A few days before we fly out for service week, I walk my students through a school packing list with my students in homeroom.
“This list is telling you to bring a hat. This does not mean that you should bring your seventy-five dollar, super-fly, sickest-hat-ever. Remember, we are going to be volunteering at an orphanage, not going to the mall or on vacation.”
My words must not have sunk in, because my students showed up wearing a range of colorful (and expensive) hats.
Like many teenagers who have never worked before, the value of a dollar (or, in this case, a few thousand rupiah) is something undefined. Honestly, they probably don’t remember how much their hat cost. Likely, it was purchased without much thought, just a quick swipe of a card that they wouldn’t have to pay off a few months prior.
Before going on this trip, students in my class fundraised through various “businesses” in order to pay for the supplies we donated to the orphanages. Some students sold baked goods, some sold tee shirts with their own designs, and others created a tutoring service and charged students a small fee to receive after-school help.
From my perspective, it was only when we were at the orphanage that it really dawned on them how the money was being used.
On the first day, when we cleaned bathrooms, one of my students whispered to me, “why can’t we just go buy some more cleaning stuff?”
“We don’t have a car,” I whispered back, “and we can buy a few items for later, but nothing big– we don’t have a lot of fund-raising money left.”
This happened again, when a few of my students were asked to clean something that required a ladder. The orphanage had a ladder, but it was broken– the metal of the legs had, in two different spots, snapped apart, and so a wooden brace had been attached to the fractured area, but it too was braking.
“Miss Michelle, can’t we just go buy them another ladder?” they asked. I shook my head sadly.
How many hats would it take? I want to ask them.
But I know that they don’t yet understand.
When we returned to school, we talked again about how we can help these orphanages. Together, we made a list of ways that future fundraising money could be used to help support the people with whom we had just spent a week.
While I still don’t think that they fully grasp how blessed they are, I think every experience like this is eye-opening for them, and gives me new ways to talk with them about how lucky they are, but how their luck should come with an obligation to help those who are in need of things that we take for granted.