This one was like a spring break that I had never experienced before. You do a lot of things in life but how many things you do on a daily basis, actually have a profound impact on you?
I spent the past week doing something I never had before- service. I signed up for an Alternative Spring Break Program offered by my University, that took us to Florida for serving homeless and retirement communities. There was never a day in my life, that I had to worry about not having enough money to do something I love. It was a slap on my face to realize just how privileged I am.
Two student leaders, one faculty member and seven of us who signed up for our own reasons- yet NONE OF US had the idea that this trip might just open our eyes. So why ‘two faced world?’- Look at everything I mention about Florida from a wider perspective, as a metaphorical lens describing the world. There is an undoubtedly huge contrast within the city- just like two sides of a coin that make up the same coin, but have different carvings on opposite sides- that don’t interact.
I crumble slightly as I type. My heart is filled with images; images of the 80 year old lady in the retirement community who read her poetry to me, the smiling lady managing operations at a domestic violence house who has been abused herself, and the hope in the eyes of little homeless kids and families who came to the church just because they still believe. I am 20. I have seen so much. But damn, I have seen nothing.
So there lay the contrast- The privileged, that lived in tall buildings and had luxurious cars, and the underprivileged, that found shelter in places like these. With our sleeping bags, the 10 of us stayed at the United Methodist Church in Winter Park. I’d wake up early everyday to run with my girls for two miles on streets that had Europe written all over them. By 9-10 am they’d be crowded with people in beautiful dresses. Almost everyone looked like a tourist in their own city. Then we would hop on our van, and go to a different shelter to volunteer each day- yes, the same van that got us from Virginia to Florida and back. Back by the evening, we would play games, relax, explore in our downtime, cook and eat dinner together at the church, and then finally reflect in a circle at 9 pm.
I had preconceived notions about elderly people before going to the shelter on our first day. They were everything but what I thought – lively, happy and healthy. Mary, the 80 year old lady who has five handwritten books of poetry, gave me the privilege of reading one. I almost cried, and promised her I’d get it published. The same day, we visited the site of Pulse, where the mass shooting took place in Orlando. It was heart shattering to read what the loved ones of the people who lost their lives had to say.
I was still digesting till the next day- but it was a new day and we had to go to a new place – Harbour House of Domestic Violence. Knowing that we could set up beds and a kitchen for people who experienced domestic violence and were going to eventually move to Harbor House, really made me happy. You know when they say- ‘my heart smiled’- yeah, that. That evening we went to Downtown Disney, and while that lightened the mood, it also threw light upon the fact that there are so many out there in the same city who cannot afford it or do not have these many reasons to smile.
The same day, I got an email from my University of acceptance into our very highly competitive Journalism Major. I saw that as a sign and in that moment, I knew that I wanted to spend my life making a difference and focusing on things that matter through my voice.
After a little venting came a little more venting(in a good way). We went to Second Harvest Food bank on our third day- one of the largest of its kind in Orlando and volunteering there meant making a huge difference. We sought out food and even prepared meals for so many hungry people around the city. It was refreshing. That led to our second last day at the church sorting donated clothes and reorganizing children’s education room and the last day doing somewhat similar tasks at an orphan house. My point is, apart from paying $300 for the whole trip (all costs included), I only spent maybe a total of $20 more over one entire week. I realized that I don’t need so much.
we drove back on Saturday and trust me, I haven’t been the same. I emptied more than half of my wardrobe when I got back, to donate to the goodwill store. I called all the people who matter to me because they matter. My grandpa even almost cried since I called him ages later. I promised him that I’d come and meet him this summer in India. I thanked my dad for providing me with everything that I have today, including the wisdom of feeling things this deeply.
I cannot make you feel what I felt in 500 words, but I can definitely hope to show you the value of everything you have and everything that you could give to those who don’t. Remember, giving never makes you smaller- I feel the satisfaction in my heart that I have never felt before- A little hope for myself in this two faced world.
More about all the places that I visited in Orlando in the next blogpost!