A Lesson in Empathy
Empathy is feeling with people and making a connection with them. It’s a vulnerable choice you have to make and our entire ‘Week in the Life’ experience was a lesson in empathy. The lesson began on the first day when we built our houses of cardboard, plastic, scrap wood, and drywall that we found at the local dump. As a new ‘family’ we had to make many of our first decisions together, which had its challenges. I still cannot believe that we lived in a house made of things from the dump for an entire week.
We all slept in one bed, made of cardboard, with only one pillow and one blanket each. With being on the dirt floor, we quickly discovered that we were sharing our bed with all the bugs as well. Waking up on our first morning, we saw bug bites covering each other’s faces. I had never realized how much of a reality this would be for some many people. The day started with trying to make a fire at 4am so we could cook our breakfast and our lunch for the day. Once our fire was started, we managed to make ourselves some instant coffee and warm our leftover beans and rice. The sun was only starting to rise as we ate our breakfast and cleaned up. We then had a twenty-minute walk to a gas station to be picked up for work.
One of our jobs was to pull weeds in a raspberry field. The work hurt our backs as we bent over and pulled weed after weed from the ground. For a days work, we were paid 200 pesos ($13 Canadian) but the locals we were working beside were paid 150 pesos ($10 Canadian) for the day. This difference in wage seemed unfair because they were more productive and more experienced. On top of being paid more, we were also provided with unlimited, free drinking water at the work site and also got time off for lunch breaks.
(Editors Note: The students were paid 200 pesos daily, as a family, for their work. Using this income they needed to pay for their food, water, property rent, and other costs throughout the week. This payment came from LiveDifferent, and not from the employers they were working for. 200 pesos is an average for the jobs they worked at which means sometimes they made more then the people they worked beside, and sometimes less.)
When we got dropped off back at the gas station, we saw all the other field workers being dropped off as well. This made me realize that this is their life forever, unlike our one-week experience that would eventually end. We went alongside them to the grocery store to get our meal for the night. We made dinner quickly so we could go to bed early as we were tired after our day of work, being up at 4am, and walking to work and back. Not only were we physically tired, but also mentally and emotionally as there was so much to think about, from the budgeting of our money to the conserving of water.
After finishing our week-long lesson on empathy, I’ve learned what a harsh reality life can be for a lot of people in Mexico. With low wages, improper access to housing, food, education or water, life can be difficult from the moment you wake up in the morning, until you go to bed at night, and even sleeping. I found the entire experience to be frustrating and enlightening. I was frustrated for all the people who deserve a better life and enlightened to better understand their perspective on life. With empathy being about connection, I now feel more connected to all those who I’ve meet volunteering here in Mexico. This experience has changed me to have a better understanding of what empathy really is and why empathy is important for better understanding of each other and the story behind each person.
Emily – Current 2016 Academy Student