If you are like me you have a nice house to live, a car to drive, food on the table, a job that pays a decent wage, and a lot more. This is really the middle-class American way. However, we always want more; a bigger house, nicer car, better job, etc. This is the way I have lived. Trying to accumulate more and more and really focusing on myself – me, myself and I.
What changed me? I had the opportunity to go on several trips to third world countries where their reality is so different from mine.
A Different World
In 2004 I was invited to Ukraine to help teach English at a summer camp. Most of the students were high school and college aged kids who were desperate to learn English as a way to get a decent job and possibly get out of the country to a better place to live.
My eyes were opened on the first day. It truly was a culture shock. Most of these kids come from broken homes where the father has left and the mother remains to raise her kids. If she doesn’t have enough money to feed them or room to keep them she will just send them out into the world on their own, even as young as 8 and 9 years old! Those young kids will find a larger group of kids who will live in the sewer system under the city. They will find food through stealing, begging and maybe selling their bodies. All they have is the dirty clothes on their back. They trust no one. One girl I know could go back to her mother for a crust of bread every now and then and was allowed to sleep on her doormat. This is not the world I know.
The kids who were fortunate enough to have intact families and a place to live with food on the table had to deal with other situations such as alcoholism. The alcoholism rate in Ukraine is off the charts. Over 34% of deaths in Ukraine are alcohol related; the 2nd highest in the world. Along with alcoholism comes abuse in many forms. Verbal and physical abuse is very common. This is not the world I know.
Housing is almost entirely in what I call Communist block housing. These are large apartment buildings with hundreds of small units. A family of four will probably live in a unit that has a kitchen and a combination living room/bedroom and a bathroom. It is all they can afford. There are some bigger units but they are typically occupied by foreigners who can afford them. The typical wage in Ukraine is about $100 per month! This is not the world I know.
I have also visited Romania for a similar trip where we taught English. I was fortunate to stay with a professional family where the wife was a nurse and the husband was a computer engineer. They lived in a nice apartment because they could afford to have 4 rooms! A friend of theirs had a 43-year old son still living with them. He was an alcoholic and literally on his death bed. One night the grandmother called for help. I went with the nurse to discover this man had died. There was a lot of grief in that moment. I asked if we needed to call the authorities, someone to come take the body. The answer was this family did not have the money for that and the dead man’s dad would take him to the woods and bury him. This is not the world I know.
I have been to Ukraine seven times for the same purpose. I have followed these kids from high school and through college and watched how they have flourished despite all the things they have doing against them. I have learned so much about the rest of the world.
Changes of the Heart
Be Thankful for What You Have: These experiences working with kids in another country have really taught me to be thankful for what I have. If you have $200 in the bank you are wealthier than 90% of the world. Wow!
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: Going to a different country is exciting and scary at the same time. It was a great experience for me to encounter life in another culture. The learning on a trip like this is phenomenal. Different foods, modes of travel, dress, and celebrations are fabulous. Using the toilet is not so fabulous, but a great learning experience.
Love the People: People in another country are the same as you and me. Don’t hold prejudices. Learn to love them no matter what. We need a lot more love in the world.
Sacrifice is Good, Be Generous: It is so easy to feel we are entitled to things. I am entitled to food on my table. I am entitled to have that job. I am entitled to drive a nice car. When you visit a third world country you realize your “entitlements” are all wrong. People around the world live with a lot less than I have and they still function, live and some thrive. It is good for me to “sacrifice” some of my time, money, and things to help others. I want to be generous with what I have so that others can enjoy life a little better.
What About You?
I know world travel is not for everyone. But look around; there are people who need help right in your neighborhood. I have a list of things that I have done that have blessed me far beyond my dreams. These are things most people can do. Take a look.
- Visit a lonely person in the local nursing home. There are so many people stuck in a home and forgotten. They love a little attention, a smile, a hug, a short visit. This will do you both a bunch of good.
- Bake cookies or other goodies for the policemen and firemen in your community. There is so much turmoil going on in our country that it encourages them that someone is appreciative of what they do.
- Take your neighbor to the store. You may have someone you know who can’t drive and needs a way to get to the store. Be the one to volunteer to take them.
- Encourage the teachers at the local school. Make them small little treats to give at Christmas or the start and end of school, just to say “thank you” for taking care of our kids.
- Help refugees learn English. In my area, we have seen quite a few refugees move in from various parts of the world. I joined a group that was teaching them English and helping them get set up in their apartments with dishes, furnishings and more. Don’t be afraid of them, get to know them. They are probably more afraid than you are.
My main takeaway: get out of yourself and focus on others. Soon your little problems will fade away and you will be reaching out to help others who need a friend. Take that trip; it might be on the other side of the world or it might be just down the block. Either way, the blessings you will bring home with you will outweigh any hassles you had trying to get there.
Be a friend.