Here we are. The heart of Silicon Valley. A city run on money. We live in our $3 million houses and drive our Teslas. However, there is a question we have to ask ourselves: Does money make us happy?
This summer I traveled to Guayaquil, Ecuador, on a mission trip. I volunteered at a school, St. Vincent de Paul, which is in a very rough part of town. The students have different backgrounds and home lives yet have one thing in common: School is a getaway, a safe place, a sanctuary. A sanctuary protected like a fortress, with tall concrete walls and barbed-wire fences. It looks dark on the outside, but on the inside, the walls are painted with an assortment of colors, and kids are running around with big smiles from ear to ear. I spent five days teaching kids how to make art. It was an amazing experience resulting in a major takeaway: how happy they are.
One day, it was a student’s birthday. His name was Felix and he was in fifth grade. I had talked to him and become his friend. In class, we sang “Happy Birthday.” At the end of the day, he came and found me and gave me a red paper box and an apple juice. I thought it was strange when I first received it, but to my surprise, I opened the box and saw food wrapped in tin foil. I looked up to say thank you, but he was gone. I went into full panic mode when the thought came to mind that this kid just gave me his entire birthday lunch. I rushed to tell my mom, who then also freaked out, so we decided to go find the owner of the school. We explained to her what had happened and she laughed.
She told us, “He gave you a part of his birthday cake.”
We still did not feel any better about the situation. I asked her why he had given it to me. Why me?
“That’s how he shows his love and appreciation,” she said.
I was already in shock, but then she said: “The less you have, the more you give. This boy has nothing, but he decided to give a little piece of himself to you.”
When she said that, I felt a chill go down my spine and a warm feeling in my heart. I was touched. It may be a small action, but to me it meant the world.
As I was walking away, there were many kids around me and they began to notice that I had something in my hand. Once they realized it was food that a student gave me, they rushed over to give me more food. All at once, I was given candies, crackers and lunches. I couldn’t believe how giving these children were. It wasn’t the food that made me happy, but the actions that affected me. This was only one example of how generous the people of Ecuador were to me.
During my experience, I realized how hospitable Ecuadorians are, despite their difficult conditions. The children are cheerful and playful on the sidewalks. They aren’t unhappy that they don’t have the newest iPad or Xbox. They aren’t upset that they don’t have lots of money. They are happy because they are alive.
I think in Silicon Valley we sometimes forget what we have; in reality, we should recognize that objects don’t make us happy. Experiences make us happy.
When you drive down the streets of Guayaquil, you see concrete buildings, tall gates and maybe not the prettiest city in the world. Don’t forget to look for the smiling faces of loving and kind people because, believe me, they are there.
Allyson Levy is a rising sophomore at Pinewood School. For more information on her mission project, visit sea-elcarmen.org.