For months, students submitted their stories and lessons from their favorite trips for a chance to be awarded a valuable SYTA Youth Foundation scholarship. After reading through a large amount of incredible experiences, the 2019 Ripley Hunter “World is a Classroom” Essay Contest winner has been chosen!
Stepping off of the plane, a dense wall of burnt air filled my nose, making me hold my breath for a brief moment. I reached the bottom of the creaking stairs and stepped onto the runway. We were funneled into a line along a rusted fence, leading to a small customs building with one entrance. A group along the fence, wearing ripped jeans and taped flip flops, sang and beat drums to welcome the American travellers. As soon as we entered, men took our luggage and searched through it while shouting in Creole, leaving first-timers like myself nervous and confused. The leader of our group went into a back room with the men to pay them a fee to grant us entry into the country. He gave me a slight nod and I grabbed as many bags as I could and, ignoring the men who desperately tried to impede my path, forced myself out of the building and onto the back of a pickup truck and we sped away from the airport to the mission house where we would be staying.
Spending 10 days in Haiti humbled my privileged mindset and changed my perspective on life and the world outside of the United States. I traveled to Cap Haitien, Haiti, as a 16-year-old boy; I came back a worldly and far more compassionate young man. The purpose was simple: run a Vacation Bible School at a small school in the city providing both food and education for the students who attended it. Each day, with the help of our translator, we would sing Creole worship songs and preach a brief lesson to those listening in the square. Then the obstreperous kids would be divided into age groups and rotate through “Recreation” in the square, “Worship” on the school’s second level, and “Lesson” in one of the crowded classrooms. After about two hours of soccer, singing, and teaching, my group’s pastor and I would haul a large iron pot full of rice and beans into an upstairs classroom, being cautious not to get burned nor hit our heads on the low ceilings. Then the true madness would ensue. The legion of kids would attempt to press through the school’s doorway, which was guarded by their teacher wielding a cane to control them, in order to be the first to receive the food awaiting them. My heart was broken each day as I witnessed this scene that would strangely become familiar.
The thought that a small serving of rice and beans, which is viewed as a mere side dish in American meals, could be the only food that the students consumed for the day grieved me. However, it was the goodness that I saw in a little girl which ultimately caused me to weep. I remember first noticing her because she was the only child who was walking in the stampede of hungry kids coming up the school’s stairs, but I will forever remember her as the girl who hid her plate of rice under her shirt to bring it to the rest of her family. The idea that such pure goodness and generosity could exist in Haiti, a place of utmost depravity, has humbled me more than anything else in my entire life. My first-world mind could not fathom the inhospitable conditions that the people of Haiti suffer through daily, rebuking me and changing my privileged way of thinking.
By spending 10 days serving the people of Haiti, my privileged mindset has been changed. It was revealed to me that wealth and status is not the meaning of life. The meaning of life is selfless service of those who are in need in order to dedicate a portion of my life to the improvement of theirs.
Andrew Lisa, a senior from Vernon Township High School in Glenwood, New Jersey, wrote the winning essay for the 2019 Ripley Hunter “World Is a Classroom” essay contest.