads were narrow, and we spent most of the two-hour drive looking out the windows. Everywhere you looked, you would see endless amount of trees and bananas. We finally pulled up to a building.

After we unloaded the luggage, the first thing we did was clean the classrooms, soon to become our bedrooms. After that we gathered to play funny ice-breaker games. There were eight of us from the US and six from St. Lucia. As we started opening up to each other, we learned many things about each other’s culture. We were no longer a group of random strangers but became like long-lost friends.

The first couple days on the island were packed with many fun activities. We spent time going to the beach together, reflecting about deep concepts, and visiting various churches. Although each of us came from a different family, different culture, and different lifestyle, we were here connecting on a deeper level and understanding one another’s heart. We took time to appreciate each other and give thanks to our caretakers, the Taupier family.

We split into two groups: one taking care of local children and the other painting. I joined the group taking care of the local kids. We played games and danced, but I found it much easier to connect when we were out walking or playing volleyball.

One morning while we were all waiting for the children to arrive, a little girl jumped on me. I did not know who she was or how she knew me; however, this did not matter, especially to her. All she said was that she loved white people and clung to me like a baby koala to its mother. This was the first time I met Giada, one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Although this little girl was about six years old, she greatly impacted my life and how I view the world.

Giada, who was not even the part of the group that we were taking care of, was constantly spending time with us and braiding our hair. Her innocence and her love for ‘white’ people were so deep and pure. Although Giada comes from a struggling family, she had so much love to give us and never expected us to do anything in return.

Many children in St. Lucia live without fathers, sometimes because they passed away but mostly due to abandonment. Although these children grow up with limited resources and difficult situations, they have the ability to constantly love and truly care for one another.

As I saw how even one child could deeply affect me, I realized the potential that lies in each of us. In actuality, we have the potential to change another’s life significantly by just deeply loving and caring for others.

Leaving St. Lucia was the most difficult part of my journey. We all had formed such deep bonds with each other and I did not want to leave the comfort of my new brothers and sisters. This was where I experienced true happiness. On the way to the airport on August 13, I reflected about the experiences I went through. I thought a lot about all the amazing people I met and how they impacted me.

We may go through hardships, struggles, or even life-changing events, but if we learn from them and apply what we learned in our daily lives, we become powerful. My purpose has changed. I aspire to constantly better myself in order to create the best version of me that I can make and inspire others to do the same.  As the inhabitants of the community improve themselves they make better choices about what they do with their lives.

I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to go to another country and have a broader understanding of the world we live in and other people’s realities. As we share this Earth with almost 7 billion other people, it is necessary to open our minds to others and what they go through. Within each person lies great potential, so if we can harness that potential and cultivate it, we can truly become great.

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