Trying to reconnect with my teenage sons, I decided to take them on a two-week volunteer program to Antigua, Guatemala. We were placed in a home stay and our volunteer site was an after-school program for disadvantaged youth. The school had few resources, but provided a safe place for the kids to do homework and play sports.
By trade, I am a teacher, and naturally like to be front and center. But not this time. This experience was for my sons. They led the activities, solved the homework problems, played in the soccer games. I made it a point to hold back. As a result, my sons’ Spanish and confidence improved exponentially.
At dinnertime, we exchanged both humorous and sad stories with fellow housemates. We heard about giving door-to-door vaccinations, working at a 500-child orphanage, rocking babies at an HIV clinic, repairing walls at the elderly home. At times I felt like complaining. Most of the trip we were without Wi-Fi. The showers were usually freezing cold, occasionally scalding hot. The family’s pit-bull made a mess in my sons’ bedroom and barked well into the night. The overloaded bus packed us three to a seat, as I felt the sweat from the stranger beside me as well as the one standing over me.
I refrained from complaining. In all these situations my company of three teenage boys had not complained once. They were laughing, finding humor in our inconveniences. The boys regularly dropped their spare change into the bowl of a crippled man we passed daily on the street. Yes, a dose of the underdeveloped world is maturing for teenagers, but for me as well. Just observing my sons, I was reminded and humbled: I had nothing to complain about.
With a Perspective, this is Anne Monty Zhang.
Anne Monty Zhang is a high school teacher in Morgan Hill.