I went to a Christian college many years ago. I survived those years on Chick Fil A minimum wage (and free leftovers), some student loans, an Army ROTC scholarship and a contracted cadet stipend – which was $100 per month. During my senior year, I was presented with an opportunity through a club at the University. My professor, one of the best I ever had, suggested I go. He was leading it. It was a three week trip to the rainforest in Costa Rica on the Nicaragua border, where we would sleep on the floor of a dilapidated school in a small village, eat beans and rice, travel only by canoe on a river after a three hour rickety bus ride driven by a 13 year old, perform in a skit from time to time and most importantly, repair the school. One of the villages we would visit during this trip was a former Contra Rebel Camp in Nicaragua. If you don’t know what that is, #shameonyou and Google “Oliver North.”
In order for me to attend, I had to raise the money by writing letters to my home church and its parishioners. Once the trip was completed, I would have to speak about my experience at both my church and to the student body at the University during a chapel service. That was enough to scare me away, but despite my fears, I persisted. For some reason, it was that important to me and I knew I needed the experience of helping people who were a lot different than I was – but weren’t – they were just really poor, not me poor, but poooooor.
For my entire life, I had never really been anywhere. My parents traveled a bit around the country for motorcycle rallies and rollercoaster ventures, but other than Disney, I hadn’t seen or done much of anything. Volunteering was something you did as a Girl Scout and “community service” was something you were sentenced to, not something you chose. This trip was going to be my opportunity to see something and do something that mattered…completely unlike anything else I’ve known, until I could go into the Army. At least, that was my thinking.
I could write a considerable amount of what we did while we were there, the kinds of people I met, the challenges I faced, the struggles I endured, but really those things aren’t what sticks with me all these years later. What has stuck with me was an image that I cannot unsee and think about from time to time.
Our group spent an evening in a former Contra Rebel camp. It was dusty, dirty, desolate, and impoverished. The children were small and malnourished. The people who lived there, tired. There was a young girl, no more than 14 years old, standing in an empty doorway looking at me. She wore a dirty dress and had bare feet. Her hair was a rat’s nest. She had toddlers standing underneath her. And she was very pregnant. I had never seen such poverty, such desperation, such emptiness. I know that she probably didn’t know anything else, so to her, it was just another day, but because there I was, a United States college student with her whole life ahead of her brought up in your average blue collar American household with an education and opportunities, I knew it. I knew that she had nothing, no chance, to be anything other than what she was. Especially as a female. That was the first time I had actually seen a human being in that state – and knew it.
My daughter is finishing up her Junior year in college. She is majoring in Public Relations but is also trying to do a minor in Nonprofit management. Because of all of the devastating losses she has endured over the past year, she has rethought her future. She applied for an internship with Wine to Water, a nonprofit in Boone, North Carolina, which works to provide clean drinking water to impoverished nations and villages. She is talking about going into the Peace Corps after graduation, if they’ll have her. And, she is going to volunteer with Wine to Water
for a ten day trip to a village in the Chitwan Forest in Nepal to work on and experience the water crisis first hand. While there, she will be working on constructing a reservoir tank and other projects that are essential to helping keep their water flowing.
When I went to Costa Rica, it was to repair a school and share about Jesus. Education is an important component to battling poverty. Some people believe Jesus is an essential part of life here and life after. But water? Water is absolutely essential to LIFE. To living. To being able to function as a living, breathing human being here..right now. Education is nice and Jesus can be a good path to go if you’re struggling spiritually…but only after you can drink water, right? Water is something we take for granted, like air. Water is something we ‘Mericans can buy in bottles, in flavors, “Spring” or “Purified” in every grocery store or convenience store.
I know that this trip will expose and educate her about the “real world” and legitimate human crises more than any book she can read or movie she can watch or graduate program she can apply to. And this is no vacation. This is hard work which is actually helping people with something real. My trip, so many years ago, did just that for me and it helped shape the way I see the world.
Consider donating a few bucks to Ally’s Wine to Water fundraising page to help send her to this village in Nepal with this fine organization next month, where she will work to help provide clean drinking water to the folks in that nation. When she returns to Boone at the end of the month, she’ll be working through an unpaid internship all summer with Wine to Water, a grassroots nonprofit that is doing something not just good…but absolutely necessary.
Thanks for reading!