Saturday morning, I woke up dreading the day ahead. I was tired from a week of work and only wanted to sleep in late. Instead, I woke up at six in the morning to participate in a scheduled community service project with the organization Hogar de Cristo. I selfishly thought I deserved a day to relax rather than build a house for a family in need.
The drive to the project site woke me up. We began in the safe, up-scale neighborhood we lived in and ended in the packed slums on the outskirts of Guayaquil. Other members of my group mentioned their host families’ concern that we were headed to this area of town as it was labeled a “red-zone” for violence. Looking out the window of the bus, I could only see the packed slums endlessly stretching into the horizon. I had never seen such magnitude of poverty.
As soon as we parked in front of the work-site, the mother for whom we were building the house entered the bus. She was in tears, thanking us for the work we had ahead. I was shocked by her immediate outpouring of gratitude. I became encouraged to help and participate in the day’s work.
After stepping off the bus, the mother grabbed my arm and introduced herself. She spoke with me for the majority of the day. She only radiated warmth and happiness despite her difficult living situation. Over the next few hours, I learned that her family does not have running water and she walks twice a day, down and up a steep hill to provide this necessity. She left her abusive husband and now cares for her children by herself. Her previous home was washed away in a mudslide and she currently resides with her mother. There is not enough living space and her children usually sleep on the kitchen table. She took the time to get to know me and share her story.
At the end of the day, the house was complete and our team was ready to leave. I was happy to have contributed to a new home for a family in great need, but I was left with a mix of emotions. I was disappointed in myself for not wanting to attend today’s work; I was sickened by the unbearable living conditions of so many people; and I was confused on how I could return to my upper class home and go on with my life. From telling the family goodbye to hours after arriving back home, I did not stop crying. I am left with guilt over my privilege as a white American and my inability to end all of the poverty I witnessed today.
I am more aware now than ever that we, humans, need to help one another.
Written June 24, 2017