Dear Summer Search,
It feels like just yesterday when I stumbled onto an unfamiliar turf, into a crowd of a hundred bright innocent faces. “Americanos! Americanos!” they cheered, as eleven of us strolled into their polo. Girls tugging on our arms, pleading to take yet another picture with us. Boys lined up with a pen and paper in their hands, chanting “email, por favor!” Children of all ages pouncing on our backs, giving us another one of their big warm hugs and slobbery kisses. Now that is what I call love.
The moment I arrived at the polo, I was already certain that these upcoming three weeks would be life changing; from the sound of the children’s morning applauses and cheers to the mere sight of their smiling faces, all glowing with a sense of hope and curiosity. Staring into the eyes of each kid, I knew I meant more to them than a simple teen volunteer from America. I was their role model, one that they could look up to in times of struggles and fear. The dim truth that these children of Maracanau are emotionally distraught and physically abused is bewildering. They bury their unfortunate childhoods and manage to make the most of what they have. They roam the streets with a smile on their face, enter school with a burning desire to learn, and live their lives with full appreciation of everything they have and everything they can get.
And now I am left questioning myself, “Do I appreciate and make the most of what I have?” Growing up as the oldest of two, I carry a heavy load of responsibility. My parents are both Vietnam immigrants who came to America in search of a better and happier life. They struggled with assimilation; they cannot speak fluent English; they fight endlessly to earn enough to pay the bills; and yet, the main goal they have in mind is to keep my brother and I happy. But honestly, I have never really appreciated their selfless acts. I have long complained and wondered why I have to be the one growing up in a low-income family. Why am I the one who still rents a house? Why am I the one who always misses out on social events to baby-sit my younger brother? Why am I the one who feels immense pressure to succeed academically? Enough with the whys, but why not? Why can’t I be the girl that I really am?
I have always been embarrassed of who I was. What if others didn’t understand me? What if others would hate on me because I wasn’t like them? That sense of insecurity has done nothing but harm me. I was afraid to appear weak. I just didn’t want to be vulnerable. Therefore, I was that girl who would lock up all her emotions and cover up her worrisome troubles with a simple smile on her face. I always seemed to be happy. But I have had enough living that artificial life. That’s not who I am or who I want to be. And it was time I shed myself free from that superficial coating and it was time I faced reality.
Heading into Brazil on a Global Leadership Adventures’ program, designed to “defend the rights of children,” I knew I had to free myself of that superficial life. I could no longer hide my feelings, my insecurities, and my family stories, for those were the things that made me who I was.
It was an ordinary community meeting, when I decided it was time, time to break free. I let all my emotions out, as if there were no tomorrow, from stories about my family’s financial struggles to my personal sufferings of losing a loved one. I no longer feared being looked upon as weak. I no longer questioned whether others would understand me or not. And I no longer had to keep my feelings to myself. I learned that all thirty-four of my group mates were there for me, in times of trouble and need. In fact, many of them fought challenges of their own. Together, we shared our stories, breaking those walls that once separated each of us. And because those walls were broken, we only grew closer as a group and as a family.
I’ve learned that those walls are nothing but barriers that withhold me from seeking support, friendship, and reality. They were the forces that caused me to continue being the untrusting, quiet girl, who has long been afraid of speaking out. They caused me to fight battles within myself, as I was compelled to face my feelings, struggles, and challenges alone. But, no longer will these walls be put up. I will not allow myself to continue being that fearful girl, closed-up and insecure. Being more open only allows me to learn and develop my potentials and capabilities. With no barriers that stand in my way, I am now able to build stronger relationships without having to worry about others judging me. I am now able to share personal stories and experiences with others, allowing myself to reflect and learn about my past. And I am now able to bring out that strong leader I have always inside of me.
My three weeks in Brazil flashed by with a blink of the eye. The two hours spent every morning working with the kids will always be the highlight of my trip. The bond and friendship I formed with each and every child is surreal. Through the laughs and the tears, the kids and I both know that our lives are forever changed. The impact this experience has placed on me is inexplicable. Nothing can describe the love I have for these kids. And I will forever carry with me their energy, their passion, and their glowing spirits.
My walls have been broken and my reality has been faced. But, without Summer Search this would not have been possible. Through the struggles and the rewards, the failures and the success, I will always turn back to thank Summer Search, for they are the ones who support me through my endeavors, hold faith in me as I face challenges, and believe in me every step I take. Without them, I would still be that weak, locked-up girl that I once was. Again, thank you for all the opportunities and support you have given me.
With great gratitude,