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An average fifteen year old, I was selfish, ungrateful, and convinced that the world was against me. My unproductive summer was passing by as usual, until a friend of mine invited me to travel to Paraguay with her for an international service project: constructing a new school for the indigenous Chumococo people of Esperansa, a destitute island with a population of about five hundred. I took advantage of the opportunity, looking forward to a nice tan and a few weeks away from home.
We arrived at Esperansa to hundreds of smiling faces, friendly kisses, and abundant embraces. The local children ran in unison to greet us and grabbed us with their mud-covered hands, overjoyed at the prospect of new playmates. Immediately welcomed as though we were family, we thanked the Chumococos’ for their finest accommodations and most lavish meals, regardless of how humble it seemed in comparison to the American lifestyles we were accustomed to.
In the days that followed, I witnessed the Chumococo people spend each day without running water, electricity, or even jobs; yet, none of these misfortunes seemed to bother them. They smiled and laughed as we enjoyed each other’s company, working together on the new school. One day, our group went to see an elderly, well-respected woman of the island. During the visit, she began to sob and speak passionately, grasping my hand. I didn’t understand a single word she spoke, but her sincerity needed no translation. Later I asked a fellow participant who spoke Spanish to tell me what the woman had said to me. He replied, “She wasn’t talking to you; she was praying to God, thanking Him for all her blessings and the wonderful life she had been given.” I couldn’t believe it. I had spent all this time feeling so sorry for these people, but here stood this woman, who, after living there for almost a hundred years, had no complaints and could only speak of her happiness and good fortune.
I thought about this for the rest of our stay, trying to find the perfect parting words to display my respect and appreciation for the island and its people. But my experience there was beyond any combination of words, and all I could do was hope that from that day forward, every time I wanted to complain about my life, I would remember Esperansa’s kind words and thankful prayers amidst such tragic poverty, and find my own gratitude.
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