The biggest takeaway from the trip was the level of openness and hospitality that everyone displayed. One instance of this was towards later in the week when the Muslims decided to go out one night in search of Halal southern food. However due to religious restrictions, we weren't able to eat inside the Synagogue where we stayed and instead resorted to eating inside our 15 passenger van parked right outside. That night the Muslims and the Jewish students ate separately. To say that felt awkward would be an understatement. It just didn't feel right and instead I felt like it was disrespectful to the Jewish community. However that uncomfortable moment suddenly became the most memorable moment when the Jewish students left the Synagogue and joined us inside the van as we ate our food. They acknowledged the differences but did whatever they could do in their capacity to turn an uncomfortable feeling to a warm one. Pretty incredible for a group of people who just met a few days earlier.
It was that kind of respect that allows us all to be such great friends to this day. The driving force behind why I choose to go on these trips are not the contributions that I have to offer but it's more about what I'm able to gain. I've learned a lot working with individuals who have been afflicted with social issues as well as from my fellow participants. Through open conversations I've been able to learn insightful intricacies that just can't be learned any other way. It has broadened my perspective and made me more socially aware. I've gone into these trips to help empower others but have come back more empowered myself. Strong direct service has an impact that just can't be matched through any other means. The experience of seeing baby cribs covered in debris and toys lying in the middle of the streets, and talking to individuals who lived-through the disaster provides for a lifelong experience.