Student Reflections

It has finally begun to sink in that only a week ago I was in Benin.   

What a trip it was. From the people to the smells to the food, it was all something that can only be understood through experiencing it for myself. 

I definitely appreciate everything I have at home so much more,  even the little things like drinking out of the faucet.  I almost feel guilty being back and knowing that there are families in Africa struggling just to obtain clean water.

I am telling all of my family and friends that the experience was wonderful and sad at the same time.  I have a lot of hope that our water project will continue without us there. 

More than anything else, I’ve been shocked by how many people seem to brush off the issue of unhealthy water in developing countries.  When they hear that we were there to work on a water filter project, they usually ask what I drank while I was there and if I got sick.  Then at least half of the people I’ve talked to mention something about how I would get sick since I’m from the U.S. but that the people living in Benin don’t get sick because they’ve built up enough antibodies.  They’re surprised every time when I explain that even though they do have some antibodies, they definitely get sick and children live with diarrhea daily.  Where do so many Americans get this idea that people in other countries just adapt to living in less sanitary conditions?

How am I changing as a result of this experience?  I have learned that I can survive 2 weeks worth of cold showers.  I can say this is the first time that I have been interested in having as much of a self-sustaining living environment as possible.  I am realizing what it is like to truly be a minority.  I am realizing what it is like to truly stick out like a sore thumb.  I am realizing the value of a double soy latté with toasted marshmallow syrup.  I am realizing the value of cheese.  I never knew I was such a cheese addict!  I am realizing how much Americans rely on modern conveniences; i.e. the store providing food, the faucet providing clean drinking water, the stove providing our means to cook, the microwave providing quick meals, etc.  I think we sometimes get so wrapped up in the destination, i.e. quick result, that we do not take the time to enjoy the journey-or even to allow a journey for that matter!

I even wrote about my own petty little issues in my personal journal while we were there.  “Here I am crying over spilled milk essentially while I am in a place where people walk everywhere, work for low wages, eat non-nourishing filler foods, and drink dirty water.”  It has given me a different outlook on my own priorities.  

My pre-trip metaphor held up:  I do feel like I was the gullible and naïve child entering school for the first time.  I do feel as though the ‘picture books’ did not do our experience justice.  How could they?  In all actuality, I may feel more like the naïve child now than I did prior to leaving.  I heard one of the students say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  I am now more aware of what I do not know.  Now I have the choice on how I want to deal with that knowledge of ignorance.  Awareness is half the battle though and the lessons I have learned from this trip are still very fresh.  

Though I am so far away, I have had an experience that has taught me things and shown me things I will never forget. And now, I have a choice – what to do with that experience. I am not sure what direction it will take me, but one thing is for sure, I will not let my lessons learned there slip away from me.

It has finally begun to sink in that only a week ago I was in Benin.   

What a trip it was. From the people to the smells to the food, it was all something that can only be understood through experiencing it for myself. 

I definitely appreciate everything I have at home so much more,  even the little things like drinking out of the faucet.  I almost feel guilty being back and knowing that there are families in Africa struggling just to obtain clean water.

I am telling all of my family and friends that the experience was wonderful and sad at the same time.  I have a lot of hope that our water project will continue without us there. 

More than anything else, I’ve been shocked by how many people seem to brush off the issue of unhealthy water in developing countries.  When they hear that we were there to work on a water filter project, they usually ask what I drank while I was there and if I got sick.  Then at least half of the people I’ve talked to mention something about how I would get sick since I’m from the U.S. but that the people living in Benin don’t get sick because they’ve built up enough antibodies.  They’re surprised every time when I explain that even though they do have some antibodies, they definitely get sick and children live with diarrhea daily.  Where do so many Americans get this idea that people in other countries just adapt to living in less sanitary conditions?