I write this blog post a week before the end of my Duke Engage experience. It is intensely bitter sweet, as I dread the final day that I will spend with my homestay family, guaranteed to be spent with tears and nostalgic memories; however, I am ecstatic to see my family in Florida who have missed me for two months and eat Caribbean food. How ironic is it that we humans will voluntarily make a home anywhere, yet knowing we will have to leave it behind and it will pain us as if we were born there?
As I think back to the work that my classmates and I completed, I am quite pleased by what we accomplished. In my village, we evaluated a health insurance system, making changes which allowed it to be more accessible to people in the community, and taught English and computer classes, in both of which we saw massive improvement in ability and confidence. In the village at the bottom of the mountain, our classmates taught Chinese, English, programming, computer, and writing classes, while also orchestrating a microfinance program for budding entrepreneurs. The impact of our projects was palpable: people were extremely interested in what we taught and they saw themselves how they were being enabled by the assistance we gave.
On the cultural side of things, we were heavily immersed into the local culture. Moments after we set foot in the village, we were welcomed with a ceremony by community members. Our homestay families treated us like royalty in their homes, but they also invited us to see the realities of their quotidian routines and not feel like outsiders. We discovered new foods, partook in sacred ceremonies, served in domestic businesses, explored the beautiful landscape, cultivated fields, discussed cultural issues, attended church together, and started our initiation process as Kabye youths. Some of us gained new sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers. They trustingly gave us their hearts and minds, and happily, we gave them ours.
Though I have raved about the experience up to this point, it would be wrong to think that I was never discouraged or disheartened. In a span of six weeks, I was painfully, dramatically ill on three separate occasions, to the extent that my homestay family would concernedly comment that I had lost too much weight. I sometimes grew frustrated about the physical and cultural factors beyond my control which limited the efficiency of our projects. We all had ideas for new intiatives which for one reason or another, could never get off the ground running. And finally, my mind too often wondered to Chic-fil-A sandwiches and American comfort food. Though I did not find this inherently bad, dwelling on what was missing in my new environment did not enhance the pleasure of my experience.
All things considered, I would still say without a doubt that this was one of the most humbling and intellectually satisfying summers I have ever had. I would encourage anybody in pursuit of human connections and palpable change at the sacrifice of the usual comforts to join this program. They should also mentally prepare themselves beforehand, because it does indeed get hard throughout the process. The hardest part though, comes at the end when you have to leave.