For my spring break, I went on a H.O.P.E. trip (an alternative spring break service trip) to Camden, NJ, the #1/#2 (depending on the year) poorest and most dangerous urban area in the US. I was so completely changed by this experience that I don’t even know where to begin, so my blogs for the next few weeks will all probably focus on some aspect of my experience.
We stayed at the Oscar Romero Center in East Camden. It is a retreat center for high school and college students in order to learn about the social injustices which exist in our world. We worked at a homeless day shelter, nursing home, adult day care, food pantry, and a house for HIV/AIDS patients. We also had people from Camden, whether they were priests, nuns, volunteers, or people who they themselves had lived on the streets. Each day I learned something new about myself, I laughed, I cried, and I became incredibly close with the group I came with. This was, hands down, the most life-changing week of my life.
One of the first things I realized about myself in Camden is that just because I am someone with a life-threatening illness doesn’t mean I can just sit back and watch the world go by. Yes, I am someone who needs assistance sometimes, I always had volunteers coming in my room when I was a little kid in the hospital, I’ve had a Make-a-Wish, I’ve gotten donations, and incredible thoughtful gifts, and love from so many people. But going to Camden made me realize even more that my life is not so bad, that there are other people who need volunteers and love and support so much more than I do. There are people who have nothing, who have no control over how their life got to where it was, who are hopeless, angry, and afraid. There are people who are lonely, frustrated, and who are forgotten and ignored by most of society. My trip made me realize how many things exist of which I am ignorant. There is so much going on in our own country, in our own neighborhoods, that is barely reported in the news, that no one talks about, or that people choose to ignore. It isn’t right that I can have healthcare to keep me as healthy as can be when others end up homeless because they can’t pay their child’s bills. There is so much that I just want to tell everyone I meet, to make them understand what is going on. People ask me how my trip was and there is so much I want to say but I just end up saying “It was great!” Sometimes you just need to experience something in order to understand, a concept I have always believed in. However, it is important to keep learning about other people’s hardships and being mindful of how you can help to change that, even if it just means letting go of ignorance. I hope, in some way, by writing about my experiences on my blog I might allow someone understand or learn even the littlest something about what I saw and learned about myself.
The name of my blog means a lot more after this week. Yeah, I have cystic fibrosis…. So what?! There are people who have it much worse, and it is important for me, now more than ever, not to dwell on this small problem. Of course, I will keep doing everything I am to not let it run my life, but I also want to keep in my mind and my heart those people I met who do have situations which run their life, and who aren’t as lucky to have the type of control (of medications, and support, and therapy) that I do. The people I met in Camden New Jersey will always be in my heart, and I am an altered person for having met them.