Joined Together

February 21, 2012
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Sharp barbed wire grasps the chipped railing. Dilapidated brick walls barely support the second story. The stench of sewage fills the narrow alleyways. I look around uneasily at my team members. They carry similar expressions of dismay on their wide-eyed faces. Could people really live in such poverty? Children running around without supervision. Dirt. Grub. Rust. Images of clutter and mess are usually linked with places far away from our county, but as I observed from these shocked reactions, I realized this was only twenty minutes away from where I live. There were actually people who lived like this on a regular basis.

Although San Diego is the destination for pleasure and vacation, it is also where people who encounter unfortunate situations are overlooked. Ma Khin Kyi and his family are an example of a family who has been forced to move from their home in order to create a new beginning. This family moved from Burma, a country facing great government oppression. Fleeing from their home was the only option for survival, even if it meant leaving several of their own family members and loved ones behind. Once arriving to the "land of freedom", they tried their best to recreate a comfortable life despite the language barrier and cultural differences.

In comparison to their lives of struggle, I live my life comfortably. I have accessible hot water. Our house is lined with a white picket fence and towering palm trees, which provide perfect shade. There are two cars parked inside the garage. These parts of my life are what many other people long for, but cannot easily reach. However, materialistic wealth is unimportant without being able to enjoy simple pleasures with others.

December 27 is the day I saw first-hand the differences in our lives. I was blessed with the opportunity in meeting the Kyi family while involving myself in a service project. We helped them clean out their homes while simultaneously befriending the kids who lived there. Along with six others, Audrey, Hannah, Jackson, Peter, Dennis, my mom and I, we worked together to clean and bond with the other teenagers.

"What do we say to the kids? Will they be our age? How do we approach the family? What is we don't find anything in common?" We all wondered out loud. These questions flowed as we climbed up the stone steps of their apartment complex. I rolled up the cuffs of my sleeves, and looked around at my surroundings. The sun shined bright through the muggy air. The entrance of their apartment welcomed us with a heavy, putrid scent of decay. Nevertheless, the family still greeted us with bright smiles. We introduced ourselves to Ellen, the youngest of five older brothers, and Samuel, the eldest son. At first, they only observed us timidly as we slowly unpacked our cleaning supplies, and we spoke no actual words. It was only through cleaning the home, that we began interacting with each other.

"Ellen, can you please help me move the carpet, so we can vacuum underneath?" Hannah, from our youth group, requested, struggling. Ellen immediately ran over. Holding opposite sides of the rug, they both attempted lugging the dusty piece of carpet out of the room to create room for cleaning. But the rug was too heavy for them. Seeing this, Samuel from the Kyi family and Jackson from our group hurried over to help the girls. Soon, all four pairs of hands held the ends, folded it up, and cast the rug aside.

"Whew, we finally got it!" Samuel and Jackson exchanged powerful high fives. Four hours later, beads of sweat were running down everyone's faces as we stood back to enjoy the results of our diligent teamwork. The black dirt lining the walls disappeared, and the tables and windows glinted with sunlight and shine.

Afterward, we played a casual game of ball. It started out with simple passes back and forth, trying to keep the ball in the air. The shy Burmese faces, tense at the sight of the ball, soon exploded with smiles as the ball flew awkwardly over the net. Everyone who had stood silently just minutes before was now yelling and squealing with excitement. Some jumped up and down, eyes trained on the ball as it flew into the open sky. Others ran around with grins plastered on their faces, hoping to catch and pass the ball. Even through their hardships, they took pleasure in the same games and moments as we did. It didn't take new clothes, or another video game to bring such fun, rather, the close and free interactions.

Throughout the game, everyone worked together. We encouraged each other with quick remarks and enthusiastic shrieks. Though we weren't able to converse directly, the ball served as common ground. Soon, even the surrounding neighbors joined in. The ethnicities ranged from Asian to African, and the ages extended from five to twenty. We all lived different lives, and held different beliefs; each held diverse goals and aspirations. We all carried our own burdens and conflicts. But, as each person passed the ball to one another, these differences were forgotten. We all joined together for a common goal, which was as simple as keeping the ball in the air, or moving aside a rug for cleaning.

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