“We are so blessed for having you here”
The last 10 weeks I have spent in South Africa I have heard these words from the people that run the school I worked at. They were blessed because I was here.... me, an 18 year old girl who grew up in a privileged world. A girl who knew nothing about this world and 10 weeks ago I started to learn a little bit more about it. I have now seen the true extremes of poverty and true wealth. I have see things that words can not even describe, that any one person would have to see it with there own eyes to believe it.
That 10,000 people can live in a community of metal storage containers, scrape metal, left over bricks, any and all remnants from homes are all pieced together to house 4-6 people. These small homes that most would turn their noses up and walk (run) the other direction at the sight of. All while this community is proud of where they live, they hold their heads high and continue their life with the cards they are dealt. I’m sure a lot of them hope for an opportunity to get out of their world to escape their reality. They must dream to live a life across the street where you find a very well off community filled with beautiful homes. Just around the corner so close yet so far. These exact words can describe dozens and dozens of communities, one after the other, filled with thousands of people who live in homes the size most of us wouldn’t even call a bathroom. Yet if you just continue to drive not even 5 minutes in either direction you will start to see these extremes. Time and time again I would se the drastic differences in each community yet I could never wrap my head around how this is possible... How do we allow this to happen?
It makes me think of all the times I’ve thought about wanting... needing to get out of Fairfield. That I hoped to find a better life to live. But why? I am so blessed to have grown up where I did, with the parents and siblings I have, friends, education, food on the table, running water, electricity, never having to worry about anything. It all seems silly now to have dreamed about leaving that life. It must sound like a false reality to most South Africans.
So coming here it’s hard not to feel guilty for everything I have in my life, that I got to wake up everyday for the past 18 years in my own bed in my own room, clean clothes, loving parents, knowing I would have 3 meals a day, even the feeling of safety, there are an endless amount of privileges I had everyday of my life that we never truly think about.
All this being said I don’t think one should feel guilt when it comes to uncontrollable outcomes. I was born into this world in America, in Connecticut, in Fairfield, I had no control over that. But what I do have control over is what I do to help others, to feel others, to give, to put smiles of peoples faces, offer a hand wherever I can.
That’s something I am truly blessed with, the type of person I am. That I can thank my parents and everyone around me that shaped me into a person that never wanted to live a day for herself, someone who knows happiness is created by giving love and joy to someone else. I cannot thank the people who created me enough. I am proud to be who I am today because I see this world in so many perspectives. I don’t hear people, I feel people when they talk.
Never in a million years would I have thought I would live my dream by the age of 18. Nor did I think anyone would ever be blessed to have me there. I’m not a religious person at all yet the people I work day to day with are and they thanked their lord for sending me to them. Hearing those words talked about me brings an emotion I didn’t know existed. I truly am honored to be here, to get to do what I am doing, all thanks to everyone who donated and believed in me, believed in my dream.
This trip has created lots of stories and I cannot wait to share them with the world. It has filled my heart with pure love, that each day I get to wake up and put a smile on 40+ kids. That the sight of just one child’s smile or hearing one contagious giggle melts my heart completely. I don’t want to leave this place, I don’t want to leave these kids wondering where I have gone, I don’t want to leave the community I now call home. I want to live everyday I have on this earth making someone else smile because that’s just what I want to do... I don’t think I need to explain myself on that, it’s just something that runs through my body. I’m not sure why it’s that way, it just is.
So the next time someone asks me “what do you want to do?” Or “What do you want to study?” I’ll just say I want to make people happy and hope they smile at that. A reaction can describe the type of a person you are in seconds.
“Wow. Greta got into Harvard?” That’s gotta be just one of my favorites so far...
Not to get side tracked. I have learned so much about this world, about the people around me and most importantly myself. That’s all I could ever ask for, I know I cannot change the world, I that knew going into this, the kids would leave a bigger impact on my life than I did on theirs. I leave here with amazing memories, genuine friendships, and about 40 kids I want to take home with me.
I’ll be back to leave another footprint in the South African sand, I leave with bigger dreams for next time.
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Greta Ann Vanderblue.