Digging is hard work.
As I attempted to stick my shovel under a boulder to move it out of the way, all it did was wobble a little. Giving up, I called for help and the pickaxe crew came to my rescue in the form of three people hitting the rock until it broke into smaller, more manageable pieces. As I stood back and observed their efforts, I thought about the previous day. That was when we first started working on the aqueduct trench which would connect aquifers at the top and bottom of the mountain in order for the 70 people in between the two to have clean, running water directly to their homes. It was a crew of ten middle schoolers and a few villagers to help us out. On that first day, as we looked up at the daunting task ahead of us, I vividly remember thinking that there was no way we were going to do that much digging within a year, let alone the few days we had allotted to us. You see, as mostly upper middle class teenagers with cushy lives and WiFi dependencies, the closest thing we had ever done to manual labor was gardening. In pots.
I had a feeling that this was going to be a lot harder that I signed up for. We began our digging parallel to the side of the road and continued up the mountain, with much complaining and sore muscles. On the first day, we completed only 100 feet of what was to be more than 800. Things were not looking good. The next day, however our jobs were a lot easier. Softer dirt ( although there were more boulders) as we went up the mountain, coupled with us knowing what we were doing and a few more villagers joining the cause, meant that our work was moving much faster than before.We finished the trenches, laid down the pipes, and began covering them with cement. I still remember the childlike delight of an old lady who exclaimed, “Puedo sentir agua en mis pies!”- she could feel, for the first time, the water from the pipes touching her feet. We finished early the next day, and we all sat down near the base of the mountain to celebrate. We drank soda and spoke with the villagers in broken spanish. We laughed together, and I was surprised by a kiss on the cheek from a little boy who giggled and ran away. We spoke about our lives and theirs and we nearly drowned under the sea of thank you’s and flowers, and delighted shouts as they saw the water coming out of the pipes. I learned a lot there, but the most important thing is that railing against the system and poverty and inequality isn’t going to fix anything. Instead, you can go out into the world and do something. It’s a lot more useful – and interesting – than calling a number and donating ten dollars to the cause. So, go forth. Travel. Help. See. You might end up helping yourself just as much as you help the people you meet.