My STEP project was a service trip where I went to New Orleans, Louisiana for two weeks. I was working with a nonprofit called Sankofa whose mission it is to educate the public health about healthy eating and living and to provide them with affordable fruits and vegetables.
I think that what struck me the most about this project was how incredibly different one culture can be from another while still in the same country. It was amazing to see and get to know the New Orleans culture and to work in such close quarters with people far less fortunate than me.
This trip also showed me that having an education is such a privilege and it was eye-opening to see how few people had the opportunity to get one. There was one moment where it really hit me: I was sitting in on a class about heart attacks and different types of fats and the senior citizens attending the class were totally awe-struck by information that is so commonplace for those of us lucky enough to attend a higher education. They found out that butter is not good for your arteries and that fried vegetables do not have the same nutritional value as vegetables that are not fried and they were simply dumbfounded.
It was painful to know that these people are living these terribly unhealthy lives, not because they want to, but because they truly do not know any better than to eat how they were raised to eat. The work that Sankofa is doing to improve the general knowledge around health is so important, in this area in particular.
Beyond the actual work that Sankofa is doing, I learned a lot in a different sense. I learned about nonprofits and how stressful and hard it is to receive enough grant money to keep a company afloat. I learned about compassion during one of our Wednesday food pantries when a woman came in, received all of the fresh goods that we were able to give her and then broke down sobbing. She was very down and out and just needed a shoulder to cry on, we were able to provide her with that and also food for her family.
I learned about business hierarchies and leadership and how there is a specific balance between being a strong leader and a tyrant that your employees are afraid of. I was able to see both sides of this and noted things that I want to do as a leader and things that I do not want to do. Finally, I learned that I am resilient. I went on this trip completely alone and found that once there, this trip was absolutely not what I expected it would be: the work was hard, the living quarters were not ideal and I was completely out of my comfort zone. Despite that, I stuck it out and ended up really feeling as though I made a positive impact on a community that I never knew before and a community that didn’t know me.
This was an important transformation for me because I will soon be going into the medical field. It will be so important to understand compassion, especially when dealing with underprivileged patients. It will also be important to know how I am being periceved as a leader and make sure that I remain true to the side of strong leadership rather than tyranny. It is also important that I am able to push through difficult situations and pick myself up when things don’t go my way.
In this STEP project, I learned resilience, patience, leadership and compassion and I am so thankful for the opportunity to find these within myself while volunteering with Sankofa.