A Life Changing Experience

The roads are skinny, and roundabouts are everywhere. Men are armed Arnold Schwarzenegger-style at the doors of grocery stores with machine guns; stores close promptly at six. Along a rural road to the orphanage, there are barbed-wire fences with glass shards along the top, but whether to keep people in or out, senior Rebecca Hess didn’t know.

“It wasn’t scary, but it wasn’t safe,” said Hess. “In the capital, you could hear sirens and all these sounds.”

Hess, along with other students, such as Jameson Wright and Carly Falco,  from Davis High and teens nationwide, had the opportunity last summer to participate in serving in a Third World country with the organization HEFY, Humanitarian Experience For Youth. In locations throughout South America, Central America and the Pacific Islands, teenagers ages 16 to 19 are challenged with communicating in a different language, travelling without anyone they know, lower living standards and public safety far below that of the United States. These students chose to spend their summer in these risky conditions to build schools, libraries, and even provide care for children at orphanages.

Fiji is known to be tropical and full of beautiful beaches, but when senior Carly Falco arrived on the paradise island, she had an uneasy first impression. However, this feeling was erased throughout her service spent there for the people who have almost nothing.

Hess, who worked in an orphanage for special needs children, said, “I fell in love with those kids and the people who work there.”  Falco said that the people were cheerful, and gave her “so much more than [she] could ever give back.” In Tonga, senior Jameson Wright felt the love and gratitude that the Tongans had for friends and family. The volunteers would bring them small gifts, like ties or small pictures. This was one way that the high school students would give back to the people who sacrificed even their meals for volunteers.

For dinner, the volunteers in Ecuador would eat at a host’s home. Hess saw firsthand the sacrifice that was made of the people for the volunteers. At the home of a single mother, each girl that ate dinner received four plates of food, and was expected to eat all of it. In foreign countries a person is expected to eat all of the food received;  it is extremely rude not to eat everything. Unknown to the volunteers, this single mother had given her ten children just one plate of food to share in a backroom of the apartment. “It really opened my eyes for the rest of the trip,” said Hess.

“Family has become priority, and friends are second.” said Falco. Material things were not valued by these people. Instead, they valued not what they get, but what they have, and their friends and family. These seniors and juniors experienced just how precious life is, and what is really important in life through trips of 16 or 18 days.

Reporter: Sarah Tibbits