Ana-Debernardo1-headxBy: Ana DeBernardo – September, 2014

Once again, summer has come and gone, and the dreaded schedules of school, homework, and going to bed early are just around the corner. Complaints of vacations cut too short and the injustice of a 2-to-10 month vacation-to-school ratio have recently been circulating every realm of social media. So often we hear about school being an obligation, or a form of torture, but quite rarely we appreciate the daily privilege. To live in a culture where education is valued and guaranteed to every child is not, contrary to popular belief, a calamity: it’s a blessing.

The other day, I stumbled upon an article with the title “Hate Taking the Bus to School? Try Swimming!” After reading it, I vowed never to complain again about my long 45 minute drive to school. In it, the author describes a school in the Sevada village of India, whose 61 teenage students are required to swim across the Heran River every day to get to class. Both the boys and girls carry books, papers, and a change of clothes in plastic bags or jugs as they make their 50-foot trek across the river, shoulder-deep in mud in some areas. After changing on the riverbank, the students then proceed to walk three miles to reach their high school.

Although this isn’t the only possible way to school, it is much quicker than the alternative: a dangerous 16 mile route by foot. The lack of public transportation and the consequent daily swim for the students unfortunately isn’t enough to evoke any plans for a solution from the school board, but the school is trying to make as many accommodations as possible such as forgiving late arrivals, and sending students home early if signs of bad weather appear. According to the students, the education is worth the short swim if it means the possibility of helping lift India out of poverty, in which 700 million people are scraping by on less than $1.25 a day. The school’s principal, Rajendra Purohit, says that the teens of the village are so determined to get to class; they readily brave the weather conditions through thick and thin. Purohit then noted that her students have swum through heavy rain multiple times which turns the normally calm waters into turbulent currents.

Although these kids obviously aren’t happy about crossing a river every morning, it’s really quite inspiring to see their cheerfulness despite their conditions. If American students were to experience this same struggle, even for just a week, I don’t think they’d ever complain about the boredom of school again. You really never appreciate something completely, until you see someone in your same position making do with much less. This is one reason service trips have such a deep impact on people. Working in a service center over the summer in Paraguay, my mom’s native home, I was able to learn this on a personal level. Somehow, however, their poverty and the conditions they were born into are made up for with a certain characteristic they all seem to possess: joy. It’s so humbling and sometimes, I must admit, even embarrassing, to see a 7 year old girl light up at the sight of a simple rubber band, which will soon become her new toy, while I am looking on in my air-conditioned car, smartphone in hand.

We belong to a culture where appreciation is an almost nonexistent quality. We get so caught up in the next iPhone model, or the latest fashion trends, that we forget how fortunate we truly are. Our freedom to worship and speak openly is a luxury not many countries have. A couple of summers ago at a camp I attended, I heard two Iranian women give their testimony about the religious persecution in Iran. For three long months, they were detained in a filthy prison cell with nothing but a urine-covered blanket and one daily ration of soup to sustain them, all as a result of their conversion to Christianity.

Too many times we are quick to judge and point jeering fingers simply out of foolish impulses or desires for societal acceptance. We don’t realize, however, the gift we wake up with everyday. We did nothing to deserve our fortunate lives, but neither did those who aren’t as lucky. That is why it is so important to value our freedom. If we don’t appreciate life for ourselves, we should at least appreciate it for those who only dream of the liberty to do so.