Many eons ago,
I sat silent in a van heading to Pittsburgh International Airport, mentally prepared for a lackluster week of “explorations” and “service” with a loose group of college students I didn’t know and would never see again after mid-March.
I never believed such a vibrant, engaging, meaningful series of experiences could be contained within a single week. I could write about any number of topics: that first night, when we bonded over a game and anxiously joked about living in an unfurnished house; about volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, where I helped build a house and met a man who drives an hour every day to make it to the worksite before dawn, whose only reason for giving up his time and resources being that “you should give back to your community”; an astounding conversation I had about social justice with one longtime volunteer at the CIW; my awe at Guadalupe Social Services quality and quality of services: showers and changes of clothes for homeless individuals, a food pantry, stroller drives, clothing collections…
Poverty devastates those who suffer it. I know this from personal experience, but that lesson is so encompassing and prevalent here in Immokalee.
Maria, whose hurricane-decimated trailer we helped deal with earlier this week, is one example. She has obviously suffered much greater problems than me. Over the course of her life, she’s worked as a farmworker and a packing house employee in, until recently, one of the most oppressive work environments in the U.S. Her life and the lives of those closest to her has been shaped by the most horrendous and inescapable of circumstances: child marriage, natural disaster, homelessness, drug addiction.
My own experiences with poverty obviously pale in comparison, but I understand the limitations induced by lack of money creates a festering frustration unique to the poor. When I was younger, my own family struggled with poverty. My entire life became an exhausting, constantly-evolving strategy: how can I reach my full potential, when every opportunity I want to pursue costs money that I don’t have? There is no margin of error. Each opportunity that I might pursue requires so much more risk and therefore so much more dedication for me than it would for my peers.
Poverty is a jealous beast. It alienates those who suffer it from those who don’t, and often derogatizes the former. The incredible thing about Immokalee is that its people used gratitude and determination to combat this effect. With gratitude and determination, Maria is consciously deciding to let go of her old house and build a new home with her loved ones. With gratitude and determination, CIW will soon march in New York and fight to secure their basic rights and some security. With gratitude and determination, I aspire to use what I’ve learned this week and make a difference in my own community in Pittsburgh once I return and, in a wider context, the world.
The mission trip has given me so much information and motivation to take back to Pittsburgh about the CIW specifically and new perspectives on humanity in general.
But what I’m most moved by tonight are the people who also embarked on this CCME. I never would have crossed paths with, let alone befriended, these individuals at Duquesne. In the past week, I’ve bonded with utter strangers over miracle-berries, Catholic mass, group lays, haikus, mangoes, paper-maché, and numerous deep, philosophical debates. These are people with whom I once shared literally nothing. Our respective upbringings were completely different, as are many of our beliefs, ambitions, and lives. Despite this, we have all grown so close to each another. I know some of my companions’ most intimate problems and feelings, as they know mine. They’ve taught me more about presence, patience, faith, engagement, relationships. Hopefully, I’ve reciprocated with some valuable lessons of my own. We are, astoundingly, all the better for having known each other. Thanks to CCME, I have formed relationships that will last forever.