Living in many different countries is not an opportunity most people get to experience, but for me it is just a part of my life. I have lived in four countries over the course of just 14 years; starting a life in each new place is as exciting as the last.
Some of my most amazing experiences happened overseas in Africa. Living in and experiencing many different cultures gives you a unique view on the world. When you visit places that are poverty-stricken, it truly shows you how blessed you are to have food on the table and a home to go to every night. In many poor areas around the world you can’t always have your basic needs met.
I have been to several orphanages and have seen the effects of poverty. Surprisingly, the orphans were some of the most joyful people I have met. Recently I went to an orphanage in Kenya and was amazed by how hopeful and happy the orphans were, despite their poverty. The children were so excited to have visitors hang out with them and bring them treats like toys and candy – things that many of us take for granted.
The children were happy just to play a game of soccer or play with my hair. The orphans who lived there ranged from age 2 to 17. They showed us some of their traditions and games. In return we taught them some of my family’s games and traditions.
My family has learned that the best way to form relationships with people is to learn about their life and help them in any way possible –even if that just means playing with them. My family spent the day with the orphans, and they shared their lunch with us.
I also remember an orphanage in even greater poverty when we lived in Lesotho, a country in southern Africa. The kids there lived in buildings made of mud and bricks, the ground was dirt, and the few streams nearby were filled with trash. There were several stray dogs that would come around the children and spread diseases. The orphans’ clothes
and shoes showed much wear. When we
found out they had worn the same things for several years, it felt very sad compared to my life, where my needs and most of my wants are met.
At the orphanage in Lesotho, the children loved when my family came to play with them. They had few toys, so they made use of dirt, mud, and trash while playing. They had each other, as well as stray dogs, for companions.
One day, my family and a group of friends took the orphans to a shoe store and bought them new shoes. A pair of cheap shoes is not something I would get too excited about. But for those kids, receiving a brand new pair of shoes was one of the most loving, caring, and generous things anyone had ever done for them.
Throughout my years in Africa, I have visited many orphanages. I’ve seen newborn babies and individuals in their late twenties whose experiences are unimaginable. Meeting the most vulnerable and poor can really change your world view. Experiencing the best of the countries you visit might show you how different a culture is, but seeing the poorest in a culture shows you the needs of people. It opens your eyes to what is often hidden when you look at a country or a society. Going deeper not only gives you greater understanding, but it also improves the life of the person or people you go deeper with. You can never truly experience a culture without learning about the most desperate in it.
Not only did I see how terrible things can happen to good people, but I saw how your mindset when something bad happens affects your life. This is one of the many lessons I’ve learned. Seeing that some of the poorest people in the world are also the happiest changes your whole perspective on life. I know it changed mine. Looking at your life in a positive and hopeful way can change everything, no matter your circumstances.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.