Blog: Alternative Spring Break, three weeks later

We tend to shut those problems out because we don’t want to believe that it’s going on right under our noses, while all the while we live our lives comfortably, neglecting those who don’t. If poverty exists only far away from us, it’s easier to believe that we aren’t contributing to the problem.

On the way to Cuernavaca. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

By: KIRSTEN FENN

On the way to Cuernavaca. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

On the way to Cuernavaca. Photo by Kirsten Fenn

Yesterday marked the third week that we’ve been home from Cuernavaca. Surprisingly, getting back into a normal routine hasn’t been as hard as I expected it to be. What has been hard is dealing with the feelings that came along with it.

At our final ASB meeting last weekend, my team and I discovered that all of us have been struggling with how to bring along our experiences in Mexico as we continue to live out our lives at home. Part of my mind is still there with the people in Cuernavaca — I feel like I became part of their community. Another part of me says, “Hey, you’re home again. Don’t forget to live what’s here in front of you right now.”

As one of our team advisors said at our post-departure reflection, you can’t live in the past. It may be hard to adjust to routine again, and we may miss everything that we experienced in Mexico, but we can’t let that keep us from moving on to other good things. We have to learn to grow from that experience, and to let it propel us forward rather than hold us back. It’s about striking a balance between moving on, and keeping that experience in our hearts as we do so.

Our post-departure session was exactly what I needed to realize that. After all of the ASB teams shared their experiences with each other that morning – Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Vancouver – I understood that the first step is to tell other people about the experience and what we learned from it.

But while we do that, we have to remember why ASB participants travel to so many different places for community service learning.

No matter where in the world we are, there will always be marginalized populations, always people living without the basic rights they deserve. The one problem with ASB trips is that people who hear us talk about them get a notion that what we’re doing is more valuable simply because we’re traveling far away. They get the impression that the communities we volunteered in are far worse than anything that could exist in Canada, that there couldn’t possibly be problems like that close to home.

But that’s not true.

I volunteered Saturday with other ASB participants at Parkdale United Church in Ottawa, serving meals to over 150 people for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Many of those people hadn’t eaten in days, and they don’t necessarily know where their next meal is going to come from either. And just like in Cuernavaca, our own children were sitting at those tables, because there are systemic problems in our own society too, problems that leave many with no other choice.

As ASB participants, if we don’t continue to do service work in our own communities, then I think we’re failing the whole purpose of the ASB program. What we should take from our trips is that these problems exist everywhere – not just in faraway places, but in our own backyards as well.

It’s just like the man in Cuernavaca who helped us in La Estación. He didn’t even realize the poverty that existed in his own community until he saw it for himself. We tend to shut those problems out because we don’t want to believe that it’s going on right under our noses, while all the while we live our lives comfortably, neglecting those who don’t. If poverty exists only far away from us, it’s easier to believe that we aren’t contributing to the problem.

Regardless of where the problem exists, we should open our eyes to it and realize that whoever is going through it is a person just the same – whether they’re in our own community, or on the other side of the world.

So when all is said and done, I will try to carry my experience in Mexico with me throughout the rest of my life. It will be a reminder not to shut out the problems that exist in my community, and it will be a reminder to make other people see it as well.

And hopefully sharing that experience with others will convince them to see the importance of a service learning trip like ASB, so they can experience those lessons for themselves and continue the ripple effect they have.

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