My STEP project was an Engineering Service Learning trip to Honduras where our group went to an orphanage called Montana De Luz. This was an orphanage for kids suffering from HIV/AIDS. And our group of 18 went there to help fix their water problems, lights and loads, their wind turbine problems and to develop new economic avenues that they could utilize their land for such as building a goat farm and increasing agricultural crops. I was on the electrical team so I assisted in fixing up the wind Turbine and adding light bulbs to light up the courtyard.
Going into this project, I had a few notions about what Honduras would be like. I had only read about Honduras in books and all I knew was that it was a wild country with significant amounts of crime and violence. I was going there to help the people of this unknown country. Looking back, this was one of those moments where I could never have been proven more wrong, because Honduras ended up helping me more.
A little about myself, I am an International student. And being a frequent traveler, I have been to various parts of the world and interacted with numerous individuals from different backgrounds,religions and cultures. So, I believed that I understood people. The one glaring facet of human beings is that underneath it all, we are all the same. Despite the color of ones skin or the God they follow, we as human beings are the same in terms of fundamental behaviors and mannerisms. However, after the trip, what transformed me was the realization of another fact that I had previously ignored. Human beings may be the same at their essence, but it is the culture of a country that shapes a person. That makes each individual unique in their own way. And it was this uniqueness that I was shown a glimpse of in Honduras. Going in, I believed that I would leave Honduras feeling satisfied for a job well done, which I did. But, more than that there was an immense sense of gratefulness. The kids and the staff at the orphanage and the people of Honduras were so welcoming and gracious. They taught me humility and how to smile and live a happy life despite the adversities they face on a daily basis.
To describe my previous sentiments, I wanted to talk about certain qualities that are in people across the board. The way they show up in humans is different every time due to different cultures and upbringing. Certain small moments in Honduras showed me how fortunate I was to be living the life I am. These were little things that opened my eyes, such as the children playing with torn soccer balls or them finding the joys in things that would seem so insignificant to us.
I will never forget how amazed the kids were when we showed them a laser pointer. A laser pointer! they were amazed by how the light would be seen so far away and I loved the fact that they were more intrigued to figure out how it worked. And so, this brings me to the first trait, curiosity. Curiosity is a fundamental nature of human beings and is seen most prominently in young kids. I was amazed by how these kids would question and ask us about everything we did simply because we were so different. They wanted to learn, discover and explore and that quality that stood out to me. The ability to ask and wonder is what sets us apart as a species and the way we express it is different in different cultures.
Another instance was when our group went on a hike and we were escorted by armed guards. We as a group ignored the warning on the trail that it was an highly advanced level and we undertook this task believing it to be for people older than us. It was the most grueling hike of my life and took us four hours to complete. And of course there were a few people in our group who were honestly exhausted towards the tail end and they felt like they couldn’t walk anymore. Then the guards offered to carry them on their backs for the rest of the trip. Keep in mind, these guards had guns that weighed 30 pounds and another 25 pounds worth of gear on them. And so I realized that there is an inherent connection that exists between people, this brings me to another trait, empathy. Despite having upwards of 45 pounds weighing them down they still offered to help people in our group. That was not in their job description, they did not have to do it. Yet, they saw peoples plight and recognized that it was difficult for us to complete that trek without assistance. This shows that wherever you go in the world there will always be that moment when another person empathizes with you.
A trait that distinctly holds a place in my heart is warmth. This was shown to our group as a whole when a woman from one of the local towns welcomed a group of about 18 people, practically strangers, into her own home to feed us and give us a taste of Honduran culture. Along with the food and drink, her daughter even offered to play music for us that she herself composed. The warmth and the graciousness with which she played host was astounding to me. It showed that no matter where you are there are always people who are warm and friendly,especially to people who are different.
Overall this experience was life changing for me both academically and personally. It gave me a clearer view of what I wanted to do with my life. I am an Electrical Engineering major and learning concepts in class is one thing but actually seeing them applied in the real world and seeing them work is an uplifting feeling. Moreover, I’ve always wanted to build to help people. So seeing the smiles on peoples faces when the light bulbs I wired lit up, or when the blades of the wind turbine started to move was a rush like I’d never felt before. It strengthened my resolve for me picking Engineering as a career and I would recommend everyone to definitely take a service learning trip. It changed my life, and it will definitely change yours.