It feels disorienting to wake up in a simple and foreign village that you've somehow gotten used to, and yet, when you know it is to be your last day, you wonder what life will be like again back home. Has the world changed, have I changed? Here in the village my job was simple, direct students and locals in the task of building homes for others in need. Though this objective was simple, its purpose was immense: to help fellow human beings. Once the evening came and I returned to the modern world, would my simple yet meaningful existence continue? Hardly. Perhaps now I’m beginning to understand why issues of mental health are so much more prevalent in the developed societies. The complexity of our lives, the foggy understanding of our contribution to a greater good, even simply our self-awareness of our own purpose in society, all of these simple ideals seem so hard to grasp in a world of technological superiority and mass media stimulation.
It seems so counter-productive, we’ve worked so hard as a society to make living easier, but yet, the straightforward and basic need of personal meaning seems always just out of reach. How often
is the basic question, ‘What am I really doing here’ asked in the most educated parts of the world but not answered? I would imagine in a 9 to 5 job with a cubicle, the number of times this question gets asked is near the number of parts of sand that make up the desert. Perhaps it’s not the technology though, maybe it is the ‘self-gratification culture,’ the endless pursuit of more money, no matter the cost to our fellow man. Is it really logical to assume that being happy is as simple of only taking care of ourselves? While I may not be able to pinpoint the source of complexity in finding a meaning in our developed society, I have at least come closer to understanding the ‘less developed world.’ In this less developed world, one’s actions will be how one is defined. Though the words of English exchanged between many locals and myself were few, our common understanding of what we wanted to do and how it would be done could not have been clearer. In this less developed world, I had a clear opportunity of how I could be a positive contributor to society, of how I
Making friends 1
Our students would make any international organization proud.
could make a difference. In this simpler setting, a friendship goes beyond words, it’s a daily lifestyle doing what you can to help each other. While I arrived as a stranger, within a few days I became close as family to many here. Yes, I have found what it means to be less developed.
Is there something that we sacrifice to gain all of our cheap and shiny plastic ‘necessities,’ and if so, is it worth it? America and other major nations constantly offer an effortless process to becoming happy: simply buy stuff. If you still feel unhappy, well don’t worry, the solution remains uncomplicated: just go out and get more stuff. Are you feeling depressed and like life is out of your control? No biggie, happiness and sense of purpose, or at least a near substitute, can easily be found in the shape of a pill, available over the counter in many close by locations. Want to enjoy the thrill of adventure in a new area or the excitement of playing sports? All you have to do is sit down and turn on an undemanding device and living vicariously through someone else’s dreams is just a click of
a button away. Perhaps therein lies the real difference of lifestyle between developed and undeveloped. One bombards the suggestion we look outside ourselves for happiness, while another puts us in the circumstance of looking within ourselves. While this may seem too simplistic, I would like to remind you that it is often the simplest truths that are the most powerful.
Our last day here brought a mixture of emotions. A morning of work and last contribution was followed by a series of pictures, and then a trip to a nearby waterfall and fishing hole. We even made time for a quick basketball game in the local village. Once this afternoon of rest and relaxation ended, we returned to the village to gather our belongings and say our final goodbyes. As the evening came, so did the tears for many students and local families. Such strong connections were made, and now the time of separating was here. While it was difficult to assist students in moving along in their goodbyes so we could catch the plane, it didn’t remove the reality that it had to be done. As we drove in vans back to the airport, it was a silent
trip of reflection. My best guess of what was on everyone’s mind would go something like the following: How do I balance out the world that I’ve been used to, to the world I’ve just been introduced to? If my guess is correct, may I suggest you give the due time to answer such a worthwhile question.
Overall, it had been a fantastic trip for me. In the process of learning so much about a new part of the world and the people within it, it was only natural to learn so much about myself. I left here very proud of the teachers and students that I worked with and I have no doubt we as teachers made a difference beyond the realm of the locals alone. As for my story in the Philippines, this point is certainly not the end. While I rode back with the students and teachers near to the airport, I was dropped off alone at a nearby mall. In case you’re wondering, departing on your own in part of the world you’ve never been to and have yet to even make plans for the night’s lodging does indeed make for the start of a
great adventure. With only my backpack and an unread traveler’s guide, my last week in the Philippines was about to begin.
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