Monday, April 20, 2009

"We're having a blast!"

A few months ago, my 14-year old daughter and her classmate told us they wanted to go to Bangladesh. Their school is part of a project (Teachers Without Borders) that builds and supports schools in rural Bangladesh. I was little skeptical but said okay, especially since they needed to raise about SEK 25,000 – mostly for airfare – and I had my doubts they would be able to do it. But through some money-raising projects and grants from companies and the Swedish church, they succeeded. They left Friday evening with a teacher from their school and the teacher’s 18-year old daughter.

Before my daughter left, I talked a lot about what to expect, even though I’ve never been in that part of the world. We mainly talked about cultural differences, extreme poverty, and heart-wrenching things they might see or experience. (Her younger sister has been worried that she will come back "changed.") I didn’t want to sound too negative so I also told her about a news story I’d seen (or read) recently about someone who had explored a slum in one of India’s large cities (I forgot which one) and reported that, despite everything, things “work” and people survive. Everyone has a place, and there is a vibrant sub-culture that thrives. (No, I have not seen Slum Dog Millionaire.) Of course things should be better, but for the people who live there it’s home, and at that level at least should be respected. Or so was my open-minded, liberal lesson to my daughter before she left. Of course there is a difference between rural Bangladesh and a city slum in India. But I imagined the impact of the experience would be just as overwhelming and profound.

So imagine my surprise when I got a text message yesterday that said “We’re having a blast!” Not exactly the reaction I would have expected after a couple days in one of the poorest, most crowded countries on earth. I’m completely blown away. The exuberance and resilience of youth should never by underestimated, especially by "worldly" parents.

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