Diamondback Guest column: Learning through service

This column was originally submitted to the Leadership & Community Service-Learning Office’s Spirit of Service essay contest in December. The Diamondback will be publishing the winning columns every Friday during the month of February.

Last summer, I traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador, through the Alternative Breaks program with 17 other students and staff from this university to volunteer in an indigenous community and elementary school. We traveled there unsure of what we would experience and learn. When we drove through the breathtaking Andes Mountains to get to the community, I think we all realized it would be a trip we would never forget. And that’s exactly what happened. Each day, for a week, we would travel the long but beautiful hour to the indigenous community, Shina.

We played with the children, taught them English and helped improve the physical aspects of the school.

Throughout the trip, we became extremely close with the children, and the last day was one of the most difficult days of my life. The children made scarves for us, and the adults made us the great Ecuadorian delicacy of guinea pig. (Yes, that was an interesting experience.) I sat there and cried with my friends when we realized we would be leaving this beautiful community and these amazing children. As I cried, an 8-year-old Ecuadorian boy, Victor, gave me one of the best hugs I have ever received and started to sing the Ecuadorian song, “Ojos Azules.” The lyrics translated to “blue eyes don’t cry,” and as he sang the song, he wiped the tears from my eyes. Then in Spanish, he whispered, “Don’t forget us,” and a single tear rolled down his cheek. Victor and the other children — who had taught us so much about love and kindness — simply asked that we not forget them.

The bus ride back to our host families was completely silent as we each sat with our own thoughts and tears. I think we all realized how much this experience really affected us, and as we contemplated our experiences, we drove through those picturesque mountains for the last time. I quickly understood the irony of the situation. These people who had nothing (other than a great deal of happiness, which is all you really need) were giving us scarves, meals and most importantly, a warm embrace and a shoulder to cry on. The people we had gone to help actually helped us by making us better people and teaching us what was truly important in life.

When we came back to the United States, many of us felt there was a hole in our hearts that would not heal. We missed Ecuador and the experiences we had there, but most of all we missed spending time with the children and being able to positively affect their lives. When one of our group members came home and filled the void by creating a student group, Bilingual Backpacks, we immediately got involved. Our mission is to improve and broaden the education of the children at the Arturo Quesada School by providing backpacks with school supplies and English-Spanish books. By being a part of Bilingual Backpacks, we can continue our efforts to help those children that affected us so much and changed our lives forever. We hope that more people join us in our mission so that we can all help to better the lives of the happiest, most caring people I have ever met.

Morgan Rich is a junior government and politics and secondary education major. She can be reached at mrich1 at umd dot edu.

Access the original article here: http://www.diamondbackonline.com/opinion/guest-column-learning-through-service-1.1974893

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