“Maestra, ¿me regala este lapiz?” asked me one of my students after the poster making activity was finished.
Initially, it was only one boy. After the initial request, 40 squeaky voices, with pencils pointing at me, started to repeat the same question over and over again with an insistent tone.
“Esta bien. Llevensen los lapices a sus casas,” I said giving up to their petitions. Laughs of joy and hands up in triumphant position followed my words.
One simple wood pencil. That is what all the commotion was about.
I have visited impoverished communities in Tijuana and Ensenada before as part of my church group. Throughout the years, we have helped families in the area with groceries, medical and educational supplies, toys, disaster relief and more. Most of the time, I am involved in the activities related to the kids.
Recently, I was in charge of about 40 chatty kids (ages 6-8). You have no idea of the many things they told me about their life in the short amount of time we were together. They told me about their schools, their parents and even tried to teach me the hit song of the moment. It was so delightful to uncover their personalities.
The first day we were together, I passed up pencils, colored paper, stickers, glue and scissors destined to be used in the creation of a group poster. I noticed the brilliant hues in the pencils caught some of the kid’s attention. Once we were done, I started to collect the materials. In a matter of seconds, I had the entire group asking me for the pencils I lend them. While they were crying, “Por favor, por favor maestra” (“Please teacher, please”), I saw in their eyes how much they really wanted the pencils. I had no other option but to give in. Even though I smiled when they were celebrating, I felt something inside me broke.
One simple, insignificant pencil. An object of small value gave happiness to 40 kids. A piece of wood that you wouldn’t want to use even if it is given to you as a gift. A small item discarded by (most) people in industrialized countries.
It has been said that travel has the power to change people. However, a cliché status is given to the concept until you really experience the truth behind the statement. When you are in front of 40 kids jumping around because of a pencil, something has to change. You have to see life different.
And this is only one example. During my travels, I have seen people with deep appreciation for things we take for granted. I have seen genuine acts of open-handedness in extreme situations. I have heard loud guffaws even when all material possessions have been lost. I have received gifts from people who virtually have nothing.
Because all these, I can say travel makes me more grateful. Grateful for life, health, opportunities and people. Grateful for those corners of the world where the simple things are appreciated. Grateful for so many things I will not space to mention in here. And maybe, in last place, grateful for the many material things I have.
The story is not over. I am already planning my return to Ensenada. This time, I have something different in mind. I may prepare goodie bags with school and hygiene supplies. I better hurry up. I want to hear more of kid’s stories.
How has travel made you more grateful?