Finding Yourself in Helping Others

06/26/2013 05:46 pm ET | Updated Aug 26, 2013

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
- Mahatma Gandhi

Wow, this isn't the Jamaica you hear about in the commercials for the resorts or vacations! I've been in Kingston, Jamaica, since Wednesday, June 12 and it's already changing my life.

I have found myself adjusting to a new lifestyle. My home in Kingston consists of three wonderful Marist Missionary Sisters from different parts of the world, who live and work with the most needy and poor in Jamaica. There are locks and grids on everything here; they say it's being a prison in your own home. It is beyond hot and there isn't AC. The mosquitoes can't seem to leave me alone, I have counted over 50 bites! I have a tiny, quaint room, which I'm so grateful to have a fan in. I'm trying to adjust to the water being shut off here whenever the system feels like it (I haven't had water since yesterday morning), and I have never been more appreciative for having WiFi. This is still more than most people have in Jamaica, but all of these luxuries are what's considered normal for me to have back home in New York.

My days consist of waking up at 4:30 a.m., which, back at home, is the time I would go to bed some nights. My meals are usually basic, something I can make: cereal, PB&Js, and maybe rice for dinner.

At the basic schools that I'm volunteering at, it is children from three to six years old who come from poor families. It breaks my heart seeing their living conditions, and hearing about their situations. It's normal for a mother to raise four to five children with different men, but the men usually aren't around to support the children. So, if the father doesn't pay for school or isn't around, the mother takes it out on the child. This child doesn't get showers, food, or most importantly, love.

A three-year-old girl fell at school, and the teacher immediately took her to the clinic and tries to call her mom. When she does, the little girl says "My mom won't come;" and the mom doesn't even come to pick her up after school.

It's the four-year-old boy who spends the day begging in 100-degree weather instead of being at school, because his mother forces him, too.

This may seem like a different world to you; it is for me, but this is what's normal in Jamaica. These children don't have a home to go to, and school is the closest thing to a safe and happy place they have.

At the schools, I get to dance and sing with children, I play silly games and help them with their spelling and math. It is not only the children who I get to help, it's offering to hand wash over 100 dishes on very little water pressure because the cook does this everyday. And yeah, in my head, I complain that I'm tired after the first fifty, but I feel better knowing that I am giving someone else a chance to eat their lunch in peace for the first time in years.

The people and children here don't care who I am back at home, what places I've interned, what my accomplishments are, they are just fascinated by me, "Aunty Opal." For the first time in years, I wore no make up and I have never had so many people think I'm beautiful. The children pinch my skin to see if it's real, they love my long hair and are constantly playing with it, few kids at a time! And there is a constant need of attention and affection that they crave, and I enjoy pouring every ounce of love into that hug I'm giving.

This is by far one of the hardest things I've ever done, one of the biggest risks I've ever taken, but it has already been so eye opening. It isn't easy though. Every day I find myself struggling and trying to adjust into this new lifestyle. I wouldn't wear most of the clothes I wear back home here, but it's about being humble and seeing life in a different perspective.

Even though this is one of the hardest things I'm doing, for the first time in weeks on Friday, I didn't think about any of my problems. I wasn't thinking about the boy who broke my heart or if my outfit was okay. I wasn't worried about all the emails I didn't answer, or what my next career move should be.

My mind, heart, and soul for the first time in years started to "feel again" and it was because of these children.


Everyday, I wake up and I am grateful to be alive.