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You Don't Know Until You Do


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I live in Trump Towers in Manhattan’s posh Upper West Side. I own a gorgeous house in the Hamptons equipped with a pool and a tennis court. I attend an exclusive New York private prep school.

But I’m not stuck up. Well…maybe I was. However, after traveling to the shantytowns and polluted, city streets of San Jose in Costa Rica, my views of the word changed drastically and permanently. This summer I went on a community service and language immersion program to Costa Rica with seventeen other typical rich, spoiled teenagers from the United States and Canada. Together, we discovered what it truly means to have nothing.

Our community service project (well, one of three) took place at a broken down basketball court, which acts at the community center of a shantytown forty-five minutes outside of the capital San Jose. Our tour, hudding close with fear, walked through the shantytown to gather the children to come play, do arts and crafts, read, and learn. As we walked, we could hardly breath. The town is on the side of a cliff, and on the left is a huge stream, but the stream is brown and dirty. It smells awful, yet that is the town’s only supply of water. One member of our tour physically could not take the combined smell of dirt, mud, poop (yes, human feces) and trash, and threw up in the stream.

Then our tour had to hold our ears. The shouting, the barking, the rushing of the stream. It was unbearable for our tour only after 15 minutes. But this is the environment for these people every single day. I thought about that fact, and kept walking along side the houses on the muddy road. The houses were made out of cardboard, or metal if you were ‘lucky’. They were teeny-tiny squares, with one room for the entire family, which in Costa Rica could mean 8 or 9 people. The mothers were our age--15 through 18. We looked at them closely. They were not that different than us, only their lives held a world of difference.

The children started following our group back to the community center. They were wearing rags, and broken shoes, all probably donations. They were skinny, undernourished. Some kids who were really 12 look 8. They were shy at first, but then gradually opened up to us. They told us about their lives. They told us they wanted to visit America. They told us they wanted to be our friend.

We read with them, and taught them some English. We created art. We put on plays. It was difficult to see that these kids probably have no opportunity to continue any of this stuff once we leave. No local theater, no art classes, no money to buy books.

We watched as these talented children came together every morning, so excited that there were some new people in their town offering fun activities. We were the highlight of their day--probably even year. Our impact was immeasurable. And that gave me the biggest natural high of my life. I got to know individuals. I learned that, yes, their lives are so different. But everything else is the same.

When I arrived home, I was actually a new person. I cared for my expensive things, rather than just throwing them around or flashing them. Other people have nothing close. I’m a little nervous to even hang out with my friends after my experience, because now, I know things have no intrinsic value. Honestly, none. I’d rather hang out with the kids at la cancha de baloncesto en Puente de los Anonos.




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