By Megan Martin
While many high schoolers spent the summer sleeping in or hanging out with friends, a select few of the students in the Alameda High School community dedicated their time and energy to helping others around the world. Junior Lara Vetter, senior Quincy Tobin and junior Christine Lee went abroad to embark in the life-changing experience of volunteering and immersing themselves into other unique cultures.
Vetter travels to Frankfurt, Germany every summer. But this past summer she decided to spend part of her time volunteering at Bethanien Krankenhaus hospital.
Vetter said that the first thing every morning, she changed and cleaned the beds and delivered breakfast to patients. Then she and the other volunteers shadowed the doctors and checked on each patient, surveying their wounds and changing their dressings.
One of Vetter’s favorite things about working in the hospital was that there were several “very nice old ladies” who were eager to strike up a conversation with her, whether it was about where she was from or something as simple as how her day had been. “They would always know the times I would work, so they would always look forward to when I would come,” Vetter said.
Vetter specifically remembers one woman who always asked for peppermint tea with one splash of milk. She said that she had the chance, while working at the hospital, to truly get to know some of the patients and what each and every one of them wanted.
Vetter decided on the unique service project of volunteering at a hospital in Germany because “it was a good way to help me learn German. And I want to do something medically related when I grow up, so I thought it was a good opportunity to have an internship at a hospital to learn what it is like,” said Vetter.
Vetter says it was an excellent learning opportunity, and it taught her how to handle certain types of people in the medical profession. Throughout the service project, she realized that she definitely wants to become a doctor and do something with medicine when she grows up.
“I think it was a great experience to go out there and try something new, even if it is something scary. Because it was scary for me, but it was also really fun,” said Vetter.
Tobin travelled to a small village in the countryside of Nicaragua with the national organization BuildOn through the branch at Alameda High School.
BuildOn’s mission is to end the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations. Tobin travelled to Nicaragua to build a primary school to promote education in the youth of Nicaragua. “ I feel that everyone should have equal opportunities, and BuildOn especially is really good at that. They have the villages where we build the school sign a contract saying that they will send 50% girls and 50% boys,” said Tobin.
Once landing in Nicaragua, she travelled by jeep eight hours to get to her small village, where she and the other volunteers were welcomed by the villagers and placed with their host families.
In the mornings, Tobin woke up and built the primary school with the help of the villagers and professional builders that BuildOn sent. Then they spent the other half of the day doing cultural activities and getting to know and creating a bond with the people of that culture.
One of her fondest memories was bonding with her host sister. During the day, they played games together. One of Tobin’s favorite games to play with her host sister was exchanging words with each other through her Spanish to English dictionary. They would each say the word and collapse in laughter with each other.
Tobin specifically noticed that “a lot of people there had a genuine passion for learning and they would just try to learn something new every chance they got. Since they don’t have as many opportunities as us, it was just really exciting for them.”
The most rewarding outcome of this trip for Tobin was immersing herself in their culture and bonding with the people of the village. She spent most of her time, when she was not building the school, spending time with her host family and taking part on events with the community. They listened to stories and danced with the villagers.
“They are the most generous, happy people, and you wouldn’t expect that. They don’t have nearly as much stuff that we have, but they just seem so much happier,” Tobin said. “ All they have is genuine things, like friendship and family and love.”
Tobin highly recommends participating in a service project like this because “it is a wonderful kind of experience. You’re not going to get it anywhere else. It is really mind opening,” said Tobin.
Lee went to Cambodia and stayed at an elementary-through-college school, Life University. She travelled to Cambodia through her youth group, Element.
Everyday, she woke up at 6 a.m. because her youth group ran the morning chapels for the elementary, middle, high and international students from 7-9 in the morning. “During chapel we gave messages on the bible with the help of videos and skits,” said Lee.
Then they ate lunch with the high school students. Later in the day they would travel to surrounding villages to put on small programs for them. If they were not at the surrounding villages, they would bond with some of the students after school or start to prepare for the next day.
Lee travelled to Cambodia because she became a Christian several months earlier and wanted to share her faith, along with her youth group, with her friends in Cambodia.
“It also showed me how lucky I am to live in the US. A lot of people there are living in poverty and live on a few dollars a day while I am here in the US complaining about the smallest things,” Lee said.
Because of this service project, she saw that her friendship deepened with her youth group friends as well as all of her new-found friends in Cambodia.