What We Can Learn From a Third-World Country
I am fresh back from my first Global Volunteers experience in the beautiful town of Anse La Raye (Ahns-la-ray) in St Lucia, West Indies. It’s not an exaggeration to say those two weeks were some of the most physically and mentally exhausting of my life, and that they have changed my outlook on life, most assuredly for the better.
Global Volunteers is a charitable non-religious-based group that organizes groups of people interested in helping improve the lives of some of the world’s most impoverish communities, not through a hand out, but through a hand up. Anse La Raye is one of those communities, teaming with wonderfully hard-working, caring and hopeful people. It was an honor to have been able to take part in their efforts to build prosperity for their village. For the most part, I saw that to improve the health and economic conditions there, communities are left to their own devices. If determination is an indicator, however, I have no doubts that my friends in Anse La Raye will someday succeed.
Rather than share the village history, which you can read more about here, I will share with you the important messages I learned from my time there. Messages that I hope will touch you in some way, have some meaning and impact—perhaps make you grateful and wishful as well.
Like many people living in the Third World, there are people in Anse La Raye who do not have the very basics that we here in the United States take for granted. Things like:
- Bathrooms in their homes, or even a toilets
- Running water
- Internet access, or even a computer for that matter
- Air conditioning
- Essential nutrients, which has been shown to be related to some of the lowest IQ rates in the world
- Basic heath care, which is only available if you can afford it cash-in-hand (And if cannot, you are out of luck. Period.)
- Eye care and glasses
- Parental involvement in schools and teachers connecting with families, which is not allowed and discouraged by school officials
- Automobiles, bicycles or any type of transportation for most citizens other than commercial vehicle
- Traffic lights, proper roads, street signs, even if you have a car, it’s not easy to get around
- Bus fair, which is needed if a child is to go to secondary school (7th-11th grade), and without it a full, basic education is not a possibility
- A complete education, a necessity for most regular, full-time jobs, even in St. Lucia
- Skills of basic living, such as cooking skills, which lowers the chance of young people leaving home and establishing their own families
Surprising, I found the crime rate is low in Anse La Raye. At first, I figured that this was a case of where you really can’t take something from people who have basically nothing, and there is some truth to that, I guess. But after working with these people who have so few material possessions, so little money in their pockets, I realized another thing that I believe contributes to the lack of crime in the village: The riches they do have cannot be taken away by thieves or con artists. These are the riches of the spirit and character and love for each other, of which we all should strive to attain.
Some of the few priceless essentials the people of Anse La Raye possess:
- Love, in abundance!
- Music, and not from iTunes or CDS, but from their voices and folk traditions
- Fruits of their labor—literally!—23 different types of mangos and the wax apples are among the agricultural staples (Yum!)
- Compassion, for each other and even for strangers
- Acceptance, and a low tolerance for those who judge others
- School uniforms, from preschool and throughout. These are worn with pride because of what the clothes represent
- Toys, that although they are broken and ridiculously worn, are treasured by the children
- Birthday celebrations, which are very festive and joyous events
- Each other to count on—no questions asked
And finally, as promised, here are the things I learned from my time in St. Lucia this summer:
Life Lessons Learned
- Appreciate with clarity the value of the things we have. I took the time to be still and really meditate on the fact that these people treasured everyday items that look worse than what we often throw out in the garbage, It is a blessing that we can afford to buy things, but we should remember that we could also get by with much less and still be happy, if we simply took the time to treasure our belongings and their value, our lives would be fuller.
- The ability to love unconditionally. Remember the rush of love you felt from your first pet, first love, or birth of your first child? When you learned of a love you never knew? The love I learned about, the ability to love strangers and all people, unconditionally, this was yet a new kind of love I learned of by spending time with the villagers of Anse LA Raye.
- Do not underestimate the power of acceptance. I have always tried to be a compassionate person, but this trip showed me a deeper level of empathy, and a more non-judgmental approach to life. It was so inspiring! In St. Lucia, we volunteers were simply accepted into a very close-knit community even though we were strangers. We worked hard alongside the villagers who did not judge us by our skin color or clothing or the way we spoke. They only saw our efforts, listened to our words and found our kindness. This made trust and respect grow quickly. We soon were treated as family. It’s simply the way they do things there. Can you imagine what we could do here if we were more accepting of each other?
- Smiles really are infectious! I found myself truly smiling and being grateful for every person I encountered. Real smiles from people who were truly happy to see you, to know you, just to be alive and share this day with you. What a feeling!
As Americans we are often striving for material riches and social achievements, yet we many times we forget what is truly important. While I am really grateful to be back home with my hot showers, mosquito-free home and comfortable bed, I miss and appreciate the beauty of the community that so touched my heart in St. Lucia. I will never forget my friends there, and will be back one day for sure.
Thank you for allowing me to share this experience with you. I will sign off in the native language of Anse La Raye. It is a Creole dialect that does not exist in written form, so I will do my best to spell it out phonetically
Merci! Nu kai way pee-tah (Thank you , see you later),
Click here to see more pictures from my trip.