To whom much is given, much is expected

One of the most difficult things I have been forced to confront over my gap
year is my privilege.

I’m white.

I’m American.

I’m a native English speaker.

I’m wealthy.

Well, I have never considered myself wealthy until recently. I knew my
family had money; we lived comfortably and never had to worry about putting
food on the table. But I also grew up seeing my parents work far harder
than they should have to pay for that food, along with everything from our
house, cars, and clothes to my high school. So, even though I realized we
had much, I understood that a significant amount was achieved from hard
work.

I have tried my best to adopt their mindset. It is often difficult for me
to be proud of what I have because so much has been given to me, but I can
honestly say that I have worked extremely hard in pursuit of education,
sports, arts, jobs, and much more. Yet, I now understand that the
opportunity to study at a college preparatory school, the physical ability
to play sports, the supplies to create art, and the chance to work a
fulfilling summer job are all privileges in themselves.

I’ve struggled greatly with accepting the hardships I experience here in
Ecuador because, in a way, I am privileged to be experiencing them. The
reason that washing my clothes by hand in the blinding sun, finding fleas
in my bed, and fending off stray dogs in the street are especially
difficult for me is because, fortunately, I’ve never had to go through
them. Yet, here I am, paying a gap year organization to live with less
privilege than I am used to. I know that this mindset isn’t entirely
correct and that these were certainly not my intentions when starting the
program, but I can’t help but feel this guilt sometimes.

I know logically that my privilege does not disqualify me from making a
difference because people in my position have been faultily “making a
difference” for centuries by assuming that other people in positions of
less privilege actually want their help.

In fact, I believe that the privilege and resources I do have give me a
greater obligation to truly do good in the best ways I can.

If I’m being honest, I don’t know what these best ways are. I certainly
haven’t figured them out during this gap year; there was no “finding
myself” or my path to be done. I can only say that I have seen real
differences being made here, and have begun to scratch the surface on how
to manifest change-making in my own life. I have learned that making a
difference takes years of dedicated work immersed in a community and that
the process is never really finished. However, the key is to start.

In Ecuador, my start has been by trying to come to terms with my privileges
and not allow my guilt to hold me back. I will always struggle with
accepting this part of myself and my life, but I know that dwelling on
guilty feelings is not the answer. I believe that changing the question
from “do I deserve my privileges?” to “what do I do with my privileges?” is
the right step forward. It is a difficult step, and one I’ve been grappling
with for seven months, but one of the most important journeys I have ever
been on.

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