Cherishing a memory
Garbage lines the streets in every direction. Seven of us American girls have just squeezed onto a bus with our 50-pound packs. The windows hardly roll up or down. It is more like they just barely hang from their metal frames. We can smell the trash through the thick smog as we honk our way through traffic over dusty roads to get to our first ministry site. I have never seen so much poverty, so many dirt-caked sandals of pedestrians as they roam along the sides of our bus asking for money.
We have only been in Hyderabad, India for a few hours, and I can’t yet process how different everything is compared to my cozy American lifestyle. How, if I were home, I would be sitting on the couch with my two roommates, probably watching Friends or The OC and eating freshly mixed eggless cookie dough. Yet, somehow, I know my decision is right; this is one of the places where I am supposed to be for the next year.
Wondering if I could do it
The truth is, I didn’t know if I could do it. I sold everything I owned to be on the garbage-covered streets of India. I quit my sweet job at Sprig to play with orphan girls in Thailand. I said goodbye to my friends for a year to renovate a moldy, roach-infested home in Nepal. I spent a year fundraising so I could sweep and mop a cold kitchen in Ethiopia. I left my precious dog with my dad in Georgia to teach the alphabet in a Rwandan cement-block classroom. I never thought I would actually get on the plane or be seven months into this thing called World Race, but here we are now in month eight.
In August 2017, I left America to spend eleven months travelling to eleven countries. We would be traveling from one country to another—a new country each month—spending our time volunteering to help meet the basic needs of local people. I didn’t know what I would be doing or where I would be living, but I decided this was something that had been pulling on my heart strings for over a year. Since being on the race we have done several amazing things.
When we arrived in Nepal, we were asked to paint a few rooms in one of our local pastor’s home. Seemed simple enough. So, three other girls and I went to buy the paint and get started. When we arrived at the house, we could not have been more surprised by the living conditions in the home. Five people were living in a space about the size of my American kitchen. The walls were shedding sheets of old paint. Roaches were crawling through the furniture. Piles of ants covered trash on the floor. The carpets had never been cleaned and were caked with dirt. The mattresses were soiled and looked like they were on their last leg. This situation was going to require a lot more than paint to improve living conditions for the family.
While in Thailand, we ran a kid’s camp for 40 girls who were living apart from their families. This ministry was started by an American from Ohio who had the vision to bring the goodness of community to girls in need. Here in Thailand, children may be seen as a curse if they come from a broken marriage. They are essentially “on-purpose orphans.” It came as no surprise how welcoming these girls were when our team first showed up on the property. They are so hungry for love and affection. During the month of October, we were able to teach them Bible stories, aid in teaching English lessons, and play sports. They taught us how to be joyful in pain, and that family doesn’t always need to look just like your own relatives. Through this month we formed incredible relationships with these girls.
I know how having a nice place to come home to at the end of the day is what makes a house a home. More than anything, I wanted to provide this couple a safe and inviting environment to raise their kids. We couldn’t just slap on paint; we had to deep clean, fix, and then paint. It took four pails of paint, a few garbage bags, a tub of spackle paste, four bars of carpet soap, a spatula, endless cups of Nepali tea, and a week of hard work. I wish we could have done more, but I know our pastor friend was over-the-moon happy with the small progress we made before leaving Nepal for our next country. The look on his face made every roach I had to kill and every piece of mold I had to scrape worth it.
In Ethiopia, we partnered with local churches to share our experiences. We lived in a little compound without running water or electricity which quickly become our home. It’s amazing how much more you get to know people when electricity is out of the picture. Here we were able to deepen team friendships that would take years to form in America. Together, we visited villages and entered homes where we prayed for those who had been injured.
I will never forget the living conditions of one home. From now on, every time I use a dishwasher in America, I will think about how I accidentally dropped a bucket in a well, and my friend, Daniel, had to fish it out just to get dish water. Whenever I take a hot shower in my apartment, I will remember how we had to set buckets of water in the sun to warm them so we could take a bucket shower. The next time I’m in a place with easy access to electricity and feel like I have nothing to do, I will remember learning how to play a guitar using the light of my headlamp. The next time I feel like eating chicken in America, I will remember how we had to slaughter our own chickens to get adequate protein. Lastly, I will always rejoice over the healthy options available to shoppers in an American food store.
After arriving in Rwanda, we assisted by teaching English and sharing in local churches. Our translator was an 18-year-old boy, who, to our surprise, could not get into school. We learned that Emmy had been kicked out of his high school because he was unable to pay his tuition. Yet, our new friend, who had learned English by befriending American missionaries, had his sights on being a software engineer.
We desperately wanted to help Emmy in some tangible way. The poverty level was high, but his desire to achieve his goal was even higher. Eventually, after meeting with the school board of Kigali, we got a phone call during our last week, letting us know that Emmy got into school. We used the rest of our team budget to pay his tuition, and now he is on his way out of the poverty cycle. His whole life trajectory will be changed because we were there at the right time.
Recently, we have traveled to Bolivia. Here we are connected with a program to work with children and teenagers that have been affected by addiction. We are able to serve these young people with urgent needs and provide welcome relief to other long-term volunteers. Then we will be off to Peru!
World Race is an international journey sponsored by Adventures in Missions which challenges young adults to serve selflessly in 11 countries over an 11-month time frame. Participants partner with churches and organizations in countries throughout the world to help meet the basic needs of local people. Kamiren’s itinerary on the current season of World Race takes her to India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. To learn more, visit worldrace.org.
How it’s impacting me
When I think about everything we have done and everything we are about to do, it can be overwhelming. Some days I think, “I can’t believe I left California and five-star hotels for this.” Then I think that I am so thankful to have these opportunities to feel grateful. All the people that I have encountered have so much joy, even though they don’t know about all the stuff they are missing. It makes me wonder if Western culture might have it worse because we are so involved with our stuff that we can’t see what is really important in life.
I love my MacBook, my Frye boots, and my Longchamp bag, but I don’t want to be owned by these things. I have been living out of a 65-liter bag for five months now, and there’s nothing really from home I wish I had with me, except my goldendoodle Sophie. I decided this year I was going to work on my soul above all else and learn to choose joy even in the hard things. Everything is better when you can be joyfully authentic about a gross situation like a squatty potty or eating plain rice for the 14th meal in a row.
All things aside, I am so grateful for this experience and all the hilarious stories that come along with it. I can rejoice each day even though I may never know who has been impacted by my choice to serve alongside the other ministries in this World Race. Yes, I put my life in America on hold for a year of international service, and to some that may appear as a year lost. However, when I think of all that I have gained—the stories I can tell and the people I now count as friends—I realize these cherished memories and adventures have their own eternal value.
The best part for me is now realizing that we can positively impact others around us without travelling to faraway places. We never know what encouraging word or act of kindness will brighten someone else’s day. So, I challenge you, “What will you bring to your community?” Whether it’s sweeping the floor or sharing in a vulnerable conversation—remember it could change someone’s life.
If you want to learn more about my journey or keep up with what we are doing on World Race, you can visit my blog at kamirenpassavanti.theworldrace.org.