This evening I have been asked to speak to a group of high school students and their parents in preparation for their upcoming service learning trip to Nicaragua. Since I have been leading similar trips since 1996, the presentation should be a piece of cake. I can talk about where they are going and where they will live for the week they are there. I can talk about latrines and bucket showers and purified drinking water and the importance of washing your hands. I can also talk about homes made of black plastic and pieces of wood with dirt, sometimes mud floors, and roofs that leak. And, I can talk about the difference a new home with a tile floor and roof that does not leak makes, even if the house is only the size of many of our bedrooms. I can talk about all that, but that is not what I have been asked to speak about. I have been asked to speak as a parent whose sons have gone on similar trips. I know the parents who will be there this evening will be worried about logistics and safety and what happens if someone gets hurt or sick. That, also, is easy to speak about.
What is more challenging and more important is what I know will happen to their children. What I saw happen to my children. Their children will come home changed, even unsettled, by the experience they will have. And, I will have to ask the parents who are there if that is a risk they are willing to take. Students go on trips like this to make a difference, but what many, even most, discover is that the most significant difference that occurs is to them and in them.
Strangers become friends. Poverty becomes real. History takes on present day meaning. They will stand in the presence of a gratitude they can’t quite understand and wonder how they have lived so long taking so much for granted.
They will look at themselves differently.
They will look at their communities differently.
They will look at their future differently.
That is the hard part.
And, the hopeful part.
And, the reason I hope their parents allow their children to go.