Saturday, September 10, 2011

From Burlingame to Bogotá

I come from a small white-collar town called Burlingame twenty minutes’ south of San Francisco. Infested by nuclear families occupying large suburban homes with neat lawns and a sports utility vehicle in every driveway, it is the quintessential upper-middle class American town; a place where nobody locks their doors at night, where one can safely go for an evening stroll, and caravans of soccer moms transport rambunctious children who have no clue how good they have it.

I even won the life lottery when it comes to family; my parents are loving and supportive and remain happily married; my family continues to live in my childhood home; heck, I even have a golden retriever.

Burlingame High School
I went to the stereotypical MTV high school, heavily stratified with cliques ranging from edgy, artistic outcasts to grandiloquent jocks. Many students, including myself, drove our own cars to school every day. Attending college was expected and thus taken for granted by myself as well as my peers. Few would argue that it wasn’t one of the best communities in the country for a thriving childhood.

Every day, when I ride the bus ever-southward into the destitute Juan Rey barrio, I think about home and wonder what I ever did to deserve growing up in such a great place when so many must endure the hardships of southern Bogotá. As I walk the open-air halls of Nueva Esperanza, students come up to give me the special handshake I taught them. Some of the younger ones give me hugs.

Juan Rey
I try to contain my frustration with the world. These children are no different than I was at their age. They like to laugh, play, and occasionally, learn. Although they look different and speak a different language, their hearts are unequivocally the same.

And yet they are forced to grow up in a completely different world. One where emaciated stray dogs roam the potholed streets in search of sustenance, where teenage drop-outs rob adults at gunpoint, where the thought of attending college is as starry-eyed as winning a Disneyland vacation. Poverty and violence are as ubiquitous here as excess and security are in Burlingame.

Witnessing this reality every day, I gain a deeper appreciation for the life I have been given. But mere appreciation is not enough. As someone who has been given so much, it is my responsibility to help those who have received so little.

I guess that’s what this year has been all about.

But Juan Rey’s problems run deeper than any mere English teacher can hope to solve. As long as Colombia is run by corrupt politicians who care more about enriching themselves than uplifting the poor, there is little I can do to change anything.

I owe it to them to do something.
But just because there is little I can do doesn’t mean that there is nothing I can do.

And I am doing my darnedest to change something.

No comments:

Post a Comment