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A Personal Encounter                 

By: Mara Araneta Evidente
Sophomore, Boston College

 

"You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." - Kahlil Gibran -

While thousands of college students nationwide were spending their spring break in the tropical beaches of Cancun, Jamaica, or the Bahamas, I, along with 400 other Boston College students experienced firsthand, the truth in those powerful words. From February 26 thru March 5, 1999, we participated in a service trip sponsored by Appalachia to the Appalachian Mountains and other desolate areas along the East Coast.

Appalachia is a student-run organization which sends students--who have better things to do than get drunk--to places 20th century America has almost forgotten. Appalachia’s mission is to provide a helping hand and to reach out to all the unfortunate souls hoping to restore their faith in humankind. Thus, you see some students participating in Habitat for Humanity projects, building homes for deserving individuals, while others help out by picking up trash, painting churches, community centers, private homes, cleaning up trailers, tearing down abandoned houses, and doing other odd jobs around town.

Little did I realize, when I first stepped into that bus on an eight-hour journey, that I would experience a week which will forever be embedded in my heart. The majority of the groups sent to these sites stayed in community centers or churches where they had the opportunity to meet and interact with the residents. Meal times evolved into community gatherings where everyone would come to share stories. We played with the children, met with pastors, community leaders, grandmothers, great grandmothers, school teachers, bus drivers. They opened their hearts and embraced us, making us a part of them. There was never a feeling of us being better than them or that they owed us something in return; nor did they let us feel that we were not important to them either. We came as outsiders; as volunteers to help their town. Yet, by the end of the week, we left with a sense of belonging, a feeling that we too were members of the community.

Such sentiment was evident in this one incident I will never forget. It was our group’s second night in Catsbridge, Virginia. Earlier that day, we had attended a gospel marathon, a yearly event in Catsbridge. We had just finished eating some homemade southern cooking. Still in the mood for some more gospel music, we gathered behind the church and learned gospel songs. One of the songs they taught us was "The Gospel Train." Due to its mesmerizing lyrics and pulsing rhythm, it caught on, and quickly became everyone’s favorite.

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Come along my friends                                      

Get aboard and ride this train

Nothing on this train to lose

And everything to gain . . .

After singing the Gospel Train song for about the fifteenth time that night, Sandra, one of the ladies in charge in the community remarked: "Now that we’ve ridden the Gospel train together, we’re friends for life."

For me, and for many others who have experienced it, Appalachia was more than a service trip. It is about understanding that with privilege comes a social responsibility. It is about working together to accomplish what first seems like an impossible task (for example tearing down a two-story house, equipped with nothing but a rope, a tractor, and a few small tools). Appalachia is about connecting with people. It is a place where we were able to put aside our worries, our fears, our anticipations. A place where we can rid ourselves of our pretenses and allow people to touch our lives and build bonds of lasting friendship. It is a place where we are able to experience each other’s strengths and help one another to overcome weaknesses. YES. It is more than offering one’s services. It is a lesson about faith, trust, hope, and most important LOVE.

 

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