Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Cultural experiences come in all different shapes and sizes. What we learn and take from those experiences is what shapes the individual that we become. As far as a goal goes, becoming a global citizen is one of the most selfless goals an individual can have. Growing up in an individualistic society, the United States, it has become clear that collectivism and community is something that we often struggle with. After joining a fraternity, a group of men devoted to achieving a common purpose of becoming both more cultured and more trained for the greater world, it has become clear that vulnerability and the ability to lean on your fellow brother is a skill necessary for success in a chapter and in a global community. It becomes clear that the aches, pains and woes that we encounter are often looked down upon as weak and asking our neighbor for help has lost its meaning.

While I have traveled abroad before, to the jungle in the Dominican Republic, we often learn things about ourselves and community that have never hit us before. On this trip, even after just three days, it has become clear at what it means to be part of something greater than yourself. Working along side children who are swinging pickaxes in flip flops and have a large belly because of malnutrition (kwashikor) is unsettling. As no longer an individual, but rather just a human, how can we allow someone like us, who is us with different circumstances, to live a life like this? When both parties are at work together, the privileged and the underprivileged, the things achievable are unlimited. What this means is that people who do not have much are being compared to people who have lots and why did that dynamic start in the first place? Thinking about the deeper issues is how we get to a solution. There is a story that goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a nasty hurricane and this hurricane knocked all the starfish out of the water. If you were unaware, starfish do not have the ability to survive without water, so an intelligent individual walks to the beach and starts saving the starfish one-by-one, throwing them back into the ocean. He does this all day and the next day. On the third day, another individual walks up to them and tells the hard-working starfish saving individual that there are just merely too many starfish. There is no way that they will be able to save all of the starfish. Flabbergasted by this individual’s doubt, the hard-working individual bends down, picks up a starfish and throws it into the ocean, with the remark, “Well, I just saved that one starfish.”

One a very clea r level, this story shows that every little action that you do makes a change in the life of an individual or a group. However, the third part of the story is the systematic errors that allow the starfish to keep getting blown out of the water. Obviously in this story, stopping hurricanes is not feasible, but for every issue, what does that mean? We look at a family in America:

A young boy is being raised single-handed by his father, but unfortunately, this young boy doesn’t have access to many books or the infinite knowledge of his father, because his father is at work every day of the week, working two full-time jobs to provide for his son. The son has to go to a daycare center, where he misses out on important information from his family. Ten years later, that young boy is taking the SATs and doesn’t do so well, can we blame it on the father’s two full-time jobs when the boy was much younger? Well, why didn’t the father just get a better job, one that would pay for all of their needs without working enough hours a week to damage a family. Well, because he did not have proper education that he could apply to a professional job where he would make that, and in the economy he was living in, it was difficult to find jobs anyway, even if you did have a degree or specialized in a trade. Well, why didn’t he have education? Perhaps his parents were unable to provide and instead of buying books, they were concerned about buying food.

Let us take this simple model and streamline it up all the way back hundreds of years and you have the society that is living here in El Salvador. The major difference is that there are people that don’t live like this, that can help these people, give medicine and make a dire impact on an individual’s life to send them much closer to the amount of things that we, as members of the United States, have access to.

The name of this post, Esperanza, means hope. This is one thing that you can find in the heart of every individual found down here. Shared hope creates a community that people can only dream to live in. What can we, as a community, do to place hope in the hearts of the individuals to make them want to help malnourished and underprivileged communities like this down in El Salvador? Does experiencing the community and being able to walk in their shoes with global service make that change for an individual or is it something else that we are unaware of? Anyone who can spend eight days in a foreign country experiencing poverty and the understand the importance of a goat to a prospering community has a heart that cannot be helped.

In El Salvador (and also the Dominican Republic), hope in a lot of ways comes in the shape of church and God, helping to explain the mysterious and many unfortunate things that happen to them throughout their lives. While I have never much been able to swallow the thought of religion in a first-world country like the United States, it is very clear down here how important it is to them each and every day for success. There is no amount of hardwork and labor that can take that away from them and in a society where everything is a variable that is constantly changing, what other things do we have that are consistent in our lives?

Matthew Dempsey is a student at the University of Connecticut and a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity.

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