The first thing you notice at 8 a.m. in Savanna-La-mar, Jamaica, is the heat. The second and third are the bright smiles of the students and staff at Higher Heights Academy, a preschool that our brothers have been helping to construct for two years.
The day rolls on, and you continue to sweat more than you thought humanly possible. The heat sticks to you like a cloak, a tangible reminder of both your presence and purpose here, even under the cool shade of the mango trees. As the sun rises higher and higher in the sky, you begin taking more breaks for water. Your work slows, if even just slightly, and you find yourself wiping sweat from your eyes with an already soaked rag. But, as consistent as the ocean tide, you notice none of your new friends have ceased to smile.
This is an odd thought. You can’t stop thinking about the heat, the itchiness of sweaty skin, the thirst in the back of your throat. And yet, your newfound brothers and sisters who haven’t been blessed with half of what you take for granted, are as happy as the birds that greet you in the morning. Creases line the eyes of a child who has never seen a school bus stop down the road from their house or an indoor gymnasium at their local school.
Their smiles seem wise to you on this day because they teach you something. Their smiles tell you there is no need for help here. There is a need for service. Compassion should leave us no room for sympathy. As fellow humans, as children of the world, as an underprivileged and under-represented group of people, or any way you choose to think about it. They deserve it, and you are blessed with a chance to deliver it.
You look up from your work to see the bright eyes and colorful beaded hair of a proud smiling child and understand the message it’s sending more clearly than ever before. And so you thank them in the best manner you can think of, and smile back. The heat may not change your heart, but the smiles definitely will.
Jake Harwood, Oregon State ’21