Joshua Lee is a freshman at Belmont Hill School. He visited Kaya Children in Bolivia during summer of 2009, and wrote an essay about his experience for an essay contest, for which he placed second. The following is an excerpt from his essay.
My mind tunes in and out of the ensuing conversation as I shift my weight restlessly in my chair. My eyes are focused on the table before me, and I think about the people sitting around me, who have illuminated the darkness of the world their entire lives.
Suddenly, I am almost 4000 miles away in the heart of La Paz, Bolivia.
I inhale the over polluted air and shift my weight uncomfortably due to the human feces surrounding my feet, my eyes darting around, surveying the scene in front of me. My eyes lock onto a single beat-up mattress that lies on the insect-infested ground. And on this broken, overused mattress, I know that boys no older than I am will sleep here tonight. I can imagine how it will look only a few hours from now. Boys huddled together, trying to coax warmth out of each other’s malnourished bodies, rabid dogs at their sides, and police walking up to them, not to help, but to beat them and take what few possessions they have. Trucks roar past my left and right, and the sudden, sharp wall of wind brings me back to the present.
On this mattress a boy looks my way, and I try not to stare at him, but I cannot look away. I see two scars running down both sides of his cheeks. This is reality. And right now, I am truly seeing reality in front of me for the first time. I look into his eyes, and I see troubles and experiences that nobody in the world should have to go through at such a young age. Or any age for that matter. I see a boy who was kicked out of the house at a young age, and turned to drugs as an escape. Stealing was not an option, but a necessity. His hair is damp from a bath he recently took, but I would not be surprised if he was dirtier than before, seeing that he bathed in the second-dirtiest river in the world. He gets up and starts to walk across the busy street, not even looking either way. He gets to the other side all right, but I can tell that he would not have minded if he did not.
Just a week before, I was on top of the world, literally. 30,000 feet above sea level and half way around the globe – in La Paz, Bolivia – realizing that there is a world outside of my privileged private school education and my loving family and friends.
I know that there are millions of people in Bolivia, and all around the world – some of whom I had just seen a week ago – who would give anything to be in a warm house full of people who love you more than you will ever know. To be in a place where you can walk down the street without worrying about being mugged and even killed. Looking down at the crumbs from my second serving of pie, I wonder when the last time the street kids there had seen a second serving of anything.
I always hesitate calling them “street kids” though. Because the word “kids” implies a certain amount of innocence. For these “kids” innocence was lost before they had the faintest idea of what it means. At an age when I enjoyed Legos and was learning about plants, the boy on the mattress enjoyed the high of paint thinner, and was learning how to steal. People steal, mug, and kill every day to survive in a world so vastly different from our own.
So one year, a man who now attends my church, Dr. Chi Huang, went down to Bolivia and started a home for these street children. Last summer my friends and I went down to see the fruits of his labor: three fully accommodating homes where children can live and receive an education. Children from six to sixteen come into these homes and change their lives forever. These children are given another chance at life, and this year the organization, Kaya International, is sending its first group of boys, to college, where each of them will have a chance to follow their dreams. Kaya means tomorrow, and Dr. Huang, his employees, and his volunteers all strive to give these children a better tomorrow.
I am wondering why it is bad that I take some things for granted. I sit on this for a moment and replay my time in Bolivia. The memories are not of the boys I saw on the sides of the roads, some knocked out by drugs and some on their way there. They are of the people who take those same boys into their homes as often as they can to give them another chance at life. The memories are not of the scene of man-made tarps that thousands of people call home. Rather, they are of the people who visit those tarps as often as they can, bringing food for everyone, which could possibly be their only meal for a long time. I see these people, who have devoted their whole lives to helping those in need, and I recognize what their attitude is. They do not take things for granted. They appreciate what they have. Why? Because every day, when they go out and feed children, who would die without their help, they know that they could have been born right next to them on the street. But instead they were born into a privileged family, in the United States of America, in one of the best hospitals in the world, in Boston.
Dr. Huang, the founder of Kaya International, says he often wonders why he was not born like the people he serves, on the streets, left to die. He asks God why he is privileged and these people are not. He says that he knows it is because he was made to serve these people, who did not get what he did. So he does. And so I will. Because I see now why it matters that I am unappreciative about luxuries that others could not even dream about.
It comes down to my attitude. And it is my attitude that gets me to sacrifice a summer to plan, and eventually fly across the world to help that person in need. It is my attitude that will get me to make the oblivious around me aware of the truths of the world. It is this attitude that separates the “oh-that’s-too-bad” person, and the person who thinks it is so bad that they will devote their lives to make it better.
If I had to single out one person who was impacted the most by our trip to Bolivia I would choose myself. Because the work we did in Bolivia, over those two weeks, just made a drop in the bucket. And if I want to fill this bucket – of drugs, starvations, and violence in Bolivia – up, faster than it gets deeper, I will have to change my whole attitude.
This is why it matters.