It has been about two weeks since I have returned from what may seem like a “service” trip to Dominican Republic and Haiti. It was more of an opportunity for seven other high school graduates and myself to become exposed to the hardships faced by underprivileged families within Dominican Republic and Haiti. More importantly, we were there to “collect stories.” Now, this could mean gathering stories to simply re-tell here in Canada, or it could mean much more than that. The way I see it, we were there to gather a range of experiences of people who live much different lives than us, and the recollections of those who have dedicated their time and lives to serve others. Cole, John, Maurice, Lindsey, Sandra. These are all names of remarkable individuals that we met, who have devoted their lives to serving people and working towards a better future for them.
I want to focus on the picture above for a bit. This is an image of myself, assisting a young boy, named Mosle, at an astonishingly large garbage dump, located in Dominican Republic. This was no small pile of rubbish, but rather an entire field, filled with all kinds of waste. Food waste, electrical waste, green waste, medical waste, old clothing, recyclable waste, organic waste; you name it. Prior to this venture in our trip, I hadn’t really thought about the concept of visiting a Garbage Dump to help people in need. When I did think about it, all I could think about was being able to help someone find a means to their living. “Keep clothes that you can throw away after,” said Chris prior to the trip. Was it really going to be that bad? Would our clothes wreak so much that we would have to throw them away? I’d think about it for a little while, then put the thought aside, and continue engaging myself in ordinary things. When the second day of our trip arrived, Chris, our leader, gave us a little bit of information as to how this process works. We were told that we would be paired up with someone from the poor community of “La Union,” which we had visited the day before. These individuals would guide us through the dump and show us the types of waste that we were supposed to collect for them. The piece of information I did not know was that collecting valuable items in the garbage was a way for many of these families to make a small amount of money, and provide for one another for things such as food, water, and shelter. I had started to feel slightly nervous, as we travelled towards the dump on our massive truck. The car ride was shaky, and most of us were quietly thinking about how we would handle an environment we had never been in before.
Upon arrival to the garbage dump, I was shocked. I was shocked to see that this was an entire field of garbage filled with so many desperate people. When I got off the truck, the first thing I noticed was a garbage truck pulling into the dump, pouring out its contents, and young, middle-aged, and elderly individuals rushing towards it to place a claim on a bag or an item. This is something you or I would never see at home. It was hot, it was sticky, and it was smelly, but despite that, people were doing what they had to do in order to live their lives in a better state. I heard that these families and individuals walk several miles to visit the dump and spend entire days there looking for useful items. After this moment, I was paired up with Mosle, a young boy who may have been about 10 or 11 years old. The communication barrier between us made it extremely difficult for us to work together and find what he needed, but a few small and simple Spanish phrases brought us slightly closer to one another. Mosle was there to find plastic bottles of all sorts. He would collect them each day and bring them back to his community, so they could sell them to large countries and make a few dollars. It took me a while to grasp this concept, I would pick up a wine bottle or a can and say “Si?” which translates to “Yes,” and many times, he would respond with “No.” It seemed as if Mosle knew exactly what he was doing, so he took me right to the edge of the garbage dump, where we found several plastic bottles. Originally, it was very difficult to keep up with him. He knew how to get through all the garbage without stopping once, whereas I had to repeatedly watch my step and keep myself from falling or hurting myself. I think I was a little overwhelmed. Thinking back at it now, overwhelmed sounds ridiculous. People do this on a daily basis, and ignore all the little gross parts of it. I just had to accept it, and help the young boy.
When I finally grasped what I was looking for, I think Mosle felt a bit more happy that I was there to help him. Being someone who has worked in many environments with young children, I’m very used to seeing and making them smile easily. I must say it was not easy for me to make this young boy smile. I would give him a thumbs up every time I picked up the right kind of bottle, or simply smile, but he would keep moving forward for the next one. I had realized at this point, that he probably knew that my life was much easier than his. He may have enjoyed my help for that small amount of time, but he knew that I would leave and he’d be on his own again. It saddened me that I could not make him smile in the simplest way. This feeling of sadness existed until a special moment. I saw the happiness in his eyes when we had gathered many bottles and brought them back to the start of the dump to be carried back to “La Union.” We shared a double high-five, and knew that we had accomplished something.
The one hour I had spent in this large garbage dump, provided me with an experience and an interaction that I will never forget. I gained lessons, and I saw that what I think is reality, is far different than what someone else might see as “reality.” These people have to walk several kilometres to reach the garbage dump, and spend the entire day looking for items that will help them make money. It is not because they have to, but rather that it is the only thing that gives them the slightest bit of hope that they will one day achieve their own dreams. The overall experience ended with a few tears, because I had just seen so much desperation and need. However, I must say amongst all of this sorrow, there are still happy souls that one could say are grateful for what they have. They are welcoming, they are loving, and they will do what they have to meet their needs and experience joy.
Things come very easy to us in this life. We can pick up our keys and drive to the mall. We can use our debit cards and buy clothes, food, drinks, electronics, all of the things which people cannot even dream of having just yet. What I want you to remember is, be grateful for what you have, and don’t misuse it. By “misuse,” I mean use your skills, your wealth, and your courage for the right reasons. Do not just sit at home and feel bad for those who you see on television. Use it as a wake up call to actually take action for those people. It is easier said than done, but with a little bit of positivity, good intentions, and perseverance, anyone can do it.
Remember that everyone has a dream. Much similar to my dream of serving others, one may have a dream that their child receives an education or has better clothing to wear. Always keep in mind that everyone should take a step towards fulfilling each other’s dreams in anyway possible.