“I am more understanding of poverty. The experience has broadened my view of life, and I am able to look at people in a different way now.” The experience Hoboken native and Loyola School junior Garrett Brown refers to is two weeks of service camp he recently spent in Nadi, Fiji.
This is the second consecutive summer that Brown has devoted several weeks to Rustic Pathways, a mission self-described as “a pioneer in providing superior quality travel and service programs for students and families in some of the world’s most welcoming countries.”
In 2011, Brown selected Puerto Rico to fulfill his service. This year he chose Fiji because “it sounded like the most exotic” location offered. Little did Brown realize how the experience would affect him emotionally.
The teacher learns lessons
Among Brown’s responsibilities were teaching students English, playing arts and crafts, and helping the Fiji teachers develop lesson plans. He visited five schools during his mission.
The children, ranging from grades K-8, were separated into groups of six. Brown took an instant liking to the Fijian children, but it didn’t take long for him to get an indication of the difficult life many were living.
“On my second day in Fiji, I asked the students to write a paragraph about themselves. The great majority of them said that they had lost family members to illness. Many had lost both parents and were living with aunts and uncles. It really affected me, especially since it was only my second day there.”
Despite their hardships, there was never a shortage of smiles on the faces of the Fijian children
“One morning I was in the classroom and I saw kids sewing their own shoes together in class,” he said. “They only owned one pair, so they had to do everything possible to fix them. Some of the students asked teachers for glue, but not to use for arts and crafts. They were using the glue to keep their shoes together. That is, I should say, those few students who had shoes. Most didn’t.”
Two of the things Brown enjoyed doing most with the children were playing soccer and painting. However, even those activities had their drawbacks.
“I asked one of the teachers if I could paint with the children,” he said. “She said yes, but that I had to be careful with the paint because the students were only given a new uniform every two years. So if the uniform they are wearing gets ruined they still have to wear it for the full two years.”
Yet, despite their hardships, there was never a shortage of smiles on the faces of the Fijian children. Nor were they ever dismissive about the plight of others. In fact, when asked what career they would like when they become adults, most said police officer because they want to “do the right thing and to help people.”
Brown was saddened when he left Fiji because of the attachment he developed with the children, but he takes solace in knowing that he plans to return next summer. He never imagined that he would enjoy service work as much as he does, and he credits his high school, Loyola School in New York City, with giving him the inspiration.
“Loyola requires students to do community service, so I decided to work at the Hoboken Shelter near my house,” he said. “I realized then what it was like to be homeless. It really affected me. The experience made me more curious and motivated me to help others.”
Donald Tremblay may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.