While a lot of teens had fun riding roller coasters or playing on the beach during their summer vacations, some had adventures of another kind.
We caught up with three Top of Utah students who participated in humanitarian trips this summer to locations ranging from Southeast Asia to South America. Here are their stories:
Miranda McBride, a senior at Syracuse High, traveled to Peru and says the Spanish she knew was very helpful on her trip.
She flew into the country through the city of Iquitos, and then went to work in the village of Yanamono II.
What did she do there?
"We broke into different groups; we had an educational committee, a vocational committee (we taught them how to sew), we had a medical committee, and many others," McBride says. "The main thing is we all worked together. Each of us taught English in the school, taught how to sew, we helped build a bridge, and we helped clean the medical clinic."
McBride's favorite part of the trip was "the people, for sure. They are just so simplistic. They are so happy with the little that they have; they are so sincere with what they have to say. They are really accepting; they will come up and give you a hug and a kiss and ask how you are."
Being in Peru, in the Amazon rainforest, was quite the adventure: "We went piranha fishing, and (the tour guide) went hunting for anacondas; it was probably the scariest thing I've ever done in my life."
Interesting encounters with bugs also took place, as McBride says, "I had like 65 mosquito bites. I had meals with a tarantula every meal, staring me down as I ate!"
Of all the things the group did in Peru, serving the people was both the main reason they were there and the best part of the trip. McBride says that her best experience was, "Working with the kids and adults, and just serving them and talking with them, I've learned a lot from them of being grateful and being happy with what we have back in the states, like clean floors, water, education and options for the future."
"Ever since I was little I wanted to help people out in a foreign country," the Syracuse senior adds. "My mom went to Thailand before, and she had an amazing experience. I wanted the same thing."
McBride's advice to anyone considering going on a humanitarian trip would be, "Don't be afraid. Traveling to a foreign country can be terrifying, but if you go in with everything planned and taken care of, so you're prepared, and go with the right mind-set of wanting to learn from the people, you can have a life-changing experience."
Miranda McBride traveled through Youthlinc, a Salt Lake City-based organization that organizes humanitarian trips. For more information, visit www.youthlinc.org.
-- Nathan Beeston, Syracuse High
Tonga & Papua
Building a house was part of the work Katy Stuart, a Bonneville High senior, did during her service time in Tonga and Papua through Humanitarian Experience for Youth or HEFY.
What did you do on the humanitarian trip?
"We went to the school and gave them school supplies, just kind of played with the kids. We got to build a house for a family; their house had been destroyed in the storm. They were living in about a 9-by-9-foot shack, and it was really hard for employment for the family, so we had to build them an 18-by-18-foot house. We installed 10-foot panel lights, and it was really cool cause the families had never had electricity before ... having just that little light in their house was a huge blessing for them."
What was the coolest part of the trip?
"Experiencing the different culture; learning how much I have really changed everything about me. Words can't describe how much we have compared to those that don't live here. It was really neat seeing people give everything they had, they gave us so much, when we really didn't do much for them. They gave us more than we asked for, more than words can explain. There was one person that said, 'We don't have much to give you, and we will give you what we have, but if we can't give back, then we will give you our love.' "
What was the strangest experience you had?
"One night we went to a little resort for dinner, for more of a cultural celebration, and we had pig. More than half of our group tried the pig brain, and that was pretty interesting."
"The family that we built for, we were having a goodbye celebration after we finished building the house for them. It was really neat because the family would grab each one of us individually, and I got really close to the youngest son, and he came over to me and they gave us these necklaces. ... They gave everyone the same necklace, but he grabbed me, his mom was reaching for one, and he's like, 'No, no, different, different, different.' So, he gave me a different necklace, and it just had a little whale on it, and Tonga's known for whales, so it was really neat ..."
Least favorite experience?
"I got homesick a little bit, but I was kind of lucky. My uncle was born and raised there, and the one day I was feeling the most homesick, he had known I was going to be there ... and so my uncle came over. ... That was probably the hardest, but it ended up being good."
What was the main reason you went?
"I had actually heard about one of my friends doing the trip, through the same organization. It came down to where I wanted to go, and I remembered, 'Oh, my uncle's from Tonga.' I also had done a sixth-grade country report on Tonga. I wanted to give back for how much I have, and learn more about my uncle's culture. I had so many great things that happened to me that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't gone on the trip."
Any advice for others regarding humanitarian trips?
"Just go. When you go, don't leave. Bring everything, your whole heart and mind; don't worry about what you left at home, don't worry about the people left at home because they're going to be there when you get back. But for the people you will be serving, it will be literally life-changing, and that kind of experience you can't take away from them."
To learn more about opportunities with Humanitarian Experience for Youth, visit www.hefy.org.
-- Meghan Jones, Bonneville High
For Syracuse High senior Sarah Petersen, traveling to Thailand with Youthlinc was an unforgettable experience.
"The main purpose of my trip was, of course, bettering the life of the Mokens on Koh Loa Island, but each day we did something different, which made it such a life-changing experience," Petersen says. "We went from teaching lessons on shapes or hygiene, to moving dirt for hours, to just playing games with the kids."
She adds, "Although the construction to get water to them was important, the biggest impact was when we played games with the kids. The Moken community lives off of fishing, so the fathers are gone for weeks at a time and the mothers are trying to maintain everything else while the dads are gone, which unfortunately leaves the kids with very little young adult or adult interaction. At first, the kids had a hard time warming up to us ... but when they did there was no stopping it.
"Although there was such a huge language barrier between all of us, the good times and laughing was universal, which led to many unforgettable memories and relationships that were hard to leave."
Sometimes we imagine people in a Third World country to be sad because of their living conditions. But Petersen explains it was quite the opposite.
"You meet these people and see the way they live and what kind of standards they live in, but as soon as the kids get to know you, you see some of the happiest people you could ever meet," she says. She adds, "It opened my eyes a little bit to the way I'm living my life and learning that I don't have any reason to not feel overly blessed and appreciative of everything around me and the life I live."
As Petersen worked, she started to notice some things: "Another big thing for me was realizing there are good people everywhere you go, on every street, every corner, and every country. People will see the impact you're making and want to join and help out."
Petersen says she had one ultimate goal on the trip -- "My hopes were to maybe not change the world, but just change one person's world and help give them the chance and all the opportunities I have in my life."
Unfortunately this great experience had to come to an end. Petersen says, "The last day all we got to do is play with the kids one last time, and honestly, you would have never guessed two weeks earlier they wouldn't even come sit with us. By the time we left, it took us about an hour to actually get back on the boats because the kids wouldn't let go of us, and we didn't want to let go of them."
On her last boat ride home, the Syracuse senior says, "I finally realized that all the little things we did added up and that they may not remember my face, but they will always remember what we did, and that was enough for me."
For more information on Youthlinc, visit www.youthlinc.org.
-- Nathan Beeston, Syracuse High