Western views disregard happiness in the Third World
The following is the opinion of the author and does not represent the views, opinions or policies of The Campus Press.
I was well aware that bugs crawled through the bunkhouse where I slept, but I was terrified the morning I woke up to a tarantula net woven to my bedpost.
It was so thick I couldn’t see through it, and it hadn’t been there when I went to sleep.
This nighttime visitor wasn’t the only thing that shocked me while I was staying at Casa Guatemala, an orphanage in the rural area of Rio Dulce. Behind the orphanage, shacks of corrugated metal the size of my living room held entire families and their roost of chickens. Men doing strenuous physical labor for 10 hours a day only made $14 a week to support their families.
The poverty was astounding. Denere, a fourteen-year-old boy who had grown up at the orphanage, was one of a few kids out of 250 that get sponsored to go to high school every year. His education will cost $900.
What he’ll do with this valuable education is unknown, but his fate without it is clear: most of the children who grow up and leave the orphanage go on to farm or work as street vendors. They usually earn just enough to support their families without any money to spare.
Having grown up in the U.S., I had never been exposed to such severe poverty. America has a clear picture of the third world constructed by Brad Pitt movies and late-night infomercials, but these produced images aren’t perfect reflections of reality. While in Guatemala, I learned how flawed this Western way of thinking is.
Being happy is not synonymous with having money.
One child who was about 6 years old always stuck out to me. I never saw him or his sisters wearing any shoes–I wouldn’t be surprised if his family couldn’t afford them, and he was already working on the farm. Despite this, he was always smiling and seemed perfectly content. Engaging him in just about anything, from cards to tag, made him utterly ecstatic.
A month later, back in the U.S., I watched my friend’s younger siblings argue with each other over a Wii controller. The little girl wore Chanel earrings and sat listlessly for hours with eyes glued to MTV.
I’m not arguing that the conditions in third world places like Guatemala aren’t in need of outside assistance. The presence of heavily-armed police and the lack of available health care show that the country’s situation is critical. However, the fact that their conditions don’t correspond with American views of happiness doesn’t mean that they aren’t satisfied with the way they’re living their lives.
There’s a good reason that none of the orphans at Casa Guatemala have ever been put up for adoption. They would rather grow up with limited electricity, well-worn clothes, and tarantulas than go live with rich American families. Casa Guatemala is their home, and they are content there.
Happiness is a perspective more than a physical condition. The children were more excited about playing soccer with us than they were about the new soccer balls we brought them. They loved seeing their friends in pictures more than the digital cameras they were taken with. Rich with sincerity and enthusiasm, they had no need for material possessions.
If given the chance, the kids at Casa Guatemala would have a lot to teach the richest country in the world about happiness.
Contact Campus Press staff writer Morgan Keys at email@example.com