All “Rhodes” Lead to Service
By Ethan Besnard
I was only 11 when my mom decided it was important for me to see my place in the world. My mom took me along with her AP and IB students on a BLV service program to Greece, where we would visit Athens and spend majority of our time on the island of Rhodes. The trip was well organized and we got to see two very different styles of living in the big city and a more rural village. While in Athens, we visited many ancient structures, including the Parthenon and ate fresh organic foods; however, it was our time in Rhodes that made a more significant impact. There weren’t as many people and the city wasn’t as advanced. As soon as we arrived in Rhodes we traveled to a facility for special needs children. The facility was trashed and overgrown outside. I felt compelled to help the children, especially once I saw them through the windows. We each had specific roles to do – I cut overgrown bushes, cleared out areas on the playground, and planted. We worked for several hours and transformed the run-down facility to an environment more conducive to learning. It was then that I realized what we came to Greece to do: to complete sustainable projects to provide for those in need.
Our group did many projects on the program, but one that I really enjoyed was repairing and painting an elderly couple’s home. The house was hundreds of years old and poorly maintained. We spent endless hours cleaning, scraping, priming, and painting the interior of the home. Other community members watched and wondered why we came to help. They didn’t seem to understand the concept of service, but were soon inspired by our group. The couple whose home we painted was so grateful and yet they didn’t speak a word of English. I specifically remember the elderly woman offering me a blanket because it was very cold that day. Although we didn’t speak the same language, I tried to convince her to use the blanket instead, but she was more concerned about me. Painting the house made me feel good inside knowing that we improved their quality of life and that the couple would remember us for the rest of their lives.
Of all the projects we did, the one that resonates the most with me and that I will always carry in the back of my mind is working in a Syrian refugee camp. Here I witnessed people, from kids to elders, who had lost everything. In fact, many had lost loved ones and witnessed war and bloodshed. While I was sympathetic, it was impossible to put myself in their shoes and truly understand what they had experienced. Still, we listened to their stories and provided as much comfort as possible. One teenage girl explained she was in school when there was an attack and she witnessed people being murdered. This same girl was eager to learn German because her family planned to move to Germany and start fresh. I respected this girl and the fact that she was willing to help contribute to her family and still had such hope about the future.
It was difficult to see the poor living conditions the refugees were living in. There was a giant warehouse where all of the refugees lived. Greek volunteers would hand out donations – clothing, food, books, educational supplies, toiletries, etc. I witnessed the volunteers and refugees looking out for each other. It was inspiring. We purchased and served food and supplies. We listened to our new friends and created bonds. My favorite part of working at the refugee camp was playing soccer with the kids and adults. I remember thinking that it is incredible that something as small as a soccer ball could bring joy to a group of people who had nothing.
Even though I fell asleep on the dinner table each night from exhaustion, I will never forget my first Bright Light program and how it changed me. I see how fortunate I am to be able to help other people. I love learning about different cultures and lifestyles. I realize that people are the same everywhere and our differences are outnumbered by our similarities.