Erev Shabbat, September 23, 2016 / 21 Elul, 5776
by Brenna Wynne, a Makom Teen
Reflecting is not always the easiest thing to do, but I often find comfort in seeing how far I have grown or what obstacles I have overcome. I volunteer at Makom’s Moadon (the Religious School) and yesterday I listened in on a very interesting lesson highlighting the importance of Taschlich (the ritual on Rosh Hashanah afternoon where we literally ‘cast off’ our sins into a body of water). As one of the teachers explained the task everyone would soon participate in – a ten second reflection as they looked into a full-length mirror to encourage the kids to think deeply about themselves instead of focusing on outside superficialities - followed by writing down goals for the upcoming New Year, plus some past mistakes we would like to forgive ourselves for – I realized how much a year can really shape you.
After rising up out of one of the most difficult times of my life, I began to believe the thought that with determination, perseverance and hard work you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. For as long as I can remember, I have always been on the sensitive side and have had such a desire to help others on both a small and big scale as well while having an urge to see and experience every place this world we live in encompasses. When I found out that there are many companies that specialize in sending teenagers like me abroad to perform community service, I could not envision myself spending my summer in any other way.
There are so many countries out here for us to explore – 192 to be exact – that when narrowing down my options I did not know where to start. I fell in love with one program itinerary specifically, “Intro to Community Service in Thailand”. After reading how much the village of Udon Thani (a rural and developing place in Northern Thailand) needed help, I gained an instant appreciation for all the things we take for granted here before even seeing what conditions the members of the village face there
After long talks and persuasive conversations with my parents, before I knew it I was boarding flight SQ25 and doing the best thing I have ever done. Instantly connecting with so many like-minded individuals on the plane, I found the 26-hour journey to Bangkok to be less painful than I was anticipating. After settling in the village and getting acclimated to the 12-hour time difference and 50-degree temperature difference, I was ready to push myself outside of my comfort zone and hopefully alleviate some of the daily stressors the simple people in Udon Thani face.
Constructing fish farms, building a wall in a house, planting rice, teaching English in a school, cooking and delivering meals to the locals, and immersing myself in Thai culture was what my days consisted of from July 21- July 28 . There are no words to describe the experience I had, and I am forever changed by the time I spent in Thailand. Throughout my stay, I experienced a culture shock I always heard about on the news, but seeing it firsthand is so different than how anyone can describe it. Living conditions for the locals included a dirt floor, half of a roof, and if they were lucky a dirty lake to wash themselves in. I saw people so malnourished my heart jumped each time I saw them move.
What took me by surprise was the fact that every single local I interacted with had a smile on their face and energy you do not see very often. Amidst what was to me such a very difficult living style, families would dance and cheer whenever we played music, kids had smiles so wide and eyes that showed more happiness than you can imagine, and local farmers donated half of their crops to people who had less than they did. They are happy because they don’t know any better. The locals are not constantly attached to a cellphone thriving off likes on social media and seeing and comparing their lives to the ones around them.
The people in this third world developing community gave me more than I could ever have imagined. I came home with new insights and ideas, what materialistic objects once appealed to me no longer do and I am living as simply as possible now.
Reflecting back on where and who I was as a person this time last year is so motivating. I checked something off my bucket list that I never deemed feasible thanks to the help and support I have from my amazing family and the community at Makom.