Written by Kate Miller, Volunteer at Aguayuda in La Guajira, Colombia.
The first thing that hit me when I got off the plane in Riohacha was the heat. And it was even hotter on my first day out in the communities where Aguayuda works, speaking in timid Spanish with local families under the desert sun. This is worlds away from my life in the States. Here in this small community, there is no air conditioning of any kind (unless you count the shade) in any of the small wood and tin homes. It hasn’t rained much this year, so potable water has been more difficult to come by than it normally is. And there is only one (newly installed) composting latrine in the entire community. These were the first things I noticed, mostly because the comparison between this life and the life to which I’m accustomed are so different.
Of course, some of these things are problems that need solving, which is why I came to Colombia to volunteer in the first place. Fortunately, Aguayuda has been able to help communities like this one improve access to clean water and sanitation, which has improved the quality of life for hundreds of people. But, as I was focusing on these things that are so different, I was hit (almost literally) with the recognition of something so familiar I had to laugh: the children running in circles around me were playing freeze tag. And it dawned on me that if I kept comparing the things that were different, I would never see the things that are, as photographer Karen Walrond says, the “beautiful same.” I soon discovered that the more I began to focus on what was the same, the more of it I found, and the more at home I felt. For example, as I quickly learned, freeze tag is the same whether you play it in the Guajira desert or the Philadelphia suburbs. Children laugh when you make funny faces at them, no matter where they were born. And, regardless of the heat or the language barrier or the obstacles they face, people always seem to find a way to show you that, in one way or another, we are all connected.
If I might allow myself to acknowledge one glaring difference, though, I will say that the fruit juices here are infinitely better than the ones back home. But that’s really more of a fact. Trust me on that one.