Mexico: My First Service Trip

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I once saw a man on TV, who spent a year doing service in Africa. His mind and values, and even his career were affected by the experience. I was moved by the man’s speech at that time. I hoped that I could go on a meaningful trip, which would have a real impression on me. I achieved that goal during the school trip to Mexico. The trip was short, only a few days. However, the influence on me has lasted — and will last for a long time.

Besides the beautiful beach and rocks, the lovely sunshine, the animals I’ve never seen before, the friendly people, and the great fun of swimming in the river, there were a lot of things that I took away from the trip.

It was the first time I had ever been to an orphanage. Most of the kids there were around five years old. Though it made me feel uneasy that we didn’t speak the same language, I soon felt comfortable and welcomed by their friendliness. I loved their smiling faces and their enthusiasm. A six-year-old boy drew a girl with a smiling face on the floor using chalk and pointed at me. I understood that the girl he drew was me. He smiled to me and said some Spanish to me. I couldn’t understand him but I guessed he was trying to ask me to join him.

I took a piece of chalk and drew birds, flowers and hearts with him. He was so small, but he drew a big yellow heart, which was even bigger than him on the ground. He lost his parents soon after he was born and he grew up in poor conditions, yet he had a heart full of love and brightness. I felt that the happiness he gave me was more than what I gave him.

All the kids were happy and energetic. It seemed like they are the same with all other kids with happy families. I am the only child in my family. I really wanted to have those optimistic kids be my brothers and sisters.

I can’t forget the day when we went to a middle school in a very poor region in the town that has an extreme lack of water. People had to carry water from other places. During the drive there, I could see small, ugly mud huts along the soil path. My field of vision was full of dust.

The teacher told us that the government built the school for the kids from very poor families. Few people visited the school. We were greatly welcomed by everyone when we got there. Lots of the kids waved and smiled at us.

During the quick chat with the headmaster, I found that people are really making efforts to give good education in this developing area. The school was new and had good equipment. There were nice buildings and a basketball court. The kids performed for us with attention and enthusiasm. I was impressed with the dance, the singing, and the poem reciting. They invited us to dance with them, gathered around and asked us to take photos with them.

The kids made awesome food for us. They made presentations in English and showed us what they learned in class. They learned how to set and decorate the table. They needed to learn how to do those things as a skill, which might become their skill for survival when they grow up. Though it was not hard, the kids did each task carefully.

We went to a class and taught the kids how to make dream catchers. And then we went to an English class and had some easy conversations with the kids since they only knew a little English. We also talked about Canada and gave them some English books as a gift. The English teacher made a speech with eagerness. He said that they had smart and talented students but they didn’t have good school supplies or resources. Most of the students in that school could not go to college because of poverty. They hoped that they could send one student to our school to get a better education.

“We brought them two big boxes of food, including rice and vegetables. The old lady shed tears when she saw those things. She said in Spanish that it seemed like the food dropped from the sky.”

When I chatted with the teacher I learned that he was from Mexico City and he came to that poor area and became a teacher 10 years ago. He said he loved to teach and to give knowledge. I wondered how much faith and courage he had, what brought him to a poor and hot place without running water. His English was good. I believed he could lead a better life if he stayed in Mexico City. It was his choice to give education to a place where the kids really, really need him. During his ten-minute speech, I could see his keenness and love for the kids. I could see hope in his eyes and I could hear belief in his voice when he said, “If you can just give one student the chance to go to Canada, that would be very great.”

On our way home, the lead teacher said that lots of kids came to her and tried to make her remember their names and gave them scholarships. Yes, I could see their longing for knowledge, in each student’s eyes and faces. However, they didn’t have many choices.

Lots of younger kids came and asked for our signatures. I felt like I was treated as a movie star. Actually, I didn’t do a lot for them. On the contrary, they gave us lots of warmth and surprises.

I kept waving to them when I left. I walked slowly, my eyes stuck on their faces.

We went to visit a family in a mud hut after that. We brought them two big boxes of food, including rice and vegetables. The old lady ran shed tears when she saw those things. She said in Spanish that it seemed like the food dropped from the sky. I was shocked at first, but when I saw the only tiny room with four beds and a huge vat without water and the few pieces of old furniture, I understood why they appreciate the basic food so much.

All of us didn’t talk for the next two hours after we left the lady’s place. On the way back, I could see students in uniforms walking back home. I suddenly realized there were few cars on the soil path. One of my companions started to cry. “I hope I can do something else,” she said.

Everything flew in my head like a film. I felt like I was half-conscious. Same as my companion, I wanted to do something more for them but I didn’t know what I could do. I always saw poverty all over the world on TV. Though I always felt grateful that I didn’t have to suffer that much, I never ever considered what I could do for those poor people. I felt bad, and even guilty. I really didn’t do much. I am failing in words now.

I may go to that area again, or somewhere else like it, after I graduate from university. I will stay there for a year, doing whatever I can do. I would love to teach the kids English, or art, or anything. I will donate after I earn my own money. I will continue to learn Spanish. I will visit the mud huts and chat with the friendly people, bring them food and tell them stories about Canada. I don’t even think that is enough. I will show the photos to more people and tell my experience to whoever is interested. We will all do whatever we can do, no matter how small or easy.

I don’t think people who didn’t go to the trip can have the same feelings as I do. It was a trip that changed me. I hope the readers of my experience will at least feel grateful for having enough to eat and do something good to people around them.

Photos by Ciara Clemente, Eloise Patmore, Flora Feng

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