My daughter spent part of a High School summer doing community service work in Costa Rica. This is the norm for middle class kids in our area, whether you go to public school like my daughter, or private school like my Teen X. Teens show how community minded they are, and put it on their college application. My understanding is that colleges almost expect kids to have some glaring public service announcement that they pull out as needed.
When my daughter went to Costa Rica she worked in two areas: Housing and day camp. She poured a concrete floor for a family that previously only had dirt. I don’t know exactly what goes into making a concrete floor, but my daughter said it was hard and exacting. She literally saw the woman and the family that she was helping to provide with a new floor. She knew that if she screwed up, this family would be the ones to suffer. There was a literal face to the cause. She left her days exhausted but feeling good about what she was doing.
The other part of her trip revolved around working in a day care center. She lead the kids in games and crafts and spoke to them in English so that they practice their language skills. Her biggest takeaway was that these kids, though they didn’t enjoy the luxuries that her and her NYC friends have, still showed such a sense of joy and wonder. They were not jaded or sad or mean like some of her NYC classmates who had considerably “more” than they did. She loved this experience so much that it was one of the reasons that she is pursuing a minor in Education and Social Justice. No, she does not want to be a teacher, but she would love the ability to work on educational policy reform.
We also can’t forget about my daughter and water. When in Costa Rica, my daughter saw in real time just how precious a commodity potable water is. On her short list of causes she believes in, water is right there front and center.
My daughter chose to look past her upbringing to see what other parts of the world, what other people face. She is by no means a Saint, nor is she perfect, and sometimes she forgets that she has things come easily to her, but this experience really made her see and feel things she did not know about.
But does every child take away the same experience?
We know someone who did a service trip this summer, in America, and this was based on working with sea life and oceans. Teen X is very environmentally friendly.
I saw the parent of Teen X while Teen X was still on the trip.
Me: How does X like the trip?
Parent of X: Well, X hates the group leader. X has been arguing with the group leader since the beginning of the trip
Me: What does she argue about?
Parent of X: X doesn’t like the rules.
Me: Like what?
Parent of X: X didn’t realize how much cleaning up of garbage there would be. She thought they’d be helping the environment
At this point I mumbled my way out of the conversation because really, if you don’t see what is right in front of your face, my pointing it out isn’t going to help much.
So what’s the point of this? Was it just to humble brag about my daughter? Partially, sure. My daughter has managed to defy her spotty parenting to become a decent human. But it’s also to highlight why colleges kinda sorta want to see community service on a middle to upper middle class kids resume. The goal is to make the kids see what the world is really like, even if it’s just for three weeks during the summer between sophomore and junior years.
Yes we have a shortage of water.
Yes, some people live in huts with no windows and no electricity and dirt floors.
Yes, some kids are happy without the latest tech gadgets.
Yes, the oceans and beaches and whatever are filled with human waste products that must be cleaned up.
But sometimes you need to see these things up close and personal in order to understand them. The problem is, some people can be exposed to something and still not understand the issues. How often are we blind to what is right there in front of us? How many willfully choose not to look deeper at an issue? How many people choose to see things that way that they want to see them?
You can choose to look at the world the way you think it is, or the way it actually is. Which way will actually start solving the issues that we face?