Friday, June 9th, 2017
I’ve mentioned similar thoughts before, but over the past school year, I felt my heart tug towards a new path. The creation of online content and the development of social and digital strategy have been kind of the crux of my career aspirations. As I pursued an internship with an ethical startup and began working with nonprofits throughout Chicago, I saw how this interest and the skill set my college studies will leave me with could be utilized for something so much greater. And I started to feel like I was supposed to serve abroad. Like I had done all I could do for Chicago’s homeless population and the kids in the Chicago Public Schools system. It was time for me to do something greater.
And then it happened. Around the end of April I was offered the opportunity to serve as a social media intern for a nonprofit in Jinja, Uganda for the month of July. And I kind of felt like I was living a dream. It’s a Christian organization, and their efforts are ones that I am so passionate about. It was perfect.
But I turned it down. Being a late add, I was given a week to give my final answer. I just knew that I couldn’t come to a decision that I was completely sound with in seven days. I knew there were a handful of things I would miss at home during this already fairly eventful summer. I had never been oversees, let alone in a third world country. I didn’t know what it meant to commit 30 days of my life to serving women and children in an African nation. While I don’t believe we are ever fully ready for anything and that should never stop us from pursuing greater things, I simply felt it wasn’t my time yet.
However, I knew the end of May would bring a trip to another developing country – the Dominican Republic. Being that my dad has business ventures there, my family picked this country as our summer vacation spot. Our plans included mostly of staying on the grounds of our middle class resort. However, between commuting around our various destinations and dune buggy-ing through the countryside, I knew the glimpse I was going to get of the Dominican people was either going to leave me with a feeling of assuredness and hopefulness for all that I can contribute through nonprofit work or a feeling of being incredibly overwhelmed, and instead hopeless that I won’t be able to tackle a nation that carries the weight of the term “third world.”
And what I ended up feeling was definitely leaning towards that of the earlier mentioned thoughts. But the Dominican was certainly different than I had imagined. I imagined a destitution unlike anything I had seen before. I imagined scenes of painful poverty and emotional turmoil. And while it was certainly not a country full of middle class citizens, and I definitely did not see every inch of this nation, I couldn’t help but repeat over and over again, “This is like Chicago.”
I walk by homeless people every day. I watch the devaluing of human beings on the sidewalks of, what I would deem, one of the greatest cities in the world every day. Certainly, the surroundings differ slightly, but the suffering remains the same. The scenes of suffering and poverty and injustice in Chicago are no different than the scenes of suffering and poverty and injustice in a third world country.
This particular moment captured in the photograph above is one that stood out to me. Several people were gathered around these beautiful caves – snapping photos with our iPhones, bantering about the long-awaited arrival of lunchtime, strapping on our backpacks before we hit the next tourist destination. And, in the midst, there was this woman and her two little boys. It was almost like they were invisible. They sat and watched us move about. But we acted as though they weren’t even there. This little boy was no different than the man sitting on the corner of Michigan and Pearson with his cardboard sign. When we walk city streets and dirt roads on a platform of ignorance, we dehumanize them all the same.
I don’t have a solution to poverty, and my views on social justice vary a little from that of your typical millennial. However, I think it’s important to note that you don’t have to visit the Dominican Republic or Uganda or another developing country to seek change. While I look forward to pursuing nonprofit work abroad someday, bettering our cities and improving the lives of the people around us is not something that is reserved for a life-changing mission trip on the other side of the world. These injustices are happening in our backyards, and we have the power to disrupt the system of social injustice every day.
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