So … I ended up not staying the night in the village on Tuesday. I had every intention to, just as soon as I would finish my design project. We had been warned that Wednesday morning would bring a wake-up team consisting of a camera crew and reporter to our shelter at 5:30 am. Yes. 5:30… in the morning. I do not speak for every student at SMU, but for most: that is just not real life.
To put things in perspective, I was calling it a “night” at 5:15 am (yes … in the morning) finishing up that project I mentioned. I decided a few hours in my bed would do better for my day than a few minutes on the floor. If you missed the news, our brilliant and beautiful Meera Day was interviewed live on WFAA Dallas/Fort Worth while her fellow villagers were asleep on the floor (see here).
Meera mentioned a big topic for this week: students experiencing a taste of what it is like to be displaced into transitional housing. To be clear: we (the villagers) do not fully understand nor do I think we could even imagine what it would actually be like to live through a disaster and have your family displaced just because we have stayed here. Not to mention the thousands who face these same tragedies who live in much, much less of a shelter – I hesitate to even call it shelter. We have a constant supply of food and water whenever we need it, and yes, even electricity and Internet – we were not exempt from our school duties, as I mentioned before. Now that I have darkened your day a bit, I do want to share some things we have learned and experienced.
I returned to the village to stay last night. There was a much bigger group (~20) than the last night I had stayed (~10). When the homework session ended and students began to meet together at the village, it was already dark. This didn’t bother us. The dark has never been a problem – just turn the light on. But that’s not how a village like this works.
If you have had the opportunity to travel to a developing country, you have noticed this. When electricity is expensive or scarce, it makes more sense to use sunlight. “What’s sunlight?” some of my college peers ask, “isn’t that what I try to block out of my room so it doesn’t wake me up at 1 pm?”… In case you aren’t advanced in your sarcasm, I may be exaggerating a bit.
We are not far from this being true in highly “civilized” Dallas, though. We are blessed with unlimited light, even while staying in the village, we can do our homework in the Hunt Institute in Caruth Hall. We even had a light-up Frisbee!! We also got to try out a lamp that is charged with a small solar panel and a mechanical crank. This gave us a decent amount of light as our group was together. And I can promise you we all wished we had gone to sleep earlier when the sun began waking us up around 7:30 am.
The other point I wanted to mention was the role of family, friends, and neighbors. There were no ice-breakers. For those who didn’t know someone, they introduced themselves and began to talk. We had several musicians living in the village, and within an hour we were all singing our hearts out – together. The light brought everyone near it; we were together.
I hope one thing we take away from this experience is the importance of relationships and being known and loved by another person. Again, for those who have been to other countries with families in poverty, you have seen this. Americans struggle with the reality of a child being full of joy wearing a piece of cloth, sitting in his mother’s arms, under a tin roof, with a block of wood to play with. Sometimes we don’t get it.
There was a peace in our group as we sat together that cannot be captured in words, so I will not try.
As we return to the mountains of technology we use on a daily basis, I hope to remember to use it all better – to use it for the sake of humanity: to provide for, to share experiences with, to talk to, to see, to know, and to love those around us. Engineers, businessmen and women, advertisers, artists, musicians, politicians, teachers, financial advisers: we have solutions, innovations, and ideas for some of the world’s most pressing problems. Everyone has a role. Let’s step up. Let’s accept the challenge. Ya, I’m going to say it: let’s change the world.
Tonight is our culture night. I’m sure there will be great stories and pictures to share tomorrow.