Opportunity. While this word does have an objective definition, I see it as more of a subjective concept. I embarked on this trip because I wanted to create opportunities for people who were less fortunate than myself. After being in Nicaragua for a little over a week, I realized that I’m not here to create opportunities for them, but rather to help them make the most of the opportunities that they already have. When Americans think of poorer communities, like Nicaragua, usually their first instinct is to help them. However, what I’ve learned from working here is that the people of these communities are happy with their cultures and relationships, and they don’t want or need us to arrive and change them. We are here as guests, whose sole purpose is to do what is asked of us.
As a part of the SSTS curriculum, we study Nicaragua through five different lenses: geographical, political, economic, cultural and ethical. My partner and I were assigned to focus on the ethical lens. Through this study, I have learned that our presence as is not always welcome, and that intentions are paramount. The main purpose of service should not be to enhance your college application but to help better a community and in doing service to create genuine relationships with the locals. In order to help a community without forcing change, you must have proximity to it. But what does proximity mean?
AK and I had to read an article from Boston Magazine that summarized a talk that Bryan Stevenson, an advocate for the Southern Center for Human Rights, gave at Harvard University. His definition of proximity includes four subtopics: get closer, change the narrative, protect our hope, and get out of your comfort zone. From this is essential to be able to observe without judging. No one is superior to anyone else; we are all human. Yes, some people are less fortunate than others, but we are all just people. We are not defined by our situation, skin color, or gender. Obstacles born from prejudices can be difficult to confront, but we must do so in order to inspire change. The light in the eyes of my Nicaraguan preschoolers is inexplicably, irreplaceably human. That light is hope, and without it, there can be no progress. Protect every person’s hope. As Stevenson says, “the opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.” This past week has taught me so much more about empathy and respect and given me a new appreciation for all I have and am able to do in the world and this appreciation came from getting proximate.